Another Kind of Internet Love Story

I recently
started a site,
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

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.