February 9th, 2007


Originally published in six parts, I’ve now put them all on one page. I’ve still kept each part separate as it takes a while to read, and you may not have the time or the inclination or enough tea-bags to read it all at once. It’s a fascinating story, and an important opening chapter to what happened in the first few weeks after I arrived in Cyprus. Hope you enjoy reading it.

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'Hello beagle fans!'




Dear Mum,

On the night that I arrived in Cyprus, Steve picked me up from the airport and drove me to his villa about 20km outside Larnaca. Just as we were nearly there, we saw a rather skinny looking dog running along the side of the road. We saw it again the following night on our way home. We’d been out for some light refreshment and spotted it half way along the dirt road that leads to Steve’s place. The poor thing looked half-starved  –  well, totally starved to be honest.

We had a couple more beers on the terrace when we got home and decided that if it was still around the following day, we’d give it some food. There were plenty of tins of cat food after all. So we made a mental note that we would stick one in the car when we left to go out the following morning in case the dog was still around – a mental note which had totally disappeared by the following day!

It was quite hot that day  –  wall to wall sunshine. So, having spent a couple of hours lazing by the pool, we got in the car and left to go to Larnaca for the day. We both saw the dog at the same time, lying in the shade of a small bush by the side of the dirt track. Steve stopped the car about 20 yards away and we stared at it for a few moments. There was no sign of life. We both thought it must be dead. But just as we were wailing and gnashing our teeth, and admonishing ourselves for not doing something about it last night, it slowly lifted its head up and looked at us.

I got out of the car and approached it warily while Steve turned the car round to go back and get some cat food and some water. I say ‘warily’ because I didn’t really know what to expect. I’m very attached to my fingers, and didn’t really want them to be this starving stray’s next meal! Any digital loss would make finger-picking the guitar a tad tricky! Not to mention picking my nose! But at the first pathetic, half-hearted attempt at wagging its tail, I knew that I was a welcome visitor.

It tried to stand up and I held my hand out for it to sniff. Not only did it sniff, but it licked as well! Probably just seeing if I tasted good before biting off my fingers for a midday snack! But that was the furthest thing from it’s mind. It was quite clearly very grateful that someone had taken the trouble to drop by and say hello.

A quick inspection and years of experience at gender recognition soon established that ‘it’ was a ‘she’. And she didn’t look very old either. My guess would be about eight months to a year old  –  only just out of short trousers.

I couldn’t believe the state she was in. Skin and bones. Her ears almost totally bald. And very close to death. That much was blatantly obvious. I spoke to her and reassured her that food and drink were on their way. Hang on in there! Seriously, she was that far gone that I fully expected her to reach her expiry date before Steve got back.

He seemed to be gone for what seemed like an eternity. But he duly returned with a tin of cat food and a bottle of water  –  and nothing to put them in! Fortunately the tin was a ring-pull so I opened it and scooped out a handful and offered it to the dog in the palm of my hand (don’t try this at home!).

The first handful disappeared instantly. This was one truly ravenous bitch. God only knows when the last time she had a square meal was. The second handful disappeared just as fast. I left it at that for the moment, aware of the fact that her digestive system was probably close to shutting down. Didn’t want to give it too big a shock. I cupped my hands and Steve poured some water, but very surprisingly she wasn’t interested in drinking. Still, my hands needed a rinse!

So. We had two choices. Stick her on the barbecue, or try and save her life. The first option was out of the question really  –  not enough meat left on her! So we went for the second option. I picked her up and climbed into the back of the car with her, and we took her home…

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Steve had to leave after half an hour as he’d arranged to go and see his parents for the day, so I stayed behind to babysit. The dog still wasn’t interested in drinking any water; it was about an hour before she eventually took a few sips. I’m sure that most of her vital organs must have just about given up. But over the next few hours she gradually started drinking a bit more. I didn’t let her have too much at first; her system had to get used to the idea that it was waking up again. She must have been very dehydrated.

