Sunday, March 10, 2013

A soft touch to the furred and feathered

While I was cat-sitting for J, one of my other responsibilities was feeding the sparrows.  They do say that one of the  possible reasons for the decline in sparrow numbers in the UK at least is that people keep the fabric of their domestic buildings too neat and tidy, there aren't enough crumbling walls with the nooks and crannies for them to nest in; as may be seen from the pictures of Hénon, there are no shortage there.  Another cause might be that people no longer throw out their old bits of bread for them to eat (apparently they just throw these, along with hundreds of pounds a year's worth of other perfectly useful food, straight into the dustbin).  This also is not the case in Hénon, as J buys bread especially to feed to her sparrows, as well as mixed bags of special birdseed and fat balls.  Consequently the sparrow flock around her house has reached quite alarming proportions, and if they aren't fed, they line up on the trellis opposite her window and glare into the house, cheeping menacingly.

We also feed the birds; I would put out bread crusts, but Molly would scavenge them, and I'm always little nervous about attracting rats and mice. So we stick with sunflower seeds and fat balls which we hang up.  This means we have a higher proportion of tits and finches, as well as robins and dunnocks, though the sparrows, who are adaptable enough, seem to do all right.  We'll stop feeding them altogether quite soon, as they need to forage for insect food once they have young, but we'll go on fuelling them for a bit longer, it can't be easy eating enough for all that singing and flying about and nest building they have to do.

However, I forgot to buy any sunflower seeds on Friday when I went to the supermarket which sells them, so decided to go on a hunt for them more locally, giving Mol a walk at the plan d'eau and taking in the recycling point on the way. The farm supply shop,which sells all kinds of animal and bird food, turns out to be closed on Saturdays (this is France, shops close for two hours at lunch time, small towns often still have early or all day closing one day a week, and many commerces only open in the morning on Saturday or not at all, though Sunday morning a few smaller local food shops do open these days, as well as the pâtisseries which always have so that one might take a cake when carrying out the statutory family visit for that day), but that was next to the plan d'eau, so we stopped for a walk.  Some other birds were to be seen there.

This is a meadow pipit.  They're nothing rare or fancy, LBJs (while seeking a link for that, I discovered there is a botanical equivalent, DYCs, which I'm happy to know), but not something you see in the garden, and a couple of them obligingly came and sat on rocks in front of the car so I thought I'd check their id with the camera (knew they were pipits, wasn't certain which) and actually remembered to put in into action mode which is better for birds.  They were in a big flock mixed with white wagtails (what we get in continental Europe instead of pied wagtails), to which they are fairly closely related, feeding on the grass there, so were clearly on migration.

The pond was crowded with fishermen, so we had to pick our way, but enjoyed a bit of sunshine, a commodity we have not been overwhelmed with for some time.

The hardware shop unusually stays open all day, presumably since it is owner-run, but had no bird food, so I proceeded to the recycling point, thinking there was still the small supermarket at the top of town to try.  As I was sorting my plastics from my glass, there was the kind of soft nudge on the back of my legs that I'm used to  feeling in the kitchen from Mol.  I turned round and there was a short-legged, sandy coloured, curly-coated mutt, part-poodle, part-terrier, with whatever elements of dachshund, shih-tzu, bichon, fauve basset or whatever canine fashions dictated at any given point in its ancestry thrown in for good measure, of the kind which is fairly ubiquitous hereabouts.  I said hello, and that was it, I was glued to.  Then I remembered I'd seen the dog looking somewhat lost by the side of the main road as I drove through earlier. His front paws were deformed as though they had been badly damaged at some time in the past, but they seemed to give him no trouble or pain now.

He had a collar, but no tag, only a broken swivel which indicated he'd once been tied up.  He gave me to understand he'd be quite happy to get in the car.  The local vet, who I've known for years though he's not Mol's vet, has his surgery just nearby, so I encouraged Small Yellow Dog to accompany me there, but there was no reply.  I moved the car to a shadier and safer place - SYD was there at the door as soon as I stopped and got out - left Mol in it, borrowed her lead and took my new companion up to the Mairie (like the town hall). He walked on the lead like a lamb. I asked one or two people on the way if they knew this dog; they looked at me as though I was demented (but in a benign way), since I was the one walking him on a lead round the town, but no one admitted to knowing him.

