Thursday, August 26, 2010

Me nager á trois

It’s trente-neuf degrees today! That’s right 39 C or 102.2 °F . As my god-daughter used to say when she had reached the ripe old age of three: bloody hell!

Why yes, I do have a rainbow on my brow!

Munson seemed to have recovered from his morning massage and lie-in, so I packed him in the car for a trip to the lake. Brent suggested I take Tosca as well, as she would probably enjoy a swim, needs the exercise and wouldn’t be any trouble. Tosca’s life has been a bit like a dramatic game of snakes and ladders this year. Her previous owner died, and that’s how she fell into Brent & Jean’s hands, and then she had to adapt to Smeggs’arrival and then desexing, and as she was getting on top of things again, The Incredible Hulkmuffin ™ turns up to displace her as top dog.

I’ve now got the route to what I call the lake’s dog-beach down pat. At eighteen minutes door to door, it may be three towns away but I couldn’t beat that in Seattle or Sydney.

2010-08-26 Lake

Arriving just before three in the afternoon, both dogs were in the water quickly, with me not far behind. We had the place to ourselves for a while. The only problem was a plague of prickly black burrs submerged near the lake’s edge. I pulled a few out of my bathers, but dozens had attached themselves to Munson and Tosca. I could pull a few off, but the snarl in the hair around Tosca’s rear end had to wait for some scissors at home.

Tosca and Munson P8260022

A family of four turned up for a swim, and both dogs were extremely determined to say hello. Luckily they didn’t overwhelm the newcomers, and simply swum around and around them. You can see Munson has swum right out in the lake in the centre panel above. One of the girls kept exclaiming Il est trop beau, trop beau! whenever Munson’s waterlogged bulk drifted past. They finally learnt his name, and chanted Munson (with French accents) to beckon him back to the water.

Munson tried to play with Tosca a few times, and once or twice she forgot her nervousness and pranced up to him. Small steps. It’s so easy for Munson and Smeggs to pair off for play at home, but this well help Tosca’s confidence – not to mention that she loooves me more than ever.

Building Better Dogs


When Munson and I visited the vet, I noticed a chart over the weighing scales, presenting “Le tableau des âges” for cats and dogs. Munson weighed in at 45.1 kg, barely changing over the last 18 months.


Most people are familiar with the notion of a dog year being equivalent to seven human years, built off the simple interpolation of a dog life-span of 10 years against a typical human life span of 70. However you can’t break down the relative ages into simple seven year equivalences. Dogs take months to reach sexual maturity, humans take many years. A human takes several years to develop primitive speech skills; Munson worked out the word “outside” at around 3 months. Through the animal kingdom, milestones for development and deterioration differ greatly. Within the dog world, breed differences in longevity relate to the purposes they were bred for, from utilitarian to purely aesthetic, and to the damage wrought by restricting the gene pool for many pure bred dogs.

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Nowadays, dog age charts are not uncommon, mapping dog ages nonlinearly to human ages, usually modified by weight class. I’ve not encountered any footnoted by reference sources, so was curious to find where these “authoritative” charts are sourced, especially as they diverge so widely. Bondi at age 10 was about 75kg  (165lb), which places him at 96, 80, 78 and 66 years respectively.

Wikipedia has an article on Aging in dogs that references results from a Dog Longevity website. North American veterinary school data puts Alaskan Malamute longevity at 6.2 years (possibly skewed by all these dogs turning up in hospital!) whereas the British Kennel Club survey puts it at 10.67 years (pretty close to Bondi’s terminal age). The figure I usually see bandied about for mals is 13-14 years, and the well-cared for individuals I’ve seen are usually pretty energetic at 12-13. “Senior” dog status is marked at somewhere between 5-7 years for larger breeds, and if you accept that larger dogs mature emotionally at a slower rate than their smaller cousins, gives them only one to two years of mature middle-age. I guess that corresponds to Bondi’s demands for either a sportscar or a world-trip when he hit late middle-age.

