Last night, as I was boiling potatoes and cutting the edges off of raclette for dinner, I heard a jingling. I kept throwing glances at the potatoes knocking around in the pot on the stove. Was the pot somehow making that noise? Cheese knife in hand, I opened the kitchen door and peeked outside. A little silhouette was nosing around the recycling. Too large to be Felix, to small…sanglier? (Wild boar?) I thought in a rush.
But wild boar don’t wear cowbells.
As it stepped towards the light of the kitchen door, I had a ‘Phantom of the Opera’ moment: Oh what a cute little doggie…oh my god what’s wrong with it’s face?
So I met Luz. Or at least, that’s what he’s become in my mind, though I don’t even know if it’s meant to be pronounced ‘Luh-z’ or ‘Louis’ or ‘Loo-ee’ – but he’s just Luh-z to me. Luz. And maybe that’s actually the owner’s name, because there were also two phone numbers on the collar. I phoned them both a number of times last night, but it was already 9pm, I got nothing, nothing, one wrong number (he seemed amused above all as I tried to say, in French ‘Luz? Ton chien? and Luz’s cowbell jangled in the background,) and I finally decided to try again in the morning.
Being the type that is overly sympathetic to animals, I encouraged Luz into the kitchen. He was the ugliest dog I’d ever met. I wasn’t sure if he was a specific breed, but he was very old, with cloudy eyes (much like Gaston’s) – cataracts from old age – and shaky limbs, and some hideous deformity on the side of his little face. He was very gentle, and though not cuddly (and even if he had been, he was very dirty,) he seemed to both like being patted and he seemed not used to it. As I tried the phone numbers on his collar, he scoffed all of the cat food which I usually leave down for Felix. I put down another bowl of Friskies and he gobbled that up, too.
He sniffed his way boisterously through the house before I ushered him back into the kitchen. It’s chilly in there with the door closed, but far warmer than outdoors. I peeked into the bedroom where Gaston was sitting bolt upright, eyes wide as saucers. The poor cat was terrified.
I realised that Luz hadn’t been in the recycling – he’d been tearing apart the bucket of shed fur that we discard when we brush Gaston. Luz was a hunting dog. I was very, very glad that Gaston had been up on the bed at the moment Luz had burst in sniffing everywhere (and that Luz was particularly short-legged).
There are plenty of people around here who hunt, not least Verity’s neighbour in the house just below – the one she’d described as ‘uncivilised’ before we decided to settle on the more generous term ‘rustic’. It seemed reasonable that Luz was this guy’s dog, but there was no way I wanted to go knocking on his door at 10pm. So I dragged Gaston’s pouffe into the kitchen, shut the door, and went to bed, my ears pricking to every cowbell ring throughout the night.
There was a minor dilemma in doing this. Gaston was safe and sound, in the warm part of the house with me, with his cat-box and water accessible, and he’d already had his dinner. Unfortunately, poor Felix usually makes his way back into the house at night via the garage door, through the kitchen, and into the house. I’d shut the garage door so that wouldn’t happen, and left Felix’s dinner out in the garage. Then I shut Luz in the kitchen, debating whether I should leave the kitchen door open so he could go in and out. But it was very cold, and also, though there really seems to be no one around, I didn’t want to leave the house so open overnight. I figured if Luz needed to ‘go’ in the night, maybe he’d bark, but also, he was little, and I’ve been cleaning up enough cat stuff lately, it wouldn’t be so bad.
This morning, I opened the kitchen to find little Luz curled up on Gaston’s pouffe.
I also found two cow-pats on the floor, about 1/5 the size of Luz himself.
‘Ok buddy,’ I said as I scrubbed the floor, ‘we’re finding your owner, because you are not spending another night in here.’
I phoned Valerie and explained the situation. For whatever reason, I was not getting through on the numbers on Luz’s collar. She is so wonderful – she said ‘I’ll call you back,’ and ten minutes later (I must be doing something wrong with the phone) she called to say that Luz did indeed belong to Verity’s neighbour, who would be out all day, but I could put Luz back into the cage beside the garage.
I felt like I was walking the poor dog to the gallows. The cage was sheer concrete, with a metal fence around it, and a few bowls (empty,) and a scattering of dog shit everywhere. All I could think of was the barking I’ve heard over the past months, sometimes shrieking, pained yelps, as if a dog is being beaten, and the gunshots in the woods, when they’re hunting, and the way this neighbour of Verity’s tears up and down the driveway in his big truck.
‘I’m sorry, Luz,’ I said, trying to separate my American sentiments about dogs from these ‘rustic’ French ones. Compared to this desolation, Luz had just spent the night at the Hilton. He resisted, silently, as I pushed him through the gate.
I walked back up the driveway and went to Verity’s garage, where I found an old quilt. I brought it back down to Luz, imagining the hunter’s reaction when he returns. I wonder if he’ll come tell me off. Probably not, since he seems disinclined to socialise. (Verity invited him to her going-away drinks and his response was apparently ‘we’ll see’. He didn’t show.) I filled one of his bowls with water from an outside tap. At least, (I’m telling myself,) he won’t be too cold, in the quilt. At least he ate a ton of Friskies before I brought him back.