She was very wobbly on her legs to begin with, but after a few hours had passed, and she’d eaten and drunk a bit more, she seemed to perk up a bit, and I felt reasonably sure then that she was going to be ok. Steve came back after about six hours and he could already see a difference.

We didn’t go out that night. Both of us so soft that we didn’t have the heart to leave her on her own in a strange place, even though it’s totally enclosed and she couldn’t possibly wander off, even if she’d wanted to.

The cats were a bit wary of her. And she didn’t seem particularly well-disposed towards them either. I tried to explain the situation to them, but they weren’t listening! They were here first! To hell with a mangy dog!

She was still alive the following morning. The prognosis was looking good! And Steve and I both felt pretty good about notching up a few points on the positive side of the Karma balance sheet! I took this photo of her that morning. She’d already filled out a bit since the previous day!

'They feed me on the leftovers, but as you can see - they don't leave much!'

Those of you with dog breed recognition skills will see that she’s a short-haired German Pointer. They’re widely used in Cyprus as hunting dogs. Whether this particular one was abandoned or escaped is anyone’s guess. Dogs are very much second-class citizens in Cyprus. And she wasn’t house-trained either. That much we quickly found out! So she probably hadn’t been somebody’s pet. We needed a name for her and settled on Cleopatra. Can’t remember why! Steve came up with it  –  historical links with Cyprus, I think.

But what to do with her now? Well, there was no hurry. Clearly we’d have to find a good home for her eventually, but the first mission was to restore her to good health and full fitness again. So we told her she could stay for a while. Not that she looked like she had any intention of leaving. She’d landed on her feet! ‘Starving in the wild or all the food and water I can handle with these two fools? Tough choice! Shame about all these cats though. They’ll have to go!

And go they did! Over the next few days Cleo made them feel very unwelcome and chased them all away. Fortunately, Steve’s neighbours had just returned from Bexhill for the winter, and being cat-lovers, they took over the job of feeding them…

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Cleopatra very quickly regained her strength and started to fill out a bit. She made herself at home very easily. I’d love to know what was going through her mind at the time though. Was she just making the most of it while it lasted, expecting more misfortune to be just round the corner, or did she appreciate the stoke of luck she’d had in being taken in by two soft-hearted idiots.

We went out every day and left her to her own devices, often gone for twelve hours or more. She didn’t seem too bothered. Life in Paradise Villa was obviously infinitely better than life on the road.

We found a big old cardboard box that we used as a makeshift bed/kennel for her, and she quickly adopted it as her own.

There were a lot of flies around at the time, which she spent many hours trying to catch and eat  –  rarely succeeding. But my guess would be that they’d been part of her meagre diet while she was on the run.

Unlike most dogs though, she actually wasn’t too bothered about eating, which was a bit frustrating as we were trying to fatten her up. You could put a bowl of food on the ground for her and she’d eat it in her own time, when she was good and ready. And only as much as she wanted. She’d usually leave half of it and come back for the rest later. Also, she ate very slowly and meticulously, like a real lady. My only experience of dogs in the past is that they wolf down whatever you put in front of them in record speed! But Cleo definitely had very refined table manners.

But in spite of her reluctance to eat much, she soon put on a bit of weight, and after a week or so the protruding ribs and backbone were a lot less visible. And the hair grew back on her ears too, as you can see from this photo, taken a couple of weeks later. A much healthier looking specimen!

'What the...!'

No idea why she looks so startled. Probably mortified at having her photo taken without any make-up on!

She was very quiet though. None of the usual whines and growls that dogs make. And I only ever heard her bark a couple of times. She craved affection too. Wouldn’t leave us alone to start with. And very jealous of the cats! She hated us having anything to do with them. As I already wrote, she quickly chased them all away, and after a few days they completely stopped coming round.

Which makes the next episode even more surprising…!