The Dog Longevity study revealed common misperceptions that small breed ages tended to be overestimated, and large dog ages underestimated. The analysis indicates that most pure-bred dogs, irrespective of size, live 10-13 years. Where breeds have shorter lifespans, breeders tend to exaggerate or just point to longer-lived individuals.

The most damage is done by selectively breeding from young champion dogs based on their aesthetic merits or other dubious breed standards. When you don’t care if a dog has a long healthy life after its show or stud life, then you’re not capturing the genes for a robust long life and good temperament – you may as well have canine mayflies which reach breeding status quickly and then quickly deteriorate.  Beverley Manners, a labradoodle breeder writes:

“…breeders of pure breed dogs, breed their puppies predominantly with the aim of producing top show dogs. Health status and temperament are all too often of secondary importance to the conformation and general ‘look’ of the dog.  The saying "that one’s ONLY good for a pet" is commonly heard amongst breeders of pure bred dogs, as the family pet type puppy is considered inferior. As the majority of people looking for a puppy, are seeking a family companion or good natured kids’ dog, the emphasis on show ring traits is of no importance to them. “

An editorial from The Veterinary Journal puts the case for strong leadership on breed standards – read it here.

Regardless of the anticipated life of your dog, there is so much you can do to make it a fulfilling one for dog and human. My dogs have had exceptional lives not because I choose to give them nice international vacations, but because I listen to them and watch them, and incorporate them into the rich life that I want to lead. I refer you back to Paul McGreevy’s book A Modern Dog’s Life with the accompanying video where Paul explains his motivations.

Acrobat External Window 26082010 122358 PMFor further reading, here are some abstracts from presentations for the seminar Building Better Dogs, written by Paul McGreevy and others.


Munson says thanks for reading this far! Now go give your dog a scratch and a cuddle…. and a treat, and a swim, … and since the cupboard’s open, another treat…

Mike and Munson at Lac de la Gimone

Muffin matin (Morning Muffin)

Smeggs the masseuse

First, Munson’s masseuse Smeggs comes to work him over until he’s screaming like a castrato.

Then it’s back to (my conveniently vacated ) bed for a lie-in.

Munson's lie-in

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Les vaccinations annuelles

Munson @ Vet

Being in a new country, with potentially new creeping biting things, I visited a veterinary clinic in Montrejeau to get Munson some jabs, and have his status recorded officially in his pet passport. Southern France, Spain and Italy – like Australia - are noted for the presence of the mosquito-spread heartworms. In Australia it’s common for dogs to get an annual preventative shot for these parasites, although other monthly tablets are available.

I checked at a pharmacy first  - in France they carry veterinary medicines – but none of the vermifuges indicated on the box which worms they countered. After querying treatments for les vers qui attaquent le coeur and getting blank looks from the assistant, the pharmacist advised me to see a vet.

When I dropped by the clinic to make an appointment (which I got for half an hour later), I asked about les vaccins pour les vers qui attaquent le coeur and got more uncomprehending looks. This time I was prepared, and had looked up the scientific name Dirofilariasis along with some names of drugs, and copied them to my phone’s notepad. I showed this to the nurse/receptionist and she grunted recognition.

The vet spoke a little English, but we “met in the middle”- I try to use as much French as possible, even if he asks me something in English. In advance of situations like these, I try to rehearse my questions and look up anticipated vocabulary in advance. My observation though is that your “conversational partners” only try to help you out if they have some experience of learning another language, at least by speaking slowly and using simpler vocabulary. I’ve written elsewhere here over the years of my experiences being shouted at in rapid fire speech by people who misguidedly think this will repair my faltering attempts at their tongue. It’s not just monolingual English speakers who do this!

In any case, Munson had a couple of needles, although after I left I realised that I hadn’t established the effective duration of the heartworm protection given. I’ve got three little stickers in his passport (Pneumodog: for bordetella and kennel cough; Eurican CHPPI2 + L: for distemper, parvovirus, leptospirosis, hepatitis, parainfluenza, adenovirus) but nothing corresponding to a dirofilariasis preventative. Brent’s suggested I talk to a local dog breeder about the recommended treatments as I’m not just thinking about Munson’s exposure in this region, but also further afield when we do a bit of travelling to other countries.

