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Life After The Refuge


It’s been 22 months now since that gorgeous sunny day in February 2016, when we made the 4-hour drive down to Carcassonne with our 11 year-old Border Collie, to meet our newest family member for the first time. Just 2 months old, Jazz (Tania) melted all our hearts and we were back again shortly afterwards to adopt and bring her home with us to Charente-Maritime. A mischievous bundle of energy, she loved exploring her new garden and getting to know us as well as her new big sister! With lots of summer visitors to our gîte she is never short of playmates and adores a game of chase on the field, rural and coastal walks, not to mention all the extra fuss and cuddles.

Her legs seemed to grow daily in the early days and it wasn’t long before we began to realise that she was, in fact a border collie crossed with another breed, quite possibly a lurcher, but certainly a sight hound, given her sheer speed and determination to chase rather than herd. Not a problem at all, although as long-time collie owners we knew we would have to change tack on the training front. Recall was going to be a bigger challenge than we expected, but we persevered and she is now much better.

Fast-forward to late summer and we noticed a protrusion when she needed to wee. A prolapse, we thought, so we headed off smartly to our local vet. A thorough examination and an x-ray later, we discovered that we are the proud (if somewhat non-plussed) owners of a dog in a million: Jazz is a hermaphrodite with elements of both male and female organs.  Our vet was amazed and explained that they did not have the expertise to carry out the required procedures to neuter her. Not an issue as we were headed to the UK for an extended visit, so a trip to our old veterinary clinic was duly booked.

Jazz became something of a celebrity as our UK vet had to seek advice worldwide in order to decide on the best course of action to neuter her, so rare is the condition. Her womb was removed along with testes that were found in place of her ovaries! Bless her, she was a little star as she recuperated from her operation although walkies were severely restricted for a few weeks. Repeat visits as she healed ensured she has a special place in the hearts of the vets and nurses back in the UK and they still ask after her. Pleased to report that she is back to her best and an integral part of the clan.

Variety is the spice of life they say, so after another summer of fun and frolics in the Charentais sun we are now temporarily relocated in NE England for the winter, where the beaches can rival anything the French Atlantic Coast has to offer. Daily walks along the sands, chasing a ball and playing with scores of other four-legged friends have become the norm and both dogs are delighted with their new surroundings, whatever the weather. It will be a joy to return to warmer weather, the fields and the peace of rural France in the spring, but for now Jazz and the rest of the family are looking forward to the festive season in NE England. It is, after all, the most wonderful Tyne of the year!

Jazz….like most border collies, a fast mover!


We have had Faro since 24th July 2016 after seeing him on the Griffon rescue site and falling in  love.   At first, he was very nervous about everything even other dogs.  Gradually at his own pace, he has come out of his shell, some would say too far out, he is quite vocal about letting you know what he wants.

Although he walks nicely on the lead he really doesn’t like anyone walking behind him even now.  As we do not know his history we have wondered why this was.  Recently he was at the vet’s with a suspected blockage in his bowel, he was given a scan and they found he had thirteen shotgun pellets in his bottom, so I guess this is the reason. (His bowel is fine now).

When we first had him he gobbled his food while watching our other dogs eat theirs, terrified they would take his, but now is much more relaxed.

This is the first Griffon Bleu I have owned and I don’t know if they are all as affectionate as Faro, he would let you cuddle him twenty-four hours if you had the time.  I have had several different breeds of dogs over the years but I have never known a dog look at me with so much love in his eyes. Obviously, he is a failed hunting dog, so he is a nose on legs, but enjoys his walks especially on the beach where he loves to lay down on the water’s edge.  He is a special little character and I wouldn’t be without him, it has been a long road for him but it has been well worth it.

Faro …enjoying life in the UK.


Yoshi is doing really well, he has grown quite a bit he now 50 kilo`s and really well muscled he is like small tank.

Because of his size and weight, he also has an undercut to bottom jaw I am now convinced that he is actually a cane corso. He is very good natured and gets on with other dogs, he has had his first trip to the UK last Xmas and met a lot different other dogs, unfortunately I couldn’t let him off the lead as my house is on the edge of a built up area, he does get very exited meeting other dogs and can be quite a handful jumping around and wanting to play. He is extremely playful dog, but he is also very cuddly he likes to get on my lap sometimes after breakfast and sometimes of an evening and goes to sleep.

