"My roommate will pick you up. He is a tall shaved head Spanish man. He doesn't speak English, but I think you will be fine."
This was the final piece of information I was given before arriving in the city of Lugano to await a pick-up to then be taken to the final destination of Arogno, Switzerland. Lot, the Spanish roommate, met me in front of the train station that evening, and my new boss could not have been more accurate with her description. He was kind to me as we tried to make exchanges before quickly realizing that our ability to communicate stopped after the basic "how are you?" dialog, but we managed some how to learn a few things about each other as we pulled together some Spanglish phrases using gestures and pictures from his phone. The drive from the city up to the village of Arogno was entertaining to say the least, and after winding up the narrow roads we arrived at my new home on the top of the hill, the Doggy Days hotel.
Greeted at the house by Carla, the owner, and her gang of canine's I was welcomed quickly and shown to my room where I chose my bed by the window with the view of the village and the mountains surrounding. I was introduced to her two live-in employees, Alvaro and Marcela. Marcela, is from Argentina originally, but spent many years in Spain before coming to Switzerland, and lucky for me her English is very good. She speaks softly with an extreme kindness, as she is always checking in with me to see if I am comfortable and taken care of. She is often shooing me away from assisting her with household tasks as her work ethic won't allow her to sit still and let anyone help her. Alvaro is quiet at first and I learned later that is because his English is limited, but with his attempts to communicate with me I learn quickly that he is a bit sarcastic and has a dry sense of humor that assures me that we are going to have some fun together over the next few weeks. My first night was spent at the dinner table enjoying a delicious meal cooked by Marcela, and shared with her, Lot and Alvaro. As the chatter flew back and forth across the table in Spanish I sat there thinking to myself how much I wished I had payed more attention in my high school Spanish courses. Marcela translated the relevant information to me, but any conversation we had left Lot and Alvaro behind.
Carla welcomes new helpers by explaining some of the general rules and things to know about Doggy Days, and also about how to live in the house with the others, including the five dogs of her own. With each of the dogs being a rescue, "they all have issues" she put it bluntly. I was told to give the two street dogs rescued from Romania, Viola and Betty, a chance to warm up to me since they have been known to bite new helpers within the first couple days. They act like sisters even though they aren't, deciding as a unit if you are worthy of their affection. The tiniest of the crew, Bocio, jumps and barks and jumps and barks as he makes sure you know he is there and that he is obviously not a afraid of you (except when he is). Moca, another small dog, that is mostly blind and partially deaf, knows the in's and out's of the house better than even the people living in it and is clearly the leader of the pack since no one messes with her. And finally, the sweet mellow golden named Abby, that doesn't bother anyone until there is food being dished out, then she wants in.
The day's work is long but enjoyable, spent with the dogs of all breeds and sizes, each having such an individual personality. The groups change daily as new dogs arrive and others return to their homes, and the dynamic can alter in one afternoon depending on who is present. The work hours are spent hanging out with the dogs by walking, feeding, playing, and cleaning up after them, and generally keeping them as happy as we can. I've been told that the first week will be calm and allow for me to become adjusted with the routine before the chaos of the school holidays begins and the hotel occupancy triples.
My love for dogs has always been strong, but I underestimated how much I would enjoy having this many furry friends around at one time. They are constantly interested in you, and watching them all together is absolutely wonderful and of course extremely entertaining. The greatest part about these four legged friends is their unconditional love of you. After scolding them to be quiet, or breaking up a quarrel and having to yell sharply to be heard I am certain that they will hate me forever for being cross with them, but it is simply only a matter of minutes before they come trotting back to me looking for more love and affection, as if nothing ever happened. Crawling all over me, trying to gain the best piece of my lap and the most affection from me as possible, there are sometimes three or four small ones on me while the large dogs lean up next to me, looking back as if to say "well, why aren't you petting me yet?" and I wish for extra hands because how can you say no to those faces? Basically, this is a dog lovers dream place.