I realised that I never actually told our story from last month where we accidentally ended up having to look after a hound for a day. So this is me relating the story and hopefully it will help other people who come across a dog in France (if so scroll down to see our advice).
We’d been travelling in our converted Transit van for three weeks at this point, getting into the habit of finding the perfect place to park overnight. On the evening of Saturday 9th December (incidentally my birthday), we decided on a quiet spot on the side of a road surrounded by forest, and it felt like the middle of nowhere.
We were sat inside the van after an hour or two, when suddenly there was a loud crashing noise as something hit the back doors of the van. I pretty much shit myself and Ross tentatively opened the side sliding door of the van. I handed him a big knife because I was convinced it was someone dodgy coming to get us and I hastily pulled on my boots to follow him outside into the pitch black night.
Ross called back to me: “Don’t worry, it’s just a dog. A little beagle I think.” I called back if he was with anyone and Ross replied he didn’t think so. The dog ran off down the road and we looked at each other as if to say “What now?”
Then some cars came down the road, and we heard beeps and squeals as they just about missed hitting the dog, who by now appeared to be about 30 metres away from us but in the middle of the road. That made up our minds. I said that I would follow the dog and try to get hold of him while Ross would follow in the van because it was dark and the dog was moving steadily further away from us. We could still hear cars beeping and almost hitting the dog. I started walking up the road with a handful of ham and tried making what I hoped was soothing noises and words. For about 10 minutes I walked, seeing no dog and convinced he’d run into a field when another car beeped and then i saw 2 yellow eyes shining in the road before me.
He stood, watching me. By this time, we were by a couple of houses, and he ran into the open porch of a house, where there was a dog bowl and blanket, and growled at me.
I stayed where I was (I’m not stupid enough to approach a growling dog) and became convinced that this dog lived here. He seemed territorial of the place (he hadn’t growled at Ross outside the van) and the doggy items indicated this too. But I wasn’t going to leave him here to get hit by a car. Ross turned up in the van and we knocked on the door of the house.
The man who answered was obviously a French farmer and he was polite but insisted the dog wasn’t his. Eventually he said he’d look after the dog for 1 night and take him to the appropriate place.
We went back to our spot in the van further down the road but neither of us felt happy. Ross didn’t trust the man because he thought he was lying about the ownership of the dog and I didn’t trust him to look after the dog.
Next morning, we are woken by beeping and a crash outside our van. We groaned and looked at each other, before quickly pulling on clothes and running outside. Lo and behold, it was the same dog. He was uninjured, thank goodness, but clearly needed to be kept off the road. He came to me this time and I grabbed him by the scruff of his neck as he had no collar on.
By this time it was obvious he was no small beagle. He was a beefy hunting hound – made of muscle, smelt disgusting and was very grubby. He didn’t look like he’d been washed in his life. Ross didn’t want him in the van as he was so dirty, but we didn’t really have any choice. I grabbed some towels and bin bags to cover the chairs (and my lap in case he had fleas) while Ross held him. As he did so, a car rolled by and stopped. A different man with his two children in the car asked if it was our dog, we said no and asked if it was his. A negative. But he said he’d seen it earlier and asked the local hunting group via Facebook whether it was theirs and none had claimed him yet. He then drove off.
So two English people in a van, not familiar with the process of finding a dog in France, were left with this poor filthy hound on a SUNDAY. My fellow British readers, France is not like the UK. Nothing is open on a Sunday or a Monday here really. We were way out of our depth.
I started googling and found out that France is awkward with lost dogs anyway, in that they don’t have anything like the RSPCA. Hunting dogs are apparently regularly abandoned in the winter. I started crying because I’d already become attached – the hound was just so confused but would affectionately lick my hand occasionally and we had no idea what to do for him.
I phoned Ross’ mum for advice (my go to for doggy help as she’s an active dog rescuer) and she and Ross’ brother started searching the internet for us too.