He now has a girlfriend, another rescue dog from Spain. She has been with me since March and has settled in well, and is good playmate for Yoshi, play fighting and chasing around the garden, they both love toys and share them most of the time.

I`ve added some photos as you will see he is much bigger now than when you last saw him.


Yoshi. ( left )

Paddington, Texas and Gino…

After travelling around Europe for a few years in our motorhome with our Husky ‘Beau’ we settled on a place in the forest about 7km from Quillan. We are off grid and surrounded by beauty and open space. Unfortunately our dog Beau was killed by a vehicle in May this year. We were devastated by our loss and never contemplated another dog at that time.  Beau was an outside dog and we had failed to realise how much destructive wildlife he had actually kept of our homestead! We don’t like the idea of fences of any kind but the boar and deer soon made their presence felt!

After much consideration, we decided to visit the SPA at Carcassonne and see about perhaps adopting a rescue dog. Diane had spotted a dog on the website who was called Paddington! We visited the SPA and walked him out. We both felt that he was a dog we would get on with and after sleeping on it we decided to see if we could live together. After dealing with the process of adoption which was made very smooth and easy by all the staff at SPA we adopted Paddington.

It took ‘Paddington’ now renamed Hachi about a day to realise he liked us and wanted to stay!! He is the most brilliant dog. After some weeks we decided that we could cope with a companion for Hachi and as Hachi was such a good dog we returned to the SPA. And had a wander around seeing a few potential pals for Hachi. We spoke to our friend and contact at the SPA Moira to say that we were interested in a very sorry looking  Bull terrier, having some experience with the breed but as there were still some issues with his health we were prepared to wait!

Moira mentioned a possible home to home adoption of a very handsome husky cross looking for a new home due to a change of circumstances. We met the owners and Texas came home with us that day, and soon settled into his new home. A few weeks later Gino the EBT was ready for adoption! Well to cut a long story short, we are now 3 dogs richer, all with their own quirks and personalities but our lives are immensely enriched thanks to the excellent work done by the SPA.

Paddington, Texas and Gino..

Martha..( ex Joyce)

We rehomed “Joyce” who had been in the pound for quite some time and had been put in there with her sister due to their fighting.   Her sister had been rehomed quite soon after being in the pound but Joyce had been waiting some months to be rehomed.
“Joyce” arrived after a very stressful weekend not only for her, but for us, as her transport broke down and we weren’t really sure when she would be arriving.   We received a phone call when the transport arrived at Dover,and she eventually arrived about 3 hours later at 10pm on a Sunday evening, which was about 15 hours after she should have arrived.
“Joyce’s” first meeting with Maxwell our Weimarner was not good, she bit his ear quite badly.   As she had been travelling for a long period of time, she was very stressed and hyper and was not ready to go bed so my husband had to take her for a walk at 1am.
We decided to name her Martha and didn’t know if she would understand this, or us, being as she came from France and didn’t know if she understood french, spanish or English.
She didn’t seem to like other dogs, and attacked Maxwell quite a few times, as well as my sisters dog.   Maxwell became quite scared of her.     So not only did we have to deal with Martha but also help Maxwell over come his fear of her.
When I walked her, I had to constantly reassure her and scoured the internet for training tips on how to help her overcome her reaction to other dogs.
Luckily I was in contact with the owner of Martha’s sister, now named Lily, so we could compare notes and support each other, as this really helped in getting to understand Martha’s behaviour.
I would say that it took about 6 weeks for Martha’s behaviour to change, and to become de-stressed, and I would say that I think she felt quite threatened and scared at first.
It was difficult in the beginning as there was very little history about how her, and her sister had been treated, what training they had had, if any.   Martha didn’t seem to know many commands, and didn’t seem to know how to play with toys at all, which was quite sad.   She also didn’t know how to play with other dogs and still doesn’t completely, as when they start to chase her she becomes that frightened dog again and has to be called away just incase she attacks them.
The only thing she seemed to know how to do was sit, and give her paw which she did constantly for attention.   She barges Maxwell out of the way as she wants the attention, and she had to learn that she was not top dog.
My 13 year old daughter has been a great help in teaching her how to play, and she now plays tug with a teddy.   It is so lovely to see her play and be happy.   She is still quite scared of some toys and also the hairdryer and hoover, but every day she gets braver.
I have a shadow, constantly following me around the house and wanting attention, and if I go out, she would cry constantly even if my family were still at home.    Mind you the greeting I get when I get back is so overwhelming, its like Ive been gone for months rather than an hour or so.
However,  I can honestly say that the hard work, training and love is so worthwhile to see the change in her.   Martha now licks Maxwell’s ears and they even share beds.
Training is ongoing and it is so rewarding to see her learn, and she loves to “talk” as Dalmations do in her growly language.
I would definitely rehome a dog again, as it is so nice to give a dog a home rather than give up on them at the first hurdle.   You just need, patience, understanding, love and time.

