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)


oznorIt is incredible how much a small dog can disrupt a life. This was not what I believed. Quite the opposite: ‘She’s so tiny: she’ll be no problem, make no noise, disturb not… Just a small dog.’ I should have looked more closely at the matter. After all, a flea in the wrong place –like an ear, for example- can raise havoc… But, as usual, I didn’t… think that is. I didn’t think she would make much difference. I didn’t even think about not thinking.

It was the merry month of May (couldn’t resist the cliché!) and I was off on a much awaited trip to the volcanic Isle of Lanzarote in the Canaries off the coast of Africa with my friend, Tamara. I did the usual, which is to drive to Madrid, stay over one or two nights depending on what I had to do and then fly from there leaving my car with the magnificent service that picks it up at the terminal when I leave and has it washed and waiting for me at the terminal door when I arrive. On my first morning in Madrid I decided to walk from my hotel (my home in Madrid, I call it) down to the park near where I used to live. It’s a lovely park, full of friendly people and their dogs, and cozy cafés where one can hang out for a cuppa or two. The day was bright (it seldom isn’t in Madrid) so I took a long stroll around the park. Up towards the playing fields I ran into a man with his small dog. It was so cute I reached down to pet it and, as I did, the small dog flipped over onto her (I could then see it was a female) back and started to writhe in the dust with what could only be termed extreme delight. I scratched her velvety soft belly and laughed.oznor

“Do you have a dog?” the owner asked. I confirmed and he said: “Oh. I was hoping… You see, I need to find her a new owner. I can’t take care of her; I work all day and most of the night and she is always alone; it’s not fair.”

I looked down at the little beige and white thing still scratching her back in the sand. She stopped for a moment and looked back with the cutest pair of big, round brown eyes set in a button of a face. “Oh, I’m sure you’ll find someone,” I said, “she is sooo cute. If I didn’t already have a dog… But give me your phone number and I’ll ask amongst my friends” (I had a friend in mind already). And that was it. We smiled; said ‘good-day’ and both went on our ways.

When I got back to the hotel and was about to message my friend telling her about the dog, I realized it would be necessary to have a picture of her and not just the description IMG-20180516-WA0006‘adorable, little jack-russellish doggie with joyful personality’. So I Whatsapp-ed the owner registered under Loli-dog (her name plus ‘dog’) on my phone asking him to send me a photograph. A few moments later, I received the following picture which I promptly sent off to my friend with a note: “This little long-haired mostly Jackie is about 4 years old, has all her vacs and her chip. She is adorable, loving, sweet and so tender. Her owner can no longer keep her and I would take her but I fear Salomé would be so jealous. I thought of you…”

She said she would think about it and that was the last I heard. I was off to Lanzarote.

Lanzarote was all and more than expected. I loved the island, its enormous lava fields, it’s volcano-cones, the starkness of it, and I enjoyed the visit with Tamara. All in all we had a splendid time. On the first day, I showed Tamara the davphoto of the little dog. “Isn’t she cute?” I said, “I can’t stop thinking about her.” Tamara predicted that I would end up with her, but I said ‘no’, I had enough with Salomé. Tamara was right. Every once in a while I would pull out my phone and gaze into Loli’s eyes and with the excuse of finding her a new owner I showed everyone the photo, not only during the trip but also once I got back home. This went on for two weeks while I lamely looked for someone to take her. It took precisely those two weeks for madness to settle in. At the end of May I messaged the owner of Loli-dog asking if he still wanted to give her away. There was no answer. I began to feel an inkling of disappointment in my stomach. I messaged again asking if he had given her away: still no answer. 24 hours went by and I began to panic so that, when the message that she was still available finally came in, any doubt or dithering had completely disappeared.

On the 1st of June I loaded Salomé in the car and we drove to Madrid. The test of fire would be Salomé accepting her, otherwise it wouldn’t be possible, but somehow I knew deep down that Salomé would: Loli was so tiny, so offenseless and so submissive that she would pose no problem in Salomé’s preferred pecking order which, of course, was Me First.

Did I have doubts? Of course I did. Every once in a while my enthusiasm would sour and I would think ‘Oh dear, what am I doing?’ But the much needed voice of wisdom did not kick in loud enough and on the following day I found myself standing in a veterinarian’s office in Madrid signing the proper papers, buying a sweet, pink leash and walking off with two dogs instead of one.

oznorSalomé behaved superbly: she simply ignored the rat that I plopped into the car beside her, looking the other way and not even bothering to sniff the newcomer. LoliPop (yes I had already renamed her), on the other hand, immediately became a ball of fluff and terror and absconded rapidly under the front seat convinced that she was being dog-napped. I knew exactly how she felt as it is impossible to forget the absolute fear experienced when one is forcibly removed from one’s usual life and held captive by strangers[1]. If I had been thinking logically, I would have left her under the seat but her fear pained me and I wanted her to know she was safe. So with extreme care and unheard of contortions of my own poor body, I extricated her and placed her on the seat. She trembled and looked away through my whole explanation of how happy we were going to be and, when I let go, she immediately dove under the seat again. After the third time I had to get down on my hands and knees and twist my body so that I could somehow get my arms under the seat and ease her out without harming her (but not without harming me). I finally managed to attach the leash to the head-rest in a manner that didn’t allow her to reach the floor of the car. By this time, I was suffering from a back ache from all the exertion. To add to my frustrations, Salomé, seeing that the newcomer was getting all the attention, decided that she wasn’t going to jump into the car on her own and sat decidedly down on the pavement by the door. I pulled and coaxed and scolded to no avail and finally had to pick her up (all 8 and ½ kilos of her) and plop her in her seat. Add to the unexpected challenge of caring for two dogs, doing the almost 1100 kms of Salies-Madrid-Salies in two days (one day down, next day back) and, I was exhausted by the time I got home.

