One spring morning I pushed the Facebook page of the local shelter in Marc’s face. “Look, they have maremmano puppies!” I almost yelled with excitement. We had been thinking about getting a watch dog for a while and I had been roaming the web to find puppies of this breed. A stout, courageous, intelligent and independent dog, that has been bred in Italy for centuries to herd sheep.
We set out for some puppy shopping and after some deliberations we chose a 4 month old maremmano ‘meticcio’ or mixed breed with a lovely black eye patch and a mile long tail. The local shelter is home to over 300 dogs, mainly abandoned hunting dogs and unwanted litters.
We could give a home to just this one dog and prepared ourselves for filing out the unavoidable paperwork that is mythical in Italy. For a reason that we didn’t quite understand, we couldn’t take our dog home until she had been in the shelter for at least 2 months, the manager told us in a difficult to understand Umbrian dialect. He would write down our phone number and hopefully the dog would not be transferred to Terni, he added before waving any further questions away.
We drove away puzzled. Did we just adopt a dog or not? We got back in touch after two months. Over the phone it was even harder to understand the instructions. The manager kept repeating that we needed to go to Terni a city 40 km to the south to get the paperwork done at some institution at the Via Bramante. We decided to drive up to the shelter instead.
The shelter manager appeared unshaken by our appearance and jotted ‘AUSL Terni servizi sanitari animale’ down on a piece of paper and gave us some paperwork to fill out. He assured us that the dog was waiting in Terni, although we could have sworn we saw her outside in the dog pen.
We arrived in the pouring rain at an office that seemed to have escaped from a movie about a grim Sovjet era. A lady waived us over to her desk. We presented her with our form which she immediately deemed null and void. “Where is the dog?” She asked. “At the shelter”, we replied dumbfounded. “Who told you to come here first?” she wanted to know. “The shelter…” “Ah, yes, these are very simple people, they have no clue”, she decided”, which we tried to counter by telling her that the shelter looked very well-kept and that the people there seemed super busy. Anyway, there was no way we could do the paperwork like this. We first needed to get the dog.
Marc looked unyieldingly at the woman and said that we had been going through a lot of incredible vague instructions. That we had been willing to drive 80 kilometres in all to get this shelter dog that nobody else wanted and that we were or taking care of it now or that she could keep her dog. The lady sighed and started to make a phone call. In a plaintiff voice we heard her talk to what we understood was ‘the doctor’ and explained that she was very, very, very sorry to bother him with this. But these ‘stranieri’ strangers wanted to adopt a dog without understanding the procedure. Yes, they had the wrong paperwork and there was no way she could possibly ask him to look at it.
Minutes later we were in another incredible Sovjet-like office with files piling up the walls. After a few minutes a man dashed in and presented himself as the responsible veterinarian. He glanced at the paperwork and threw it in the trash can. He set out to fill in another form at his computer, printed it, put some firm stamps on it, signed it and wished us good luck with the dog. Did we already have a name for her?
I replied we didn’t and asked why we were at all in Terni to adopt a dog from Todi. “Ah yes, he said.” The dog had been found in Terni at the time, which made it the responsibility of the Terni community to give her shelter. Alas, the local Terni shelter had taken a lot of money to take care of this, but instead of helping the animals they had let the dogs die off like flies. Therefor they had been transferred to a shelter in Todi. Did we know that having taken a shelter dog, we were eligible to 6 months of free health care for the dog?” he added. His cell phone rang. “Good luck with everything. Don’t forget to pick up your dog at the shelter!” And off he went. Leaving us with just one more thing to do. Getting our baby and take her home.