This article was written by a recent adopter of the SPA……
I’m writing this from bed where I am currently held captive by the hound lying across my feet. Every now and then he stirs and stretches, wagging his tail in his sleep. It feels entirely beyond my comprehension that anyone could have given up this loving, dopey creature, who doesn’t have a malicious bone in his body (he has dozens of goofy, clumsy bones, but no bad ones), and even harder to believe that he was nervous of all of us only 8 weeks ago.
Munro came to us from the amazing SPA Carcassonne, who are, like so many shelters, utterly overrun, dependent on donations from and adoptions by the public. The comment we get most often when introducing him to people is “but WHO would give up a handsome chap like this?” The answer is a farmer/hunter, for whom Munro’s 3 second attention span was no use following a scent. He is a Griffon Fauve de Bretagne, a beautiful Labrador sized hound bred to hunt wild boar. And in France, if a working dog won’t work, then he’s pointless. Also the French seem not to be keen on adopting dogs bred for working. So his chances of being chosen for adoption from the SPA were negligible. He came to our attention through the Fauve rescue facebook page, we already have a Bassett Fauve, Minnie, who we have had since a pup, we fell in love with the breed and despite a couple of less than adorable characteristics (scent hounds are not particularly reliable off-lead, you need securely fenced garden space and be prepared to give them plenty of exercise), I think it’s likely to be life long commitment to the type. They are absolutely charming dogs, full of joy and personality, and very loving. They are comical to watch at play and a joy to walk and run with, we have never yet had a walk with Minnie in the 16 months we’ve had her where we haven’t been stopped by someone asking “what IS she?” Because she doesn’t look like anything else. The truth is that both that Bassett and the Griffon Fauve are relatively common in France but still very unusual here. There are waiting lists with good breeders in the UK, but they often turn up at rescue centres across France when they still have plenty of life left and love to give. As our breeder was told when enquiring about life expectancy amongst the working French pack she was adding to her kennel from “they live until they can’t hunt”, but most Fauves have a good 14 years in them. Since Munro came to live with us we are stopped twice as often, they make a very attractive pair, and people fall in love quickly. I’m seriously thinking of having business cards printed with the details of the breed and the Facebook page, having written it down on so many scraps of paper for people who stop us.
Our experience adopting from the SPA was very much more straightforward than adopting from the british equivalent, which we have done previously, it feels as if the staff take a very pragmatic view, it is obviously important that you offer a safe and happy home for the cat or dog you adopt, but the emphasis is on having the right attitude, not just the right boxes ticked, which makes a refreshing change. Also they were totally up front about what the potential challenges would be, they are are realistic because the last thing they want is to have the animal returned if the match isn’t successful.
We were lucky enough to have references from Minnie’s breeder, who is well respected in the fauve community, so once I’d seen Munro’s photo and fallen head over heels, I had a conversation with the SPA’s indefatigable director, Darcey. She told me everything they knew about him, and explained the adoption process, then on to the logistics. We were fortunate in that Moira, another SPA volunteer was crossing the Channel en route to Scotland, and was happy for him to travel with her and her dogs. We had back up ready from the Fauve Rescue group, in case he and Minnie didn’t click and we couldn’t take him, so we drove from Somerset to Folkestone motorway services with our hearts in our mouths. Luckily, they adored each other from the off, they are devoted playmates, chasing and tumbling for hours and are often found lying together asleep when they’ve worn each other out.
Adopting a rescue animal is always a little bit of a leap into the unknown, but I firmly believe that if you have enough time and energy to give a puppy then you have enough of both for a rescue dog. There are very few dogs who are beyond learning different behaviour and it really only takes consistency, kindness and patience to make a nervous animal a happy and confident one. We have benefitted greatly from a few 1:1 sessions from our local dog behaviour expert, who gave us simple tricks and tips to help build a bond quickly and taught us to reward positive behaviour whilst ignoring the negatives. This has been well worth the £20 per hour, one session was enough to get us off to a good start, and we’ve had lots of homework to practice before we see him again. So often you need someone external, with no emotional attachment, to show you the right way to deal with a situation, I will be grateful forever to Adam, he turned the situation from us feeling a little overwhelmed and unsure how best to manage Munro’s panic to one where we had an agreed response to any behaviour. It’s very similar to raising toddlers, you must be consistent with any behaviours you don’t want to encourage, and like toddlers, dogs don’t understand “sometimes”, they understand “yes” or “no”, so boundaries really matter.
Munro has changed from a dog who slept curled up tightly in a ball with one eye open, to the confident creature who sleeps sprawled out wherever he fancies (often on his back with all four legs in the air!)He has rewarded our patience with devotion and has learnt so quickly he has astonished us. Having never lived in a house he picked it up fast, often copying Minnie when unsure. He practically toilet trained himself in the space of 48 hours, all we had to do was offer him the opportunity to go outside frequently, with wild praise and lavish affection when he got it right, he is so keen to please. His recall skills are brilliant, he comes happily every time I ask, and he will sit, lie down, fetch, drop, leave and offer a paw. We are working on “wait”, but he’s settled very quickly into his surroundings here and also seems delighted with every new experience, he loves going into town, to the beach, to the forests and trails and meeting people, though he is wary if we meet walkers going in the opposite direction, but is reassured quite easily and he will sit quietly under our table of we stop for coffee or lunch. He is wonderful with children, very gentle, and has lovely “pack manners” so fits in nicely with Minnie’s family, where he will stay with her when we go on holiday later in the year.
He has a typical hounds relentlessly hopeful friendliness, he is baffled if other dogs don’t want to play. He loves to run with Minnie and I, and is so full of utter joy when he plays with her or by himself, he throws his own ball, then chases it wildly, he also loves to play retrieve games but is rubbish at catching. It feels incredible that 8 weeks ago, we didn’t know him, and now he’s so much part of the family that we almost can’t remember life without him. Our dog trainer says that the worst thing you can do for a rescue dog is feel sorry for them, as you mustn’t excuse any behaviour you don’t want to encourage. It is hard though, not to feel sad that he could still be at the SPA if he hadn’t come to our attention, just because of his working past, the SPA has many wonderfully devoted volunteers, but they always need more and cannot possibly give each animal the attention they could have in a forever home. It has been an effort to be consistent, but definitely no more than with a puppy (and much less messy!) and I can truly say he becomes a happier dog every day. Seeing how Munro has blossomed I am more confident than ever that nearly every rescue dog has the potential to be a wonderfully rewarding pet with the right handling. All Munro needed was time, firm boundaries and a lot of affection. When he came to us, he would tolerate affection but didn’t seek it out, now he is the cuddliest dog imaginable.
There must be dozens of British ex-pats living in the gorgeous surroundings of the South of France, which means there must be lots of potential homes for dogs like Munro. There are dogs of all ages and dispositions at the SPA, so please don’t assume that the pet shaped hole in your life can’t be filled by an animal who is already alive and waiting for you to find them. If you can’t adopt an animal at the moment but you have time or expertise to spare then why not join the volunteer force who keep the SPA afloat?