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Cleopatra had taken to lying in a hedge at the back of the house during the day, behind a very low wall. We’d often find her there. It was a very strange place to hide away. We also began to notice that she’d pick up bits of food from her bowl and disappear round the back of the house with them. She’d be gone for a couple of minutes and then come back for more. We didn’t really think anything of it. Just put it down to her being a bit neurotic, and a bit odd!

But after this had been going on for a few days, I decided to followed her one morning and saw her disappear into her hole in the hedge with a bit of food. So I went and had a look in the hedge for myself to see what the big attraction was. And there were two kittens, about 10 to12 weeks old at a guess. One was almost entirely black with a few white bits. And the other was almost entirely white with a few black bits. And at that moment it was quite obvious that Cleo had been giving them her food. Nature can be a wonderfully strange thing sometimes!

Meet Mr Black & Mrs WhiteThe kittens were terrified of me, and who can blame them. No amount of smooth-talking could entice them out. I got a saucer of milk and some cat food, and placed it in the hedge for them. I came back a while later and was happy to see that they’d eaten and drank it all. But they still wouldn’t have anything to do with me. It was going to take more than a free meal to entice these two little scallywags out from the safety of the hedge where Cleo had been looking after them.

I assumed they were orphans as there was no sign of their mother. But a couple of hours later, their mother appeared in the hedge, so I fed her too. But she wouldn’t come out and talk to me either! She was pretty much half and half, black and white. And she only looked to be about a year old herself. Much too young to be having kittens. Very irresponsible. But you know what kids are like today!

Over the next few days, I left food and milk out for them, gradually moving the saucers nearer and nearer to the front of the house, until eventually they were eating on the terrace next to Cleo.

They clearly appreciated being fed. They’d always be waiting whenever we got up in the morning or returned home at the end of the day. But they certainly didn’t crave affection in the same way that Cleo did. It was hard to get near them. As soon as you approached them they’d run away. There’s gratitude for you!

The little male black kitten was probably the bravest of the three. We did manage to pick him up a few times, and he’d tolerate being stroked while he was eating. …and meet Mum!The female white kitten was a real coward though. Wouldn’t let you come anywhere near her. The mother mellowed a bit over time, but only tolerated you stroking her rather than actually seeming to enjoy it. Although I did actually catch her purring a couple of times, but I’m sure she’d deny it if asked. I guess they wanted to be fed but just didn’t want to be domesticated.

'This is a gross infringment of my privacy!'Cleo had no such problems with the kittens and their mother though. They all got along just fine. They’d really bonded. They’d play together, eat together and sleep together, the cats sharing Cleo’s cardboard box.

'Cute, aren’t we! I wish we could charge for this…'Like I said, nature can be a very strange thing! You tell me! How come Cleo chased away the first lot of cats, but welcomed the second lot with open arms? It was like something out of a Walt Disney film. A real joy to watch as it unfolded…

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There were two more rather bizarre episodes after that.

I commented one day how nice it would be if Cleo had a fellow playmate, as we were often gone for many hours at a time. Not that we were going to go out of our way to look for another stray  –  it was just a passing comment.

The following morning I was woken up by the sound of Cleo running round the villa at high speed. I got up and went outside to find her having a whale of a time alternately chasing and being chased by a very scruffy looking dog with a very low centre of gravity!

’Who are you calling scruffy? Take a look in the mirror, Pal!’I thought it was probably a terrier of some sort, but I had to look on the internet to see exactly what it was. It turns out that this particular variety is a Glen of Imaal terrier. I’d never even heard of it! Full marks plus bonus points if you got that one right. And you won’t be penalised if you thought it might be a Dandie Dinmont terrier  –  they’re very similar.

He was a very friendly little thing. Definitely not a stray though. I think he must have belonged to one of the neighbours. How he got in was a mystery at first, until I found a small hole in the wire fence along the side of the dirt track. Big enough for him or the cats to get in and out, but not big enough for Cleo to climb through  –  so I left it.

