The Postman Always Rings Twice – okay, leans on the bell and hammers on the door for good measure #livinginSpain

I was online in my virtual classroom when the familiar dingdongdingdongdingdong bang Bang BANG sounded at the door and there was nothing to be done about it – my junior pupils pay through the nose for their 25 minute classes (at least five times what I am paid for teaching them, at a guess) and there’s no question of putting them on hold and sauntering off to deal with a delivery. Strictly verboten. When school was over for the day I collected the notification from my postbox and made a mental note to get up early in the morning.

We’re lucky, in Velez, to have a correos at all because as towns go we are tiny. Stamps, and weighing of letters, is actually done at the tabacos and parcels have to be sent from Motril but we do have a tiny branch office and it is much appreciated. It opens early and at 10 am the local Postmistress General* shuts up shop and sets off on foot to deliver post so the window of opportunity, for a night owl like me, is narrow. I glumly reasoned it was probably an official letter from yet another authority with the sudden passionate desire to see my NIE, (tax document) there had been a couple of those lately, so I wasn’t hugely motivated and when roadworks rattled me awake at 9 I went back to dozing. The alarm went off at 9.30 (snooze) and only when it went off at 9.45 did I remember the delivery. Bugggerrrrr I was up and in yesterday’s outer clothing, hair hastily brushed, face still unwashed (masks do have their uses), dog in harness and striding down the street in 4 minutes. It took a minute or so to register it was raining a little. It does, even here, and normally is very welcome but bugggerrrrr. The farmacia street clock said 10:02 (no way) but we quickened our pace anyway. The rain quickened a little, too, and as I rounded the corner of the correos I peered in the window. Open, but a queue. Buggggerrrrr! Leela, my former dog, was stoical about being tied to the school railings and left for a few minutes, even in rain (she’d lived in Scotland, after all, rain was no novelty) but the very last word that could be ever applied to Purdey, my fairly new rescue podenco, is stoical. She is excessively timid, very flighty, and a Houdini into the bargain, and we’ve not started working yet on Waiting Outside On A Lead. I wasn’t prepared to emerge to an empty harness. I squared my shoulders and took her in with me.

I do love living in a small town in Spain, you know. The postmistress blinked, vanished for a second, and reappeared with a beaming smile to hurry past the queue with my delivery. We were out and on our way for the important business of the walk with barely a check. (Best of all, the delivery was a parcel for Christmas, YAY, well worth the collecting!)

*I don’t know if she’s the Postmistress General but a recent official had-to-be-signed-for letter about presenting my NIE to the water department within 10 days or be disconnected was signed by our “Mayor President” so I think she probably is. As a teacher I am, in Spanish, a Profesora or a Maestro. We do nice titles.

That was a mission in itself – I don’t work on Mondays, so trotted up to the ayuntimiento on the following Monday with my NIE, oops, long weekend. Returned on Wednesday to learn the policia have taken over the offices. The policeman was nice, even spoke a little English, and told me where to find the ayuntamiento, opposite the Casa de la Cultura. Except – not. The first person I could find in the Casa de la Cultura said the ayuntamiento was now next to the Jardin Nazari. And so it was, no sign up whatsoever but a long queue because there was temporarily no electricity. I had to fill in a form, in Spanish, saying what service I wanted (Mayor President he may be but his letter was obviously not sufficiently explanatory for burocracia) and the whole business of showing the authorities my NIE and letting them take a copy took a lot of walking and the best part of an hour – the other side of living in Spain.

Next time I go to the ayuntamiento I might take Purdey, it could work as a queuebuster again.

Living with a #podenco – a month later

Purdey the podenco has now been with me for a month – my lovely Dutch neighbour, who handles animal rescues and rehomes dogs all round Europe, borrowed a chip reader from the policia and there was a truly nasty moment when it pinged – she was chipped after all, against all expectations. Oh hell. She hadn’t been emaciated when found, she had adjusted so very quickly to walking on a lead, was she a loved runaway pet after all? The law requires notifying the owner, who has three weeks to respond. M got the owner details from her vet – she’d been chipped 3 years ago, reported as missing shortly after. M rang him from my house and all was well, he didn’t even remember her, was intrigued to learn she’d been found near Los Tablones, didn’t want her back. In Spain we are in municipal lockdown and my small municipality doesn’t have a veterinarian, so an appointment was made with a vet in Motril. Armed with the confirmation on my phone to show to the policia if I was stopped, I drove into town for the first time in WEEKS and got the chip officially changed to my name. The vet, who by the way looked like a teenager, hell I must be getting old, did her shots, created her ‘passport’, and gave me a printout authorising buying dogfood while I was in town. Although we have mini supermarkets in Velez their range of petfood is very limited and the cat went on a hunger strike in protest at the range they carried, living on dry food and tuna and tripping over his lip. CATS. I grabbed the chance to buy other things the local minimarkets don’t stock for their predominantly Spanish customers – Ryvita, marmite, Bournville cocoa, cheddar – my stocks were alarmingly low as the lockdown extends, and extends, and extends.

