Chessie rendez vous in Paris

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There she sits, our little Island , tucked up in the very far corner of the north Atlantic in Europe, snug in the knowledge that for anyone or anything  entering or leaving our little piece of greenness they are going to have to be very determined and that’s if your human. Bringing a dog or any other animal into Ireland is a whole different ball game.

A four thousand mile stretch of ocean to the west and north  and a fifty mile stretch of sea separating us from another island has meant historically that Ireland’s best method of defence in keeping out unwanted invaders  has always been her shoreline.

 

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Carlotta was coming to Ireland

We Irish though like a challenge. Nothing is straightforward in our eyes, and nothing grips us more than trying our best to circumnavigate, legally that is, around rules and regulations set out by those in authority. So, when an opportunity presented itself to welcome the lovely Chesapeake, Carlotta, coming all the way from Sailorsbay kennels in Argentina to stay with us here in Ireland, that favourite saying, ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’, sprung to mind.

It is the Department of Agriculture that sets the regulations and rules for the transport of all animals into Ireland. They work very, very hard at keeping all objectionable diseases and parasites, most notably rabies and tapeworm in this case, from crossing the body of water  which separates us from the continent of America on one side and the continent of Europe on the other, but, for some reason, they seem to focus all their energies on preventing these problems entering by air and are not so concerned when a dog enters Ireland by sea and nobody, not even the guy I spoke to in the Department of Agriculture could  explain why this is the case ???

In most countries, apart from Ireland, a dog may travel by air in one of two modes either by cargo or as excess baggage.

Cargo is the most tried and tested method. It involves a complicated procedure of dropping a dog off in an outlying terminal building hours before departure of the scheduled flight and being handled by people who the dog is unfamiliar with to be loaded onto the aeroplane. This process is repeated at the point of destination but, in the case of a dog landing in Dublin, it requires the extra stress to the animal of being trundled off in it’s crate, loaded into a taxi, driven five minutes down the road to a specified veterinary practice, at the expense of an extra one hundred euro to the owner, where paperwork and dog are checked and finally the dog may be handed into the care of it’s owner!!! Keeping stress to a minimum ? I think not !

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We were reluctant to fly her cargo.

There is another way of flying a dog and that is as ‘excess baggage’. In this instance the dog arrives to the check-in desk with its owner, is checked in, is loaded on the aircraft and collected by its owner at the point of destination….no delays, no expensive taxi journey, no fuss.

Now a dog may fly out of Ireland as excess baggage but the Irish department of Agriculture does not allow dogs to travel into Dublin in this civilized fashion, if a dog is to enter Ireland by air from anywhere other than the UK ,(  Aer Arainn will fly pets up to 38kgs including crate from Dublin to Bristol return), it must come in as ‘cargo’.  And there is one final stinging point in this mode of transport, to fly a dog into Dublin as cargo  costs  on average over ten times, yes TEN TIMES the cost of flying a dog as baggage!!!!

There was no way around it though,  Ireland is a long way from Argentina therefore any route taken was going to require time and careful planning to ensure successful negotiation of the paperwork involved in passing an animal through three countrys’ agriculture departments. And it is the paperwork that will trip you up, if every ‘t’ is not crossed, times, dates and signatures entered correctly there is the ominous threat of either quarantine or the dog being sent back to it’s country of origin.

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Paris was to be our meeting point.

Apart from the distance there are also  no direct flights between Argentina and Ireland so no matter what way we looked at it, flying would mean touching down in a minimum of two airports. Travelling her via cargo was just not an option….too long, too many airports and too expensive. We could fly her as baggage into continental Europe but then would either have to procure an agent for the final leg of the journey into Ireland, (again messy and very expensive), or travel overland to meet her.  Luckily for both of us Mecha’s husband was travelling into Europe on business in the time frame we had planned for and better still he could fly into Paris.

By the end of the first week in September the paperwork had been checked, double checked and triple-checked between Argentina and Ireland. Carlotta was due to arrive in Charles de Gaulle airport on a Wednesday so we had allowed a four day travel window to complete the two thousand kilometre round trip which involved crossing two stretches of water, two borders, negotiating London’s infamous M25 at rush hour and remembering to drive on the right hand side once I landed in Calais.

