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Life of French luxury for starved, crippled street dog: rescue success story

Once starved and crippled on the streets of a Greek island, Claire found a life of luxury in loving arms.
Once starved and crippled on the streets of a Greek island, Claire found a life of luxury in loving arms.
Pauline and Arnold Giggins

by Katerina Lorenzatos Makris ~

“This is Pauline Giggins in France,” said a woman on my voice mail recently. “I don’t know if you’ll remember me, but my husband Arnold and I adopted Claire from you back in 2003… “

I didn’t wait to hear the rest of the message. Right away I dialed her back. Indeed I did remember Pauline, and for several years had been trying to find her contact info that I had stupidly lost when I accidentally imploded one of my email accounts (long story).

Her voice mail was one of the sweetest sounds I’ve ever heard.

Then, within minutes of reaching her, I was in tears—one of those odd brews of emotions that often affect those who do animal rescue—tears of both joy and grief.

Just a kind word

A middle-aged German shorthair pointer, Claire was severely, sickeningly emaciated when I spotted her on the streets of the scenic Greek island Santorini, shivering and dripping wet, just after a lashing November thunderstorm in 2003. She truly looked skeletal–ribs, shoulders, hips, and even her skull in sharp outline. To make matters worse, she was horribly lame. When she managed to walk, she dragged a useless hind leg.

Though she could barely stand, Claire hobbled up to me. Though she had little strength, she wiggled her tail.

Just a kind word, she seemed to ask, expecting little from me, since apparently she had received so little from humans before. Could you give me that?

Her name came to me right away. I had never before been in the presence of more purity of spirit, more inner light, or more clarity.

“Claire,” I whispered to her. “Beautiful Claire.”

Hard to give her up

She was one of those dogs you hate to re-home. Soft-natured, inquisitive, resilient, with the whole depth and breadth of her soul shining in her eyes—a girl like her, you want to keep for yourself.

But we already had a houseful of rescues in California who I’d left in the care of long-suffering hubsy while I took my mom on a grand tour of Greece. So I steeled myself to give up my beautiful new friend.

With the help of Santorini veterinarian Dr. Margarita Valvi and her hardworking group Santorini Animal Welfare Association (SAWA), and with the connections of a wonderful man nicknamed “Pointer Dan” in a rescue group in the United Kingdom that I had found on the Internet, along with the generous financial support and extreme patience of hubsy, a.k.a. The Saint, Claire soon made her way to the Giggins’ home in Normandy.

Active volunteers in German shorthair pointer (GSP) rescue, Pauline and Arnold were only supposed to foster her until the U.K. group could find an adopter.

“But we knew as soon as she arrived that she was ours,” Pauline explained. “Arnold was the one who realized it first. He told me, ‘This one’s not leaving.’”

A heavenly life

For the past 11 years Claire has enjoyed one of the most heavenly lives imaginable with the Giggins at their lovely bed and breakfast property set on 12 acres in rural Normandy. They treasure her. She thrives on an abundance of everything a dog could want.

She gets adoration, great food, veterinary care, sunshine, fresh air, exercise, soft beds, and then more adoration. Her loving adopters—pointer experts—helped her lame leg get stronger so that she became able to walk well and even to run and play with her many animal friends.

But now, more than a decade later, at the astonishing age of 18, our courageous Claire is nearing the end.

The kindest thing

“I think it will have to be tomorrow,” said Pauline on that day of our phone call. “I don’t think we should keep her longer. She’s not doing well, and I feel we’d better let her go. But I wanted to let you know first.”

Her words floored me. Not because of Claire’s impending euthanasia—I know all too well that it’s often the kindest thing we can do for our furry companions. What shocked me was that amidst all that Pauline had on her mind, and amidst all she had on her hands taking care of Claire, her other animals, her ailing husband, their home, and their business, this woman had taken the time and trouble to track me down and, in the most gentle, humble way, ask for my blessing before laying to rest the dog whom she and her husband had loved for more than a decade.

I sobbed like a child. “Pauline, you have no idea how much this means to me,” I blubbered. “Of course you didn’t need to ask me. I know you’ll always make the best decisions for Claire. But what this proves to me—even more than I already knew—is that Claire could not have found a better guardian. You are an amazingly caring person to think of me at a time like this, and to hunt for me all the way across the world in California!”

Finding me had not been easy, Pauline admitted, since the email address she had for me was long defunct. Cleverly, she had looked through her files for the old airway shipping label that came attached to the travel crate in which we had sent Claire to Normandy. That slip of paper provided her with my phone number.

I had to laugh. “Well, thank heavens at least I never managed to implode our phone line!”

‘Many prayers please’

Pauline and I talked for a while. Even though I was fighting asthmatic bronchitis, running a fever and dodging chest-racking coughs, I didn’t want to hang up. You don’t come across folks like Pauline every day. I wished like heck that I hadn’t lost her contact info all those years before, but was deeply grateful to fate and to her detective skills for putting us in touch again.

Finally it got too late in the evening French time for me to keep Pauline on the phone longer. I reassured her once more that she must do for Claire exactly as she saw fit, and not give a second thought to my reaction. I would be 1000% behind her all the way.

After I clicked off the phone, I had to cry some more, wishing we weren’t so geographically far-flung, so that I could have enjoyed the company of such a lovely woman and my beloved Claire more often.

Now it was too late for the latter. Soon Claire would be gone.

“She has her little coat on, lying in the kitchen on her bed with doors open to the covered patio,” Pauline wrote on Facebook. “She has her water and tomorrow’s brekkie is extra special. Many prayers please. A great loss of a great GSP 18 years old, that has been to hell and back. Love you Claire. This is going to be so very, very hard. We love you so very much. You eat like a horse, your poopoo is fine but your weight is so thin. Your little nose is wet and you are so attentive, but sadly your legs have gone and now you can not walk. Love you Clarie. We will be with you sweet girl. xxxxx”

My heart broke into bits as I read the post, but more for Pauline and Arnold than for Claire. The dog had enjoyed a rich life of love and luxury in the tranquil French countryside. Those who had devoted themselves to caring for her were the ones who were going to suffer now.

A miraculous turnaround

Fabulous dogs like these two, along with cats, donkeys, and other animals need donations for food and care while they await adoption at the SAWA shelter.
Fabulous dogs like these two, along with cats, donkeys, and other animals need donations for food and care while they await adoption at the SAWA shelter.

Illness kept me out of commission for a couple of weeks thereafter, unable to make more calls, or even to go on email or Facebook to check in on the Giggins and Claire.

But the following week, as soon as I could, I hopped on Facebook and was elated to see Pauline’s news.

“We cannot believe what has happened,” she wrote. “Claire has just run across the garden like a spring lamb! Onwards and upwards. She will now sleep in the kitchen with rugs and access to the terrace, not in the sitting room with the wooden floor. Go girl go! Love you, Claire xxx.”

Playing it by ear

Right now it’s a touch-and-go situation for Claire. Pauline has to play it by ear, one day at a time. Anyone who has animal companions knows how nerve-shattering that can be—holding in your hands that dreaded life-and-death decision for your dear friend.

My heart goes out to Pauline and Arnold. Actually my heart is there with them every moment, because they are the type of adopters every rescuer dreams their cherished angels will find, and because they love with all their hearts the soulful girl who stole mine so long ago.

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