Martha and Maxwell..friends at last!

Six Months On – Caillou

Hi everyone, Darcey here! Today is six months to the day since I adopted Caillou so I thought I would write a bit about my experience for the section “Life After the Refuge”, as half a year seems to be a noteworthy landmark.

Very few dogs arrive at the SPA after spending their lives in loving homes, but some have had worse experiences than others. Caillou arrived at the SPA in July last year at the age of 7 months, having known nothing but mistreatment. Apparently he was tied up and beaten with a shovel, plus he also has what the vet thinks is a burn scar on his flank.. Hardly surprising that he should have issues.

Initially he could not be approached, and at his first visit to the vet he showed so much aggression (due to fear) that the vet was sure that Caillou’s fate was to be euthanised. She didn’t realise that this is not what the SPA is about.

Instead it was a slow and steady introduction to the world. I think I was the first person to take him for a walk outside the refuge, but the wonderful staff had already started socialising Caillou on the SPA grounds. I remember taking the lead out of Marion’s hands and offering to take him out.  Yes, I was a bit nervous, because thus far Caillou had always growled at me from the back of his kennel. But this first  walk with him went fine, and I started to fall under his charm.

Dog trainer Shirley came to the SPA a few days later, and I introduced her to Caillou. She reassured me that he was a normal dog, just a terrified one.

The next step was dog school, specifically the Club Canin Carcassonne, where I took Caillou once a week for 7 months. This meant taking him out for a precious hour of freedom then putting him back in his kennel. Off the lead he was playful and not at all aggressive with other dogs, albeit a bit over-enthusiastic. On the lead he was quick to learn commands, but was not as quick to learn as other dogs who of course lived with loving families.

After several weeks of this, Caillou was finally able to share his kennel at the SPA. Gradually he was given more and more privileges, such as being let to run free with other dogs in the mornings when the SPA was shut to visitors. This is great for socialisation and helps dogs to gain confidence.

Of course there were setbacks. Once at dog school I tied Caillou up while I went to help someone with their car. When I got back he was in a total panic, snapping and snarling at everyone, like a cornered beast. When he heard me call his name he calmed down instantly and jumped into my arms. But I realised then just how damaged he was, and that despite his progress, there was a lot of work still to do. I also realised how attached he was to me.

Lots of volunteers had started walking him , but in his box he remained a barking, seemingly aggressive dog. No one who didn’t know him would offer him a home. But I did know him, and I loved him. And he loved me. So after he had been at the SPA for ten months, on May 16th I adopted him.

So six months on, what have I learned, or rather had confirmed.
Firstly you get to where you want to go  far quicker with love than anger.
Also there is nothing in the world more rewarding than having your “difficult dog” praised for his behaviour.
Also the best place for a Sunday nap is lying on the sofa with a dog curled up alongside you, as if he had never ever known any cruelty or hardship his entire life.

As I say, it hasn’t always been easy. Probably just about every adopter in the world goes through a period of thinking “Oh my God, what have I done”. So there was a bit of that. Then at about the five month point there was a crisis. Things between Caillou and my husband were degenerating,  and he asked me why, with all the perfectly well-behaved and gentle dogs at the SPA, I chose to bring home a “psycho”. Oops, time to ask for help!

Thankfully  dog trainer Roger agreed to pay an emergency visit. I knew the answer to the problem, but of course it had to come from an outsider (and a male outsider) to be acceptable. Roger’s visit lasted an hour, but what he had to say was delivered in the first 5 minutes. A week later and with very little effort, the issue was resolved.

