Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Second Hand Nala - Part 3

Before they left, Nala's former owners explained that she didn't like to go inside. She also didn't take food from your hand. She cringed when you tried to pet her. Which you didn't try too often because she smelled like a garbage dump.

We offered her the inside and a rug of her own. In she came. Suspicion confirmed: they'd never let her inside their house. Then they'd moved to an apartment and she couldn't climb the stairs. That one we believed. So she'd been living in their van. Full time.

First stop: the vet. Nala's heart seemed O.K. She could hear. Ran some tests and sent them to the university. When they came back, no sign of disease or illness. "How old do you think she is?" I asked. The vet looked at her teeth and estimated, "Between 5 and 10." Right. We don't know.

There were three obvious problems: Her eyes were pouring dirty, yellow mucous; she could barely walk and she stank to high heaven. For the first, we were referred to an eye specialist. For the second, we were advised to wait and see. For the third: "She'll probably have to be shaved," said the vet. "I know a good groomer." We'd never used the services of a groomer before, but, I thought, I am never going to get this dog clean on my own. She had black stuff caked into her fur like brick. Cement, I wondered?

We took her to the groomer, who agreed: "She'll have to be shaved." Two hours later, I returned to the groomer, sulking over having a bald Chow. But she wasn't bald. "When we put her in the tub," said the groomer, "it turned out to be caked mud and started melting. I've never seen a dog so dirty. The bathwater has never been so dirty. I had to change the water 3 times." Nala wasn't exactly beautiful, but at least she wasn't bald. When Io Jima had been shaved to operated on her displaced hip, it had taken nine months for the hair to grow back.

Actually, Nala wasn't too bad looking, except for her pathetically sparse tail. She was a rather nice red.

Next stop: the eye specialist. Nala had entropion, her lashes scratching her corneas, and dry eye: she didn't manufacture tears. She was so good with the specialist. She sat there, sad, while her eyes were washed and papers stuck in them and needles in the rest of her. I don't like thinking about the pain and discomfort she had endured during her 5 to 10 years. We returned home with several sorts of eye drops and an appointment to tack her eyelids.

After the surgery and regular eye drops, she was a new dog. Minus the pain in her eyes, she was happy. She could see. When we reached for her lead to go "walkies," she danced! And collapsed. But after two months of regular walkies, she could run. It seemed that she had been crippled through lack of exercise. My guess is she was only let out of the van to "do her needs," as the French say, and then shut up, again.

Two more months passed and she began wagging what passed for her tail when I came down in the morning. Then I could pat her head. It took a year for her to learn how to take food from my hand.

We're 18 months into our adoption now. Nala has had a second plastic surgery, more thorough, on her eyelids. She walks and she dances. She stumbles from mild dysplasia, but it doesn't seem to bother her. She takes treats from my hand, she's learned to be brushed, and her tail looks like a real Chow's. She is, and has been from the beginning, the most loving and loveable of dogs.

And she's gone from age 13 to age 9.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Second Hand Nala - Part 2

They were a mess.

(This is Nala . Below is Soko.)

Soko was only 3 and, though unkempt, appeared reasonably fit and healthy. Nala, whom the owners were trying to pass off as 7, was crippled, blind, she stank and was, obviously, at least 13. Never mind; we took them. Brigitte said she wouldn't ask for the rescue fee for Nala, since she was such an unattractive offering. But we paid, anyway, for the good works.

While the former owners -- parents and two grown children -- alternated between sobbing at saying good-bye and admiring Van-Ly's beauty and condition (Well, yeah! We took care of her), we lifted the dogs into the van and started for home. Promptly running into an accident on the autoroute that turned the 2 and 1/2 hour journey into 6 hours. The dogs were quite well behaved through it all. I was content.

We got home. Soko was not content. Nala was a zombie. Soko stood guard over her. They wouldn't eat. They wouldn't come into the house. It was September and warm; we left them. We'd go outside from time to time to chat and coo at them. Soko had a nip at me. O.K., he was nervous and unhappy. Finally, it was bed time and we left them for the night.

Nick gets up before I do. The next morning I was just about dressed when I heard him yelling for me. I started downstairs to confront my husband, white-faced and bleeding all over the floor. Soko had attacked without warning and got his hand, his leg and his arm. I whipped Nick into the car and we went to the doctor where Nick received enough stitches to be off work for the next three weeks.

(I should put a caveat here. Maybe there was a warning that Nick didn't recognise. At the time, maybe I wouldn't have either, but I'm told that Chows can do this.)