mdeIn spite of her small size, LoliPop became an immediate problem. Her fear wouldn’t allow her a normal doggie behavior: eating, playing, cuddling, sleeping. Rather her existence became trembling, cowering and hiding. Our first tour around the garden to pee, was a disaster. In spite of having lived in a city (on a small and thus quiet street), Loli was totally unaccustomed to the rumblings and clankings of the trucks that roar by my building (which I have managed to white out so that they no longer bother me) and was terrified. Fortunately I had her on a leash so she couldn’t dive into the shrubbery where she would have been inaccessible, but peeing and pooing were definitely out of the question. Walking into town was the same problem: every car that honked, every motorbike, every heavy truck slamming by was a motive of panic. The poor dog lived in terror.

Following that, we had the dilemma of the bed… my bed under which she dove the moment she discovered it. She is very small, especially when she curls up into a terrified little ball, and the bed is 140cms wide so it was impossible to get her out. Perhaps this wouldn’t have been a problem except that the bed seemed to tickle her ears so she shook her head every five minutes producing a flapping-scraping sound that wasn’t going to let me sleep. When coaxing and pleading didn’t do the job, I had to recur to the broomstick, thus terrifying her more. Once I had her out, I stuffed access to the under-bed with every cushion in the house.

To make things worse the second night home there was a thunder and lightning storm asoznor I have seldom experienced. Even I was scared and Salomé and Lolipop were quaking their little hearts out. I ended up with both of them in my bed, all three of us huddled under the covers, until the war-storm was over.

It seemed that every sudden sound would send poor Loli scuttering for cover: if I dropped my keys or banged a plate in the sink or allowed a pen to roll off my desk the little dog scrambled under any place that offered shelter. On our third day walking into town, she appeared to be starting to grow accustomed to the street sounds and was a bit calmer, and then France won the World Cup and all hell of honking and clanging and fireworks broke loose and I thought she was going to have a heart attack. I had to carry her all the way home, covering her ears.

The whole ruckus convinced her that outside was a very dangerous place so she decided it was safer to pee and poo inside. Seeing as this was not acceptable, I further frightened the poor creature by yelling and waving hysterically, and carrying her two floors down to the garden.

Eating was also a problem because she couldn’t stop being scared and vigilant long enough to put her head in the dish. I finally figured out that she needed protection and put her bowl under a table. There she could eat, although it has taken her well into two months to finish a dish in one go.

oznorOne day I realized that I was tiptoeing around the house, being very careful not to drop or knock over anything and suddenly I understood that this was the wrong approach. I purposely let a spoon drop on the tile floor of the kitchen and followed the loud clatter soothingly saying: “It’s all right Loli, it is just a noise and noise won’t hurt us”, and other platitudes like this, always directing an even voice towards her but without drawing near. After a few days, she was much calmer and had accepted a certain amount of routine noises.

Little by little she is falling into our routine even though noises are still her bugaboo. Today I let her off the leash in the park thinking there would be no disturbing noises. Then someone closed a window in the distance and her head and ears went up. I took a step towards her, another window was closed and she was off running as fast as she could (and she can run really fast) in the opposite direction of the sound with me racing after her screaming her name and dragging poor Salomé behind. Fortunately, she cofstopped at the first street crossing (her previous owner had disciplined her to do that) and I was able to put her leash back on. Salomé is getting deaf but Loli can hear a pin drop; sometimes I wish it were the other way around.

Apparently no one has ever played with Loli and she is frightened if I throw a ball for Salomé. One day, at the beginning, she approached a squeaky toy dog which –naturally- squeaked as she picked it up. She dropped it as if it had been a bee that stung her and hadn’t gone near the toy basket since. However, for the first time yesterday she approached it and, after digging around for a few minutes, appeared with a bright pink ball in her mouth. It was the smallest ball in the basket and had been given me by a neighbor precisely for her, but until that moment she had been afraid of it. I watched as she carried it gingerly in her mouth and jumped up onto her chair where she proceeded to chew gently on it for a while before losing oznorinterest. It’s a beginning.

So a small dog has disrupted my routine, and she has also brought me great pleasure as I see her slowly adopting to a new and probably kinder life. Salomé mostly ignores her, but she doesn’t seem to mind having her around and I am finding her a delightful addition to my little family.


[1] The experience of my kidnapping in Mexico is told at length in my novel, Eleven Days, a translation of the original Spanish version: Once días… y algo más.