So a very important lesson is to never be too proud to ask for help.

Caillou can now be left tied up outside the village shop while I pop in for bread. We have only been doing this for a month or so; at first he barked but he soon realised that I am coming back. It is all about small steps and not overwhelming him with too much too soon. And in the evening we walk off lead with about 15 dogs and 10 owners, and Caillou plays with all the dogs happily and has just started letting the humans pat him.

So he is still a work in progress. However compared to the semi-wild but loveable dog of six months ago, he is unrecognisable. Having three other well-socialised dogs has doubtless helped him settle in, but all of them were rescues too.  And this is the source of much pride for me and my ever-tolerant husband, who didn’t even want one dog, but is now the devoted dad of four of them!

Not all SPA dogs have problems like this, I must add. In this section “Life after the Refuge”  you can find many tales of dogs who have adapted almost seamlessly to their post-refuge lives. And as I said, I knew what I was getting into. In many ways it has been far easier than expected. This is not only because there are lots of people to help and advise, but also because Caillou loves other dogs and people, and as soon as he knows they mean him no harm, he is absolutely adorable. Time, love and patience are really all that were needed.

There are other dogs who can be put into the “difficult” category at the SPA, being helped by staff and volunteers. Hopefully each and every one of them will find the home he or she deserves. If you have the time, love and dedication to take on a complicated dog, it can be extremely rewarding,  and I wouldn’t change Caillou for the world.

Caillou when he first arrrived at the SPA and today


We knew that when we were ready to get a companion for our female Staffy after losing our male Staffy to cancer, it would be another rescue dog.

Luckily we came into contact with Dog Rescue Carcassonne and Moira suggested we might like to meet Jamie. We wanted an older dog who liked – or was indifferent to – cats as we have three.

We quickly fell in love with Jamie, she is such a gentle girl. She has fitted into our family – all rescued in one way or another – very well. She has a lot of energy and loves her walks, she also loves her cuddles and her food!

Adopting a dog or cat from a refuge makes sense and it frees up another place in the kennels/cattery.

Just want to say that we love Jamie to bits, she is a sweetheart!

Jamie ( right ) with Jess and Harry.


Artigo…Bleu de Gascogne

Three years after our last dog, a Grand Blue de Gascogne from France, passed away, we decided we wanted to take a dog again.Since me and my wife believe that it’s better to give a dog from a rescue a chance, rather than taking a puppy I started my online search for a new Blue de Gascogne.

Pretty quickly I came across a very friendly looking chap called Artigo. One problem, he was located in Carcassonne, 1250km’s away from our home in Utrecht, the Netherlands! So I emailed the Dog Rescue Carcassonne in my best French to see what the possibilities were. To my surprise, I quickly received an answer in perfect English.
It turned out that adopting Artigo was an easy and very affordable process. Within a few weeks, Artigo was delivered to our house in Utrecht by a special animal delivery van driven by a  friendly French couple.

Adopting a dog without meeting it beforehand is of course always a bit of a risk, however, because of the specific questions the staff at the Dog Rescue asked us and the footage of Artigo they provided we were confident that things would turn out to be OK.

Things turned out to be more than OK, Artigo arrived in perfect health and adapted superfast to our family life. He is now the most loyal and loveable companion we could ever ask for.My kids love him, he is perfect to take along for a jog and is an all-round heartthrob.He is the neighborhood’s favorite pet, we have a surplus of pet sitters and even at my daughter school, he steals the show.

A real family dog!…

All in all, we are very fortunate that the Dog Rescue Carcassonne entrusted us with Artigo.  We would highly recommend them and taking a rescue dog.


Beau..( ex Dumbo)

Hi, we were very privileged to be able to adopt Dumbo, renamed Beau,in January 2017. Having had two dogs at a time for many years, there was a void to be filled after my dog lost his fight to cancer at only six.

We knew about the great work refuges do in France, as our son lives in France, and has adopted a dog and currently fosters one, so for us adoption was the way to go.