We came home and called Brigitte and Soko's and Nala's former owners. We've got a B&B, I told them; we can't take the chance he'll bite a customer. "He's never done anything like that before,"they said. (Of course not!) To their credit they came immediately that afternoon. As soon as Soko saw them, he jumped and pranced and then rolled over to have his tummy scratched. He was so happy. And so were they. They took him home and we kept Nala.

(to be continued)

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Second Hand Nala - Part 1

Someone asked if I wasn't nervous about having a rescue Chow. The short answer is, "No." In general, I think Chows are better tempered in France than I hear they are in the States. They had a surge of popularity here, too, in the eighties, but there must have been fewer irresponsible breeders, so most have good temperaments.

Used Chows are almost impossible to find in France. I put it down to French conservatism. Having paid a minimum of 1100€ for a dog, they're not about to dump it. But I scan the net constantly, hoping, and one day I found a Chow whose owner was going into the hospital, permanently, and the wife couldn't cope with "his" dog.

I telephoned. It turned out to be a rescue and the woman on the other end of the line said that, after all, a cousin was taking the dog. "Good," I thought, "Still in the family and the owner won't lose contact completely." Chows pine. While they appear indifferent, they become very attached to their owners. Io Jima's breeder had taken in a Chow whose owner had died and it was truly pathetic. It had lost most of it's fur and I tell you there is nothing more miserable looking than an almost-bald Chow. I preferred to lose the dog rather than see that happen.

Several months later, Brigitte, who runs the rescue, telephoned. She had two Chows. Would I be interested in one? Hey, I'd be interested in two! I read everything on the internet about rescuing dogs and how to meet them and what to do when you bring them home. Then we were off to Marseille to meet Soko and Nala.

(to be continued)

Friday, 6 April 2007

The Baby-Sitters

I put it down to our friends, Philip & Claudie, who went away for "three days" and left their hunter/retriever cross, Vicky, with us for a week. They share our doctor and are on very chatty terms with her. So are we, for that matter, so our doctor gets to hear all our dog stories and the Travails of Nala. All this chatting has evidently led our doctor to believe we are suckers because last week we got a telephone call from a strange Englishwoman who said that Dr. Martin suggested we might stand in for her dog sitter who suddenly became unavailable.

I suppose Dr. Martin is right: we are suckers. The EW and Rosie came to visit.

Rosie is not a prepossessing dog. She is a ten-year-old mess. She weighs in at 10.2 kilos (22 1/2 pounds) when I figure 16 to 18 would be more in tune with health and the state of her legs. She has also been shaved on her back and side to remove two old-age bumps. Her legs look funny. She is some kind of terrier, whose designation immediately slipped my mind, and I can't find her listed anywhere. Norfolk Terrier is as close as I can come, but I'm sure that's not what her owner said because, whatever she said, I remember that, just before the word "terrier" sounded, I was thinking, "Big dog; she'll jump the fence." But, no, she's little, she's old and she's arthritic, so how much trouble could she be? We agreed that everyone seemed to get along, so we made arrangements for Rosie stay for the week over Easter. (see comments: she's a Border Terrier. I knew that.)

When Vicky arrived for her week, Nick promptly took to his bed with whatever was going around at the time, and I got stuck trying to handle three big, active dogs. This time, it was I who got sick. Poetic justice -- but only for two days. As Rosie didn't seem all that thrilled to be here, if whining is any indication, I took her and her rug upstairs and let her stay with me. Today, when I got up, I told her she didn't have to leave the bedroom, but I was taking her rug.

After half an hour I went upstairs where she was hovering, waiting for me to return. "Come, Rosie," I called, as you do. Rosie wasn't coming. I tried several times -- authoritatively, wheedling, chirping -- and finally picked her up, carried her down the stairs and, with great difficulty, pushed her outside. (She always wants to be on the other side of whichever door is closed, so I have decided she can scratch the outside door.)

Later we piled into the car to go to the village and go walkies. Rosie, I learned, does not heel, so I let her off the lead. Nick had already told me that she's pretty nimble. Rosie kept trying to recross the river. Rosie kept running into people's gardens. Rosie went into one of our neighbour's fields (just as he arrived) and wouldn't come back. Rosie never even looked at me all the time I was screaming myself hoarse.

Eventually, the penny dropped. We shook the keys behind her back. We clapped loudly behind her back. We shouted at her behind her back. Our two, who normally couldn't care less, kept turning around from their advance position to see what was all the fuss was about.

What it is is Rosie is deaf. We have to assume Rosie's owner doesn't know this or she'd have mentioned it. But, really, she's no trouble.