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A Shaggy Dog Tale

1382921_10151682666882286_415897506_nIn June this year my beloved Staffie cross died at age 13 years old after a short illness. He was feisty, loyal, unpredictable and had aggression issues, disliking many people and other animals in equal measure. One of several dog behaviourists we hired to help him uttered the immortal words “this dog is not a monster” this was about 30 seconds before Dylan bit him! Not his finest hour and I cried for days wondering why I had ended up with the Hannibal Lecter of the dog world. So, his passing was a mixed blessing and I had no intention of getting another dog…..

I had enough on my plate already, part of me saying we still had Ruby, a Braque Allemande cross and chasse reject, adopted from my local SPA 5 years ago, who is skittish and terrified of gunshots and then there are our two elderly cats, a rabbit and various poultry, but then the other part of me kept nagging “but there is a bit of room left at the Inn”(and clearly I am the sort who would have turned Mary and Joseph away but found a room for the donkey)!

So via the internet I found the SPA Carcassonne site, our local SPA doesn’t have one, and doesn’t extend a particularly warm welcome even to those wanting to adopt a dog and I was immediately drawn in by the warmth of the welcome and how well the site was presented, showing a lovely complicity between the staff and the dogs. I started to check the site regularly to get updates on adoptions and arrivals and shared in the triumphs and disappointments. I felt that the photos and the snapshots of the dogs characters, with a bit of the dog’s history wherever possible, was a great starting point.

And then I saw him, Pitchou, a scruffy, hairy, mutt of 8 years old, abandoned due to a divorce by people who had had him from a puppy. Boy did that story resonate with me and pulled me straight back to my childhood. When my parents divorced Imm not sure either were that keen on keeping the children so the dog stood no chance and I got home from school to a dogless house to be told that the dog had been sent to a farm! “But what does a sausage dog do on a farm we wailed”, “nips the cows heels to round them up into the sheds”, came the reply. Game Over for poor Simon and it was not the poor dogs fault!

This put me on Pitchou’s ‘side’ from the start and in the SPA write up the word SOCIABLE leapt out at me, he was good with other dogs and very laid back. This really was music to my ear and it all sounded too good to be true, but I figured that as the same family had had him for 8 years then he most likely was just that!

I made further enquiries by phone and e.mail and the lovely Moira was always on hand to answer my queries and offer good help and advice. I loved the fact that she was never pushy and just let me make decisions and ruminate at my own pace. In some ways having had Dylan I was a bit afraid of taking on a new dog and may have been trying to put obstacles in my own way! The big test however, and non negotiable, was whether Pitchou was good with cats, so Moira organised a cat test and I was assured that he was totally disinterested in any feline charms!

It was important that the whole family were on board with the adoption so the 4 of us set off together on a roasting hot July day to meet our new chum. Pitchou, despite having had a recent wash and brush up by Moira, still looked rather bedraggled but was an instant hit with my husband who wanted to rush out and get him a dog-kerchief and rename him Banjo (..err..No!) My younger daughter waxed lyrical about hairstyles, bobbles and grooming so I tried to remain objective and calm so that I would be strong enough to say ‘no’ if necessary.

We took him out of his kennel and into one of the little parks and that is when he dropped his ‘little old man act’ and showed his true colours racing around, bounding up and down, flinging his kong ball everywhere and jumping in and out of a bowl of water, he couldn’t have done more to attract attention if he had started high kicking with a cane and top hat! It was almost like he knew it was a now or never moment and the deal was done! So he was reserved and taken for all his jabs and to be snipped and he was collected in August!

Well what can I say, from day one he has been simply wonderful and has settled in beautifully. He is friendly, funny, gentle and has clearly been well trained as he knows all the basic commands, walks well on the lead, has excellent recall and has not tried to sit on the furniture. He even snores very sweetly so, what’s not to like!! He and Ruby rub along well together though her nose was put out of joint to start with and she was very ‘ice maiden’ for the first few weeks, considering herself to be Yves St Laurent to his Primark, but his steadiness of character has won her over. A real case of Lady and The Tramp!

