Tuesday evening, the 28th of October, 2020 (what I had called ‘The Year of Good Vision’) I found the courage to give my precious Salomé and myself the gift of love and peace, before she suffered too much or I suffered too much. It was a sweet parting, followed with tears that threatened to never stop. I took a small pill and did sleep the night through. The tears started again the following morning so I wrote the previous Blog piece (Absence)

and ran through all her pictures and cried some more. Then I picked myself up and began cleaning out all her things: I had no intention of getting another dog soon and as I had taken 3 years after the death of my last dog before getting Salomé, I figured that when the time came I would get everything new.

Then something strange happened. I heated up my lunch, sat at the computer to eat it, opened internet and suddenly found myself typing in: ‘Dogs for adoption in Southwest France’.  I didn’t think it, it just happened… and then the MIRACLE. The miracle is called: JULIETTE (does not include Romeo… too bad) and looks something like a cross between a small fox and a tiny kangaroo… Juliette…

Even the name said ‘Love Me’, but the look and the fact that she was so similar to Loli-dog in size and appearance told me –in no uncertain terms- that I had to have her.  Unfortunately, Juliette was not close by, but halfway across the south of France to a place called Perpignan, a four-hour drive even going at top speed which is 130 kms/hr. 

I sent off an e-mail asking if she was still available (perhaps they had already adopted her out… fear substituted tears immediately); when I had no answer 20 minutes later, I sent another e-mail even more desperate than the first. The thought that I might be going crazy with grief passed through my mind, so I picked up the phone (one thing had nothing to do with the other, I see now) and called the number under La SPA (stands for Societé Protectrice des Animaux) Refuge CAP de Perpignan…

The “SPA” part made it sound like a very pleasant place filled with pools of warm water and loving masseuses who looked kindly after unwanted animals. A very nice lady answered the phone and assured me that Juliette had not yet been adopted.

“Please hold her, I’ll be there for her tomorrow” I said into the phone, noticing that I no longer had any need to continue crying. It was 4 in the afternoon, and I had the feeling that something other than my own free will had taken over as I  printed out directions for getting to la SPA, loaded the live-animal cage into the car, packed up a few necessaries, laid out the money for the cleaning girl and a note specifying not to touch anything that was in the hallway, and decided I should probably be locked up in la SPA myself or put gently to sleep forever due to insanity. None-the-less, the decision seemed to have made itself having nothing to do with my loss, or my sorrow, or any conscious will on my part… it was just happening, so I let go and  ‘went with the flow’.

I was careful, however, to not mention my imminent trip to Perpignan to the many well-wishers who were kind enough to call me and offer condolences that afternoon, as I was convinced that they would find me callous and uncaring… perhaps even inhuman, which were the only explanations I could think of for what I was planning. 

The only person who heard of my folly was a dear friend who came by to ‘walk’ me (leash-less) in the afternoon (seeing as I would not be walking anything) around the beautiful village of Sauveterre… ‘A brisk walk’ she said, ‘something you mentioned you missed with Salome’s ageing.’ The miracle of kind friends…

Wednesday night, as was expected, President Macron announced our re-confinement as of Friday. I heard his speech, admired his directness and clarity, accepted the inevitable and thought to myself: ‘Whether I get the little girl or not, at least I am going to hit the highway the last day before being locked up again. It will feel good.’

At 8 a.m. Thursday morning (market day in Salies), oblivious to what awaited me on the highway as a response to Macron’s announcement, I climbed into my car, set the TomTom for Perpignan and departed. After an hour speeding along at the allowed rate, I stopped for the coffee and croissant I had promised myself upon waking. I was in high spirits and had told myself very clearly that if I didn’t feel absolutely certain about adopting Juliette, I would simply drive back and count it as a much needed excursion.

After coffee, I set off for Toulouse and the … ¡surprise! A swarm of poids lourds’ (heavy trucks) were carrying out “Operation Snail Pace’ around Toulouse, protesting against Macron’s decision. I heard the announcement on the Traffic information station on the car radio, contemplated the fact that I still could turn back, knew damn well I wouldn’t and hoped it would not be too bad. It was.