After the necessary checks Beau arrived in Brisol UK very early, on 29th January after a long trip from France. He was initially very nervous as he was taken from the vehicle and into our home. Beau was greeted by our  Rottie Newfoundland  cross Abbie, with no incidents as she accepted him into her home. Nervously he approached me and I was able to fuss him hopefully reassuring all was well. Beau very quickly settled in, joining Abbie on the sofa making himself very much at home. He is much admired when were out as he is a very handsome boy. He loves attention from everyone and has a lovely temperament.

We have young grandchildren and they love him, for a big boy, he is very gentle and the little ones love to give him a treat as he takes it without snatching unlike Abbie who needs reminding of her manners, Beau laps up all the attention he is given from anyone.

Abbie and Beau are great friends,  they share the sofa at every opportunity and play well together.  Beau and Abbie sound like very good house dogs if someone knocks on the door but once inside people are greeted with waggy tails and much fuss. Beau being a hound  tends to bay with his bark causing much amusement to all who hear him.  Beau adores my husband, I believe it’s because in the first few days he was with him whilst I was at work, but more likely it’s because he has a affinity with all animals and all seem to love him. I am a poor second but still get love and greetings from Beau and cuddles on the sofa. Beau loves the beach, being off the lead is work in progress as he does tend to follow others and ignores the command to return finding the people or dog he’s following much more interesting. He is happy to be left with Abbie for short periods if we have to leave them at home, but gets very distressed if John has to take Abbie out without him even though I’m there. I don’t get this reaction from Beau so think it’s seperation from John issues which were working on.

We don’t regret our choice to adopt Beau, he has our hearts, is part of our family and brings us so much pleasure. As I said at the start we are privileged to have Beau and have no regrets. We hope this encourages others to.

Beau ( ex Dumbo)

Bella formerly Esquise

bella2Bella is not our first rescue dog, so we do have a bit of experience having bought Lara who was our first dog with us from England. She was from the RSPCA rescue centre in Bristol in 2001 when she was 4/5 years old. Sadly we had to have her put to sleep when she was 16 in March 2013. Her death came at a time when there were other big family bereavements, and she was another big loss to the family.

I had been periodically looking at the Carcassonne SPA website, after a recommendation from a friend, looking for another dog. In May 2015 we were about to depart on holiday to Montenegro when I saw a beautiful Labrador cross who was described as large, very playful and affectionate called Esquise. I said to my husband that if she was still available when we returned from holiday I would be paying the SPA a visit.

On returning from holiday she was still there.  I was very excited, but held off for a whole 3 days before taking a nearly 2 hour drive from our house near Grenade to the SPA. It was pouring with rain and I could barely see a yard in front of me on the drive down there. The rain had stopped in Carcassonne by the time I arrived and so I went to her kennel to see her. She jumped up and showered me with kisses through the wire fencing. She pushed and harassed the other dog she was sharing with to the back of the kennel as if to say “Hands off! This one’s mine!” I went into the office to make further enquiries and to see if I could see her out of her kennel. They brought her to the office and we were introduced. She was very affectionate and quite calm for a young dog, but the main thing that struck me was her size! She is a big girl! She is about 2 or 3 times bigger than any Labrador I’ve ever seen and at just 1 year old at the time already weighed 37kgs; it didn’t put me off at all! Her feet were nearly the same size as my hands! I took a photo on my phone and texted my husband to show him what a gorgeous girl she was. I handed over the cheque and arranged to pick her up the following Saturday. This gave me a few days to prepare for our new arrival, collecting the necessary kit, ie. Lead, bowls and bedding plus some toys together that I had put away.   I’d already decided on the name Bella, as it suited her better and was easier to pronounce than Esquise.

Bella1We collected her as arranged and my husband had to lift her into the boot of my car as she appeared unable/unwilling to jump in herself (more about that later). I have since bought a ramp for her to use as I cannot lift her. She travelled well on the way home and we got a lot of admiring glances and waves from other motorists as she was periodically looking out of the window at the passing traffic.

On arriving home, we wanted her to live in the house with us so we tried taking her inside. This was obviously unacceptable to Bella as she flatly refused by plonking her bottom on the doorstep. We resolved the matter by running up to the door three of us side by side, it was a bit of a squash but we got her in! We allowed her to investigate the whole house, but she was reluctant to come in the kitchen and took a bit of persuasion. That evening we had invited a friend and her dog for dinner. They duly arrived, when I opened the door and they saw Bella and both of them looked as if they wanted to run for the hills! The dog wet itself and hid amongst its owner’s skirt, as if to say “Help! Save me! It’s a monster!” Thankfully they are now good friends and get on very well together.