On a more upbeat note, I had an unexpected surprise while waiting for the vet’s attention. We were sitting alone in the waiting room and a couple entered with their two dogs (whose eyes popped at seeing Munson). Munson decided to give a little woo-woo-woo lecture and the woman asked what he was saying. As I fumbled over my reply, she asked “Are you English?”

- Nope, Australian.

Eyes rolled toward her companion. “He lived in Australia for thirty years”.

So, when Munson’s appointment was over, we re-entered the waiting room (now full – great timing on my part) and spoke to Gerard for a piece, who still has four grown children living in Adelaide.

L'Heure Espagnole

2010-08-25 SPAIN Vielha

Spain is not much more than a hop, skip and hola! from our temporary home. From nearby Montrejeau, it’s a simple and simply pretty drive south through the Val d’Aran at the very tip of Catalonia. Once across the border, there are several strips of shopping outlets, mostly conjured up for the benefit of French shoppers, running through to the provincial capital of Vielha.

A number of the villages we pass through have the grey look of slate and flint that you’d see in Wales or the north of Scotland. The walls of rock behind them remind me of towns like Ffestiniog, except the constant stream of cross-border traffic gives a little more life, however transient.

2010-08-26We follow the river Garonne, after which our French department is named and which is seen more expansively in my photos of Toulouse. Over the border, it’s now Garona and because Jean is driving it’s bad song time, so I implant a Knack-influenced High Garona in her head. The river begins a little south of us in the Spanish Pyrenees, and after finding its way to Toulouse veers northwest to Bordeaux and into the Gironde estuary that Bondi and I crossed by ferry five years ago. Noticing several boats rafting over the shallow white water in the Val d’Aran, I wondered if it was possible to float all the way down to Toulouse or beyond. However I remembered seeing a number of points where the flow was controlled by dams and the like, so maybe not so feasible.

Our trip is relatively short, shoe shopping for the kids, and apart from a  coffee stop and picking up some anise-flavoured doughnuts we stick to our mission. I’ll revisit Spain with Munson when the transfer of my car registration is finalised.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Samatan, and the living is easy

Saucisson vendor, Samatan

On my irregular outings to various markets with Jean, I usually have two not-so-hidden agendas. One is to make a terrible pun about the place names we encounter along the way. The other is to insert a musical earworm into her brain so that she’s humming something unlikely for days on end. Of course if you can do both at the same time, then it’s a total win for the day.

We visited the large produce markets at Samatan a week ago, and it struck me that it sounded like Gershwin’s Summertime –  as it might be sung by South Park’s Cartman. That definitely lodged itself between Jean’s ears. Last week, she challenged me to come up with something for Samatan’s conjoined twin town Lombez. Nothing really worked until the night of our village fête, when the performers did a version of the Cranberries’ Zombie, which proved to be fittingly and annoyingly memorable: Lo-om-bez, Lo-om-bez…. At the very least, these mnemonics make recalling the geography of the area much easier.

I took Munson with me on a solo trip to Samatan this morning, although I didn’t take many pictures. Juggling Munson, and a few large bags of produce along with a camera doesn’t work too well in crowded markets. The eagle-eyed amongst you may spot the kangaroo sausages (next to the donkey) on the market table above.

Munson - Lac de la Gimone

I had to stop in at the abbatoir at Boulogne on the way home, but arrived just after they’d closed for the two-hour lunch which is common in this part of the world. I still forget to plan my day around the potential three hour hole in the day between 11.30 and 2.30 when most businesses are closed. Mondays and Fridays are also a bit dodgy for some, and so with Saturday mornings the only regular traded hours on a weekend, you really have to build your most important shopping and commercial interactions around the mornings and late afternoons of the middle portion of the week.

Munson was the winner from my bad timing today, as we were only 15 minutes from the lake. You can see how happy he was about that.

