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Monday, August 24, 2015

Part 1 Thank you, Rachel Koch, from those who speak with tails


If you know the dog world in the south of France, you know of Rachel Koch. Although she hates the term, forums and associations call her an angel for her work in fostering and adopting dogs, especially the Great Pyrenees she loves so much. I prefer to call her an expert, whose understanding of dogs comes from years of experience, from some sixth sense that defies analysis, and from love. I also prefer to call her friend. As well as a weakness for big furry independent types, we share a shaggy dog story of dubious legality about how we didn't meet in a car park ...


Rachel and some of her Great Pyrenees at home (Max on the left)
Welcome, Rachel! I know your first language is Dutch so thank you for responding in English for me. We often talk in French because of where we live so it's a change for me to talk in my own language with you. Please tell us a bit about yourself.

I gave up my career as a flight attendant because I was away from home for long periods. I had always wanted to have animals around me, and, starting with a wire-haired Daschund, I soon began breeding dogs and got involved in  showing and working with them. I followed several courses in the Netherlands in order to become a show and field work judge, and travelled to many countries in Europe in the course of my judging activities. I left judging when I moved to France as I found that it took up too much of my time.

I did a quick count of the dogs I have taken in and came to 15 dogs fostered and 10 adopted although I’m sure I have missed a few. Most were of advanced years like old Jake, a Golden Retriever, whose owners were killed in a car accident. He was completely lost when he came to me but found his “maison de retraite” (retirement home) with us and died in his sleep like a gentleman a few years later.

It is difficult to send away a dog who finally has found his home at the age of 12-14. I prefer to keep older dogs with me as I want to avoid the stress of adapting to a new environment. Young dogs always find a new home very quickly. Older dogs are obviously harder to place. You also must realise that if you adopt, it can be for up to 15 years. I am 58 at the moment so a puppy will stay with me 15 years. Plan ahead if you want to adopt!

Our meeting in a car park was set in motion when I received a phone call from a volunteer with a dog association. A member had rescued a Great Pyrenees, who was in terrible conditions. She couldn't keep him and I was asked if I could drive him part of the way down through France to a foster home. I could. I did. In fact, my long-suffering-husband 'volunteered' to be the get-away driver on condition that I handled the dog. 

When the fugitive was handed over in a car park, he didn't resist. He didn't care any more. His eyes were dead. I've seen this before in shelter dogs, where they have given up completely and it is heart-wrenching. The foster-carer was of course Rachel, and this is what she saw when she came to meet me in the car park of Aix-en-Provence motorway services. Rachel took over with Max and his story.

Rachel's first view of Max (and Jean)
Jean and Max during the rescue

If I tell you that Max is the love of my life of course you cannot compare that to your parents or your husband. A dog is a dog and not a human being. But what I had with Max started probably when he came to our house in a bad state and I knew right away that we were connected. 

I was contacted by Adoption Gros Chiens. His story can still be found on their site. It was one of their first rescue operations. They had rescued Max but they did not have a foster home for him so I agreed to take him temporarily.

Max at Rachel's being nursed back to health

Max after adapting to his new life :)
As I am a judge for hunting dogs I went to a show not far from my house a few days after  and left him in the care of Sven, my husband, and told him to keep Max always on a leash or chain when he was outside.

Sven phoned me in the evening that Max had escaped and the chain was broken. It was at lunch time. He just went into the kitchen to prepare a meal and returned - no dog. So when I came back next day, Max was gone and the search started. Sven and I put pictures of Max everywhere, drove miles and miles to find him. I searched the entire neighbourhood, putting up pictures and of course informing the Gendarmes and Vet.People called to say they had seen him walking with a length of chain hanging off him but every time I went to look… no Max.

I had put him a collar with our phone number on but even then you have no idea if the collar is still on and Max had no tattoo or chip. I searched every day and finally I received news after ten days ! in the evening, on the day that there was terrible rainfall in Draguignan. (A lot of people were killed in the heavy rains and floods) On that very day, a lady phoned to say that she had found Max and he was in her  barn with the horses. She asked me if she could feed him.

I was crying all the time and gave the phone to Sven to try to figure out where he was. It was 75 km !! from our house and indeed he had tried to return to his old place in the mountains but he missed one crossing. I could not wait so we went in a storm with trees falling on the road, floods everywhere. They told everybody to stay at home because people where dying in Draguignan but we went in search of a dog ! 

And there he was in the barn. He could hardly walk so we put him in the car and drove home, where I put him in a blanket. I was so happy but then a few  days later he escaped again. He jumped the fence with me close to him, and I screamed and screamed, 'Max, no no!' and I was completely - how do you say that? - devastated, disappointed. How could a dog you have given so much attention and love and food leave you again?

But the next day, in all my despair, I saw him next to the fence in the forest. He was looking at me and laying still and looking at me, and at seven in the morning I went up to him in my pyjamas and said, 'You are home,' and he never left me again.
Max chez lui

From that moment on his love was in my heart and it stayed until he died so that was the moment  that we had that unconditional love for each other and he became the love of my life. 

Rachel, you and Max were lucky to find each other and to know such happiness, for the last of his nine years. He is a different dog from the one with dead eyes who trudged across a car park with me and I'm sure his tail thanked you every day.

Max and Rachel on the ski slopes

The story of Max highlights some of the issues that arise when you foster or adopt a dog. They DO often attempt to run back to the place they know, even if they were horribly abused. We need to be so careful! I am so neurotic about a dog escaping that I take a collar and tag with my phone number on it when I go to the shelter to pick up the dog. 

Rachel, when you take in a rescue dog, what do you do during the first couple of days? 

I keep them in a quiet place away from the other dogs and with food adapted to the need of the dog. In the case of Max,  I started with rice and chicken and supplements and vitamins.  I also give them a bath and if necessary anti-flea and anti-worm pills. If needed I take them to the vet. I let them sleep a lot and go out with them on a leash, wearing a collar with my phone number on it.

The first days I always take a dog in my bedroom at night. I think this is very important and I do this with all rescue dogs.  Some people are against it but put yourself in a situation that you are lost and find yourself in a house that you do not know, and you are locked up in a kitchen with nobody around you!  So I try to bond with the dog, to keep him with me 24 hours a day. 

Different breeds adapt at different tempos, but with Great Pyrenees it will normally take a month for a dog to understand that he has found a new home. I think this is because they are so attached to the place they live, or the flock they are guarding. 

Thank you so much, Rachel. I love hearing your stories and advice. Neither of us will ever forget Max. His story and those of other rescued dogs show us what is possible. In Part 2, Rachel will tell us more about her adoption and foster care of dogs.

Sherlock, my own adopted dog, is lying beside me at this very moment, worried about the thunderstorm. Ditto Blanche. 
Jean with Sherlock (and Blanche's reflection)
If you would like to win an ebook of my story 'Someone To Look Up To' just post a comment below, before 30th September, in any of the blog posts about Rachel. If you already have my story from the viewpoint of a Great Pyrenees, please choose another book.

Rachel is happy to answer any questions you might have so feel free to post them below.

amazon link