by Chris Dolley
Our first year in France was … unusual. It was as though in crossing The Channel we’d ripped a hole in the space-time continuum and allowed a much weirder universe to poke through. There’s probably a critical animal mass that if exceeded – by confining too many unruly pets in one vehicle – unravels all those balls of neatly wound superstring.
One of the strangest events – and one which I’ve not written about as I was saving it for French Fried II – was the canine identity parade.
It could only happen in France. The Alternative one.
Gypsy, our young lurcher (a greyhound cross crocodile) was taking Shelagh and I for a walk in the late summer. We’d climbed the hill past the ruin and was just approaching the bungalow where the goats and sheep lived (yes, they actually lived inside the house and had the run of the garden) when we saw Remy, our log man. He was not happy. And quickly broke into an animated burst of French. From what we could decipher, one of his sheep (an aforementioned resident of the bungalow – the bedroom at the back, I think) had been killed … by a dog.
He looked at Gypsy.
We looked at Gypsy. I was half expecting Gypsy to use this moment to cough, retch, then deposit half a mildly-chewed lamb at Remy’s feet. But our dog was innocent and had been inside the house all morning.
Then we remembered the three dogs we’d seen earlier that day. They’d been running wild in the stubble of the maize field next to our house. We’d watched them for a few minutes in case they ran into the horse field and started chasing the horses. They hadn’t, but loose packs of dogs were always a worry.
We told Remy and, immediately, he was interested.
“What did they look like?”
This was a difficult question to answer. They’d never come closer than a hundred yards. One was white. And all three were medium sized dogs of indeterminate breed.
We walked back to our house and, ten minutes later, a car raced into our drive and pulled up. Out came Remy … with three dogs. One of which was white.
“Is this them?” he asked.
All three dogs smiled at us. And ran around our legs. And sat, and rolled, and gave an all round stellar performance of exuberant but well-behaved innocence. What us? We were at a bar miles away.I looked at Shelagh, and she looked at me. What were we supposed to say? They looked like the dogs we’d seen earlier but … what would happen to them if we said yes?
This was the campagne. Wasn’t it a French court that had found a pig guilty of murder and hung him? Admittedly it had been a few centuries ago but had anyone bothered to repeal the law? And was that a gun in Remy’s car?
We prevaricated. We couldn’t be sure. They might be, they might not. Had they been Mirandized? Were they lawyered-up?
A second car roared down the hill and swung into our drive. The driver door flew open and out shot an enraged hunter.
“What are you doing with my dogs?”
“They killed my sheep!”
“Oh no they didn’t!”
“Oh, yes, they did!”
The dogs continued to exude an aura of innocence that few saints could match. Tongues lolled, eyes sparkled. They didn’t even bark – maybe they had been Mirandized (Anything you bark will be taken down and used in evidence against you)
Remy and the hunter jabbed fingers at each other, exchanged observations about each other’s parenthood … and we backed away from the gathering, eyeing our front door with a certain longing. There were guns in both cars. Could we slip inside the house without anyone noticing?
We’d reached the front step when the conversation took a less confrontational turn. Perhaps they had community service orders for dogs. Dressed them up in orange collars and made them do light digging in communal flower borders.
Not quite. But hunters had insurance. And if they put the matter in the hands of the insurer then compensation would be paid.
I wondered if that compensation extended to payments to the murdered lamb’s parents, but a dig in the ribs persuaded me to keep quiet.
Honour, and bank balances, satisfied, our unexpected guests left.
Chris Dolley is an English author living in France with a frightening number of animals. More information about his other work can be found on his BVC bookshelf .