Munson at lake, beach in distance

P1020913 Stitch ice

In the evening I joined Brent, Jean and les jeunes Munsoneers for drinks and nibbles at our landlords’ place across the village. There I was challenged to try some Austrian rum (does this mean it’s cellared for twenty years?) , Stroh 80%, which besides being 160 proof alcohol, is laced with vanilla and other spices … and as I now know, SHOULD NOT BE DRUNK NEAT. Jean has captured some of the faces I pulled on film, but has yet to share them with me. The first couple of sips were like a reverse botox, as my upper lip completely disappeared into my mouth for five minutes. It’s like eating a christmas plum pudding where the pudding part has been removed, and you’ve still burnt the top layer of skin off your lips. I’m sure it’s wonderful in cocktails and pastries, but … eek!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Toulouse – Lake trek

Toulouse, St Sernin flea markets 

No drummers except those driving an ambulanceMunson and I have been in the Haute-Garonne for a month now without venturing to the departmental capital . With one of the oldest universities in Europe, and now a major centre of aero-space industries, there’s plenty to draw one in. I saved our visit for a leisurely Sunday, strolling around the area between the Basilica of St. Sernin and the river Garonne.

St. Sernin is surrounded by flea markets on a Sunday, with some produce stalls targeted at the Arabic community. Other than a proliferation of men selling boxes of cigarettes, there’s not much you wouldn’t find at the markets I’ve visited in smaller towns here in the south-west.


Map picture

Munson sur Gauronne

I cut our visit short at about 3 hours as the midday temperatures were in the mid-30s and Munson had drunk dry the water spout outside the tourist office by the Capitole square.

Gimont centre ville 

I drove west through the pretty towns of L’Isle-Jourdain and Gimont. The latter sits astride a long hill, with the main commercial street (above) on the crest, and other streets falling away to each side. It has a famous Sunday foies gras market, but today was just another sleepy hot August weekend with hardly a soul to be seen.2010-08-22 Simorre

Turning south, we stopped in the village of Simorre which advertised a Brocante which is like a  yard sale cum antique fair, which often overlaps considerably with the garage sales known as a vide-grenier (literally: empty granary). A flea market – un marché aux puces -  is simply an open air market where food is not sold.

The final stop for the day – and the one most favoured by Munson – was at the Lac de la Gimone, the lake I had visited for swimming. I took him to the spot by the village of Lunax that I’d found earlier in the week. Today there were several dozen people and a few dogs picnicking, BBQing and swimming. Munson could hardly contain himself and nearly dragged me into the water as he set out to join two rubber vessels floating 20 metres offshore. We stayed there about an hour, Munson only occasionally returning to shore, and frequently having to be summoned back from his attempts to cross the lake.

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I wish I had a picture of Munson’s expression back in the car. Absolutely blissed out.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A day in the sun, a night of fun

floating underwater life

Another week slips by: market days in new towns, working on my French, chasing paperwork for the ever elusive bank account, working on the book, Munson sliding through the cool waters at the Gorge.

I had a lovely afternoon at the beach with a group of 7-8 adults and kids. Some other people had brought their dogs to swim outside the floating perimeter of the official beach area. I elected to look for another spot on the lakeshore where I could bring Munson separately, and quickly found a spot directly across the beach where I will bring him next time. The picture below shows our beach as seen from that spot. It’s a comfortable little reverse oasis, a patch of sand amongst rolling hills with farmland punctuated by village church spires every quarter turn of the compass.


The village fête in the evening was something I had little preparation for. I expected something like the Boulogne fireworks and sideshows of the previous weekend, albeit on a much smaller scale. Seven of us rolled into the small square outside the town hall where six long columns of tables were squeezed between a bar area and a stage. I brought Munson along initially but realising that we were going to be eating in a confined space took him home after he’d been introduced to some of the locals.

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Around 8pm some teens took to a microphone singing French and English songs, either soloing or as an ensemble, moving through the crowd quite professionally. It was a bit like being on a cruise ship moored in a valley of the Comminges. As darkness fell, the action moved principally onto the well-lit stage, and for the next five hours, they and another group of singer dancers entertained us with a variety-cabaret. Modern pop mingled with Andrews Sisters’ Rum and Coca-Cola, novelty songs, French standards, Spanish ballads  - all in a seemingly endless stream of costume changes from a young group who never seemed to flag, never flubbed lines. I jokingly asked Brent if we were expected to provide Eurovision-style scoring at the end, but my after-party research showed that the performers (three related ensembles: Carpe Diem, Impulsion & Teen Generation) are mentored by an ex-Eurovision winner from long ago.

