The Last of Dolly
Sad news here - there's a large empty space where Dolly dog used to sleep. Dolly herself has gone to that great doggy biscuit factory in the sky and is stuffing herself with heavenly saucisson sec, leaving us on the hunt for a new dog.
The trouble is, it's not easy to replace the best dog in the world. Having lived with the smartest, funniest, prettiest little dog that was ever created, it's hard to settle for anything less. One gets spoilt. I have to admit that apart from loving Dolly's witty, greedy, clever personality, I used to revel in the admiration she generated.
In shops, restaurants and hotels across France, I got into the habit of gaily sailing past “no dogs” signs secure in the knowledge that they wouldn't apply to Dolly. And they never did. Shop-keepers, restaurateurs and hoteliers would take one look at those bright shiny eyes, that cute button nose and the mass of brilliant white fur... and melt.
“Quel joli petit toutou! Ah, mignon! Elle veut boire? Elle veut manger un petit bout de poulet?”
Being a French canine filmstar, Dolly took it all in her stride. She loved being passed from lap to lap, patted by toddlers and fed little bits of chicken by waiters. Naturally she was smart enough not to do the bins, chase the neighbour's chickens, or roll in dead seagulls unless no-one was looking.
But finally age caught up with her, and I found myself dolefully ringing round all the vets, rescue centres, and kennels asking if they had a nice little bichon that we could adopt. Since Dolly was a rescue dog herself, it seemed a fitting tribute.
I should have known better. The phone's been ringing off the hook. Would you like a Doberman who hates cats? What about a pregnant German shepherd, a bit dodgy with kids. A nice pair of boxers? Only slightly aggressive... or a three-legged terrier in Montpellier? What about a 14-year old spaniel with heart disease in Millau? Can you just look after this abandoned wolf-hound? We've got this adorable sausage dog with spine problems... Not a bichon frisé in sight.
We decided to become a “famille d'accueil” - a foster family for dogs. There are so many stray dogs in France that the rescue organisations often get full up - at which point the local councils insist on putting the dogs down unless someone takes them in until they're re-homed.
The system is that the charity pays the dog's expenses (ie food and veterinary care) and you look after it as long as you want to. If you go away for the weekend, you give the dog back. If you fall in love with it, you can adopt it forever.
So far we've had an over-grown griffon cross called Boy, a shivering Yorkie called Freddie, and we've now got a tiny poodle cross called Annis. All three have been neurotic and strange to begin with, and within days all three have adopted the ethos of our household: eat a lot, play a lot, sleep as much as you can.
None of them have been what my vet calls “le chien de ma vie” but all of them have filled the aching void. So until we find Dolly's permanent replacement, they're ideal.
While I comb the kennels of France looking for Dolly the Second, the canine jetsam and flotsam of the Languedoc are keeping the empty dog bed warm.
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