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The rendez vous was almost upon us…

My companion throughout the journey was my good friend Marianne, she has travelled to and from the continent many times over the years with her Curly-coated retrievers and more recently her well known Krisbos Jack Russell Terriers. She was my voice of reason when I got flustered with paperwork, my co-pilot when I inadvertently drifted into the wrong lane on the French motorways and my partner in crime when we spent Tuesday evening in Paris celebrating Carlotta’s impending arrival with one or two glasses of vino, (it had to be done)…

Well, what I can I say only it can be done. Twenty minutes after the Buenes Aires flight touched down in Paris, Ignacio, Mecha’s wonderful husband, came barrelling through the arrival gates pushing a large electric blue dog crate with one slightly bemused Chessie inside. We made our way together out to where my car was parked in the airport, ( again one of THE most user friendly car parks I have ever encountered even if I don’t speak French), and Ignacio opened the crate. Out she came tail wagging, a little tired but no signs of stress. We loaded the crate into the back of the car, some last hugs between Ignacio and Carlotta and in she hopped, curled herself up and we headed off.

A pee break for Carlotta at a rest stop once we cleared the airport and then an uneventful two hour journey to Calais, where we would encounter the final check on paperwork before boarding the Euro tunnel train to England.

I love the French, nothing is a hassle unless it has to be….it took less than five minutes to check through Carlotta’s paperwork before we got that little ticket with a paw on it giving us permission to travel onto Folkestone in England. We had chosen to use the train as opposed to ferry primarily because it is the quickest route across, 35minutes and you don’t have to leave your car. Another advantage of using the Eurotunnel is that there is a two hour leeway for boarding meaning if you arrive early you can take an earlier train at no extra charge. In our case we arrived in Folkestone two hours before our scheduled departure from France.

From Folkestone we negotiated the evening London traffic on the M25 with surprising ease and made it to our hotel in Birmingham by 9pm. After sharing our scampi and fries at a local pub Carlotta jumped on the bed beside Marianne and did not budge until the next morning.

On her final leg of the journey into Ireland she had the opportunity to walk along the beach in Wales at Junction 17, where we have stopped many times with our Chessies during our excursions to the UK, before taking the ferry across to Dublin. We arrived home on Thursday evening.  Her transition into our family has been seemless and stress free, I am certain that has much to do with her upbringing and breeding but I am equally sure that allowing her handover to take place in the presence of someone she loves and trusts had much to do with limiting stress and worry for her as she faces into a new life.

So from the land of a thousand welcomes we wish Carlotta a Cead Mile Failte !

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Some footnotes…..when using this route we followed the DEFRA guidelines as opposed to the Irish Department of Agriculture. The main documents required were current and up to date rabies certificate with microchip number ; Tapeworm treatment given not less than 24 hours or greater than 120 hours before entering the UK…this must be signed by a vet, stamped, and dated and timed and is the one document that most dogs will be prevented from travelling if not completed properly. All dogs coming in from an non-EU country do not have a pet passport so they come in on an Annex II veterinary certificate. Carlotta did not require tick treatment coming in from Argentina. We were not asked for paperwork on the journey between UK and Ireland.

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Liebe Chessiefreunde…greetings from Germany

….And now my chessie friends let me take you on a Bavarian adventure….

Last Friday morning I left my home at the ungodly hour of four thirty in the morning to catch a ‘red-eye’ flight to Munich. I was travelling alone and dogless to attend an International Chessie Weekend. This was my first ever trip to Germany. Many thoughts raced through my head as the plane headed East. I really did not know what to expect. Facebook had initially piqued my interest in this event. Many of the chessies I had become familiar with through looking at photos would be there. What would the dogs be like? Should I have brushed up on my school german? Should I have packed my wellies?

 

The weekend had been arranged by an enterprising group of people from both Germany and Austria. There was much to look forward to. Friday was a day of meeting and greeting involving some light training in obedience and gundog work.  A WD, WDX and WDQ were scheduled for Saturday with Mr and Mrs K Lindstrom from Sweden to judge. Sunday was the show specialty with world renowned breed specialist Mrs Betsy Horn Humer and her Husband Rupert from the USA. With over seventy chessies entered it was truly going to be a meeting of the nations.