East, West and Southern Periphery Rings were backed up for kilometers and the time for getting past the city ranged from 30 minutes (instead of 10) to an hour. Sure enough, I promptly ran into the tail end of the blockade and my travelling speed went from 130 to about 5km an hour.

Never the less I pushed on, losing only an hour which turned my travel time into 5 instead of 4. Upon making it past Toulouse and entering A9 which turned me southward towards Perpignan and the Mediterranean, I stopped for a rest and a baguette with chicken and salad of which I ate half (saving the other half for a snack on the way back). Coffee and a fruit cocktail completed my lunch.    

 As I neared my destination, I made a wrong turn which took me some 20 kms in the opposite direction to that which I wanted. Suddenly, I felt frightened. What in the world was I doing? Driving all that way, getting tired and with an aching back… without considering that I am 78+ years old!!! Finally, thanks to trustworthy TomTom, I found my way and arrived at the refuge.

The place was clean and spacious; there were cages something like what one sees in a zoo, and large pens where I suppose they let the dogs out to exercise. They took me immediately to a pen that contained two small doggies: a white, furry male and… Juliette. She looked so the size of Loli, but different, more alive, less terrified (she was perfectly capable of growling and snapping if you frightened her). The young lady who took care of me explained this and the fact that she liked women more than men generally, as she proceeded to lead us both to another large pen. There we were left to see if we could get along.

So there I stood, in a pen with a strange dog perfectly capable of biting me if I made a wrong move. It was hot and dusty in the pen and there was only a low stoop to sit on if I wanted. I had been given a hotdog to offer her pieces in exchange –I suppose- for not taking her teeth to me.  I felt a bit silly: like someone suddenly left in a cage with a hungry lion and not knowing what the hell to do. 

I had her on a short leash so we walked around a bit till I got bored and sat on the stool. At some point, she came over and sniffed me. I reached out and tried to pet her but she pulled back and, at that moment, the clasp on her collar opened and she was free. She ran straight for the gate, apparently hoping that someone would rescue her from this idiot of a woman who seemed to know nothing about handling a dog.

Aha, thought I: this is when the hotdog comes in handy. I will just snap the collar back on and give her a little piece as a prize. Well, she was having none of it. She growled and snapped at me with which I dropped the piece of hotdog, which she immediately gobbled up. After three unsuccessful tries, I gave up and started yelling for help.

Finally, the girl came back, snapped a new collar on, attached the leash and handed it back to me. I guess she thought I wouldn’t take Juliette, but she was wrong: I liked the dog, she had spunk, she needed lots of love (and Salomé had well-trained me in that field), and I had the feeling that once we got home and were alone things would somehow turn out.

Long story, short: I signed the papers, paid the money and watched while a young man enticed Juliette to enter the cage by sticking big gobs of white cheese through the rear opening. Once in, I loaded her in the car with the cage door facing me so she would have to look and listen to me the whole way home. What I didn’t suspect was that the whole way home was going to be a lot longer than expected.

I left La SPA after five so it was night by the time I reached the outer limits of Toulouse. What I encountered coming back was this (an actual picture taken from a newspaper report of the problem):

After ‘Operation Snailpace’ there had been a terrible accident just past Toulouse and the back-up was more than ten kilometers long. It took Juliette and me two and a half hours to cover those 10 kilometers. There was nothing I could do, nowhere I could turn off, no other route that I knew of. I sat there, my legs aching, my back aching, my eyes tired and a poor, trembling dog in a cage sitting next to me. I put music on, I sang to her, I talked to her; I gave her a blow by blow description of our predicament, I said I was sorry a dozen times.

As a result, my drive home took seven instead of four hours: in total I had been behind the wheel 12 hours in the day and, having left home at 8 a.m. I arrived back at midnight.

I extracted a frightened Juliette from her cage, but not before she had smeared white cheese (which she had apparently not eaten) all over the leash and the front seat of the car, and walked her around the garden. Then, leaving the cage and anything else I had in the car, we went upstairs and I set about the task of introducing my little lady to her new home. Given the hour and the exhausted and nervous state we were both in, and after realizing that I would not sleep if I locked her in the bathroom, or if I left her free to run around the apartment peeing, I felt I had no choice but to put her to sleep in bed with me.

This I did and, surprisingly, we had a pretty good night with no more mishaps.

(To be continued)