He used to visit every day after that, and they’d play together for hours. The cats didn’t seem to mind his presence either, and he got on just fine with them. He tried to bully them at first, but they gave as good as they got, so they agreed to a cease-fire and signed a peace treaty.

We commented one morning on how it seemed to be turning into a bit of an animal sanctuary and wondered what we should go for next. I said it would be nice to have a goat. No idea why I chose that particular species. I hadn’t even seen one in the two or three weeks I’d been there. It just came into my head. Two minutes later, a solitary goat came trotting along the dirt track next to the villa! We were slightly gobsmacked, as you can imagine.

We opened up the gates and in it came. It was quite big as goats go, and quite old by the look of it. Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of it. You’ll just have to take my word.

She was quite friendly. Followed us everywhere. Obviously domesticated. Which meant she must have escaped from somewhere. And she obviously couldn’t stay. She would have destroyed the olive trees one by one  –  I imagine they’re probably quite yummy to a goat! So Steve made a few phone calls and found out who owned it, or at least, he found someone who said they owned it  –  whether it was actually theirs or not is anyone’s guess  –  and they came and collected it.

So I’d mentioned a playmate for Cleo  –  and one appeared.

I’d mentioned a goat  –  and one appeared almost instantly.

So I deliberately tempted fate by mentioning an elephant  –  but failed miserably on that one.

No elephants!…

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After Steve and I moved down to Larnaca at the beginning of November, one or both of us would drive out to Anglisedes once or twice a day to feed the animals and spend a bit of time with them. It wasn’t an ideal situation, but at least Cleo had the scruffy little terrier for company  –  he was still coming round every day to play. It would only be for two or three months anyway, and then Steve would be living there once again. And the cats? Well, cats are cats and very independent. They really don’t need much looking after. Especially ones born in the wild.

So this all went along very nicely for two or three weeks, but then one day Steve caught the scruffy little terrier shagging Cleo behind the bicycle sheds, although how he managed it given the difference in their heights is beyond me! But where there’s a will…! So a trip to the vet was booked to have Cleo spayed, and to get her shots as well  –  something we’d been meaning to do for a while.

This also coincided with the dead chickens incident, although I can’t remember the exact sequence of events. But a few of one of the neighbours chickens were killed and Cleo got the blame. I knew who the real culprit was! It was the scruffy terrier. I’d seen him running round a neighbouring olive grove with a dead chicken in his mouth! And there was no way that Cleo could get off the premises to murder any chickens. It just wasn’t in her nature to do something like that anyway.

But according to Steve, these particular neighbours weren’t the sort you could reason with. We were hardly ever there and Steve expected them to just come across and shoot Cleo while we were out. And there was no way we could leave her shut indoors all day. So fearing for her safety, we decided that she should come and stay with me in the apartment in Larnaca for a few days until it all blew over. She was about to have her operation anyway.

So I went up there to collect her, and just as I was unlocking the entrance gates, who should come trotting along the dirt track to greet me but the scruffy terrier… and Cleo! So I was wrong! She could get through that hole in the fence after all! So maybe we were wrong about her not getting up to any fowl play too! Who knows! Anyway, today was the day of her operation so she’d be convalescing at my place for a while. Just have to wait and see how it all panned out.

'Hey Dawg! I've come – ah say – I’ve come to bury the hatchet! Ha, ha. Not in your pointed head, Boy. I've come to give a present!'The operation knocked her back a bit and she lost a lot of weight again. There was no way she could go back out to Anglisedes for a while anyway. Had to wait for the incision to heal before she could start fighting with that little Scruff again. And there was still the matter of a few late Foghorn Leghorns to be settled!

Coupled with that, Steve finally decided that he was going back to Hastings for Christmas and booked a flight for December 8th. His brother was coming to Cyprus from Hastings at the same time and would be using Steve’s car, so I would have no way of getting out to Anglisedes anyway, even if Cleo went back there straight away.

