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Thursday February 1, 2007

John Shackleton

Charlie?s from the Société Protectrice des Animaux. The SPA to the initiated. Bordeaux?s premier animal refuge. Well, Merignac?s, to be precise. It?s a bit of a difficult place to get to if you haven?t got a car and have to use the bus. Like we did. But we made the journey because Charlie needed a home and we needed an entrée into French society. Although neither my wife nor I, nor our future domestic animal knew this at the time.

At the same moment as we were innocently boarding the eastbound number 51 and thinking only altruistic thoughts, Charlie was in all probability sitting in her little enclosure and minding her own business, or wondering idly about the timing of her next meal. Nobody could have known about the relationships that were about to be sparked into existence. Especially if their brain is the same shape and size as a small avocado. I?m talking about Charlie now, before you start thinking that either me or my wife are mentally defective.

Although that was the conclusion the driver of the eastbound number 51 came to as we tried to find out how much it would cost to get to the SPA in Merignac by waving a map of Bordeaux in his face and shouting. Because as is obvious to the whole world except the English, the best way to organise a transport network is to have a flat rate fare system and encourage as many people as possible to get their tickets before they get on the bus/tram/water taxi, thereby avoiding a 10 minute wait as the driver finds the destination and price on his little grid and then hunts down change for the £20 note he was given.

I mean this is obvious, isn?t it? Which is why they have a flat rate fare system everywhere including in France. Which is why our driver couldn?t understand what we were going on about and which is why he reached a less than positive view of us intellectually. Still, there was no reason to get huffy about it and even less reason to share his evaluation of our cognitive powers with the rest of the bus. Particularly as, in an act of complete selflessness, we were about to liberate a medium sized chocolate labrador from potentially traumatising captivity. Although, like the medium sized chocolate Labrador in question, and us come to that, the driver didn?t know this.

Anyway, we managed to get to the end of the line without any further shouting. I said ?merci? to the driver as we got off (I suspect the irony was lost on him) and we trotted off excitedly along a frighteningly busy road with no pavement towards the SPA and our unsuspecting salivating bundle of fur.

Armed with a pencil and preference form, kindly provided to us by the very nice lady in the office, we began our search. We went past all the cages containing the too small, the too big, the too quiet, the too lively, the too ridiculous, the too dangerous examples of the canine species until we got to the cage marked ?adorable?.

And here we were faced with a bit of a dilemma. Co-located in the same enclosure were two ideal looking specimens. The aforementioned medium sized chocolate labrador (sounds a bit like a breakfast order at Starbucks), later destined to be known as Charlie, and her cagemate, a brown and white setter, suitably excited by our interest. We ummed; we arred. Which one was going to come home with the funny looking bipeds? Just as we thought we would have to resort to suggesting a best of three paw-wrestling contest, the setter made up our minds by suddenly leaping two metres vertically in the air.

Bad move. Our balcony railing at home is only one metre high. And we live on the third floor. OK, so the setter couldn?t have known that but you still need to be a bit more circumspect in this dog-eat-dog world. That was it then. Medium sized chocolate labrador it was. We went back to the office, hoping against hope that none of the other prison visitors had taken a shine to ?the chosen one? in the meantime. No they hadn?t, said the nice lady. Not that it really mattered because I would have hunted them down and killed them. I didn?t tell the nice lady this; I didn?t think it would really help my suitable dog-owner profile. 

So then: no custody battles (and that sounds like secondary school food fight). If you?d just like to hand over our dog, we?ll be on our way. But no, there were operations to be carried out, injections to be done, tattoos to be tattooed. And forms to be filled in, of course. The lengthy tentacles of the French administration reach even inside an animal asylum. Is no living thing safe?

Get this for example. All pedigree dogs in France have to have a name that begins with a letter that corresponds to the year in which they were born. Eh? So if your dog was born in 2005, it would have to be called by a name beginning with X. Like Xavier or Xerxes ? or Xylophone. I can?t quite imagine this working in England, somehow. I can?t really see the local dog naming official going into a housing estate in Ancoats and demanding that the owner of the pitbull gambolling happily amongst the burnt out cars and answering to the name of Gripper, change its name to something beginning with V. Like Vespasian.

That?s not true actually. I can imagine him going in there, I just can?t see him coming out again. All of this name business didn?t affect Charlie of course because she?s not a pedigree dog. Eh oui. Queen of our hearts perhaps, but sadly there is no blue blood running through her veins.

But we were still going to have to come back to the SPA. On the bus. And in a spookily prescient way, this provided us with a frightening image of what life would be like if we continued to live without a dog. We would have to come back on the bus because we didn?t know anybody with a car. Actually, we didn?t know anyone at all. We hummed the theme tune to The Twilight Zone and left.

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