He has been to my local vet for a meet and greet and behaved impeccably. He is lively but not demanding and loves to walk, but then I’d never thought of him as being ‘old’ at 8, because he isn’t and as the vet said “He is a flower who has just opened”…aaah…sweet!

All he needed was a bit of kindness and a second chance and we consider ourselves enormously fortunate to have found him.



One dog Friday

Sometimes we look at numbers, and our occasional Four or Five Dog Fridays have been a cause of much celebration. However in my bleaker moments (and there are plenty, believe me), I tell myself that each dog homed is a dog happy. So the adoption of one single dog is still cause for celebration. How does the saying go? Saving one dog will not change the world, but for that dog the world will change.

Today was the turn of Katya. She arrived not long ago, on August 10th, to be precise, and immediately won hearts. She is very small and lively and completely adorable. Sharing her box with a much bigger dog, Katya risked not being seen,  but she was very clever at ducking between Balthazar’s huge paws to make sure she got her share of attention.

Today she left for her new home, fresh from being sterilised. I am delighted for her! We wish her well in her new life with her new family.

Meanwhile we have news and even a photo of Gafarot, who is gaining confidence by the day thanks to his foster family. It is a case of lots of reassurance and patience for this little chap. If only we knew what has happened to him. I wish I could get my hands on the people who had him before he arrived at the SPA.


Katya finds a home













Gaffa starts to come out of his shell ( a little bit, at least!)

Jaffa (4)

Habbie’s Happy To Have a Home..

Habbie is an eleven month old chocolate pedigree Labrador who arrived at the refuge early August. She was bought from a breeder and its strange that the owners paid so much money for her but were so quick to abandon her when they recently moved house. She’s a typical young Labrador, bouncy, full of fun and in need of some training but today was her lucky day as she was adopted by a lovely young couple with a four year boy and who have a large enclosed garden so there is sure to be lots of fun for Habbie.

One other youngster wasn’t so lucky. We were absolutely horrified to find a young spaniel type dog tied to the refuge gates mid-afternoon! What kind of person would abandon their dog like this without having the guts to drive in and ensure the dog was handed over safely, then just drive off? A coward, and I really hope karma bites them in the butt!

When we look at the ages of the dogs abandoned at the SPA it comes as no surprise to see that a large proportion of the dogs are adolescents. We see a lot of unruly young dogs aged between 6 and 18 months who have had no training and have become too much for their owners to handle. A cute puppy jumping up at you can be amusing, but it’s much less funny when the dog jumping up is a fully grown Newfoundland! All of these undesirable behaviors are avoidable if a dog is trained and socialized correctly but its surprising how many people seem to think that pups will train themselves!

For the youngsters who arrive and have never been adequately socialized or had any training, all they need is a new start. All their issues are very easy overcome and with a bit of patience and understanding you will be amazed at how quickly these dogs learn and become superb family pets. We do try our best to teach these youngsters lead skills and to get them socialised as much as possible and its very rewarding to see a dog who pulled like a tractor, trotting alongside you to heel. Don’t forget if you get a dog from us and encounter any behavioral problems we are more than happy to give advice. We are really lucky to have 2 dog trainers who are staff members as well as  volunteers so you are never alone!

So go on, why not give one of our adolescents a fresh start in life!

Habbie, adopted today.


But Flurry needs a home..



And so does Shakira..





What is wrong with all these dogs? (aka Driver pulls away)

Last week whilst chatting to Diana, a lady who had adopted a dog from the SPA in March, I learned that there is a common belief that the dogs would not be at the refuge “unless there is something wrong with them”. Diana is doing her best to put an end to this rumour by telling all her friends about Millie (formerly Charlotte) with whom she is delighted.

Why do people think being at the SPA means that the dog is to blame? How often do we write that a dog is at the refuge due to a house move, or a couple’s divorce? In what way is that the dog’s fault? And how about all the poor hunt dogs who are old or too frightened of loud noises? In what way are they to blame? And how about the dogs who are left behind by people who go back to the UK and “Can’t” take their beloved dog with them? And yes, this does still happen, despite the relaxation of the passport rules.

How about the dogs who were bought or “acquired” as puppies and whose owners have not trained them, only to bring them to us when they are adolescents? How are they at fault for their owner’s lack of effort?

