The cats made the most of it, sitting on the patio making little needle signs with their paws as Gypsy passed by, her nose pressed against the inside of the car window. Cats can be cruel. Especially to impressionable puppies.
Once in Aurignac, we dragged Gypsy into the waiting room. I think she could smell the warning signs as soon as we approached the vet's - years of panicked animals having marked the surrounding area. But once inside, Gypsy settled down and apart from the odd verse of nervous singing she was fine.
Unlike Shelagh, who can't be left alone in a vet's waiting room - not when there are leaflets and posters about animal diseases to be worried over. She spent a good five minutes in front of a map of France showing the number of rabies cases by département. And mentally crossing off a large chunk of north-eastern France from our list of places to visit. Next came the leaflets - tastefully arranged on a long coffee table in order of skin-crawl, with everything you never wanted to know about fleas, tapeworms, ticks and roundworms.
The tick leaflet was Shelagh's favourite. I'm not sure how many times the picture on the front had been magnified but this tick looked like a minor asteroid with skin problems. And it carried an infection - pyroplasm - which was endemic in France, especially South-West France, and fatal for dogs.
This was something not mentioned in any literature we'd ever read on living in France. And we'd read a considerable amount. By the time it was our turn to see the vet, Shelagh was ready to pack up and return to England.
"Why didn’t you tell me about pyroplasm?" she hissed.
"I'd never heard about it!"
It was a ‘hmm’ I recognised, a ‘hmm’ that signified that judgement had been suspended and, unless I wanted to suffer a similar fate, I’d better hope the vet comes up with some conciliatory words. Preferably along the lines of, ‘pyroplasm is no longer a problem.’
I dragged Gypsy along the tiled floor into the surgery - it’s a wise vet who keeps his floor well greased - and Shelagh followed behind clutching her tick leaflet.
The vet was a small grey-haired man with a white coat and a ready smile. And a profound love of animals. We talked for a while about Gypsy's pedigree. At least, we tried. Even though his ‘little of English’ turned out to be a good deal greater than our peu de Français, we couldn't quite explain what a lurcher was. In hindsight, we should have passed her off as a greyhound. We were all happy with greyhound - it's the same word in English and French. But we made the mistake of striving for accuracy and explaining how Gypsy was a deerhound greyhound cross. I toyed with the idea about adding my suspicion that she was also part crocodile but thought better of it - we were having enough trouble trying to find the French for deerhound.
We tried lévrier de cerf, a chimera of our own invention; lévrier being the name of a Gypsy lookalike we'd seen on a poster on the waiting room wall and cerf being French for stag.
The vet stared at us blankly. Lévrier de cerf?
We tried a different approach. Lurchers were hunting dogs. Chien de chasse? Hunting for the pot? The traditional dog of the Gypsies?
The vet shook his head.
Shelagh was about to give up but I was a person who knew the French for Gypsy - I’d looked it up in case anyone ever asked what Gypsy's name meant. Here was my first opportunity to use it.
Unfortunately Gitane is probably more famous as a brand of cigarette than as French for Gypsy. And my attempted explanation that she was le chien de chasse pour les Gitanes, probably gave the impression that the English countryside was awash with dogs specially bred to hunt cigarettes.
A little French is a dangerous thing.
(next instalment: Pyroplasm and produits)