The Italian estate agent was very specific: ‘If you buy the house, you have to have the dog.’
Louise Badger and Lawrence Kershaw were gobsmacked when they learned that the dog with the scruffy coat and floppy ears sitting at the gate of the villa Poggiolino was a ‘non-negotiable’ part of the purchase.
The couple had spent eight years dreaming about a home in Tuscany and the dilapidated and dirty ‘cross between a Swiss chalet and a Californian bungalow’ near the ancient city of Lucca was certainly not part of the idyll... but one look at Todo’s ‘huge, enchanting smile’ and the deal was sealed.
There are shaggy dog stories, and then there are dog tales that make you go ‘aaah.’ And Todo is just the sort of canine that no one can resist, least of all the husband and wife team from London whose love affair with the Italian way of life and a big-hearted dog inspired this moving memoir.
With Todo as their faithful companion, the couple began to restore Poggiolino, unlocking the house’s secrets and giving Todo, their newly acquired and beloved dog, a second chance at life.
Their strange and quirky home, perched halfway up a Tuscan hillside, had seen better days but it still resonated with the presence of its previous owner, an elderly American woman who had died two years earlier.
Since that time, her dog Todo had lived there alone. He was fed twice a day by the former housekeeper Signora Teresa but the dog refused to leave despite frequent attempts to move him. His lonely vigil had not crushed or cowed him, however, because he seemed to know the house was just waiting for the right people to buy it.
And so began three years of incredible challenges for Badger and Kershaw who had to renovate their new home, relocate their music agency business and set about learning how to live the Italian way.
Along the way they discovered how to cope with the endless frustrations of rules, regulations and officialdom, building nightmares, cultural differences and language mix-ups. Throughout all these teething problems, they were helped by the ever faithful Todo who brought out the best in people, whatever their nationality.
As the stunning landscape, glorious food, fine wines and devoted Todo started to soothe troubled breasts, Badger and Kershaw also found the meaning of true friendship, loyalty and resilience.
This is not just the story of a couple’s move to a new home and a new country; it is a warm, affectionate and inspirational account of an extraordinary dog who broke down cultural barriers and became the key to happiness.
(Hodder & Stoughton, hardback, £16.99)