And all the puppies full stop. Why did their owners not sterilise their dogs in the first place and avoid bringing yet more unwanted dogs into this cruel world of ours?

It really is time that people started to realise that the dogs are at the refuge due only to people and our selfishness and idiocy. Each and every one deserves a second chance. Okay, there may be some who are not good with other dogs, but not everyone wants more than one animal. Some are not good with cats, but that is not necessarily uncurable. And for some people it does not matter; I have four dogs, none of whom likes cats, but I don’t have any, so for me it is not an issue.

So tonight my plea is to give a dog a second chance. Do not make assumptions about a dog because he or she is at the refuge. Make assumptions about their former owner, instead. You have a greater chance of being right!

So here is Driver, a lovely boy who arrived at the refuge at the end of August and who was adopted by a friend of Diana’s today. He is now called Cooper or Coop for short. He is young and boisterous, but ready for a fresh start!

Thanks you Diana, word of mouth is a wonderful thing!

Cooper leaves the refuge




Any colour as long as it’s black!

Another hot day at the refuge and not much to report. A couple of dogs had people to visit them, but nothing sure, and no departures, sadly. However I admire people who come and visit a dog and then go home to reflect. Taking a dog is a huge commitment and should be for the lifetime of the dog, so it is as well to be certain before taking the plunge!

One dog arrived, a beautiful retriever. He is 4 years old and micro-chipped. His owners’ answerphone say that they will not be returning from holiday until August 18th. One wonders who is meant to be looking after their lovely dog Elios. Perhaps they left him with friends, if so they can collect him from us, providing they have proof that they are acting in loco parentis, as it were. And if they pay us enough, we won’t even tell the owner that they lost the dog (only kidding!). Interestingly according to his identification papers in Paris, he is a black golden retriever, which seems like a contradiction in terms, so I am calling him a flatcoat! As Henry Ford may or may not have said, “Any colour as long as it is black!”. If the dog is not claimed by August 24th, he will be up for adoption. And I know lots of you love both golden retrievers and flatcoats, so you can take your pick as to what breed you call this beautiful boy!

As the hot weather continues, it is nice to see our recent appeal bearing fruit. Here is the cathouse complete with some recently arrived bamboo fencing making a lovely shaded area. The SPA is very lucky to have a salaried part time Mr Fixit, however he is always open to offers of help, so if you have any DIY skills that you would like to offer, you would be welcome to come along and lend a hand. A couple of British volunteers already do so, and both seem to enjoy it (or at least they both keep coming back!)

Oh, some of you may be wondering how Isa got on in her Trophy of the Mountains. Well, I am pleased to report that she did in fact finish in the top ten female veterans. The photo below was taken at the finish line. At this point Isa was too scared to take  her socks off, as she wasn’t sure what was going on underneath. Turns out it was nothing major, and Isa was relieved to have finished this gruelling trial intact. Running day and night, on some occasions,  for nine days, injuries could have been far worse than mangled toes. Still sooner her than me!  Congratulations once again to Isa and her little warrior, Canelle.

Shady cats







Isa’s feet. OUCH!
1146270_10201840737724599_243139148_o (1)









And a black golden retriever. No comment!

Amazing teamwork takes Polly to freedom!

It has been a busy day or so. As well as all the usual comings (numerous) and goings (far too few) of the refuge, there have been other activities.

Thanks to some super-human organisational skills and fabulous networking, Polly, a lab cross who has been at the refuge for almost exactly a year (date of arrival 14th August 2012) is now on her way to her new owner. They are a British couple who live in Alsace, and who found Polly thanks to Doglinks. So Polly had to make her way to them, a journey of some 975 kms. Of course, there are professionals or semi-professionals who can be employed to deliver dogs, but sometimes goodwill is the best (and cheapest) way.

Yesterday morning, and via Facebook, the sister of the owner one of our former residents, Napoleon, offered to do the bulk of the journey (Valence to Sarreguemine). So now we had to find Carcassonne-Valence. A SPA volunteer, Martine, offered to go as far as Montpelier, but after that we were stuck. Then out of the blue, Muriel, a girl whom I had met for lunch at the home of a great friend and SPA supporter, Sharon, contacted me. She could do Montpelier to Valence. This whole mess was given to the indefatigable Carole to sort out. And she did it! Phone numbers were exchanged, meeting points were set up and within an hour Polly was on her way!

