And more to the point, how did I end up here?
I’m Emma. I’m a teacher and writer based in South-West France. I’ve always been an animal lover and my heart belongs to rescues. I’ve never had a dog that wasn’t.
This is me with our family cocker spaniel. I’ve always loved cockers. If I could go with one breed, cockers would be it. American, English, working… I don’t care. That said, volunteering is a bit like experimenting in a library with a load of new book types. I’ve become a massive fan of wire-haired fox terriers (because they’re small and think they’re rottweilers, not unlike me) and I love big muttley types. Rotties are also fabulous, and I’m a beagle fan too. If it’s scruffy, I’ll love it. If it’s needy and vulnerable, I’ll love it. If it’s a bit shouty, I’ll love it. That goes for people too.
Currently I have four dogs. That’s four of my own. I also foster for the refuge from time to time. Last year, I had twelve little fosterees who stayed for a night or two until they found a home. Some make it through the week before they’re rehomed. That’s good because otherwise I’d end up keeping them. I often have a bathroom full of kittens during kitty season too. When I bring a dog home these days, I get a look from three of mine that says, ‘Oh no!’ and one of mine who says ‘Oh yes!’ When I bring kitties home, I get a look from all four that says ‘Oh yes!’
Tilly has been with me the longest. She is a pedigree American cocker and she is the apple of my eye. She reminded me all about accidental peeing, about dogs that root through the bins, about dogs who don’t like being touched, and about pushing chairs under so she can’t check out the table the moment I stand up. She came to me aged five when her family returned to the UK without her, and she’s now been here six years. She likes to lie with her legs out like a frog and she is the only dog who sleeps on my bed the whole night. Tilly is a shouty princess and doesn’t like dog-dog kisses, or puppies who don’t have an off switch. She doesn’t care if they are 5 kg or 50 kg. She sits nearest to the kitchen just in case the fridge spontaneously blows up and food needs protecting in her stomach.
She likes to get dirty and thought she is small, she once chased a stag. She knows no fear. She’ll also do anything for a biscuit. Her heel is perfect if I have rawhide about my person.
When Tilly arrived with me, she didn’t know how to play. She plays a little now and she loves squeaky toys. She’s also learned the joy of chasing things, the fun of finding pheasants in bushes, the pleasure of sitting on a sofa by my side rather than always being in her basket, and the happiness of walks.
I love my scruffy Tilly Popper.
After Tilly came my puppy, Heston. He’d been left in a box with his siblings as a day-old pup and was subsequently hand-raised. He’s been with me since he was seven weeks old. I’m responsible for all his great behaviour and all of his shouty, barky teenage ways. He’s four now and he’s currently learning to be a dog-search-and-rescue dog, to find lost dogs and distinguish between dog scents. Heston is a dog’s dog. He loves to play with other dogs and he’s always patient with puppies. Older dogs need a bit of a gentle introduction but he soon remembers his manners even if he likes to set out his stall first. Heston is a flat-coated retriever cross and he is beautiful. He is so smart and so energetic.
A hunter once offered me 500€ for Heston. He’s that good at tracking things. Butterflies, swallows, crows, jays, herons, partridge, pheasant, grouse, rabbit, hare, roe deer, wild boar, deer… Heston will chase it all. When he finds it, he usually wags his tail and barks at it if it doesn’t respond. He’s the only dog I know that didn’t understand why the fox he’d just found didn’t want to play with him. It was for that reason I stopped doing heelwork and agility with him and started scentwork. He was just going through the motions.
After Heston, there was Amigo… the dog I hand-picked as bomb-proof and non-aggressive with other dogs… the dog that got in a scrap with Heston the moment he arrived. Amigo is a people’s dog rather than a dog’s dog. He’d be very happy to be the only dog and he suffers others. Amigo is an introverted soul among all my happy extroverts. Where they are happy to have new stuff presented to them, Amigo would rather stay by my side. Happily, he settled down (though it took four months of hard work and patient integration) and now Amigo is the one dog who ALWAYS looks at me with those eyes that say ‘please let it be me and you and nobody else’.
