Chapter 6 - Limerick’s Euro Adventure

2001, and thoughts of a litter for Limerick. After the success of Chelsea’s mating, our eyes turned to the continent again, and with the help of Ans Schellekens, we arranged to visit a German-bred dog called Wotan, living in Holland near Utrecht. John duly set off, and was grateful that Ans was on hand to guide him, especially as Wotan’s owner spoke no English. Unfortunately, there was no success on the first visit, and Ans was unavailable thereafter. The problem was that Limerick is a very big girl, and Wotan was not quite as tall as she is, which causes a lot of difficulties when there is only a flat surface to work with. Two further visits, with communication largely by hand signals, produced no better results, and there was only one more chance before a return to England became a necessity. Happily, the lady’s husband was at home, and he had enough English to suggest that he held Limerick. Her reaction to this indignity was to back down a little….the man’s intention…. and Wotan finally seized his opportunity!! After getting the compulsory flea-spraying from a Dutch vet, a happy car journeyed to Calais, arriving late Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, presenting the papers to the officials revealed that Limerick’s passport would not be valid for a further 3 weeks! A quick call to home gave the idea that she might stay with her mother, Cricket, at that time living in Tervuren, a suburb of Brussels, where Vincent and Valerie were working, but were of course not actually at home to ask.

The official solution was a French boarding kennels, and after a call, John set off in the gloom across the Calais marshes to find the place. Some distance from any other habitations, this old property loomed out of the drizzle, and the bell was answered by a bearded Frenchman, with little English and a lugubrious air, who could accommodate Limerick. She was put in a kennel between barking Rottweilers, and was left. John was slightly encouraged by the agility equipment in the next field, and the trophies and photos on the wall, but left with a sinking heart for poor Limerick. On returning to the Channel Tunnel, he changed back to a right-hand drive car….he had used “Le Swap”, an arrangement from Hertz whereby you hire a British car in the UK, drive over to Calais and change it for a French car….and set off for home, but a quick call to Elaine gave the information that Valerie and Vincent could have Limerick, but with only a motorbike, John would have to take her to Brussels. Back to the kennels, to explain in very halting French that Limerick wasn’t staying after all…..the man was very nice about it, actually, and said how much he liked the breed…..and a slow crawl to Brussels. It appears that even in March the entire population of the Belgian capital spends the weekend at the coast. Suddenly, nearing Tervuren, all the traffic vanished. The signpost pointed left, but there were three roads, which to take? Remembering an old Latin tag from schooldays, “via media tutissima”, John chose the middle one….Wrong! Turn round on that patch of grass? Wrong! In certain lights, mud looks very like grass, apparently. Anyway, totally stuck, with mud up to his knees from trying to push the car (that shouldn’t have been there, and probably wasn’t insured), John had no option but to knock on the door of the nearest house. Although the owners were in their night attire (it was 8.30), including a teenage daughter in a green face mud pack, who chatted because she wanted to come to England as an “au paire”, they were very hospitable, and made tea whilst John phoned Vincent for help.

Limerick's puppies playing

Happily, Vincent had a friend with a 4x4, so the hire car was soon back on terra firma, and Limerick renewing her relationship with her mother. This left John with a dilemma, as he had to return to Calais, but was extremely tired. He opted for “very fast, with the windows wide open and the radio full blast” rather than “slow and steady with lots of stops”, and made Calais by about 2a.m., only to find that the tunnel was closed for a couple of hours for cleaning. It was a very frazzled John that Elaine picked up from Stansted later that morning, somewhat despondent, too, because it was hard to believe that Limerick would have conceived, with all the traumatic events she had been through.

Dogs, and especially bitches, are tougher than you think. Valerie and Vincent duly returned Limerick to us as soon as her passport allowed, and she had eleven puppies six weeks after that. When most people prefer bitches, and you would like to keep on for yourself as well, it was unnerving for the first nine of Limerick’s pups to be male. She redeemed herself with two girls at the end, both of which were already promised, so we didn’t keep any from this litter. Normally, we have found it necessary to keep the bitch away at feeding time once the puppies go on to solid food, as they will join in, but not so with Limerick. She would place herself with her back to the eating babies, manifestly defending them against all-comers.

Limerick's blonde dog pup

One strange thing, there was one blond dog in amongst ten black and gold pups, and although he looked like a small polar bear, no-one showed any interest in him, until Gill (now Reverend, but then Chairman) Green said she thought her girls could do with a male companion. Saffron (Musket….these were all ordnance, due to somewhat hostile club politics at the time) did well in the show ring, winning a CAC in Belgium, as well as several best dogs in the UK.