I was collected from the airport by Judy Sichler and her guest for the weekend Mrs Janet Morris. I have, of course, known Janet since I first became invoved with Chessies as she bred our boy ‘Chester’.  Judy also owns a young bitch that was bred by Janet, Penrose New Penny, who won Best of Breed at the World Dog Show this year.

Once clear of the Munich traffic we headed South onto the Autobahn. My first surprise of the weekend was that cars can actually travel at two hundred km per hour without taking off !!!. Anyway, it turned out these European drivers are fairly competent at driving these speeds so I soon relaxed (a bit…) and we chatted about dogs and what we were likely to see in the coming days.

When we turned off the main road and the car wound its way up  a single track through thick deciduous forest I started to feel we were truly in Bavaria as I had imagined it to be. The trees gave way every now and then to reveal small fields with cattle grazing. On and on we travelled taking us further away from civilisation and deeper into the woods. Then ahead of us, in the clearing, appeared the most charming wooden framed house complete with timber barn and outbuildings. We had reached our destination and base for the weekend’s events. A great expanse of green pasture rolled away in front, stretching into the distance where a boundary of thick mixed wood forest stood. This was backed again by magnificent mountains. Incorporated in the outbuildings was a small bar and coffee shop, where an endless supply of cakes, snacks, hot coffee and other beverages were available at all times.

A lot of thought and attention to detail had gone into planning even the finer details of the weekend. We were introduced to the very amiable Florian, our host for the weekend. Nothing was too much trouble. He truly embodied Bavarian hospitality. My attention was immediately drawn to the beautiful blue check cravats that each committee member wore with their own unique logo of a chessie carrying a pretzel. Each evening meal was planned around a different theme and based on site which would keep everyone together and offer opportunities to meet new people. As a foreigner attending with very little knowledge of the native language I have to commend the huge effort by everyone we met to try to converse in English. I know it made all of us English speakers feel immediately included but I also enjoyed the chance to practice the German that I had not used in over twenty years and was delighted to find that by the end of the weekend I could understand some parts of conversation.

People and dogs were mingling and as everyone gathered for lunch there was a real sense of excitement in the air. Even the light rain that had started to fall, couldn’t put a dampner on things although I knew then I should have brought my wellies…

After lunch dog owners had a variety of training agendas to choose from. Ursula Moillet took a group of novice and young dogs to do some basic gundog training. Betsy  took anyone that was interested in doing some rally obedience and Gerlinde Boross took a group that wanted to give their dogs some experience on retrieving game in preparation for the following day’s WD. As observers, Janet, Judy and I chose to follow the last group.

As the rain got heavier, we settled ourselves under some tall conifers at the edge of the grass. Janet supplied me with a pair of over-trousers and opened her pop-up catering shop. So with a hot cup of tea in one hand and biscuit in the other we were ready to watch the dogs.

It soon became apparent to me that the dogs were different from what I was used to seeing in the UK. Most of the handlers were novice or they were hunters and this was their dogs first time competing in a situation involving other dogs and distractions. The dogs’ gundog work was very raw but their focus on their owners was incredible. There was an interesting combination of steady but keen dogs, and although handlling at a distance was sometimes a problem there was no doubt that these dogs had a desire to retrieve and work. Sometimes they did not mark well and cast around more than would be acceptable in the UK but my understanding is that in many tests on the continent a dog is given a lot more leeway to hunt than we are now allowed to do in the UK and Ireland. Once the pick up was complete they returned smartly to their handler and presented the bird with precision then sat by their handler ready to go again. One dog , in particular, caught my eye that afternoon – Curt- only a year old but the potential almost made my eyes water…

As the evening drew in we made our way back to the welcome warmth of the bar. The evening’s entertainment was centered around a barbeque. It was a wonderful chance to meet and talk with some of the owners of the dogs I had seen train earlier that afternoon. Once everyone was settled and fed we all piled into the little room adjoining the bar and Betsy presented a seminar on the Chesapeake Bay Retriever breed standard. It had been a few years since I’d had the opportunity to attend one but every time I do so I learn something new. Each time something else sticks in my mind which hopefully will carry me forward in my knowledge of the breed.

