19 March 2007

Dog days

No, this is not weather-related. The fact is, it's been a year since Collette died. We told ourselves we were going to wait a year before we started looking for a new dog. The new dog will still suffer the comparison with Collette, a collie-like mutt that we adopted at the Silicon Valley Humane Society in Santa Clara, California, in 1992. She lived with us for nearly 14 years, and moved with us to France at the ripe old age of 11½.

Collette on the beach at San Francisco in about 1998

About a week ago, I called the local SPA — Société Protectrice des Animaux — and asked about their hours and procedures. The woman on the phone said the facility, located about 7 miles north of Saint-Aignan, near Contres, was open to the public every afternoon except Sunday. I would need to show proof of my address (an electricity or telephone bill, for example) and a valid ID, in my case my U.S. passport and French carte de séjour, or residency permit, before they would let me adopt a dog.

Walt and I were busy all last week, spending one afternoon in Blois having lunch with friends, and another afternoon meeting with a contractor about our other current project, which is sprucing up our kitchen by painting and having a new sliding-glass window and some extra electrical outlets put in. On Friday, we finally had time to go look at the dogs available at the SPA.

In the southern California desert in February 2001

I think we both hoped that we might find Collette there, or at least her twin — I know I did — but that didn't happen, of course.

The local SPA is very different from the Silicon Valley Humane Society, as you might imagine. The Santa Clara facility is located in the middle of the urban sprawl that runs from San Francisco south for 50 or 60 miles down to the lower sections of San José. Three or four million people live in that stretch of housing developments, shopping malls, little downtowns, and office parks. Silicon Valley is not exactly a rural area, and the Humane Society, I remember, felt like a big warehouse full of barking dogs in cages. It was really jumping that Saturday morning in July 1992 when we found Collette there.

Here, the SPA is outdoors. There's an old stone farmhouse where the offices are set up, and then there are four or five long, low outbuildings divided into separate kennels for the dogs of the moment. We were greeted by a friendly staff and told to just go have a look around. There were two kennels close in, they said, but make sure you go through the gate out to what they called les villages to see even more adoptable canines, we were told.

That's what we did. It was bright and sunny. More than half the dogs barked loudly as we walked past their box (can you say [bucks]?), as the individual cages are called in Molière's language. Some were just being territorial, but some appeared to be terrified. Completely freaked out. Vicious, even. One poor dog chased his own tail, spinning madly in circles, seemingly oblivious to our presence. Several others were 10 or even 12 years old, according to the sign on their cage. Still others hid from our prying eyes.

Personally, I saw two dogs, out of the 50 or so available, that I would have been tempted to take home with me. One was a friendly beagle that had already been spoken for. The other was a small, 9-month-old yellow Labrador, a female that was bright and friendly. There was a pile of dog poop on the floor of her box and I kept hoping she wouldn't step in it as she jumped around with joy at seeing some new humans.

That should have been my first clue that there was a problem. We went back and talked to the people in the office. A woman there said Ariane, as the Lab was named, was a good-tempered, alert dog, but she had one big problem. Nobody had yet succeeded in housebreaking her.

In French, the word for "housebroken" is propre. It also applies to children who are toilet-trained — they are propres, or "clean." That is not a term you would know unless you've had children or a puppy in France.

I learned it from reading a now-discontinued blog written by an American woman who is raising two small children in France. When the first child was ready to go to nursery school, the school authorities asked the American whether her son was propre. She was offended! "Of course my son is clean. I bathe him every day!" she thought. Afterwards, the woman's French husband explained to her what "clean" meant in the context of a toddler and a nursery school.

August 2002 in California with Walt and our friend Cheryl

So the little Labrador was not "clean." She had recently been adopted out to a family that kept her only a couple of weeks before deciding they couldn't deal with the mess and brought her back, we were told. Even the SPA staff couldn't train the dog; they would take her on long walks during which nothing would happen, and as soon as they put her back in her box she would poop on the floor.

But it's not hopeless, the SPA woman said. We know a trainer who deals with problem dogs and who could surely sort this behavior issue out for you. We'll give you the trainer's phone number.

We said we would have to think about it over the weekend. Along with the poop problem, I'm also worried that the little Lab would just be too rambunctious for a life as a house dog. Collette was a calm if sometimes spooky dog, and she was 95% propre when we got her. She was about six months old, and after just two or three "accidents" in the house she figured out where she was supposed to do her business and never sinned again.

Meanwhile, I started searching the web. I found sites where people place ads for dogs and puppies they want to sell or give away. But I didn't find any interesting prospects nearby. And I of course found web sites for dog breeders specializing in all sorts of dogs.

Ken and Collette at the Eiffel Tower in June 2003

One is a breeder located about two hours' drive southeast of Saint-Aignan and about 20 miles east of the town of Montluçon. Montluçon is a place Walt and I visited on a vacation back in 1995 when we were driving from Paris to Toulouse, and I've always wanted to go back and see it again. It's located near the headwaters of the Cher river, which flows by just down at the bottom of our hill.

Saturday morning I contacted the breeder, who specializes in border collies, by e-mail, and she said she had three female puppies available. They were born on February 22. I wrote back to make an appointment, and the answer back was that yes, please do come for a visit, but now there is only one female puppy left. So they are selling like petits pains — hotcakes.

We'll be able to drive the autoroute, a toll expressway,
all the way from Saint-Aignan (upper left) past Vierzon,
Bourges, and Montluçon, down to Montmarault (lower right).
It's supposed to take two hours and the toll is 15€/20$.