The only people at the Mairie were in the small children's library, making puppets from potatoes (with some small children, be assured). They were sympathetic to my plight, made a call to the adjoint du maire for me, who was also sympathetic but couldn't find the number of the impounding service, which I wasn't too sure I wanted to get involved with anyway, so I thought I'd try the vet again.  He was there by the time I returned.

'Yes, I've seen this dog, he's turned up here before,' said K, the vet
'So what happened then?'
'Don't really know, we fed him for a bit then he ran away again.'

K, who like many of the vets here is Belgian/Dutch, is a kind, good man, who will think nothing of getting up at any hour to wrestle with a sick or birthing cow with cheerful stoicism, and has shown real sadness over a sick and elderly cat he's taken in overnight, tried to feed and ply with vitamin K, but been unable to save.  However, he is possibly one of the most infuriatingly vague people I have ever known. He checked the dog for a microchip or tattoo ID, supposedly a legal requirement, but found neither.  After a certain amount of shrugging and umming, he gave me the number of the nearest SPA refuge, where I think his daughters volunteered for years, and suggested that.  I arranged to take SYD there that afternoon, and K agreed to let me leave him with him till then.

I agonised over lunchtime: that perhaps I was being officious; that perhaps he had a home but just liked to be a free spirit - he was a bit thin and scruffy but didn't look totally starved and neglected; that perhaps imprisoning him would be wrong, and would he be in danger of euthanasia?  A look at the refuge's website reassured me this last probably wouldn't be the case, but I was still uncertain.  When I got back to the vet's I asked him directly, was I doing the right thing, did he think?  Perhaps he'd had more time to think, but this time K was more positive.  Yes, he thought I probably was.  If the dog had a home then clearly nobody there cared about him, since he was always on the road where he wouldn't last long, and he would be safe and fed at the refuge, where they would very easily find a home for him, since he was small and friendly.  Nevertheless, he looked very miserable gazing out of the back door of K's consulting room, and very eager to leave.

I took him for a quick walk before putting him in the car, and we were approached by a young setter-ish dog from a house nearby.  At the sight of a possible playmate, he was overcome with joy, though the other dog was more circumspect.  Despite his earlier apparent willingness to get in, he wasn't too sure about the car, partly because it smelled of Molly I imagine (like one's own feet, one can't smell one's own dog, or only when she badly needs a bath anyway), but also he seemed quite perplexed about the movement of it when we were travelling, and about the world going by so fast.  Yet he never at any time barked, growled or whined, and submitted to everything with heartbreaking trust.

The refuge wasn't too far, happily, and though it consists of very shabby buildings and quite a lot of potential heart-ache, I was impressed with what I found there.  There was a big hangar entrance hall, furnished with sofas and chairs and coffee tables and curios like an old barrel organ, and a neat office tucked in one corner; outside there were bits of garden statuary - a goddess or two and a buddha.  Most importantly, the people were kind, attentive and upbeat, and clearly had much love and sense of responsibility for the animals in their charge.  A group of lively school-age girls, presumably giving their Saturday afternoons to volunteer, breezed through talking enthusiastically about the dogs by name.  A quiet, plump, doe-eyed young woman, also working there in some capacity, had a small black dog on a lead.  I asked if this was a dog from the shelter, and she said yes, but mine now, I've had her two weeks.  It was working out well, she said, she was very devoted and getting on fine with the Yorkie she had already, for two years, from another shelter.  Her eyes narrowed when she told me that the Yorkie had been abandoned on the dual carriageway at the beginning of the summer holidays.

The other staff listened to me carefully and with kindness, and pronounced that SYD was 'un petit amour', that though it was difficult I was doing the right thing, for him to be run over on the road would be terrible, not only for him but for the driver involved, and when I left they thanked me for rescuing him.  They didn't think he'd be difficult to re-home, in fact, there had been that monsieur last week who had been looking for a smallish dog that wouldn't need too much exercise...

SYD himself, though a little nervous, again became joyful and focussed at the sight of another dog, far more so than at the food available, though he drank a little water, so I wasn't worried that being surrounded by other dogs would be stressful to him.  He trotted off without a backward glance, and I came away feeling reassured, and knowing that if I'd driven away from where he'd found me, leaving him to take his chances, I would have slept considerably worse than I did that night.  I don't know how the creatures know a soft touch, but they do.