The long day was taking its toll and bed now beckoned. Gerlinde loaded us into her van, set her GPS and we headed towards our lodgings.

Day 2.

Saturday dawned brighter and with the promise of some drier weather. After a light breakfast we headed back towards Florian’s place. Our route this morning took us away from main roads, through tiny hamlets nestled among the hills. With the mountains again in the background it really was chocolate box scenery.

The entry for the WD was over twenty dogs so after a quick cup of coffee all competitors, judges and observers made our way across the fields for the start of the first test. For the next couple of hours I was able to become completely engrossed in watching the dogs  work and taking photos.

Unusually on Saturday there were two Curly Coated retrievers and two Labradors competing. To those of you reading who are not involved in chessies you may well wonder what was so unusual about this. Well the WD/ WDX /WDQ are run under the auspices of the American Chesapeake Club and were designed to encourage the working side in our breed. I enjoyed watching how the other breeds fared with the challenges of working more on their own inititive and less on the whistle. It certainly levels the playing field among the retriever breeds.

Now there are many times when those of us who compete with dogs have been in a postion where our dog fails to understand what we want it to achieve. It is usually something simple. Something that they have done many times before and normally at a point in the competition that is crucial to how both you and your dog finish. It is at these times, I think , the truly great dog handlers excel. Midway through the WDX competition on Saturday this very situation occurred.

The water retrieve was run on a pond set in the middle of the wood. Being the time of year it is, Autumn, the surface of the pond was covered with leaves of all colours. Added to this was the fact that the pond was heavily stocked with fish who didn’t appreciate the disturbance of their habitat and regularly popped up to investigate. What appeared to be a straight forward double mark on water held many tempatations and diversions for many of the young dogs.

 

The young black curly coat took her place at the edge of the pond. She watched and marked both birds thrown but just as she was about to be cast a fish jumped to her right. The WDX is the most difficult of the three levels as the marks are longer but once the dog is cast you cannot help them. They are expected to mark and remember. She ran the bank  towards the area where the fish had risen. Still unsure  her owner took her back. The judges allowed for the diversion and she  cast her dog  again. At this stage the young dog had lost her mark as the bird was hidden in the shade of the overhanging trees. She was going to fail. Most handlers would, at this point, either give up or bully their dog to the retrieve. Although all of us know better. Nerves take over. Neither course of action will help the confidence of a young dog. Silence surrounded the pond. We had watched this young dog throughout the morning and I don’t think anyone wanted to see her go out. Then her handler did a wonderful thing. She knew she was out of the competition but she wanted her young dog to succeed. She had every confidence in her dog’s ability. So she called her to her side. Everything about her body language told her dog that it was going to be okay. She, the handler, would show her what to do. She stroked her, played with her and settled her again. Then cast with a more definite tone and the little black dog launched herself into the water. She was off and as everyone held their breath she took the line with ease to the bird and made her way back, delivering to hand beautifully. A ripple of applause broke out from the gallery. It is a moment I hope I’ll remember when teaching my young dogs in the future.

Dusk was falling when we made our way back once again to the little bar and were greeted with smells of sizzling roast pork. The day had been a good one. Conversation bubbled out around the farmyard , log fires burned, musicians in traditional dress played well in to the evening and a clear sky promised an even better day for tomorrow.

Day 3

At last the sun shone to show off the best of the Bavarian countryside. The cold nights were bringing out the best in the autumn colours on the trees. The show specialty was the final event of the weekend. Held outdoors, which I always think shows chessies to their best advantage. Many of the dogs I had watched compete over the previous two days were also entered on this day. So it was interesting to see how their working ability might transfer to the show ring. One thing I did notice was that those dogs that showed drive, pace and a good work ethic also showed this attitude inside the ring. They may not always have had the strongest conformation but their personality showed through.

I am delighted to announce that my good friend Gerlinde won Best in Show with her boy Nico who I shared a room with for three nights!!

I had much time to think back on the weekend as I waited in Munich airport for my flight home. It was an experience I am so glad I did not miss out on. I had travelled with the faint hope that I might see something different to what I am used to seeing in this part of Europe. I met some wonderful people and dogs. What I set out to look for I think I might just have found…..