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But Shelagh would have none of it. We'd park as close to the vet's as we could, Gypsy was too weak to walk far.

The surgery was packed. I began to think that our half past six rendez-vous was more of an invitation to a general surgery than an appointment. The waiting room was full of sorry looking dogs. Including one that looked like a small bear - it was so big and hairy. And so ill. As were they all. I can’t remember ever being in a room full of so many quiet dogs. They were sprawled everywhere, panting, lethargic, not caring if the dog on their left was looking at them funny - no singing, no barking, no sniffing.

We waited an hour and a half - watching Gypsy all the time, looking for signs of deterioration, hoping we weren't too late.

And hoping the gendarmes weren't on traffic patrol that evening. I could feel our car standing out from all its neighbours, flashing - arrest me! - at every passing motorist. And drawing every eye to the bare patch of windscreen where the tax disc should have been.

At eight o'clock a police siren wailed in the distance and I was up and running. If I got to the car quick, I could move it into a side street. Or would that draw attention to it?

I ran outside. The siren came closer. I tried a fast nonchalant walk, my hands digging into my pockets, searching out the car keys. Was there time to move to the car or should I ignore it and walk past? Deny all knowledge of the car, Shelagh and Gypsy and sprint off home across the fields?

That sounded like a good plan.

Luckily the police car swept past before I made it to the first maize field. They weren't looking for me, I could relax.

Which was when I noticed the abundance of chairs on the pavement. They hadn't been there earlier. But now Aurignac's High Street was alive with people sitting outside their homes, chatting to each other across the street, hailing passers by, pointing out the axe murderer's getaway car with the missing tax disc...

It was an unusual sight and one which I was to become used to over the summer months. I don't know what it says about French television but it does appear to be a rural custom to sit outside your home for a couple of hours in the evening.

I still find it strange. My experience has always been that, given the choice between the front and the back garden, the English invariably choose the privacy of the back garden. And I've never seen people ignore the garden altogether and bring their furniture out onto the pavement. But here they did.

I walked back to the surgery, weaving between the chairs and exuding a law-abiding nonchalance. I’m English, we always run screaming from the vets on Thursdays - it’s a tradition.

Back inside the vet’s, we waited, the room gradually emptying as sad bundles of hair were dragged one by one into the surgery. It was gone nine before a very tired vet waved us through for our turn. It didn’t look like he’d had a break since lunch.

A diagnosis confirmed a few minutes later when a woman pushed open the surgery door and marched in. It was the vet's wife. In dressing gown and slippers.

You did not need to be fluent in French to understand the gist of her questioning. When are you coming home? Do you know what time it is? Do you realise that dinner has been ready for hours?

He did. And, honour satisfied, she left.

At least we were his last case. He'd had fifteen cases of pyroplasm that day. And expected the same tomorrow. That was on top of his usual workload.

Apparently it was the season for pyroplasm.

And Gypsy had definitely got it. He stepped back from the microscope and invited us to see for ourselves, pointing out the pear shaped blotches invading Gypsy’s red blood cells which gave pyroplasm it's name - pyro meaning pear.

But we'd caught it in time. Gypsy would survive. Two huge injections later she was being lifted down from the surgery table. But she'd have to come back in three days time, just in case.

Tick checks were intensified after that. We couldn't keep Gypsy out of the long grass entirely but at least we could check her coat when she came back. And our jeans - ticks, apparently, being quite partial to denim.

And we turned more and more towards the roads for our daily dog walks. At least tarmac was safe from ticks.

But not from dogs.

The average French farmhouse, we have found, is garrisoned by four dogs. The first of which is typically a terrier - or some other small and fiery breed - who's job it is to race outside at the first hint of an intruder and raise the alarm.

Usually they take one look at Gypsy, gauge her size, and then retreat behind the advancing second wave; who are either border collies or various hunting breeds - spaniels, setters and assorted flop-eared hounds. Their job is to hold the intruder at bay until the arrival of the ultimate deterrent - the gardien de vache - who always lumbers in last due to its enormous bulk.

And probably because it takes a while to put all its weight-training equipment away.

The gardien is always of indeterminate breed – normally a cross between a small cow and the Hound of the Baskervilles. And its job is to protect the herd - against anything from a pack of wild dogs to a couple of German panzer divisions.

We usually hasten our step at that point and look the other way. Hoping that an English couple and their dog are hardly worth bothering with.

It was coming back from one of these late morning walks one day when Shelagh noticed Rhiannon rolling in her paddock and pawing at the ground. She recognised the symptoms immediately. Colic!

It was Rhiannon’s turn to meet the vet.