Our new arrival, an épagneul breton, usually known in English as a Brittany spaniel, or simply a Brittany, which sounds nicer than Breton spaniel, we thought.
We weren't going to do this yet; we'd told ourselves we'd get a couple more trips out of the way then commit to another dog perhaps in the autumn. But we got back from a short trip to Mont St Michel where Tom had said he really didn't want to wait to get another dog but didn't want to impose this on me and deprive me of travelling etc, and I'd said I felt much the same, and then I saw Elfie on the website and the next day we drove out to the other side of Rennes to find her.
She was living in an SPA refuge, for about five or six weeks. Before that she had been in the pound (rather sinisterly called in French la fourrière). She's probably about six years old.
We took her on a 'test-drive', chatted a bit about her, then went to sign the papers for her. She went back in her pen, which she shared with another dog. When we went to get her again, she flew out and into my arms, then went looking for Tom. She spent the first quarter of an hour or so of the drive back rather anxiously watching the traffic going by on the N road, then withdrew to the back of the car (we had one back seat down as we used to with Mol) and hid under Tom's jacket.
We have the impression she has lived indoors before, she's clean and well behaved and very happy to be a house dog. Clearly though, she is a strayed and unclaimed hunting dog. She has a number tattooed in her ear, which presumably was useless in tracing her owner, but no chip or other ID. She was sterilised from the refuge, you can see where the hair's growing back.
In the house she is the most polite, attentive, sweetest, kindest creature imaginable. She has winning ways galore, and does that listening-with-her-head-on-one-side thing to perfection. Furthermore, she is remarkably, weirdly voiceless, her lack of a bark was noted in the refuge's notes, and we haven't heard her bark, whine or much less growl there or since she arrived here. She seems completely without aggression, though we were warned she was a cat chaser, isn't destructive and picks things up quickly, especially since she's now learning a second language! Her 'sit', 'stay' and 'come' are already quite established, and 'leave', 'wait' and 'down' seem to be generally understood, as does 'up-up', but then again she doesn't need much encouragement with that.
She has the rescue dog's preoccupation with food, but isn't obsessed or too much of a thief so far, if she smells food on the counter she will investigate, but a firm 'no' is enough to make her desist, and the rubbish bin so far is unmolested, she takes food from our hands and eats quite delicately. I can't move towards the kitchen without having her on my heels, and she has certainly attached herself very firmly to me, but she likes and is friendly to Tom, and he's started giving her her dinner to strengthen the bond.
She likes sofas, and has slept, just two nights so far, which we have to keep reminding ourselves, in our bedroom but in her own bed. I hesitated about this, but Tom was decisive. It would help her to see us as pack, and also save us having to render everything in the kitchen and downstairs secure. The first night she jumped onto our bed three or four times, perhaps, and I lifted her down firmly and put her back onto her own, the final time I put the t-shirt I'd been wearing all day down for her to sleep with, and it seemed to work. Last night she played at jumping up but then settled without protest. Once in the small hours I felt a wet nose and a lick on my foot that was sticking out, but I led her back and she went back to sleep. Yet the moment we spoke to each other about getting up she was suddenly in between us and greeting us affectionately. 'How did she get here?' Tom asked 'I didn't feel her jumping up'.
For indeed, this is the sole real problem with her: she is Elfie the Flying Dog, or in another sense, Elfie la Fugueuse. The first morning, at about 7 am, after having pottered round the garden together the afternoon before, watching her closely but without a lead on, and assuming it was safe, I let her out the back door. I followed but wasn't quick enough to stop her suddenly flying effortlessly over the picket fence at the side and haring off down the road. In pyjamas, dressing gown and wellingtons I pursued her through every corner of the village, finally catching her up in one of the scuzzier backyards. Having been totally deaf to my calls she looked at me without a trace of sheepishness or contrition, as if to say, 'Oh, are you here?' I lifted her up (she had no collar or lead on at the time) to which indignity she submitted equably, and carried her home, gasping with my heart thumping. I certainly need to get fitter.
This is a worry. I've been reading up about the breed, which resemble small setters as much as spaniels, and it seems it's rather the nature of the beast to take off like this when something catches their nose, it's called 'throwing a deafy', apparently, or simply 'buggering off'. However fit I am I'll never catch her, and the chances of her making her own way back safely are not good. Presumably this is how she ended up in the fourrière. At six years old, however sweet and trainable she is in other ways, I rather doubt she can be cured of the behaviour. It may well be that she will never really be able to be off the lead outside of the house. This isn't so terrible, though. She is lovely to walk on the extending lead, sensitive and responsive and not just a tedious puller, rather like having a butterfly on a string. But her mind is elsewhere, she isn't interested in treats and food and fuss while there are the smells and sounds of nature around her.
I feel at times overwhelmed, worried, oppressed by sudden new responsibility, and fearful of regret. Suddenly our planned freedoms have been curtailed, our life is going another way, and there is another creature's life to be taken into account and worked round. I feel she is forcing me to come back to life in certain ways and part of me is reluctant to do that. Since Elfie arrived, I've cried more about Molly than any time since we lost her I think. It's not only comparing them, or that I'm going to places and doing things I've not done since Mol was with us, in her younger and fitter days, it's because I find I'm feeling and facing things I thought I'd let go of and give up on. But she's also forcing me to wrap up and get outside, to walk hard and not to fear the weather, to come back cheerful and with a good appetite, to carry a plastic tub of dog treats in my pocket and think about how best to train her and build her confidence and our relationship. I think she may be what I need.
Elfie isn't Molly, of course, we never expected her to be. But though she is wilder and stranger and in some ways more problematical, she also has her strengths. She seems to be a sturdier, more robust, healthier, less needy and more adaptable little person, rather more of a doggy dog. Her beautiful strawberry blond coat is feathery and soft to the touch but only needs a basic brush now and then, won't need cutting and dries quickly; her paws are neat little tools, and she has a canny way of getting right in between the closely set pads with her teeth and tongue to get out any prickles or other foreign bodies, her ears are perky little clean pink shells which I can touch and look at without objection. She is herself, and we will grow to know and love each other accordingly. And I think she'd probably cope much better with going to stay in good kennels with other dogs now and then, as long as there are plenty of walks, good grub and high fences.
And we've already had some very good moments I really wouldn't have expected so soon. She's not completely relaxed in the car, though she gets in happily, we may try her with a travelling crate. But yesterday morning we made a trip to the arboretum, stopped at the supermarket where she stayed in the car, a bit hot and bothered and fed up but without any real problem, then we went visiting.
Our friend J was very pleased to welcome her, despite it being evident there was a cat somewhere, she lay down like a lamb while we drank coffee and chatted, Knowing she'll settle down quietly at other people's houses, and maybe restaurants or cafés too, is really a plus, and when she met J again today Elfie greeted her familiarly. J took this picture of us with her i-pad.