Friday, 12 September 2014


When they first took them in, Mary Johns and her husband felt despair at the five homeless pups that had turned up on their doorstep. But then they gave them a second chance

Take them to the vet before you have a chance to get fond of them,’ said my friend. ‘There’s a good one in town. He’ll put them down for you. It’s the only way, Mary.’

I gazed at the five desperately thin and hungry puppies sitting dolefully on our drive. Five soulful pairs of eyes looked up at me. Five furry bottoms wiggled. Five tails waggled.

These guests were uninvited and I had no idea where they had come from. But put them down? Five painfully thin little strangers? Without giving them a chance to live?

It was, of course, good advice. It was wise advice. It was advice that we would wish, on more than one occasion, we had taken. But it was also out of the question. I opened the gate and five little creatures trotted down the path. Our fate was sealed.

Initially, my husband and I agreed that we would not feed or water them. That way, they would surely soon return whence they came.

Five-Dogs-Sept12-01-5901. Mary and Geoff 2. Mary and Geoff’s idyllic cottage 3. Four of the pups a few days after they turned up

We had breakfast and ignored them. And they didn’t make a fuss. We got on with our jobs and ignored them. And they lay quietly on the veranda. We had lunch and ignored them and then went for a swim and a rest by the pool. And they came too.

At 4pm we gave in, filled a blue washing-up bowl with water and gave them some of the food we feed to our two wild cats each day. The pups ate as if it was their last supper. They were so grateful and so very hungry.

So we made a tough decision. We would keep the puppies for two weeks, after which any of the little creatures that hadn’t been rehomed would go on a one-way trip to the vet. We would not name them. We would not bond with them. We would be strong.

People think that buying an ancient olive grower’s cottage on the Greek island of Zakynthos is living the dream. And it is… most of the time. But living the dream also means living in someone else’s world and that can be at times heart-warming and at times infuriating.

One of the hardest things for us Brits to deal with is the European attitude to animals. But if I’ve learnt anything from living abroad, it is never to apply the British template to another nation’s way of life. Okay, so some Greeks could be kinder to their animals but they feel we could be kinder to our elderly. They regard putting an elderly parent into a home as sheer cruelty. Pets or parents? Parents or pets? You tell me.

Either way, so began the summer of the five puppies. There were three black-and-white, wire-haired bundles, and a brown-and-white runt with pleading eyes and a distended belly. And then there was a timid little female who yelped and lay on her back every time we went near her.

What, we wondered, had made her so very frightened?

We had soon agreed on a strategy. We put posters up everywhere we could, including at the town’s three vets (interestingly, they all have English names on their signs), phoned everyone we knew with the story and then sat back and waited.

And it all began so well. Within days, some friends who own the local sailing club came up to choose one. They had been looking for a puppy as a club mascot. He is now called Tiko, which sounds like the word ‘lucky’ in Greek, is much loved and is the size of a Thelwell pony.

Our confidence grew. ‘We can do this,’ we thought. One down. Twelve days to go.

Three days later, another puppy found a home. A lady called Rosemary, who was staying at the sailing club, offered to have one if we would drive her back at the end of the summer. She already had a Jack Russell and chose the little runt of the litter.

I had assumed the appendage between the pup’s legs was a, ahem, willy, but she is now called Ella and is the size of an Alsatian. Never mind, Rosemary and the little Jack Russell adore her.

And then Lucy, the wife of the famous tennis player, Greg Rusedski, who was holidaying on the island, heard about the puppies. She fell in love with two of them and planned to fly them back to England, but it was a holiday romance that did not endure and when she returned home she changed her mind. She cried and so did I. Nevertheless, she paid the vet’s bill for their pet passports so it all came to an honourable conclusion.

But it wasn’t all good news. Little Plato contracted canine parvovirus. He spent a sad week caged up at the vet’s and then we were told we could pick him up the next day.

The following day I rang the vet, longing to bring Plato home and start looking after him. ‘I am sorry,’ said the vet. ‘He did not survive.’

For the second time, I sat down and wept over one of the puppies.

Five-Dogs-Sept12-02-5904. Peli and Ella as puppies 5. Tiko enjoys a doggie doughnut

So we were left with two pups until a friend on the island stepped in and, having said that she didn’t want a second dog, changed her mind.

Oh joy! Rosie is now the happiest and most loving of dogs. Our penultimate pup had found a home here on our island, just as we have.

It is such a special place, this Greek island. As I sit here writing, I look down at slopes covered in the silvergreen of olive groves, the deeper green of the terraced vineyards and the dark green fingers of the cypress trees, set against the blues of the sea and the sky. For me it is a view of tranquillity, which feeds the soul and brings peace to our lives.

It is an island of friendships, sunshine and a haven for our busy children and grandchildren.

But what of our final puppy? We were left with Peli, a lovely black-and-white dog growing by the day. We were in despair until we heard that an old friend who has a house on the island might take him.

It was love at first sight. Our final puppy had a home.

It was an emotional roller coaster of a ride and even now there are times when I wonder whether it was all worthwhile, but then I see Rosie or Tiko so happy and loved and I remember the answerphone message waiting for us when we got back to England at the end of that summer. It was from Sharon, who took Peli. She simply said: ‘Thank you for giving me my soulmate.’

Five Dogs, Two Cats And A Couple Of Mugs, by Mary Johns, is published by Polperro Heritage Press, priced £6.95.

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