Bella 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.
We 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.
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!