Despite the convivial surroundings, my brain was buzzing through the evening, trying to decode song lyrics. Every so often I’d actually get the drift of a French song, and then find myself bamboozled by an English song where the words weren’t pronounced idiomatically.

As several courses of food were washed down with rosé and finally some Armagnac-enhanced coffee, the villagers let their hair down, dancing on the tables and forming conga lines around the dining area. It was like a big wedding party where no one got married.

For the last hour I was pinned to my chair by one very tired little five year old boy wrapped up in a blanket (not this!) against my chest, his sisters in the embrace of their parents. Most of us stumbled home about 1.30am but the revelries went on for many hours longer. If I’d walked up to the town hall in the morning, I wouldn’t have been surprised to find a few hundred people slumped over the tables waiting for the music to start over.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Fur works

When the folks in Boulogne-sur-Gesse have a big fur fair,  they also have some fur fire-works. Munson’s never done a fair like this (pretty much impossible in Australia) with big furry toys hanging over sideshow-alley counters, vendors selling furry fairy-floss, and crowds ogling over him. OK so he’s had the crowds before. But Jean’s never seen a malamute work a crowd before. “He gets soooo much attention. You’re standing there looking at something and taking pictures, and there’s all this patting and stroking action going on behind you.”

Well, fur works for him.



Sometime after 10pm, we wandered down the hill to the northern bank of the River Gesse, where fireworks were launched, with a story and music based on Jacques Cousteau’s works. Munson wasn’t terribly interested at first, but as the feux d’artifice built to a climax, he became really quite engaged with it all.

2010-08-15 Boulogne fireworks 


Friday, August 13, 2010

A new life, from the ground up

It’s too early in our life here for a real rhythm to have been established, for new music to be heard. But there is a calm pulse which you may not hear every day unless you get down low to the floor, in the kitchen, in the forest …


Arboretum de CardeilhacArboretum de Cardeilhac - mushrooms


Munson on forest path Tosca & Munson follow Smeggs  



Buster #1Buster #2 

My canine household doubled yesterday, at least temporarily. Buster is a 14 yr old black lab, staying here with his humans and cats for about a week until they are ready to move to a new house in Normandy. He’s been sleeping in the garage for a few nights, being a wholly outdoor dog during the warmer months. The other dogs sniffed him over on his arrival but have been content to leave him alone, even as he staggers arthritically around the yard like a dachshund learning to use stilts. I’ve been giving him scritches around the nose and ears whenever he hobbles over to lean against me.

Yesterday he had a visit to the vet for some cortisone and anti-inflammatory treatments, to at least make sure he has a less stressful trip north next week. Even with this care, it must be very confusing for him to be surrounded by all these young noisy dogs and humans. And -  a big and – his own doggie companion passed away last week.

Late in the afternoon his mum came to check on him and announced he was missing. I was sitting with Brent and Jean in their lounge, and instantly flashed that Buster had gone into my flat. He’d not been anywhere near there before, but I felt sure that was where he’d gone. Sure enough, he’d curled up on the floor next to my bed. I tried to encourage him out to see his mum, but he was either unable or unwilling to get up. I was happy for him to stay there, so I left a bowl of water, and didn’t hear from him for another six hours.

Buster #3

I found Buster outside my window this morning, playing with Smeggs as best as he could manage, his stilt-gait somewhat improved from yesterday. He came in to check over my flat in a more thorough manner, quite insistent on getting more attention, and has now threaded himself around the legs of my chair.

There’s not much holding Buster together right now except the will to be around those who recognise him and give him some love. This week he’s found a new friend, a new binding. It’s never too late for that, as long as you remember that you have to be that friend for others to find, for the old dog that needs you, for the old dog that you will be.