Saturday, March 26, 2016


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.


The Crow said...

She's beautiful, Lucy. So feminine in the face and those delicate-looking pointed paws.

Not to mention her clear, brown eyes that look deeply into yours and the camera lens.

I'm impressed at how well she remembered you and Tom and seemed to know you were her people, come for her at long last!

Best wishes to the three of you as you form your new pack. Wishing you many sweet, heartfelt memories of beloved Molly. It is good to weep with love, I think.

Catalyst said...

I'm so happy for both of you. In spite of the problems of it affecting your travel instincts, you needed a dog again. Elfie quite obviously needs you, too. She is a beautiful creature and I wish your "pack" many years of happiness together.

Zhoen said...

Oh, dear Elfie! She does have a waiting look on her face, deciding if you will be alright. She wants to be home, but isn't entirely sure, yet. She doesn't know how much you will love her.

Reminds me of Eleanor, who is very friendly while holding back, and sleeping on us immediately, but never letting herself being picked up even now. So different from Moby, our sedate and careful old guy, who tolerates all sorts of handling. Eleanor jumps first, scoots away after. And she flies, too. Not sure how she does that. They feel different. Moby will bump his head against our fists, Eleanor doesn't have a clue what to do with that.

Welcome, Elfie.

susan said...

When I saw you had a post up I knew I'd get to see her introduction. Yes, she is indeed beautiful.. a sweet and gentle soul. I must say I envy you being able to have a dog - we must content ourselves with patting the ones who come to say hello to us in the park.

Roderick Robinson said...

There's very little I can say to all this. It's like reading the instruction manual to a very complex and ever-changing piece of electronic kit - where you arrive at a chapter and flip over five pages saying that's far too complex for the moment and saying you'll return at some unspecified time next week. And never do. Working on the principle that problems are meant to be solved as and when they occur.

I had never imagined adoption from the pet's point of view. I know there's a fearful tendency to anthropomorphise, a tendency to say things like "she's playing her cards close to her chest". Figuring things out. Me I prefer to ante-anthropomorphise you and Tom: what animal skills you have developed over the years. Chucking in the garment worn that day as an impromptu comfort blanket, for instance. Where did you pick up that? I try to decide which of you is Baloo the bear.

You don't say whether you inherited the name or imposed it. Perhaps it's implied when you say you saw Elfie on the website. Names have long-term considerations since they tend to get shortened. Here, cutting out one syllable might leave you appearing to swear; in any case El is a weakish vowel sound to be shouting down theruelles. Perhaps she will resist abbreviation. Names are the only thing I bring to the pet party. While we lived in the USA VR acquired several cats and the only thing I remember (apart from their sad deaths beneath the wheels of passing Chevies) is being required to find an appropriate and, most important, callable name for an extremely small kitten. I came up with Pico (a mathematical prefix indicating a factor of 10 to the minus 12) and for once it was accepted by VR without further discussion.

Pets are the subject of enormous emotions especially, as in Elfie's case, there has been a predecessor. This is not my field and I am full of admiration that you have more or less allowed emotion to be inferred by devoting yourself to telling facts. Mind you I did have a little twinge when you included "withdrew to the back of the car (we had one back seat down as we used to with Mol)" and I rememberd that was where I met Mol (abbreviated from Mollie or was she always single syllable?) in a sort of L-shaped space that had the look of being well-lived-in. Years ago now.

I can say that Elfie has gone to a good home, of that I am sure. Where she will be treated with affection modified by intelligence. She's a lucky...? How difficult it is to use the necessary word that has become so corrupted. If Elfie is disposed to be happy she will be happy - and you, blogger par excellence, will have, a new animate subject to divert you when you flop down knackered on the sofa and allow yourself to reflect on matters of the greatest importance. Heartfelt wishes to the trio.

Lucy said...

Thanks dears, I knew she'd get a good reception!