Polly will spend a couple of nights at various houses en route, but we know all the people involved and we are receiving photos at each step of the way. We do not let our dogs leave with just anyone!
Oh, I mustn’t forget the donation sent by Didi, who follows us by internet and wanted to help offset the transport costs.

What an amazing example of team work!  I think Carole still has some hair left, but I have a feeling I owe her a drink or two!

In other SPA news, two dogs who were brought in to the SPA two days ago were collected by their owner, which was good news. The female, who turned out to be the mother, was identified and now so is the son! Turns out they had been wandering around lost for a week, but the owner had not thought to contact the SPA. They were very tired and dehydrated when they arrived and so I repeat again my plea for people to put down water for stray animals in places where they may gather.

Oh, and after some technical problems, our twitter feed is back up and running. Thanks Veronique, who is tweeting bilingually. So you can improve your French and keep up to date at the same time!


Polly behind bars








Out of her kennel…












And on her first overnight stop



The Scottish Connection

It’s a bit of a mystery how, but we have been having lots of enquiries from Scotland about some of our fantastic European breeds of dogs!  We have a beautiful Braque Allemand leaving on Saturday, a Ariegeois going to Barra in September and two Brittany Spaniels going to live in Gourdon near Aberdeen. Then to top it off today a lovely couple from outside Edinburgh arrived and reserved a Bleu de Gascogne! This lucky girl will be going to a very experienced doggy home as her new mum shows and trains dogs!

This is fantastic news for these dogs and especially exciting for me as the Braque Allemand is going to my sons so will be my very first ‘grand doggy’!  She will be leaving on Saturday with myself and  5 other animals …we never miss out on a free travel space!

Through our web and social media sites more and more Brits are spotting dogs which are rarely available in UK  rescues and even although the logistics of getting a dog to them may take a lot of effort,  the positive feed back we have got from previously  UK homed dogs really validates all our efforts.  Lots of people ask us why we bother taking dogs to the UK when there are already lots of dogs needing homes over there. The only answer I have is, if something motivates a person to make any dogs life better be it here or in the UK then why not? Of course most of the criticizers don’t actually do anything to help but I guess that is true in every walk of life!

If anyone is driving to the UK or indeed has friends or family who are driving and wouldn’t mind a furry passenger we would love to hear from you as we now have three dogs waiting to go anytime from the end of August .  I can promise you that the feel good factor you will have from helping a rescue animal towards a bright and happy future is well worth the effort!

Here are some of our European Breeds still looking for a home.

Cherokee – a Basset Fauve de Bretagne.


Bench – a Berger Pyrénées


Éclair – a Griffon cross.







Highs and lows; Sunshine and showers

The weather reflected the mood of the refuge today. We went from lovely warm sunshine to driving rain and back again all afternoon. And we had good news and bad at about the same intervals.
Rumba, the old poodle who was found a few days ago, went to join the dog chorus. The vet told us that there was more cancer than dog and she was suffering enormously. She was held in the arms of one of our gentlest employees as she went to sleep, but I curse the owners who threw her out onto the street rather than do the decent thing themselves. 
The people who have reserved Hanover came to give him a walk and a cuddle, and a family reserved Fay, one of our little dogs. Spirits were lifted. Then a lovely man came to inform us of the premature death of a dog he had adopted in August and we all had a weep together. 2 years is no age for a dog, but a twisted gut is just one of those things. 
The dog walkers managed to avoid the showers for the most part and some of our strongest dogs were walked, thanks to a young soldier who comes to help out every weekend. And Luna, one of our puppies came to show us how beautiful she is now she is all grown up.
So what photo to add….a sad one or a happy one? Maybe one that has nothing to do with any of the stories of the day. Yes, I think I will just post a picture of Lucky, who has not lived up to his name, as at 7 months he has ended up at the refuge due to his owners’ domestic problems.
Anyone after a golden retriever?