We’ve got our Christmas guidelines, by the way, while on the subject of permission to cross municipal borders  – the message is please stay at home but if you MUST go out, family gatherings of up to ten people only. Curfew is extended to 01h30 on special days (including, naturally, NYE). Family being important to Spanish life, municipal, provincial, even regional, borders can be crossed, depending on local restrictions.  Close friends is a bit hazy – some authorities say si, some say no way José. The burning issue of whether this will be an honour system or whether permission must be obtained in advance is still hanging. While the thought of spending a whole day with a good friend after all these weeks and weeks of almost uninterrupted solitude is dizzying, neither of us fancy being stopped at a checkpoint by armed officials expecting a fluent well-worded plea to continue outside municipal limits. Bugger. Watch this space.

Back briefly to Purdey. She and the cat have signed a peace treaty and are now locked in a quiet but determined struggle for territory. Anything the cat can do, Purdey feels she surely can too – I do have washable covers on the sofa and bed so had no objection to her getting up on either, but it took a while before she did. The cat has his own preferred baby blanket and she folded herself up onto that first . . .

It took a while but a chilly evening, a fire, and a long day for both of them, achieved a breakthrough.

The Spanish couple who rescued Purdey from a tumbledown finca in the middle of nowhere had advertised extensively for her most recent owner and got a reply last week – a month after he took her hunting. She vanished the first time he fired a shot. He doesn’t want her back as she is of no use to him, but he’s glad she has found a home.  She does HATE shots, the first time she heard the hunters in the hills round Velez she turned firmly for home and led me straight to the door. That was a few days in – I was pleased she knew the way, pleased she sees home as a safe refuge.

Oh and yay, we  had a breakthrough on using the great outdoors as the bathroom of choice. It took a while, filling her to the brim with food and water before long long walks, and she still prefers the privacy of the terrace, but since it seems to please me so very much when she uses the outdoors, and  she likes to make me happy, she now performs dutifully. She does still insist on kicking over her traces when outdoors so pavements are still out, but we have patches of wasteland a few minutes away in two directions which are patronised by other town dogs and fascinate her. She’s shy with other dogs, but slowly making the occasional friendly contact, ducking behind me to avoid unfriendly or bossy dogs. Like other pods, she communicates through dance – springs about like Tigger when walks or food are in the offing, sits hopefully in front of me (sometimes nearly tripping me) when wanting attention or treats or me to stop stroking the cat please, and jiggles from foot to foot when she needs a walk.

Living with a podenco? It’s great. Three walks a day is doing me a world of good, too –

The learning curve of living with a #podenco – a truly Spanish dog

I’m no expert. Total newbie, in fact. There have been many dogs in my past and for a large chunk of that past they’ve been rescue dogs of the bullbreed type, mainly staffies. The last 8 years, for example, was spent with a bulldog / Frenchie cross with a will of iron who only went into rescue because her doting owners unexpectedly produced a baby and she refused pointblank to accept the interloper. To the end of her long life she wasn’t to be trusted near a crying baby. Difficult rescue dogs? Been there, done that. A podenco couldn’t be more different, and I hadn’t expected such a learning curve.  So here’s what I’ve learned so far: some of it I looked up, some of it was passed on from others, and most of it from Purdey.

The Spanish have a reputation for cruelty to animals – it must immediately be said I’ve had Spanish guests here at the Casa with their dogs and even, in two cases, their cats, and they were devoted to their pets and couldn’t bear to be separated from them. The town has a conventional complement of much-loved house pets, often met out on walks. Like many generalisations it is not true of the majority. But – podencos (it literally means hound), a group of Mediterranean hare-hunting sighthounds, differing slightly by region (eg Ibiza, Andalusia, Canary Islands, etc) aren’t often as lucky. They are quite literally considered tools.

A working pod will often be kept in a dark shed, and is generally half-starved during hunting season to make it keener for the hunt. When the season ends, many are turned out to fend for themselves, and the persistent are driven miles away to be dumped, or worse. Pods have been dealt a fairly crappy hand in life and many people, both in Spain and out, are stepping up to adopt rescued ones. They make marvellous pets but they are not like other dogs. They are not, by the way, a breed as such, more an unmistakable type, with enormous ears, jaunty tails, and strong wiry frames.  They come in three sizes, small, medium, and large, and can be rough or smooth coat.

Purdey is a almost classic Andalusian medium-sized rough coat pod but has no tail – I don’t know whether it was deliberately docked, amputated after a mishap, or is a birth abnormality. She is around 3 years old, was found living alone in a tumble-down house in the campo, and handed over to me a fortnight ago. She looks dainty and rangy by turns, is immensely strong for her size, and uses her wonderful ears like semaphore flags.

