I recently started a site, www.petsinitaly.com with the intention of passing on advice to ex-pat pet owners and relating some of my own animal experiences in 15 years as a Brit living in Italy. I’d had quite a menagerie in that time and some bizarre tales to tell, including my period as custodian of four geese, the kittens stolen by foxes, the dog killed by a porcupine and so on.
What I hadn’t bargained for were the appelli – the animal appeals, mostly dogs, each with their own heartbreaking story. This gave the site a life of its own – it became the focus for the homeless and the destitute, as I posted more sad stories of dogs kicked out, beaten, thrown from cars and worse. Then something else happened. I fell for one of those dogs myself.
I remember getting the email. I saw the picture first - a black and white English Setter (I was later to learn this colour combination is known as a blue Beltane) in a cage, looking lost and staring at the camera. I read his story and started to cry. Damn it! This was no good! I didn’t want to get emotionally involved with the dogs I was supposed to be helping, just tell their stories on the site and hope that a kind person decided to adopt one.
His name was Gaspare (GAS- pah- ray), which is an Italian version of Casper, one of the three Magi. The name sent shivers down my spine, even though that was just what his rescuers had called him. Still, it seemed a magical name, somehow. He had been thrown out by a hunter in a village near Avellino, near Naples, southern Italy. After weeks, perhaps even months, living wild the poor dog was a virtual skeleton. Desperate for food, he came across a group of villagers having a picnic. He approached them, tail wagging, in the hope that he would get a scrap of food. Instead they turned on him. Shouting, screaming, they beat him with sticks and kicked him. Had it not been for a passing member of an voluntary animal shelter he would have been killed. At some risk to himself the man intervened and carried the dog’s broken body to a vet. He had two broken ribs, two broken teeth and severe nasal bleeding. And that’s when I got the appeal.
I sent an email. I found out more about him. I printed out his photo and tentatively broached the idea of a third dog with my ever patient husband. I did the tarot. I asked the runes. And then fate intervened, my elderly mother broke her hip and I had to rush to the UK. Gaspare was temporarily forgotten.
When I got back I searched for him online and discovered he had been driven to Milan (800km) to his new family, who kept him overnight and then decided he wasn’t for them. He was in foster care with a young couple until a home could be found for him. Poor Gaspare, abandoned again. My heart bled for him. And then I got an email from the association in Avellino. Was I still interested?
I fretted and debated. I had sleepless nights. Was it madness to get another dog? Our two spayed females were besotted with each other and we had a harmonious well-balanced household. What was I thinking of trying to throw a rescue dog into the mix? I couldn’t decide. And then I hit on a solution. Of course, I would have to go and see him! Once I actually met him, than I would know. And so I went off on an eight-hour round day trip to Milan. I met Gaspare, I met his foster carers Daria and Alessandro. I sat on the stairs in their apartment with a dog’s big head on my knee, sterde into those big brown eyes and fell in love.
To cut this shaggy dog story short, Gassie has been with us seven weeks today. He is a giant, lolloping comedian with a penchant for pyjamas and shoes. He has escaped countless times under the fence and returned barking at the gate. He has eaten my fish pond liner and so I have had to rebuild the fishpond but at half its original size once the chewed liner was cut off. He spends hours in the garden hunting lizards, upsetting terracotta pots and knocking over tables and chairs in his fruitless attempts to catch one. He hasn’t got an aggressive bone in his body, kisses the other dogs at every opportunity and puts two huge paws on my knee if he thinks I have been at the computer too long. He is big, bonkers, with a heart the size of an ocean and we love him to bits.