When we moved to Italy from the UK we brought along our two dogs, Barney and Louby with us, having invested the time and money to ensure that they had all the correct injections, chips, documentation and Pet Passports.
Barney had been a “rescue dog”, a black Labrador / Border Collie cross, who had been ill treated and underfed by an uncaring farmer. When we first got him home he was really wild and nervous, especially of men, large boots, thunderstorms and load noises like gunshots. After getting him de-flee’d, and through his course of vaccinations we tried to take him out of the confines of our house and garden for the first time, for a walk. He was so scared of the great outdoors, we ended up having to carry him.
Later we decided to get Barney a sister, Louby, a tricolour Welsh Border Collie who also came from a farm. She was very bright and agile and taught Barney a thing or two.
Here in Italy our dogs immediately adapted to their new lifestyle and loved their new surroundings at “Tre Cancelle”, finding that they now had so much freedom to run around.
However we soon found that some Italians do not share our sentimentality towards animals, particularly Dogs. In the countryside everyone with a plot of land seems to have a couple of large, vociferous dogs, solely for guarding purposes or sometimes for hunting. These animals are generally chained up, neglected, and shown little or no affection. In the evening, after dusk, they all begin communicating with each other, as a chorus of barking, howling and wailing echoes around the valleys. Over the months we were periodically visited by various strays that generally hung around for a day or so, before drifting off. These had either been abandoned by uncaring owners, had managed to slip their chains or were hunting dogs that had gone AWOL.
However one hound was rather more persistent than the others, a large, rusty brown male, who was showing considerable interest in Louby, who it seemed was coming into season. Indeed Louby liked the attention of this canine “Casanova” and actively flirted with him. Despite Paul’s regular best efforts to drive him off the premises by yelling and screaming like a mad man at him, dousing him in cold water, it was to no avail as the stubborn pooch would return again and again. Eventually Paul gave up and thus the dog became a permanent fixture at “Tre Cancelle”.
We named him “Deefer” – ie “D for dog”!!! He turned out to be a quiet, wise, good natured beast, a faithful old hound who especially enjoyed human company and regular meals.
Then, one morning, while we were still sleeping in the caravan, during the renovation of the farmhouse, I awoke to hear some strange scratching and squeaking sounds coming from underneath the van. I hastily threw on some clothes and ventured outside to investigate. I bent down and peered beneath, but was unable to see or hear anything. A little while later the whimpering sound started up again, so this time I crawled right underneath and caught a glimpse of an animal. With patience, little by little I eventually succeeded in coaxing the cold, wet, bedraggled creature out with some biscuits, and carried it up to the house. It turned out to be an emancipated young dog, a spaniel cross with a docked tail. It must have been about 12 weeks old. We offered it some food and milk which it gulped down at an incredible speed of knots, it was clearly ravenous. We took it upstairs to warm and dry out in a box in front of the fire. Little by little we managed to befriend it and won its confidence and it seemed to became very attached to Louise, enjoying the cuddles and affection. We decided to name her “Cara” as she was found under the “Cara-van”!!!
The following morning we let her out for a run, and she skitted and scampered around enthusiastically, darting here and there – and then …………….. we blinked. Was it a trick of the eye, or were there now two dogs? Or were there three? Yes there were definitely two, with similar markings and colouring. The second was far more timid, but gradually came for some food, which once again was eagerly dispatched. We didn’t have the heart to turn them away now, after all they were so sweet, and Deefer, Louby and Barney didn’t seem at all troubled by their presence. We named the second spaniel “Bella” and jointly the two became known as “The Terrible Twins”.
The builders judged us to be totally “barking mad” and strongly incited us to drive the strays off our land or (probably tongue in cheek) they should be shot, or even barbecued! However, they soon came to realise that ultimately we were lost causes for taking in waifs and strays, but nonetheless, still persisted in regularly grumbling about the canines. In spite of this, we vowed that all the new additions would have to be outside dogs and therefore should not be allowed into the house, as we had already had more than enough muddy footprints, from the quagmire of a building site that we were living in.
Meanwhile, it became apparent that Louby was showing signs of being pregnant, and as her girth expanded and her hunger augmented we realised that the event was pending. Regularly we had to discourage her as she persisted in digging holes under the olive trees, as her instinct drove her to prepare a nest for her young ones. She would insist on doing this in the rain, of course, and would emerge caked in sticky terracotta mud.
We made Louby a bed indoors and as the days went on she became more and more restless, until finally she started her whelping. she seemed rather anxious and bewildered by what was happening to her. After several hours the first pup arrived safely, and an hour later the second. There was no sign of any more so Louise finally crawled into bed and fell fast asleep. When we awoke and checked on Louby we was astonished to find there were now five puppies, three females, and two males. All were strong and healthy.