Needless to say, lots of fun has ensued with her training. At the time of her arrival, the wall we had had built to enclose the garden wasn’t quite finished, as we were having to wait for the electric gates to be delivered so we had to sort out a temporary gate until they arrived. During this time we had to keep her on a long rope (15m) because sometimes the gate couldn’t be up due to the continuing building work. She obviously enjoyed being outside and we needed to keep her safe! During one evening we were playing with her, throwing a ball for her to fetch. My husband threw the ball not realising that the rope was wrapped around my leg, of course Bella went hell for leather after the ball upending me in the process, causing a bump to the back of my head and a rather nasty deep friction burn to my calf from the rope. Looking back it must have looked very slapstick, but I was in considerable pain and was not a happy bunny. I still have a slight scar there now. She has also taken my husbands’ feet out from underneath him whilst playing causing him to face plant right in front of the neighbours, who thought it completely hilarious and pulled me over whilst walking in the forest because she was frightened when some people came up behind us.

She has escaped a couple of times, which nearly turned me grey with worry as we live on a country road where drivers speed along it in both directions. The neighbours must have had such a laugh at my expense because at one point I was out on the road in the morning in my red with white spotted dressing gown, shouting at the top of my voice and waving my arms in the air to stop the traffic. She’s also very excitable when going out for a walk, and sounds like Darth Vader which is a bit scary for passers-by. She also wants to say “hello” to everyone and they always seem to think she’s going to bite them. She also sees cyclists and Lorries, which she hates, as fair game to chase and bark at too! We are very lucky, we live in the countryside and there are lots of very good dog walking places which are traffic free.   We have also taken her with us when we’ve gone for days out to visit various tourist attractions and also when my husband plays Cricket.bella3

In January of this year she was attacked in the garden by a very large semi-feral cat. She had cornered the cat underneath the garden shed and as a consequence suffered various facial injuries as well as a deep bite on her chest. The worst injury was that she broke her front left leg. She was referred by our vet for specialist treatment in Toulouse and had to have an operation with a plate and pins to secure the break. Worst still she had to be kept on bed rest for 2 months and then was allowed only to have gentle exercise. This is no mean feat especially when this concerns a very lively, young dog who just loves to be outside in our very large garden running “hell for leather” everywhere. This was when we also discovered that she also has a dysplasia of her left hip, which accounts for her inability to jump. We will have to keep an eye on this because she is big it may be a problem for her when she gets older.

We have now trained her to come when she is called. We tried many incentives to achieve this, food, toys, treats. Anything, you name it we tried it! Eventually we very reluctantly turned to a collar that buzzes or beeps. It doesn’t hurt her, just distracts and refocuses her attention. I must say I was extremely reluctant to use it at first, but we have only had to use it a couple of times and it really does work. Now all we have to say is “No Bella!” and she behaves herself. We have also used it when we walk her to keep her under our control and out of harm’s way. I am pleased to say that our perseverance and encouragement of good behaviour has paid off and she just decided herself that it was better to do as we asked. We still don’t trust her enough to be able to let her off the lead yet. I am sure that will come in the future. Training was also helped by her having to go to a dog sitter for a couple of days whilst we attended a family funeral back in the UK. The British lady who ran the place had 5 dogs of her own and there were a number of other dogs who arrived over the course of her stay, so she learned how to behave from them. I am pleased to say that she has continued like this ever since, which is a win-win for everyone as before we had to get hold of her by her collar to bring her in.

Bella is now nearly 2 years old and has been with us for 11 months. Life with her is eventful, but full of fun. The main problems we have encountered are due to her size (now 43kg) and her lively nature. Not only does she love to be outside but she also loves to be inside, especially when it’s either hot, to take advantage of the cool stone floors, or raining as she loathes getting too wet. She’s getting used to the shower routine to have her feet washed when she’s been out in muddy the garden. She is especially cute when she listens to us because she puts her head from side to side and now she has begun to calm down a bit, she is becoming a wonderful loving and loyal companion. We are besotted!