Travel: Your holiday disaster - Susan McGrath was looking forward to a break in a rural French idyll. But then there were the dogs...

We had agreed to swap houses last year with someone in the French Alps, near Chambery. It was beautiful, the weather was kind, and our adolescent son took along his best friend for company. With 24-hour satellite on tap and a McDonald's in Chambery, the boys were no impediment to our desire for long walks and al fresco meals.

Perfection. If it hadn't been for the dogs; two maniacs in a compound, guarded by both chain link and electric fences.

We knew in advance we'd be in charge of the dogs but until we encountered them we could not have imagined the difficulties this would involve. Both were large labradors (Mother and son) but the male had some mastiff (or bulldozer) in him. They liked us well enough, judging from the paw marks down our clothes and the scratches from head to foot, but they were totally out of control. We gave up trying to be reasonable after day one. Thereafter, dressed in protective clothing, the four of us would use SAS tactics to secure the devils with chains and choke leads, clean their bedding, put out food and water, then terrify the gite occupants next door as the dogs bolted for freedom, dragging us behind them as they took us for our daily walk.

By the last day we felt we'd got them beaten as, after a two-and-a-half hour scramble in the mountains, they seemed quite docile. We were shattered and facing a long drive back the next day so looked forward to a quiet evening. The storm began as we got back from our walk, but we made sure the dogs were safe in their shed before preparing our meal. The lightning caused a power failure and soon torrential rain made everything dark and treacherous. My son was anxious about the dogs but on going to check, he found that they had escaped. The phone began to ring:

Call one: "Madame, your dogs have killed our chickens and 4 rabbits" (the farm down the road).

Call two: "Madame, your dogs are running through the road tunnel, heading for Chambery".

Call three: "Madame, your dogs are close to the motorway".

We mounted a search as it got darker. High and low, by foot and by car, we called and cursed those animals. Stumbling around in the dark, my husband slipped and fell, spraining his wrist so I was faced with all the driving, and still no dogs.

We spent a sleepless night waiting for more calls or the sound of barking, wondering if our holiday insurance covered carnage or if our solicitor son's expertise covered French law.

At eight the next morning the Mairie rang to say the dogs had been found and were in Chambery. Once we knew they were safe we rang our house, spoke to our exchange partners and firmly asked that their dogs be collected by someone else as we were leaving for England.

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