Meego (as he is better known) is my most obedient dog and he is my absolute treasure. He came to me aged (maybe) seven from the refuge and he’s very happy to be here now. Meego is my dream dog. He’s a super hunter as well and he loves chasing rabbit. He once brought me a boar piglet that he’d killed. That was nice of him. Where Heston wags and barks at things, Meeg has the killer inside. Best guess is that he is a griffon x border collie. To be honest, he’s as muttley as it’s possible to be. I only ever saw one dog like him. He is my treasure. He also has a bullet in his shoulder from his former life, whatever that might have been. He came to the refuge in February 2014 and came to live with me two months later. Sadly, it’s easy to know how he was taught such good manners; a fly swatter made him hide beneath the table.
Tobby is my latest addition. He is a fourteen year old Malinois and has been here coming up on two years. I took him because I thought he had maybe a couple of weeks left, and my mercy mission turned into a full-on adoption. He’s definitely getting slower and having more mobility problems of late though. Tobby has the worst arthritis I ever saw a dog to have and still be walking. He walks like that old vampire who was all stiff and weird. Tobby doesn’t care. He’s here for his retirement, however long that might be. He is just a darling. Though he can’t sit and give a paw easily anymore, he still tries. He also stares at me when he’s lying in his basket at night. He just looks at me in that way that makes me wonder if he’s just taking me in. Tobby taught me all about predatory drift and separation anxiety.
Tobby mostly has a toy in his mouth. He doesn’t want you to play with him, he just wants to carry it around. Tobby loves kittens and he loves other dogs. He’s not so fond of being old and he’s coming to terms with being wobbly and slow.
Tobby took the place of the dog who is always missing from my soul and the dog who was my dog number four. That dog was Ralf. I started with two dogs and then went to three. Three was my limit until Ralf strayed from the refuge (it happens!) and made his way 10km where I found him on his way to my house (at least, that’s where I think he was going). Ralf was a huge labrador/shepherd cross of twelve years old. He’d been a guard dog all his life. He was Golden Oldie of the Month – Mr November, no less – for Dogs Today Magazine. In dog years, he was 108. Ralf dug holes all over my garden, stole sugar from the cupboard, rooted through the bins, took things off the table, hogged the sofa, went crazy when he saw badgers and once carried the dead boar pig over five kilometres. He’s the only dog I ever had to tell off for trying to bring a dead thing in the car.
I miss Ralf with my whole heart. All 45kg of him. His massive paws left huge prints there and I can safely say there will never be another Ralf. He had a burst spleen aged 13 and the vet found his liver and lungs were also riddled with tumours. I’d say he had a good innings, but he had 12 years of living at a sawmill and 7 months of chasing badgers and lying on sofas. Ralf taught me that you should always have room in your home for a dog who needs you and he taught me that badgers give as good as they get, even old wounded ones.
There you have it. My dogs. As for the techno stuff, I’m a Canon fan. I have bog-standard entry-level equipment, a top-of-the-line 50mm lens, Photoshop and a night school photography qualification that was more about getting down and dirty with chemicals in darkrooms than it was about using cloning to edit out dog slobber. I photograph dogs at the refuge. Well, that’s one of the things I do. It’s my way of helping to find them homes, since I already have four and I don’t have room for another hundred or so. I’m also a member of the board of trustees at the refuge, where we decide important stuff like staffing, budgets and how to deal with large donations, as well as the not-so-important stuff like where we can get a cheap supply of pens. I’m particularly interested in dog rehabilitation after abusive or traumatic homes, and how we can make the shelter the best stepping-stone we can. I don’t have to do much. The director and the president have it all wrapped up. I love the shelter and the more I learn about dogs and their needs, the more I realise just what an amazing place our shelter is.
My worst dog moment was when a dog called Nichman decided that play might involve a bit of light humping with me on the floor in the mud. My best dog moment was getting two ‘untouchable’ bitey, fearful spaniels eating out of my hands in less than two minutes and accepting cuddles within an hour. My best dog photography moment was winning a year’s supply of Dogs’ Today magazine. My worst dog photography moments are too numerous to mention but are getting fewer and further between.
I’m not a dog trainer but I am an avid student of dogs. My masters in Change Leadership would have been easier if it were acceptable to clicker-train humans, thought I confess I use biscuit and cake in the same way with humans. Currently, I am studying for my diploma with the International School for Canine Psychology and Behaviour to become a Canine Behaviour Practitioner. Luckily, the psychology bit of my first degree is as useful now as the learning bit of my Masters. The pages on this website are written in response to common issues raised by our adoptants and my posts are rooted in the work of pet ethologists, behaviourists and positive dog trainers.
Thanks very much for reading!