I found online Orfée, an anti-euthanasia charity for rehoming based in a different part of France. But the website said they spoke English and we desperately needed advice. We rang the number and an Englishman picked up, he said Orfée was run by his wife who was out searching for a missing dog near them and she’d ring us back later. But he told us to take the hound to the mairie (mayor/town hall in France) in St Malo in case he was just a lost dog with an owner searching for him.
So it gave us a bit of direction. We also posted on various doggy groups on Facebook, hoping for more advice or somewhere to take the dog. We stopped by a supermarket and bought a collar and lead (which was very expensive for some reason) then headed into St Malo to the town hall, praying there would be a number to call or that someone would be there. We had to walk a fair way because our van wasn’t allowed within the city walls and our poor hound, who we started calling Benny, was pretty scared.
He’d clearly never been around so many buildings before but with lots of strokes and praises we made it to the town hall, but it was all shut up and no one answered the phones. We then decided to try the local police station and Benny was fine walking there as it was away from all the buildings, bless him. Anyway, that was shut too.
We found an address on Google for a local animal shelter S.P.C.A and decided to try there and ask them about what would happen to him with them. We arrived and there was a French man there who said he was a volunteer with the shelter. He said every found dog must go to the mairie but he understood it was a Sunday and that we couldn’t keep this huge hound in our van overnight. He rang the president of the animal shelter who understood our situation and they said they’d make an exception for our hound and take him for the night and then would give him to the mairie in the morning. We were lucky and they seemed like they genuinely cared about the dogs and he reassured us that Benny would be ok with them. If his owner didn’t claim him from the mairie then they said they’d have him at the animal shelter.
I felt happier knowing Benny would be somewhere warm and fed for the night but wanted confirmation that we’d done the right thing leaving him with the SPCA. The next day we finally got the return phone call from Orfée, and the English lady who ran it reassured us. She said he seemed to be an Artois hound which are very expensive and prized so she was confident that someone was looking for him and that he’d be fine with the mairie/SPCA. Finally feeling that we’d definitely done the right thing, we felt we could leave St Malo. As in the UK, as soon as you pass a dog to the authorities (i.e the mairie), you don’t know what’s happened to them. I wish we could have taken him but we simply couldn’t have an untrained huge hound in the van. It would be unfair to him more than anything else.
What To Do If You Find A Dog In France
Now that we have been in France for almost 2 months, we’ve got a better idea of how the French generally treat their dogs. For one thing, it’s become fairly common to see dogs wandering by themselves. They tend to have collars on, don’t go into the road and seem to know where they are going. A lot of French people just seem to let their dogs wander. We’ve hence decided to leave these dogs alone. They don’t seem to be in trouble (have road sense, are not hungry or scared) and usually aren’t far from home. We have realised it’s better for locals to look after them if they have genuinely got loose as they know each other’s dogs, rather than an English couple passing through who might accidentally take the dog further from their home.
However, rescuing our hound Benny was the right thing to do and we’d do it again. He was on the verge of getting hit and seemed frightened. If you find a hungry, scared, injured or about to get injured dog, then I think rescuing it is the right thing to do.
The next step is to find your local mairie and take the dog there. I’m not sure what paperwork is required, but I’m fairly sure they’ll want your name and ID and information on where/how you found the dog. They’ll take the dog from you and advertise it within their locality. If an owner is searching, then they will check in with their mairie first.
Unless you are in a situation like us and it’s a Sunday, I would not bother going to a local animal shelter (if you can find one). They will generally refuse to take the dog from you and tell you to take it to the mairie.
If you can feed the dog then give it a little, and definitely make sure they have enough water. Rope can make for a good temporary collar/lead (once we rescued a collie in the Isle of Arran and had to rip up an old curtain for a lead!). Collars and leads are expensive here, though we’ve since invested in some 99c collars from a shop called Noz in case it happens again).
I hope this helps and if you need further help or advice, I would recommend calling Orfée (their website is here) or I’m happy to try to help (though I can’t say much more than go to the mairie).
Thank you for reading, and please give all your dogs (if you have any) a cuddle from me!