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It was a ‘hmm’ I recognised, a ‘hmm’ that signified that judgement had been suspended and, unless I wanted to suffer a similar fate, I’d better hope the vet comes up with some conciliatory words. Preferably along the lines of, ‘pyroplasm is no longer a problem.’

I dragged Gypsy along the tiled floor into the surgery - it’s a wise vet who keeps his floor well greased - and Shelagh followed behind clutching her tick leaflet.

The vet was a small grey-haired man with a white coat and a ready smile. And a profound love of animals. We talked for a while about Gypsy's pedigree. At least, we tried. Even though his ‘little of English’ turned out to be a good deal greater than our peu de Français, we couldn't quite explain what a lurcher was. In hindsight, we should have passed her off as a greyhound. We were all happy with greyhound - it's the same word in English and French. But we made the mistake of striving for accuracy and explaining how Gypsy was a deerhound greyhound cross. I toyed with the idea about adding my suspicion that she was also part crocodile but thought better of it - we were having enough trouble trying to find the French for deerhound.

We tried lévrier de cerf, a chimera of our own invention; lévrier being the name of a Gypsy lookalike we'd seen on a poster on the waiting room wall and cerf being French for stag.

The vet stared at us blankly. Lévrier de cerf?

We tried a different approach. Lurchers were hunting dogs. Chien de chasse? Hunting for the pot? The traditional dog of the Gypsies?

The vet shook his head.

Shelagh was about to give up but I was a person who knew the French for Gypsy - I’d looked it up in case anyone ever asked what Gypsy's name meant. Here was my first opportunity to use it.

Unfortunately Gitane is probably more famous as a brand of cigarette than as French for Gypsy. And my attempted explanation that she was le chien de chasse pour les Gitanes, probably gave the impression that the English countryside was awash with dogs specially bred to hunt cigarettes.

A little French is a dangerous thing.

The vaccination over, Shelagh turned the conversation quickly towards pyroplasm. Yes, it was a problem, he told us, but there was a vaccination. Unfortunately, Gypsy was too young. We'd have to bring her back in May when she'd be old enough. In the meantime we could spray her, there was a produit that you could apply every month that gave some protection.

And we'd have to spray Rhiannon, horses could catch it as well.

Leaving the surgery, we didn't know what to think. Was pyroplasm such a killer? And yet dogs were so common, most farms seemed to have at least four. Did they spray them regularly? Were they vaccinated? We greatly doubted it. But to read the literature you couldn't imagine a stray dog surviving in the wild for more than a few months.

We decided to investigate further.

Over the next few weeks, we introduced pyroplasm casually into every conversation, hoping to hear comforting words like - it's not a serious problem, you can spray if you like but we never have.

Instead we heard about dead pets and dogs saved from death by last minute ministrations from the vet.

We couldn't find a dog owner who hadn't had first hand experience.

Shelagh's first, second and third thoughts were to leave for England immediately. She'd had enough. If she'd known that she was endangering her animals by moving to France she'd never have come.

That gradually gave way to a ban on Gypsy's walks into long grass, woods or any other suspected tick haunt. And the pyroplasm leaflet became bedtime reading - ideal material to keep you awake while awaiting an imminent cat fight.

In early April, the worst happened. Presumably, having survived the cat fighting season, we were due for our next test. And what a test it was. Gypsy wouldn't eat her dinner, wasn't interested in biting my leg and decided to spend the day crashed out on her beanbag.

Out came the thermometer. And then in went the thermometer. Even that didn't seem to bring Gypsy out of her lethargy.

It was over 40° C, way above normal. And her eyes and gums were pale and anaemic - Shelagh knew all the symptoms of pyroplasm off by heart by that time.

She called the vet and made the appointment before thinking the next stage through. How were we going to get to the vet? In early April we were still waiting for the papers to come through for our car, to drive it would be illegal.

But there are laws and there are laws. And untaxed driving was not one recognised by the provisional council of the Kennel Club when an animal's life was in danger. And I greatly suspected that murdering one's husband if he objected was viewed as justifiable homicide - if not obligatory.

I drove into town, trying to exude a law-abiding aura while deep down feeling like an axe-murderer with a boot-load of severed heads. Every car on the road screamed - unmarked police car - every person - detective on stakeout!

Once in Aurignac, I thought I'd find an unobtrusive parking slot - maybe sandwiched in between two large lorries or buried in someone's back garden beneath a pile of leaves.