Crow - indeed, she is a canine Rita Hayworth! That's on a good day, on a bad it's Rita Tanner (that's a reference to a character in a British soap I've not watched for years; they were both redheads anyway). Her eyes are just fabulous, clear and sharp agates, with black kohl and ginger lashes. The reminders of Molly are poignant I think because I'm remembering her in her heyday, when she was well and could walk miles; when she died I suppose I was more conscious of her suffering and how tired she was. But in the last few years I realise I've been prepared to give up on so much of life that was good but now ended, and now I'm having to enter to a new phase. The travelling's great but it is only a few weeks at most out of a year.

Cat - thank you; yes, she is clearly pleased to be with us. Just at the moment we're getting to know each other, but I think we really did need each other, even if it won't always be an easy ride!

Z - that is comforting and good advice, we will surely grow into each other. I don't think she'd been actually ill-treated, but she has obviously had a lot of uncertainty. The woman who ran the refuge was marvellous, and had made good progress with her, but she needs more. I realise she'll need a lot of structure and stimulus, as well as exercise, but it's lovely how quick she is to learn.

Susan - oh thanks for coming over! Taking on a dog is a big deal, a life changer, too many people do it who don't really have the time and commitment, others seem to take it on with less worry and more good cheer and make a good go of it. Elfie's very up for making friends and being petted, though she's not all over people, so I'm going to try to take her to lots of places to get her socialised. I can't offer her the working life she's designed for, so I'll have to find her another kind of busy life.

Lucy said...

Robbie - you need a comment reply of your own, I have exceeded my limit! Thanks so much, that's a lovely comment. I think I thought of the t-shirt because Molly used to like to sleep on our clothes when she first arrived, and would pull them off the bedroom chair to do so. She was just a puppy then, but it seemed as though Elfie needed to be close to us/me then, and that was a way of helping without giving in and having a dog sleeping on our bed forever, which I do draw the line at (she does come up at our invitation at morning tea time, and makes much of Tom in a very flirtatious way). She now has one of his old sweaters.

I meant to say, that was the name she came with - it may have been spelled with a 'ph' and may well be again. She won't have had it very long, was presumably given it at the refuge, so was presumably something else before, or nothing if she was just one of a pack of chasse dogs, we'll never know. Often the refuge names are awful and people change them, but we were glad we liked hers very much, as she was clearly beginning to know it - not that it meant anything at all when she was on her harum scarum chase around the village. Two syllable names are supposed to be the best for animals, they are most distinctive and easiest to call, either on an up or a down note. I can't help feeling English accents and words must be easier for dogs to understand! Molly was usually Molly when we called her I think, but she was so deaf for years it didn't much matter.

I'm glad you picked up on the L-shaped room, I remember you remarking on it. Molly was a natural in the car, this one finds it a bit unsettling, perhaps she only travelled in a van or something before. She's eager to get on board but finds the movements outside difficult, I think, or else she's just impatient to get where she's going.

I'm fairly sure she is disposed to be happy, and her idea of this should coincide fairly well with ours. It's just tearing half way across the department after a long-gone cat or rabbit, only to end up on a main road or back in the pound does rather preclude this.

I've just joined an English language Brittany spaniel forum and website anyway, largely populated by an aspiring field sports set in the English counties with competitive urges and the desire to have an unusual breed of gundog, as far as I can tell. Despite this, the bloody-minded runaway temperament of the animal is a recurrent theme, which they seem rather to take some pride in, and there are pages advising the best kind of bell, radio tracker, gps to fix to them to help locate them. For the moment at least, Elfie is staying on the lead.

Rouchswalwe said...

Oh, Elfie! I'm so happy for all three of you! Her ears strike me as the helmet feathers of Asterix. Very expressive. I am looking forward to getting to know her better here on Box Elder. We've never had a dog who doesn't bark, so that would take some getting used to. It's nice in a way, but would be helpful for you as a little warning bell before she flies. A lead is the answer.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...


Mailizhen said...

