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In at the Death - Background to the Book

I can really, really sympathise with Corvinus here because Placida is Annie, our second dog (see picture), and apart from making Sestia Calvina’s four-pawed disaster a bit bigger than the original they are otherwise dead ringers.
Annie’s French, what they call a Griffon Nivernais, which translates into English as a Griffon Nivernais. I’d never heard of them either. We found her three summers back in a layby in the Vosges, cadging from passing lorries, skeleton-thin and thirsty as hell (it’s a limestone region, and in hot weather there isn’t much surface water). We tanked her up on bottled water and biscuits, loaded her in the back of the car and took her to the nearest village. No one knew anything about her there (or said they didn’t; smart cookies, the French) so we got directions to the nearest SPA refuge.
They checked her over: no tattoo, no microchip, which is par for the course in rural France. They’d keep her for the statutary two weeks, they said, in the hope that someone would claim her, but if not hunting dogs like that were two a centime so when the two weeks were up then probably, ah...

Okay, so what can you do? We decided to adopt her. Unfortunately, you can’t do that by proxy in France, it has to be done in person, and technically an SPA rep has to see the home the adopted beast’s going to (they waived that bit - surprise! - but the first condition wasn’t negotiable). Unfortunately again, we were right at the end of the holiday, so factoring in the see-if-she’s-claimed period meant we’d have to go home to Scotland and then come back out a month later. We arranged kenneling for the seven months that it’d take Orphan Annie to get her pet’s passport (in the nearby Beaujolais. Well, if you do have to make a second trip...) and headed for the Zeebrugge ferry.
We finally collected her, duly passported, the following Easter. At that time the Zeebrugge/Rosyth ferry - which we normally use - didn’t carry pets, and in any case it was out because for legal reasons we had to use a French port. So... Calais to Dover, and a long, long drive up to Carnoustie.
We’d arranged a dog-friendly hotel the other side, having warned the owners in advance that we didn’t know what the hell we’d be landing them with. Fortunate, as it turned out, because the first thing she did when she got there in true Placida fashion was piss on the floor while the owner was explaining where everything was (incidentally, if you’re ever looking for a genuinely dog-friendly hotel then Toddies, Mead House, 9 East Cliff, Dover is the one to go for. They were great). Then up to my sister’s in Chorley, where we got a repeat performance with added extras. My sister is very houseproud and not really a dog person. Ouch.
All in all, quite eventful, really.
I’ll spare you the rest, because it’s all in the book (although - fortunately - the bit with the neighbours’ cat is invented). It took us a year of hard, hard grind plus a fortune in detergent, carpet shampoo and incense sticks but she’s now settled, happy and reasonably civilised. Or at least relatively so. Or at least...
As I write this she’s flat out and snoring on the living-room floor, with the door open to provide a decent through draught. She’s got a lovely nature, though. Honestly.
By the way, if you look carefully at the frieze at the top of the book cover (you may need a magnifying glass) you’ll see Annie in her Placida persona: wide grin, large ears flying out behind her. It’s taken from a Gallo-Roman pot, and I asked my editor if it could be included somewhere because it’s absolutely spot-on. The only thing it doesn’t have of hers - because pots aren’t wired for sound - is the howl. The dogs in Carnoustie really appreciate that.

David Wishart (May 200)

read the 1st chapter

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