And just before Steve left, his father decided that Cleo’s toilet habits weren’t good for the olive trees (and I suppose all those cats are? But I didn’t say so because I daresay he’s right  –  and I think there was a bit of politics involved somewhere). It probably wasn’t helped by the fact that one of the guys harvesting the olives had knelt in some dog poo! That, at least, was something to laugh about! So all in all, the only choices were either to find her a good home, or I’d have to keep her at my apartment permanently.

Steve was leaving for the UK the following day, so we decided to delay a decision on it until he got back in three weeks time. As a long-term solution, keeping her in my apartment really didn’t come into the equation, even though she gets plenty of exercise every day. It wouldn’t be fair on her, and I knew I’d become much too attached to her if that happened. And who knows how long I’ll be here in Cyprus.

Well, that was nine weeks ago, and Steve still hasn’t returned (must be a woman behind it somewhere!). And needless to say, I’ve become way too attached to Cleopatra in that time; as she has to me. The thought of having to part with her now is not one I’m looking forward to. I’ve tried to explain it to her, but she just sits there and looks at me and I can hear her thinking, ‘You bastard!

So yet another female is going to break my heart, whether I like it or not! Such is life!

Anyway, we’ll have to wait and see what transpires when Steve returns. I haven’t totally ruled out the possibility that she might be able to return to Anglisedes. Or at least commute between the two. I’ll keep you posted.

Whatever the outcome, I’m just glad that we were able to turn this…

'Alright, alright! Enuff!''Aah! That’s better! What a superb creature I am!'




…into this…

It feels good to save a life – even if it is only a dog!


©MPB 09/February/2007
Stamp courtesy of the US Postal Service
Foghorn Leghorn courtesy of Warner Brothers


6 Responses to Cleopatra

  1. claire says:

    oh my god you’re a saint! How did you manage that? Seriously, it’s a wonderful story and it has kept me glued…more please! I’m glad to get news of you and Larnaca. Is Steve back yet? I haven’t seen him about the place. I’m going down the “smuggs” tonight so no doubt you and cleo will be the main topic of conversation!

  2. Priapus says:

    Well I’m not so sure about us being saints. ‘Reformed sinners’ is probably more appropriate!

    Still no sign of Steve. The last email I had from him said “I will be back by next weekend”. That was on January 12th!!!

  3. alfie says:

    That’s great. Really touching, like all great things in life…well, at least the ones that make sense. I have myself found a lot of relief leaving Hastings and being in the countryside, being happy doing things like having a cat and stroking her. Animals are amazing. Better than people most of the time.
    However, growing vegetables is good too. Keeps you from driving yourself mad with questions that have no answers. And making music, of course…especially drinking whisky and smoking weed at the same time. The album is coming up good, and i feel like i’m giving birth to a baby i’ve been pregnant with for 33 years…it’s f***ing* hard work but then i’ll feel better! Keep enjoying yourself, love Alfie x

    * I think he meant to say ‘very’! (ed)

  4. Priapus says:

    Ah yes… home-grown vegetables. Fantastic. Don’t know why, but they just taste so much better. And a useful by-product is the constant supply of weeds to smoke! And you’re right about animals – they can be truly amazing. You can tell them all your troubles and they never answer back with things you don’t want to hear! Good luck with the album. I look forward to hearing it.

    Oh, and you’re right about another thing – there’s nothing quite like stroking a pussy in the countryside!

  5. Oddbag says:

    You know only too well the emotional support that Pippin always was and ever is. I find myself drifting off to many, many times of real uncalled for joy expressed as only a true friend can. A gentle look, almost a laugh, a boisterous nudge need I go on NO. Enjoy her for the time you are together and dont regret her passing from your future. all will become clear in its own time. Yours with affection Bad dog

  6. dog training says:

    how to train a dog fast

    Love your site. I believe that training animals is so important.

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