I flipped a coin on the topic for today’s blog. I was either going to write about anxiety (mine) or Milly abroad. Luckily for you guys, Milly came out on top.
As soon as Milly came home to us we knew we wanted to involve her in every aspect of our life, including holidays. Little did we know how unrealistic that was going to be. At the time however that was our intention and we duly set about obtaining the documentation so she could accompany us abroad. A rabies vaccination, some blood tests and a large chunk of cash later, we were the proud owners of a UK PET PASSPORT.
Despite battling our way through the start of 2010 with Milly, when the opportunity arose at the end of the summer to go and stay in our lovely friend Caro’s delightful cottage “La Grange” in Provence we took it. And took Milly with us! We weren’t going completely blind – Matt had already spent a week down there and sussed out the area. Although nestled in a little village, Matt assessed that the location was quiet enough that we would not have any dog trouble. I was sold.
Other than the usual holiday packing I had to go into full organisational mode with regards to Milly. Back in 2010 the PETS Travel Scheme requirement to cross the border back into the UK was that the documentation had to evidence that the animal had received certain medicines between 24 and 48 hours prior to the date of re-entry. This meant we had to take Milly to the vet. In France. And not just anywhere in France either, in deepest, rural France. Given that vet visits at home were extremely stressful because of the inevitable presence of other canine patients, the thought of going to a local French vet filled me with fear.
Not only was it a vets visit, but it also had to be a vet who could scan the microchip and complete the requirements under the PETS scheme. Cue avid Google search. Primarily using British forums, because everything else I found was in French, I was able to identify a suitable Veterinary Practice in the neighbouring town of Uzes. Next challenge. How do you make a Vets appointment in French? Whilst also explaining that your dog is severely dog phobic and so we must be confident we can ensure no dog-dog interaction? No idea frankly. Drawing on my pre-GCSE level French lessons I could tell you that a chien is a dog, but that is about it. Luckily for me our dear friend Chad (Otto’s daddy.. see earlier post Goodnight Fat Cat) speaks fluent French. Hurrah. Appointment made, instructions given, and assurances received that everything could be done to comply with the PETS scheme.
My biggest worry about taking her over there was that something would go amiss with the paperwork and she wouldn’t be allowed to return home. My parents know of a couple who took their dog on a trip across the channel in their personal boat. They didn’t give it much of a thought but when it came to coming home their docs weren’t in order and some major scrambling had to be done. Little dog had to come home on the Eurostar.
Next on the agenda was ensuring that I had the ability to communicate effectively with the owner of another dog, just in case any situation should arise. Pretty sure “Non” accompanied by some wild hand flapping wasn’t going to cover it. I went to Aurore at work, who hails from Toulouse, and she kindly wrote me out a very easy and succinct sentence that delivered the message I needed. It was along the lines of “My dog is scared. Please keep your dog away. Thank you”. I had it written down in my purse, but I practiced and practiced it just in case. How ever I thought I was going to have the presence of mind to use it in the moment I have no idea – in my native tongue I can only just about manage to yell “NO. NO. AWAY. NO. NO” over the sound of Milly’s barking. Never the less it boosted my confidence knowing that, in theory, I could say what I needed to say.
I don’t remember why now, but for some reason we booked the Dover-Dunkerque ferry crossing. Given that I suffer from motion sickness (and did then!) I don’t know why I would have done that. It would have been much more sensible to book the tunnel, which is the only way I’m prepared to drive on to the continent nowadays. But in 2010 a ferry crossing it was.
I imagine that for normal dog owners, or at least the owners of normal dogs, there is a little bit of uncertainly when it comes to making this trip for the first time. Until you’ve done something once, you don’t really know what is what, or how easy things are going to be. There is only so much internet research you can do from traveller reviews, noting that plenty of those you have to take with a pinch of salt. For us, the owners of a special dog, or at least for me – the worrier – there was a large helping of apprehension.