So far she has proved charming, gentle, and increasingly affectionate. I was concerned that I’d not be able to give her marathon walks and runs, and that the household, especially during this covid year, is excessively quiet – me and an elderly cat.  After all, research says that they like children, love a bustling household with a lot going on, and many have taken to agility training and enjoy it very much. Turns out, though, they don’t need to be galloped twice a day, or worn out before they can sleep, but they do need regular walking. Great for me – that’s why I wanted a dog.

Loving and affectionate, yes. Lapdogs, not so much. Purdey likes to be near me, or where she can see me, but far from having to be chased off the bed or sofa, she won’t even sleep on a thickly padded dog bed and prefers a knobbly old dog rug with no padding whatsoever. She’s used to alone-time and doesn’t nag for constant attention, although when I do reappear she is flatteringly delighted. She would probably stand rockstill to the end of time if I would just keep brushing her – it is one of her passions in life. When it stops she sighs, does a nose-poke thank you, and heads to the knobbly old rug. Great for me – I don’t like dogs that demand constant entertainment and playing. She has no concept of play at all, and looks oddly at me when I bounce a ball, or squeak a toy. The one exception is the kong, which she considers an admirable way of serving dog pâté. We’re working on play.

As dogs they are hardy, robust, and fend remarkably well for themselves when turned out, as so many are, after hunting season. The downside is that they are skilled scavengers, and she ransacked the rubbish bin the first time I left her alone. She’ll also pinch the cat’s food and anything left out, even when she’s just had a meal, and gives me a guilty grin when I scold. That’s improving already, with regular food, but I don’t think she’ll ever completely lose the habit.

I’m warned I may never be able to let her off the lead on a walk because however devoted they are to owners, they are insatiably curious explorers.  Be aware, also, that a podenco puts Houdini to shame when it comes to wriggling out of collars and harnesses. A collar will likely not be enough and a harness must be fitted snugly. Purdey’s was adjusted by another half inch on each side after she showed me just how good she is. That was an exciting half hour through the streets of Velez, with her trotting anywhere between ten to fifty yards ahead, sublimely unaware of my cold dread that she would pop out in front of a car as I panted in pursuit.

They are gently stubborn – once they have decided a course of action, it is hard to convince them otherwise.  Purdey learned instantly, when I squawked, that peeing in the middle of the atrium was not going to be popular.  Her home loo became the terrace, which is near the hosepipe and easily washed down. It has also become her only loo. She loves walks, she is fascinated by what other dogs have left on the street and in the rough grass, but no matter how long we stay out, she pops up to the terrace with a sigh of relief when we get back. After the first week with me she did start peeing occasionally when out, and seemed embarrassed by my lavish praise. I’d welcome any advice on getting her preferring outdoors to indoors.

They are sighthounds, those huge ears are like radar antenna, and they have hunter reflexes. Introductions to cats must be handled carefully. There was no problem introducing them, but my cat is furtive around dogs, and likes to make quick dashes from hiding, especially outside at night. With a bulldog, no problem, he was out of range before she had her legs sorted out. With a sighthound, a couple of heart-stopping dashes until Purdey finally accepted his resemblance to a rabbit was purely coincidental. Me shouting NO devastated her: telling her she was a Bad Dog, the second time, reduced her to quivering jelly. Sprinting after small animals is what she was bred to do. In this pic (I’m a rubbish photographer) the cat looks nearly her size but is merely nearer the camera. They’re not friends, not yet, but settling down together.

Pods may be hunters, but they are unexpectedly timid. I’m used to imposing my will on difficult stubborn dogs – hence the shout NO. Purdey is highly intelligent and desperate to please, and that’s characteristic of the type too. If danger beckons they will remove themselves and expect you to have the sense to do the same. Your pod will not be challenging visitors, or bringing up the rear barking defiantly while you get to safety. On the bright side, they won’t pick fights with other dogs, and will go out of their way to avoid confrontation. This is proving immensely restful after all those years of bull breeds.

She was so timid at first that I tried her in a thunderjacket – she didn’t object, but then she never does. It could help for high-stress outings like vet visits. I might need to change to a female vet as she is definitely afraid of men.

If you want a roly-poly bundle of lively fun which will chase after balls and bring them back, be delighted by toys, and protect you to its dying breath, a pod won’t suit. My friend has had his eight years and Purdey is newly moved in, but in these things they are the same – very traditional dogs, bred to work for their keep, self-effacing, independent, needing only food and exercise, gratefully returning kindness and a place in your home with affection and the desire to fit in. His dog barks at the approach of cars (but then that’s out in the campo, so it usually means a visitor) and both dogs literally dance with delight at moments of high excitement.   

My phone takes awful photos which don’t do her justice. She’s utterly lovely.