Louby’s mothering instinct had clearly kicked in, as she licked and nuzzled the blind, clumsy, helpless little bundles of fur towards her to feed. Before long they were all noisily yelping. They soon began to grow, two were a sooty, brown colour, one a reddish brown, and two light brown with white muzzles and socks.
After 2 weeks their eyes began to open and their individual characters began to develop. We named them thus:
the males were “Vinci” and “Cheepa”, the females were “Flossie”, “Meg” and “Tess”. Each day they seemed to grow and gain in confidence, becoming increasingly cuddly, adorable and adventurous. They were a demanding litter.
We put up a board across a doorway to stop the puppies having free range of the house. Vinci, who looked remarkably similar to a fluffy teddy bear, was a real tomboy character and soon worked out how to overcome this obstacle. He would sit there contemplating the task in hand, namely “going over the top”. He would then rev himself up and hurl himself at the board, grabbing on to the top with his oversized paws, and proceed to scramble up, frantically pumping with his back legs. Soon he would be darting mischievously about the room with a very waggy, shaggy tail, “feeling so very full of himself “!!!
Yet, too soon the pups were almost old enough to leave their mother, so we were faced with the challenge of finding suitable, caring homes for them all. Now we had 10 doggie mouths to feed.
However, Louise had already decided that she would like to keep one of them, Flossie”, who had inherited Welsh Border Collie characteristics from Louby and her foxy colouring from her father Deefer.
The owner of a pet shop in Itri, the local newsagent and supermarket sympathetically allowed us to display some adverts and photos on their notice boards. We managed to find a good home for the two male puppies, however there were no takers for any of the girls.
Tess was the darkest and stockiest of the girls, while Meg was rather timid and petite with pretty facial markings. They all had needle sharp teeth and claws and were very skittish, enjoying romping, frolicking and play fighting.
We organised to get Louby and the young spaniels, sterilised as soon as possible at our own expense.
The dogs loyally followed us around the olive groves while were working outside. Each had their very individual characters. Cara and Bella especially enjoyed rooting about, stalking and prancing on the small lizards that scuttled about in the heat of the day, and also passionately chase butterflies and moths. One day, however, Cara swallowed a bee, which resulted in her face swelling up and her foaming at the mouth. The vet bills began to mount. Then, there were a multitude of other costly injuries and ailments. Deefer had a vicious fight with another dog, whilst defending his territory and of course came off the worst; Barney had a severe ear infection; Louby suffered from a flaky skin infection, Meg was bitten by something, possibly a snake. Bella developed a limp. Then a week or so later she chased after a scooter and got run over by its wheels badly bruising one of her legs. Yet more vet’s bills !!! An X-ray revealed that miraculously there were no breakages but curiously disclosed some lead pellets from a shot gun were embedded in her leg, which was probably why she had previously been limping. Hunters will shoot at anything !!! Fortunately she made a full recovery, however the vet strongly advised us to get all the dogs vaccinated as a matter of urgency. Then of course there were the various treatments for fleas, ticks and other parasites, and last but not least the cost of feeding them all.
Yet our money had almost run out, and there was very little left in the pot, but it was still important to get some fencing sorted out for the dogs to keep them safe and out of the way of visitors, and prevent them from straying onto neighbouring land, rom chasing after cars, scooters and most favourite of them all … cyclists !!! It was out of the question to fence off all our eight acres of land.
So the builders worked alongside Paul to make a large fenced area of grove close to the house. Paul constructed some “rustic” gates to allow us access, and a kennel to keep the hounds warm and dry in the winter months.
However, the dogs appeared to have formed themselves into an effective “Escape Committee”, and regularly tested out the new defences. Sometimes it was as little as five minutes before Flossie or Meg, “escape artistes extraordinaires” cheerfully appeared back outside the front of the house, with a “Is that the best you could do?” sort of look on their faces !!! Paul, began to refer to himself as : “Kommandant of Stalag Luft Drei Kancelle” !!!
Paul took daily walks around the fence in an effort to work out how the pooches were managing to escape so easily. “Ve ave vays und means of keepin dem in!” he said. Far easier said than done !!! It seemed that the dogs were proving to be the more intelligent species, indeed some were experts at digging out, while others favoured leaping or scrambling over the wire fence or even chewing holes in it. In protest, on finding herself incarcerated, Cara took to howling pitifully, and the others eagerly followed suit forming a somewhat dischordant choir.
Then there was a new arrival, a rather attractive looking male dog. This time, however, we swore not to take in another animal. We did not give him an inch of encouragement. In fact, Paul yelled at him, chased him off brandishing sticks, sprayed him with cold water and did not feed him for a whole week. Yet the obstinate canine didn’t take the slightest bit of notice, and persistently returned, time and time again. So … yes you guessed it …. we took him in, and Paul very aptly named him “Lucky”.
Collectively the dogs became known as the “Woof-Gang”.