We had booked a crossing at stupid o-clock in the morning, not only to allow us to cover the miles down to Uzes in a single day, but also to hopefully be on a quiet crossing.
On check-in at port they give out the regular car mirror hanger thing, and on ours we were also proudly displaying a big sticker to show we had a dog on board. Directed to a boarding lane number we thought nothing of it, until we arrived at the lane and realised it was the dog lane. And there were three other cars already in it. Gulp. Milly was not making her maiden voyage as a lone canine.
Once aboard the ferry I was trying not to freak out that our car was surrounded by other cars containing dogs. As those of you who have been on a ferry will know, you have to vacate your car and go up to the passenger deck for the duration of the crossing. Where “you” means the humans. Canines remain locked in your car, on the car deck. I did know this in advance, and must have thought I’d be ok with it. But when it came to it I felt awful leaving her. I was also desperately worried that she would realise she was surrounded by dogs and get herself into a terrible state. For 2 hours. At that point however there was no going back. We were loaded on and the doors were shut – we had to get upstairs. I spent the trip fighting both my seasickness (with extreme mental concentration) and my anxiety over Milly (using much of the same technique).
No joke I was the first person back onto that car deck when the tannoy gave us permission. Turns out there was nothing to worry about, for Milly was curled up fast asleep on the back seat.
The drive down to Uzes was about 1000kms and, given that I insisted on us stopping every hour to let Milly stretch her legs, it took ages! Didn’t matter though – we had successfully made it to France! We were on our holidays!!
Milly started off alert and scanning the horizon as she usually did.
She must’ve realised the scenery wasn’t changing much as we bombed along the toll roads, and soon settled down to a slightly more relaxed position.
On arrival at La Grange I was extremely pleased. The garden was gated and surrounded by high walls, a handful of houses in the village, and La Grange itself was cosy and perfect. We were going to have brilliant week!
On closer inspection the following day, we discovered that the courtyard garden probably wasn’t escape-proof enough for a dog as determined as Milly so we fashioned up a long line so she was free to roam, but not disappear. No worries.
Unfortunately we did have three near-misses whilst we were there.
The first, and the funniest, was when we were taking our evening walk out of the village and on a little circuit down some country roads. Like a lot of dogs, Milly likes to hug the fence line, and was doing this along the perimeter of what appeared to be a very large property. So engrossed in what was going on outside, she initially didn’t notice that INSIDE the fence line the resident dog was doing exactly the same thing and trotting alongside her. Unfortunately neither did we! I think all 4 of us jumped out of our skin when she did finally notice.
The second less funny event was when I was taking Milly out on my own during the day. Following the same circuit which, aside from the perimeter walking dog, we had deduced was super quiet and very low risk. On approaching the village on the way back and being in sight of our gate, around the corner came a dog. On his own. No lead. No owner. Clearly he was just taking himself for a little walk. He spotted Milly and started advancing, tail wagging, ready to greet her with the universally accepted customary bum sniff no doubt. Milly spotted him and reacted as usual. We tracked back a little way, and he stopped, but was stood neatly between us and our gate. We were trapped. Perfect.
Having relaxed my “take mobile phone” rule because I was on holiday, I had no choice but to call for Matt, hoping that he would be able to hear me and come and rescue me. I have no idea how far away I was and even if I had known it wouldn’t have helped because I have no concept of how far you can throw your voice. So all the while keeping one eye on the guardsman blocking our path, I yelled for Matt as loudly as I could possibly manage. Thankfully he could hear me, and came out to lead the loose dog away whilst Milly and I got safely in the gate. Matt said I was loud. The entire village probably heard me. Sorry about that village.
