When I moved to Greece, Nik came with me. We'd been together 12 years and had our good times and bad. Bad lead to Greece and a better view for less money.
We were not going to have another dog, because in that fateful year (along with my dear old Mum passing away), both our dogs died. Both of them. That shouldn't happen and yet it did, within months of each other.
No more dogs. It's too hard to watch them go.
Corfu is, however, awash with them. There was (in those days) no sensible solution to the canine urge, save letting them breed and dumping the puppies on someone elses doorstep. That someone else dealt with the unwelcome addition to the village by poisoning them.
The winter of 2000 was fast approaching when we had notification of a new puppy struggling valiantly to keep up with the older dogs on Arillas beach. She'd been spotted by some English people. We went searching and couldn't find her. A few days later, in a storm, the English couple turned up at our door with the puppy wrapped in a towel. She was beautiful.
We called her Gracie, after Amazing Grace. She was lost, and now she was found.
Gracie was the perfect dog. News of her arrival spread among the itinerant dog population and a boy dog we called Skinny came a callin'. He stayed. He fell in love.
“How do we stop them from breeding?” we asked the locals. Easy, apparently. You buy dog contraceptive pills from the post office. We did that (they look like Alka Seltzer) and, as you might expect from a contraceptive bought at the post office, it didn't work. She had puppies under our bed. Tyson was the last one to be born. Pansy was in there too.
Nik went back to England in January 2002. My idea, not hers. The result was that I lived with numerous dogs for a year and a half till I found people to adopt them – people I trusted. Eventually I moved to France with Pansy and Tyson, and Gracie came too. I used France and its excellent, well, everything, to arrange the paperwork to get Gracie back to England. Nik came out and we drove her to her new home in the English countryside.
Pansy died of kidney failure when she was only 7. Tyson died of kidney failure a year ago, when he was 13. Their dad Skinny died before the puppies were born. He was poisoned, according to the vet. I now think he died of kidney failure too, and passed a faulty gene to his offspring. I think this because a) I made sure my dogs didn't go where the poison was, keeping six alive for 18 months when other people's dogs were dying around us and b) the vet turned out not to be a vet after all, just a Greek woman who failed as a doctor. I only found that out when Skinny was too sick to try her anti-poison medication any more and he needed to be put down. She said she couldn't do it, but gave me something that “would work,” and a needle to do the job. I had to do it myself, and the poor dog took 3 hours, in my arms, to die.
Life on a Greek island. It can be raw.
It's been 10 years since I've heard from Nik. In the back of my mind I guessed that Gracie was gone too, but she emailed me the other day with news about our old neighbour. In the email she said that Gracie was still going, but had had a stroke a year or so ago and was now deaf and her back legs weren't good. I was amazed that she was still alive and it made me happy to think of what a wonderful life she's had, considering how it could have ended up. It's hard to describe how special she is. She's like Lassie, but better, more beautiful, and a good deal smarter. She's been Nik's constant companion for over 12 years, going with her to work every day. They have been inseparable.
Here, I've been looking after Clive's dog Patrick and it's nice to be around a dog again. I brought Tyson's picture with me, as I'm away from home for two months and I didn't want him thinking I wasn't coming back.
I bought a camera the other day, thinking that perhaps I should have one if I'm going to be a world traveller. I'm no photographer – in fact this is the first camera I've ever owned. I took a picture of Patrick.
A couple of days ago I took him for a walk along the same stretch of river we always do, but I decided on that particular day to go just a little but further. Patrick doesn't walk too far – he's 8, which is getting up there for a big dog, but he was in fine fettle so I thought we'd risk a longer walk. I've never been further on this track, so it was all new, if more trees and more river can be described as new.
As we went round a bend I saw some small cabins and a picnic area down by the water. Such cabins are all over the place here. People have them for weekends. I stopped and looked at them, then turned my eyes to the water. I double took. What appeared to be a dog was swimming toward us, its head above the water and its body below. It only took a second to see it was a rock, but it surprised me so much I took a photo of it.
When I got back, Nik had emailed again. Gracie had taken sick, and was to be put down the next day. I could feel Nik's pain as I read it. I choked up, thinking of the small bundle of fluff that was rescued from a storm on Arillas beach. Of her days in Greece, her puppies under the bed, her running through the French woods and finally gluing herself to Nik's side for the next 12 years. She was a lucky dog, and we were lucky to have her, if only for a short while.
[ps...Have you tried the Armchair Detective Challenge yet?]
Slovenia, writing, other things