Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Allo, Police! Where are my humans? - Eleanor Shepherd

Life and job responsibilities in France involved a fair bit of travel, sometimes with absences of three days or longer form home.  If it were at all possible Beau made the trip with us and we worked out accommodation arrangements as best we could.  On those occasions when he could not come we would speak to our neighbours Jean-Michel and Dimorph to see if they would take care of him. We looked after their animals on the occasions when they needed to be away, so it was a good arrangement.

By and large it worked well.  Beau was never happy to see us go – and regarded us with sullen eyes as we shut the door.  But he would always be there to greet us on our return – dancing with glee, leaping up with his front paws extended and his tail wagging.

We became acclimatized to the routine of going and coming – and we assumed that Beau had similarly adapted.  That was, until the police station trip.

We had been away for just a couple of days and drove home – anxious to get back into our home and see the noble pooch.  Imagine the shock as we opened the front door at 5 rue Claude Debussy and heard nothing.  No running feet, no happy bark, no panting – just silence.  Then Eleanor went to retrieve the mail from the mailbox and saw the letter.  She found an official envelope from the Prefecture de Police in Rueil-Malmaison.  The note informed us that our dog – Beauregard JVB 030 – was at the police station waiting for us. We were asked to call as quickly as possible to get him.

We went to the police station, picked up the dog and brought him home.  He seemed normal – jumping, wriggling and licking as usual.  We were a little off our stride over the event.  At moments like this our foreignness in France always seemed to be an embarrassment.  It is not easy to fit into a new country when your dog makes you stand out in any crowd.

We were never able to completely reconstruct the story, but it would appear that Beau, patrolling the house, became alarmed at what he thought was an unduly prolonged absence on the part of his humans.  His brain recalled the memory of how he had scaled the back fence in pursuit of King and Duke.  Circumstances this time – the disappearance of his humans – necessitated a similar show of bravery and initiative.  Over the fence he went in search of the gendarmes to report the disappearance of his beloved humans.  It is not really clear if a constable picked him up or if he went directly to the police station himself to tell his tale of concern.  In any event, the sympathetic gendarmerie sent us a note to inform us that Beau had been looking for us and to reassure us that he was safe and sound in their keeping.

We took him home, grateful for his concern, and admiring his resourcefulness.  The dog smiled and said nothing, but a new bond between the noble pooch and his dependent humans had been forged.

Word Guild Award
Word Guild Award

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Finding His True Identity - Eleanor Shepherd

A drive south from Paris to Lyon and then west towards St. Etienne takes you into the Massif Central, the heart of French Huguenot country.  It was in this Protestant area that the resistance was particularly strong during World War II.  Drive into the Massif Central and you come to the town of Le-Chambon-sur-Lignon.  It was here that the members of the Reformed Church acted heroically during the War in a massive clandestine effort to smuggle thousands of Jewish children out of France to Switzerland and safety from certain extermination in the concentration camps.  Today, in the town square, there is a plaque in French and Hebrew expressing the gratitude of the State of Israel for this action.  When we lived in France in the early 1990’s Le Chambon, as it is known, was the site of a deeply rooted tradition in the French Salvation Army of summer gatherings and a national camp program.  Each summer, young people came to the area for a series of camps, the final one being the national music camp at a campsite known as Les Barandons.  It was to this locale that Beau repaired with his family each summer for the camps that Glen, in his work with The Salvation Army, was expected to oversee.

The camp is located about a kilometre and a half out of town on the crest of the mountains.  A large forest surrounds it. About 400 metres to the east sat a hotel.  Apart from that, all was forest.  The noble hunting dog loved to be unleashed and left to romp through the woods, returning periodically to check out his humans and to see if any food had been prepared.  His skill at table scrap begging as the campers sat about enjoying a four course French meal and a slow café led to the necessity of his being tied up during mealtime.  But during the day it was freedom in the country – the life for which the noble pooch had been created.

Beau lost no time in reconnoitring his terrain.  He discovered that other dogs, linked to other humans in other lots frequented the woods.  On a couple of occasions his humans made the gaffe of coming upon him as he enjoyed the companionship of a female of the canine race.  Summer camp was for dogs too!

Above all, Beau made his mark as a bona fide member of the camp community. Friends like Jean-Blaise Fivaz came to appreciate his enterprise and speed.  They saw in him the dog who loved his native land. Beau was, after all, the only French-born member of the Shepherd household. And so it was, that Jean-Blaise concluded that Beau’s identity should be officially confirmed à la Française – with his own carte d’identité.

The card was done on a large poster board – with a portrait instead of a photo. The portrait showed his big dark eyes, his long black nose, and his alert pointy ears.  He looked ready to spring out of the drawing.  His birth-date was noted and the department (78, les Yvelines) where he was born was incorporated into his identity.  The music camp community gathered to admire Jean Blaise’s creative work.  And the noble dog, with his flashy red scarf tied around his neck by Elizabeth, looked on approvingly – a cross between the artistic insouciance of Charles Trenet and the fire of Charles de Gaulle.  As for the rest of us – we were just foreigners, passing through his native land.
Word Guild Award

Word Guild Award

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Over the Fence with King and Duke - Eleanor Shepherd

The house in Rueil-Malmaison was the centre of five row houses on rue Claude Debussy.  Two older couples lived on one side.  On the other side was a retired couple and, at the end, a younger couple Jean-Michel and Dinorah.  Dinorah was American.  They shared the house with their three cats and two German Shepherds – King and Duke.  Elizabeth hung the name “the Brauchten brothers” on King and Duke in recognition of their German heritage.  They shared the neighbourhood with other dogs – Jock, a big scotch terrier across the corner and the Mad Nose Nipper on the next block.  (That is another story.)