How absolutely lovely! I'm thrilled for you and Tom and Elfie. What a beautiful post. So, so glad you have another little being to love. xo, Alison

Avus said...

Lucy and Tom you will understand how I, as a lifelong dog owner am truly happy that Elfie has found you. I somehow knew it would not be long.
My dog, Roxy, has lurcher in her and they are renowned, as sight hounds, to be ready and able to hare off at the slightest sensory provocation. "Selective deafness" is an on-going problem and can only be addressed by keeping such animals secure and walking them on extending leads. The internet conversations are full of it and it seems there are no remedies - it's inbred. So it must be with Elfie.
After German Shepherds I thought I could imbue their training and obedience into this little bitch. In the back garden I had her returning on call to receive a treat, time and again. I tried it once in a field, she came back OK first time. Then another dog appeared on the far horizon. Luckily I managed to fix her lead, but she was straining at full extension. I held the usual treat an inch in front of her nose and it might as well not have been there. Her whole body was focused on the other animal at last 300 yards away!

Lucy said...

And thanks again.

Rouchswalwe - it is truly strange, the non-barking, she is such a 'proper dog' in so many ways, it can't have been instilled in her, but must be peculiar to her. She does bark a little bit in her sleep, and makes an odd little coughing noise sometimes which seems the closest we get. People would presumably pay good money to have a barkless dog! Love the Asterix feather comparison!

Natalie - quite! (Well, sometimes...)

Alison - lovely to see you, I think we do need it, though it may not always be plain sailing!

Avus - I was looking forward to hearing from you. You don't know how your words comfort and help. A better grade of treats is helping the recall and general attention, as is building the relationship generally and lots of response and eye contact. But I think perhaps we'll never really be able to risk her going leadless; happily she does seem to genuinely like being on the extending lead, with the continual contact, and I'm happy to walk briskly and match her pace. She really is a rugged delight, bless her.

More to follow!

marja-leena said...

Beautiful! I think you picked each other out of the pack! Like making new friends, it takes a little while but you seem to be well on the way to a great relationship. Congratulations, as they say when you have a new baby, though she's more a child.

Anonymous said...

Oh, oh, oh! Hallo Elfie. You found them then! Looks like you have found a wonderfully loving home. Seems you are training those humans well!
Love Susan ( HHB)

Lucy and Tom, she is gorgeous. xx

Les said...

What a sweetie. Congratulations! I know it's a lot to take on, but if you love dogs it's hard to live without them. Mol will always be special and irreplaceable. But Elfie is her own special person as well. May she bring you great joy.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations! :) She is beautiful :) x

mittens said...

Oh, that face. I love happy dog stories, and while Im not a dog owner I do love other people's dogs. And she is a charm, isn't she. The name Elfie seems to suit her, as well. It does sound as if you have all bonded quite thoroughly. Im smiling. How could I not.

Marly Youmans said...

I saw elsewhere that you had a new dog and came by to read about her. Brittanies (is that the plural, I wonder?) seem like such nice dogs and good with children, too. Enjoy your dog-wandering days!

the polish chick said...

wonderful, wonderful, wonderful! congratulations to you all, what a lucky dog elfie is to have found you!

Clive Hicks-Jenkins said...

Beautifully, eloquently written. What a star she it. And what stars are you and Tom, for opening your hearts and home to her. I shall watch with great pleasure as your adventures together unfold.

I've been a stranger here too long. (Don't ask!)

Lovely to return and find such a happy event. Congratulations.

Love from Wales
C xxx

Lyse said...

C'est formidable, vous avez adopté une nouvelle chienne. Elle a l'air bien caline . Elle va combler le vide du précédent ( j'ai oublié son nom)

Laura said...

I'm just now reading your blog after a longish absence and am so delighted to see this new, heartwarming turn of events! Elfie is absolutely gorgeous and seems to have a tender, sensitive, and grounded personality. She will fit in perfectly with her new family! I hope someday to meet her in person, as I was fortunate enough to do with Mol. Sending lots of love to all of you!