And Then There Was Belle
After months of scouring local dogs' homes for a bichon frise I've finally found one. She was languishing in a puppy farm - unwanted because she was too old for breeding.
“I can't keep her,” said the breeder. “So if you don't want her...”
“Oh we do!” I said peering through the chicken wire. The little white dog was filthy, her skin covered in scabs and fleas, her ears well down and her chin glued to her paws as she lay in the dust.
“You do want her? Really?”
I hustled the man off to his office to do the paperwork. In France, you can't just give a dog away, you have to complete a dossier first. I signed the papers impatiently and the breeder gave me her pedigree.
“She's Orphful,” said the Senior Partner gloomily. “Look, it says here... Orphee de Grand Mataclpa de...”
“I don't care. I'm having her,” I muttered.
“But just look at her,” he protested as I carried her out of her cage to the car. “Bloody Awful!”
He was right, as usual. She was in a worse state than I'd thought. Apart from the filth, having spent the eight years of her life in a kennel, she has no muscles. She can't climb stairs. She falls over when she runs. Her mouth is a disaster zone complete with wobbling teeth, broken canines, black stumps, infections and bad breath. The stink emanating from the back seat practically knocked me unconscious.
“Awful Stench!” muttered the Senior Partner winding the window down.
I stopped for supplies of flea powder, worming pills and disinfectant dog shampoo and went into action the minute we got home. Poor Awful. She looked so confused, sitting on the terrace as I applied insecticide, snipped all the knots out of her coat, fastened a flea collar round her neck, removed ticks and grass seeds from her soft little paws. She hadn't the faintest clue what I was doing.
She didn't need any explanations in the kitchen though. Cat food! Sausages! Cheese! Wow.
For the first time, her ragged ears perked up, her black eyes sparkled and suddenly there she was, standing up on her back legs shouting “Feed me!”
Needless to say her new diet instantly gave her an upset stomach. Needless to say the results were deposited all over the kitchen floor because she's not house-trained. Needless to say she follows me everywhere.
I rang the vet. “Keep her on soft food. Raw egg. Rice. White chicken. Bring her in next week to be sterilised. I can sort her teeth at the same time. She'll need antibiotics too, with all the muck in her mouth. But afterwards she'll be able to eat dog biscuits and bones.”
There was just one problem left. What to call her? I couldn't let Certain Persons go on calling her “Awful”. She needed something pretty, elegant and darling. Snowflake or Fluffy or Tinkerbell.
“You could call her Stink Bomb.”
“Bella? Belle, like in Belle and Sebastian?”
“Awful of the Underworld.”
“Belle. I'm going to call her Belle. Because she will be belle in the end. Just you wait and see.”
Belle was snuffling round the kitchen head down, tail down, pink skin showing through the tufts of white fur where I'd cut the knots out. You could hardly see her legs, she was walking so close to the floor.
At which point Marie-France popped her head round the door. “Is that the new dog?” she asked. “What's she called?”
“Belle!” I said firmly.
“Oh. She doesn't look very belle,” she said. "If you ask me, she looks like a maggot.”
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