The final incident was not funny in the slightest, and literally makes me shudder with fear when I think about what could have happened. I will therefore gloss over it with minimal detail. Turns out the guardsman dog lived in the neighbouring house to La Grange. He came outside and barked one day, and Milly saw red and took a running jump over the garden wall. With lightening reactions Matt turned round and managed to grab hold of her line. With a superhuman heave on it Milly must have spun around mid air and reappeared face first over the wall, landing safely back on her paws. Can’t even think beyond that. Needless to say I didn’t relax outside very much after that. Milly had proven that she couldn’t roam on her line. For the most part, her and I stayed inside.
On one day mid-week we were feeling adventurous and drove down to the beach at Montpelier. Having located a secluded spot, and sussed out a safe route back to the car for emergencies, armed with my French phrase from Aurore, we spent a bit of time chilling on the beach. Despite the remote location and there being nothing on the horizon between us and Algeria, Milly remained on high alert most of the time. She just couldn’t help it.
One of my favourite photos taken on that day Matt had enlarged onto a canvas for me at home. When he placed the order the retailer referred to it as “lady with smiling dog”, and that is what we still fondly call it.
You can’t tell from this shot but she actually has her paw resting really sweetly on my knee.
The end of our holiday was drawing near and so was our pre-booked vets visit. Being ultra-prepared we had already driven through the town and sought out the vets, worked out where we would park etc. We arrived on time – first appointment after lunch – and thankfully were the only clients. With no stressful waiting in reception we were seen straight through to the vets office where she was waiting for us. With her MASSIVE golden retriever napping under her desk. HOLY. COW. Somehow we managed to rapidly reverse a reacting Milly out of the room and down the corridor whilst the poor retriever was relocated to continue his nap in peace somewhere else.
The vet did the necessary treatments and signed the book. Phew.
It wasn’t until we got safely back into the car that I realised she hadn’t actually scanned Milly’s microchip! She could’ve been treating one dog and signing the passport of another for all she knew. Nevermind.
Following another mammoth road trip through central France we arrived back at port in good time for our return ferry. All documents are checked by Border Officers before you board the ferry, leaving you free to disembark and put your foot down on the other side. Still, we had nothing to worry about – all three of our passports were present and correct. Looking at our sun-tanned faces was enough to confirm our identity, but Milly needed a microchip scan.
Which didn’t work.
The Border Officer handed me the scanner through the car window to do the honours on the back of Milly’s neck. One attempt. No chip. No bleep. Second attempt. No chip. No bleep. My pulse was through the roof.. this cannot be happening?? The Officer must have taken one look at my ashen face and realised that I wasn’t faking this panic to try and smuggle a dog across the border. She waved us through without the successful scan.
Less dogs travelling on the way back, so I only had my sickness to concentrate on, and we arrived back at Dover in good time. 90 minutes later our adventure ended when we closed the bungalow door snugly behind us.
Although overall we had a lovely time, the trip wasn’t without it’s little stresses. The guardsman dog, the napping retriever and the microchip fail were all filed away in my memory bank. At the time we didn’t rule out taking her on holiday again, in fact we even renewed her rabies vaccine in 2012. But as her story unfolded it became more and more difficult to find the perfect trip, and to be honest I became less and less brave about doing so. We did look into several trips but each time we considered taking her away we came back to the decision that it just wouldn’t be relaxing for us or for her. Not only abroad, but we researched UK based dog friendly holidays, cottages for rent and that sort of thing. Despite hours of research, and using Google earth view to full effect to determine the locality of cottages to ANY OTHER properties, we never did book anything.
I have always felt sad (and a bit guilty) that we never took her further afield again, but then I remember that trip to in 2010 and her smiling face on the beach. We took her to France! She paddled her paws in the Mediterranean Sea! Not many Surrey dogs can make that claim.
We tried our best. But ultimately settled on what we all deemed was the lowest stress solution all round. That was the story of her life.
Since 2010 Matt and I haven’t been on very many holidays ourselves, but we were lucky enough to give Milly her perfect holiday each time…. a stay with my lovely parents.
Somewhere where she felt as safe and as loved as she did in her own home……because she absolutely was.