And after all that, I never did get any bird seeds; we ended up giving them hulled organic sunflower seeds from the kitchen cupboard.


the polish chick said...

lovely post, lucy. brought a hint of a tear to my eye, truly.

as for the photos - green and growing things in march? how novel! how quaint! how heartbreakingly far away for us here in the snowy depths of alberta... oh well, when it comes, it burst forth like a miracle!

Zhoen said...

Dogs know humans are where the help is, at least sometimes. And they come up to us and say, "Um, excuse me, need a bit of help here."

You done good.

Put out seed yesterday. No birds yet, but they'll figure it out I'm sure.

Catalyst said...

Back to the top: you're a cat-sitter! I knew there was a reason I love you!

Marly Youmans said...


Heartbreaking trust! Yes, they look at us with such innocent eyes.

Rouchswalwe said...

Oh, sweet Lucy! That was a grand tale. And at the end even the birds had food. I'm sure this little dog is sleeping well tonight, too.

hhb said...

Well done you. The hound found the right person to help him out.

HKatz said...

I love that you helped SYD out. It's hard to look into a dog's eyes, see the trust there, and just walk away, but plenty of people do so any way, even if they feel a twinge of conscience about it. Given his temperament and appearance, he'll probably find a home soon.

Julia said...

It's sad, isn't it?
As a child I was always taking home strays and once someone's pony which I thought looked unhappy in its field (I was 5 at the time, or was I 15?) so I'd have brought SYD home with me.

You were kind and caring and SYD is now safe and cared-for and may soon have a new home.

By the way, you have a scammer in the comment above, now would you like me to put on my work hat and go chase the little nuisance? I could sort him out good and proper Lucy!

Clive Hicks-Jenkins said...

What a sweetie you are. The little stray sized you up and put himself into your hands, and you did not disappoint. Recently, while out for a walk, I was latched onto and followed home by a very smelly sheepdog. I was pretty sure he was from the farm about a mile away from us, and probably taking a break from farm duty by tagging on. There were no roads involved, and I figured that even if he followed me to my door, he'd easily get home from there. So we did a circular walk back to Ty Isaf, and the sheepdog stayed by my heels throughout. Jack was polite throughout, but clearly uneasy about the fellow coming in with us when we got back, and looked relieved when I closed the door on him. I watched from a window as he turned a sped like an arrow up the hill and home. I had the feeling that had I let him in, he would have insinuated himself next to the Aga and never left. These farm dogs are lean, working animals. This ones coat had never seen a brush and he stank like a midden. Sheepdogs usually sleep in kennels and outhouses. It's a tough life. If one day he returns to my door looking tired and less cared for than he should, then I may well let him in. But he'll have to submit to a bath!!!

Crafty Green Poet said...

oh I hope SYD gets a forever home, he sounds like a really sweet dog.

Lovely photos, specially the meadow pipits, they're such lovely birds, I know a place where they nest and it's so sweet to see them flying round and listen to them sing

I like the image of the glaring sparrows, glad they're doing well at least somewhere

Lucy said...

Thanks all.

I hope I didn't disappoint, I think SYD's ideal scenario would have been to come home with me, but with Mol that's impossible; she would have been hostile, jealous and miserable, and he would have been bullied, uncomprehending and miserable. Also, we have to be very firm with ourselves about no more animals for a bit after Mol. We're determined to do some travelling and other stuff we've not been able to for years because of her; after that we'll see.

When I told our friend E about him, she was reduced to tears, and I very much wished it had been her he'd found. Her dog Moos is ever so gregarious and friendly to other dogs, and she's always tended to overlap her dogs, so she's never without one. She doesn't travel far or for long, except to go back to Holland sometimes, but seems lucky with her dogs in that they are amenable to being either entrusted to friends, or occasionally kennels, or they travel with her. She's not looking for another one but I'm pretty sure if confronted with SYD she would have been won over in a heartbeat!

Anyway, with the weather we've had lately, I've been happy to think he's at least been safely sheltered.

Francesca said...

I love your robin photos - they really show their energy and liveliness, and the acrobatic blue tits are wonderful.

It's the trust animals have for us that makes them so rewarding to know, and heartbreaking at the same time. The little dog was lucky to find you!