We had it worked out with Jean-Michel and Dinorah to trade off on walking dogs when the other family was away on holiday.

So it happened that Glen was to take King and Duke out for a walk.  Normally Glen left the house, went around to the end of the block, down the back lane to open the gate on the backyard fence and take King and Duke out.  As he walked serenely along the back lane Glen spied Beau, who had come downstairs and out the swinging door in the basement.  His face a mask of disgruntlement his eyes followed Glen  menacingly as he went into the Brauchtens’ backyard.

Paws up against the fence Beau  watched as Glen put on their leashes and prepared to go for a walk.  For the faithful dog, this was the insult above and beyond all insults.  His human was taking other, foreign dogs for a walk while he languished in the backyard.

The injustice of it burned in his spirit as he barked his protest through the back fence. Somehow, Glen failed to pick up the sense of anger and injustice that filled the air that July evening.

Unsuspectingly, Glen walked out along the back lane with King and Duke in tow.  Past the neighbours’ house, past our house at 5 Claude Debussy. They had just reached the next house when, out of the corner of his eye Glen saw a Brittany spaniel take a run at the 2 metre high fence that surrounded the yard and clear it.  It was a magnificent feat of athletic prowess for a medium-sized dog.

In a flash Beau stood before the trio, eyes glaring, whining out his protests.  “What sort of master are you?  What is the meaning of this?  Where are the dog abuse police when you need them?”

The simple task of walking two German Shepherds had suddenly taken on a new complexity.  Glen had to return the Brauchtens to their yard, take Beau home and close him up inside the house.  The basement door was locked, the shutters drawn to minimize the visual taunt and the whole walk started again.

We had a new respect for Beau’s agility, strength and determination.  And we took more precautions when having anything to do with other dogs.
Word Guild Award
Word Guild Award

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Rounding Up the Cows - Eleanor Shepherd

After a long absence I am resuming the stories of the adventurous Brittany Spaniel, Beau.  

When a dog becomes part of the family, you can almost image what he is thinking.  It happened to us one day at a farm in the French countryside.  If you drive west out of Paris on the A13 for about 100 kilometres and you find yourself in the centre of Normandie.  The main city is Rouen.  About 20 kilometres before you arrive in Rouen is a village called Fleury-sur-Andelle.  The Andelle is a magnificent trout stream – fishing aficionados come from far and wide to fish in it. It is in this village that The Salvation Army operates a facility called Radepont.  It is a reinsertion program for adult men, aimed at helping them develop job and personal skills.  The program operates out of a chateau, a bequest form a wealthy French industrialist in gratitude for the work of The Salvation Army.  The grounds are expansive with a full operating farm on the premises.  South of the chateau, still on the property is the abbey Fontaine – Guerard (Healing springs) and a wall dating back to the time of the Romans.

It was here that young people from Salvation Army churches around the northwest of France assembled for a retreat weekend.  Glen and Eleanor were the guests for the weekend and we came as a family, including Beau.  John was a delegate to the weekend and Elizabeth, at age 11, was with us. Beau’s exposure to music concerts, band outings and Salvation Army events had provided a good grounding in life in general. On Saturday afternoon Glen and Eleanor had some free time and decided to make the 2 kilometre walk from the chateau to the abbey.  Elizabeth was busy exploring the wall.

About half-way along the route, walking along the crest of a hill that ran north-south from the chateau to the abbey we looked down a field of cows contentedly grazing.  Glen found it boring and carried on.  Eleanor found it bucolic and peaceful and stopped to look.  Beau saw the cows and his hunting dog DNA kicked in.  Running back and forth he barked up a storm as if addressing the herd.  Fortunately for all of us, the fence around the pasture prevented Beau from encroaching on the cows’ territory.  As Glen marched on he was oblivious to the drama of herding being played and barked out behind him.  Only later did he hear the details as Eleanor recounted the events, according to what she believed Beau was thinking.

Beau saw the cows milling around all disorganized in the field and felt that something should be done to whip them into shape.  First he ran around to get the attention of the head cow.  Once the head cow was paying attention to him he gave instructions to the head cow:  “Get those cows to line up properly. They look disgraceful and bedraggled in that pasture. Pick one cow to start a line and have other cows line up behind him.  Once other cows have formed a complete line, get another lead cow and start a second line, and so on.”

He barked convincingly and the head cow got the idea.  He turned to another of the herd and instructed him:  “You hear that dog up there. He wants us to get better organized.  You stand over here and then I’ll tell some of the others to line up behind you.  We can form lines that way and the whole herd will look a lot neater that way.” The other cow understood, and slowly the herd began to get into position.  Task accomplished, Beau was free to run on ahead looking for more good work to do.

Some might find the tale a bit tall – but Eleanor assures us that this scenario explains what happened that afternoon.  And she was there and knew how Beau thought.

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Word Guild Award
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Word Guild Award