We can't go today because we are having another kitchen contractor come in to do some measuring in preparation for giving us an estimate on the work we want done. And we didn't want to commit to going tomorrow because the weather forecast says we should expect snow (!) in the morning. But we plan to drive down to Montluçon and the nearby village of Montmarault on Wednesday to see what might develop. Maybe that puppy will still be available and will win our hearts.


  1. good luck on your dog search....it is hard being without a 4 footed friend for so long...it is also hard to follow a great dog like Colette....I hope you find the next family addition soon

  2. Yes, good luck, Ken and Walt. You'll find the right dog. Just a caution... if you think the lab might be too rambunctious for life as a house dog, I don't know whether a border collie will be much better. I'm sure you know they are energetic working dogs who need lots of exercise.

    It'd be great if you could find an adult dog again or one nearly grown as Collette was, so you don't have to go through all the challenges of puppyhood.

  3. Ginny, thanks. This is a big decision and we're trying to think it through. I understand about the nature of a border collie, I think. I don't know if the fact that we are at home all the time and willing to be out with the dog as much as necessary makes a difference. Border collies are high-strung and demanding, I guess. They need exercise and interaction. The labrador is more energetic in a rambunctious and clumsy kind of way, maybe, jumping around on people and furniture. Whatever we decide, it will be a gamble.

  4. Oh, and having a puppy might be part of the joy of having a new dog. We missed that stage of life with Collette.

    Though you saw Collette on one of her most rambunctious and wildest days, didn't you?

  5. Bill and I add our warm good-luck wishes--and Rebecca adds, woof! We're looking forward to more news...

  6. Yes, I saw Collette in a high-energy day. She was grand! Seeing those pictures make me realize again what a regal beauty she was. And she knew her own mind! I could only get her attention if I had sausage in my hand.

    Good luck, I'm sure you'll do well. Keep us posted.

  7. Ray and I add best wishes for good canine hunting. Although we run more to the feline, it's the same process. You meet and greet until one of them grabs you by the heart and refuses to let go.

    It's always a gamble. Every animal we've adopted has surprised us -- it's part of their charm. Good luck and have fun with it. We're looking forward to the next installment in your continuing adventures.

  8. I probably shouldn't comment on this particular topic, but...

    You guys remember Austin, our black lab? That's probably as bad as a lab gets unless it's really messed up. You have to multiply the energy level by at least 3 to get to a Border Collie (at least the ones we know). This is especially true if they are from herding stock and can work sheep (ask the breeder). The most energetic Sheltie I've ever known is a slouch compared to the Border Collies we know.

    On the other hand, I think everyone we know who owns a BC has more than one, so they must have something going for them. They drive me crazy and I can tolerate Austin. You just have to be willing to put in 2 or 3 hours a day in exercise. They are great to play with and are almost always experts at fetch and frizbee. This isn't the kind of dog you can leave alone for a long period of time.

    Manic-acting dogs in a pound usually mean the dogs don't get any attention and they have been there for a long time. It's almost impossible to undo those behaviours. It's called going "cage crazy."

    But you also have to consider that dogs at a shelter will often act a little over enthusiastic, jumping and barking, like the Lab, just because they are excited to see anyone. They're bored and have a lot of pent-up energy. You have to get them out of the kennel, walk around for a while, and wait for at least a half hour to see if they ever calm down. Often after 15 or 20 minutes they get to their "normal" state and then you can get a better idea of what they would be like at home.

    Anyway, good luck. I hope you can find a dog. You guys are a great home and there are loads of animals that need you.

  9. Hi Tom, you are scaring me now and here's why: we found a border collie today and have decided this is the one. It's only 4 weeks old so we won't get the bring it home before about May 1. Since we don't work and don't have to travel, we figure we will be able to spend many hours a day with the dog, walking out in the vineyard and throwing a tennis ball or frisbee around. We are taking a risk but think we know what we are signing up for. Besides, we'll have only one dog to deal with, not 7 or 8 or 15! Hope you and H and the canines are doing well.

  10. I have been perusing your, and your partner's, blogs for a bit now, very nice stuff. I see that you are getting a new puppy! That is wonderful! Having gone through raising a puppy (not necessarily an expert, just experienced.) and adding a mature rescue later, I can tell you the best thing that we ever did was to give the dogs a job. Windsor's, the Corgi, is to fetch the ball. This he does with great abandon. Kylie's the Bearded Collie, is to keep us informed of any deliveries, mail, UPS, FedEx, etc. Unfortunately, she does this with great abandon as well. It is amazing how many times the squirrels look just like the mailman. The only drawback (and it is easier with 2 people) is letting the dog relieve him (or her) self. At 8 weeks of age that is every 2 hours. Then, adding an additional hour every month. Mark and I were exhausted by the time Windsor was 8 months old. However, we only had 1 accident that whole time. And that was our fault because we could not get home one day quick enough. Windsor was finished with crate training at 12 weeks of age. Good luck! Hope you don't mind the lurking at your site. It is really interesting reading. Colette looked like she was a beautiful being. I will try to get some of my dog's pics up on my site. I don't have a lot of time to update so it is rather lame.

  11. That's great, Ken, I'm glad you found a dog. I'm sure you guys will have a lot of fun with it. My brother has two BCs and doesn't agree with my view on the breed.

    It's a good thing they are keeping it for a while longer. You want the pup to be with its littermates for 8 weeks. That helps with socialization and bite inhibition.

    In the worst case you can buy a couple of sheep to keep in your yard so the dog will have something to do!

  12. It loved seeing Colette again in photos I had not seen before. Walt and you seem to now have a beautiful pup on the way. I'm sure Colette will approve and it's nice Callie is so young. I'll look forward to seeing her grow through your wonderful photos.


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