Compassion for canines is a part of Jessica Fry’s genetic code. “My parents rescued their first dog together on their honeymoon in Bali in the Seventies and flew her back to the UK where she became my Protector-in-Chief when I was born,” says Jessica.
The freelance business developer grew up in the countryside “surrounded by old or damaged or ugly dogs. My parents would adopt the ones no one wanted and they would live out their days with us in a pack of ten or so at a time.”
Little wonder then that Jessica would not think twice in risking her own life to protect her four-legged friends. In February 2017, the Monaco resident needed a change. Cornwall-born Jessica had been working for over a decade in hospitality and events for Amber Lounge, Sonia Irvine’s Formula One VIP party. “It was sort of in the blood. In the Sixties and Seventies, my father had been a racing driver alongside Jack Brabham, Stirling Moss and Jackie Stewart. And his family before him had kept a house in Cap Ferrat, and a boat in Monaco, so spending time in and around the Principality was very much a family thing.”
Then her first rescue dog, Squeaky, died. She decided to head to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands to work with her old friend Chris Smith of Coldwell Banker in their rental department. She was tasked with finding homes for the turnover of office staff from the offshore services sector.
Looking back, the dog lover recalls, “This move represented a whole new life for me. Chris collected me from the airport and the first thing we did, before I even saw my new house in Cane Garden Bay, was visit Brutus, a guard dog that needed to have an eye kept on him. The second thing I did was pop down to the Humane Society Rescue Shelter and see what they needed.”
Jessica knew all too well the animal shelter. During a previous stint in Tortola in 2004 Squeaky had eaten poisoned meat and so when she walked in again thirteen years later, the manager recognised her. He was holding a tiny Squeaky lookalike puppy who had just been found in a trash bag on the road to the incinerator. “Obviously, Strawberry came home with me and we unpacked our new life together.”
Strawberry and Jessica went about their business until early September. “We watched a tropical storm building in the Atlantic. These are a thing in the islands, but usually they veer northwards while still far out at sea and all that happens is a bit of rain. Hurricane Irma, however, refused to budge, she just got bigger and bigger. At work we made the usual hurricane preparations – boarding up the fabulous villas, clearing outside spaces, bulk buying water … and then people started to leave. The international trusts and banks sent chartered planes down from the US mandatorily evacuating their staff and families.”
With her pilot neighbour, they observed their little beach shacks and looked at the radar images. “The eye of this monster storm was already much bigger than our tiny island, and it was still on the path for a direct hit. Not really knowing what to expect, but knowing it wasn’t going to be good, and that we didn’t have much time, we piled Strawberry and her dog Moby plus whatever else we could fit into the cars and zoomed off to a friend’s holiday villa up the mountain which had a basement.” Meanwhile phones were pinging with hurricane updates, evacuation warnings and urgent messages from friends trying to leave.
Curfew was announced as they arrived at the villa in a blizzard of falling leaves and tropical flowers. Island power was deliberately cut as trees started bending sideways. “Then I remembered Brutus, knew his people would have left and I jumped back in the car. Probably one of the more stupid and best things I have ever done in my life. I bombed down dark deserted country lanes with small trees starting to snap around me, and there he was alone at the top of the drive, absolutely thrilled someone had come for him. I threw him in – all 56 kilos of panicky Ridgeback – and bombed back down the lanes with trees falling, threw him in the house and promptly forgot about him.”
On September 6th, the “most powerful hurricane on record” with 250 km/h winds struck the Caribbean Island chain. Irma would have been Category 7 had military equipment not been smashed while recording windspeed.
The largest of the British Virgin Islands was not spared. “It sat on us for 74 hours and obliterated the island,” Jessica describes. “While we were hiding in the basement, 28 people died. Not one tree remained and 90% of buildings simply disappeared Tornadoes had spiralled off the main walls of the storm and carved trails through the hills. Dead things – human and animal – lay where they had been thrown, along with vehicles, shipping containers, boats. It was carnage.”
Jessica and her pilot friend helped rescue humans from the debris and hiked bodies to the hospital. Animals started appearing. She remembered the pleading messages from friends as they’d been evacuated:
“Jess, please, please find Susie. They wouldn’t let her on the plane so I let her out of the car at the airport, please find her!”
“Jess, I left Noodle at the house with a bag of dog food. Could you please check he’s ok if you get a chance?”
She started hiking all over the island to where homes had once been. One by one, she found the dogs and bought them back to the basement. By the time the Humane Society Disaster Relief crew arrived a few weeks later, Jess had about 30 dogs.
“The crew had bought tents and planned to camp on the beach. But as the island is tectonic, the only place for cemeteries was along sea level which the storm surge had excavated. The crew came back to our basement and we set up the animal rescue control centre. I knew roughly where the dogs might be and they knew how to get them out and match them back with their owners or send them to no kill adoption shelters in the States.”
As soon as the Royal Marines cleared the airport “enough to land”, her boss got his US-based million-dollar clients to send their private jets down with emergency medical supplies and leave with animals. As Jessica remembers, “One stunning cream leather upholstered Falcon jet arrived full of hay bales for the surviving race horses.”
Within the year, Jessica returned to the Principality with her beloved Strawberry and Brutus. The self-described “absolute nut for helping to rescue dogs” now has four rescues at home. “I suppose it’s fair to say that most of us who live here in Monaco are fairly fortunate humans, and in this situation, I think it’s natural to want to give back. Dog lovers are wonderful people usually obsessed with their animals and it’s a relatively easy thing to arrange a channel for the good that they want to do.”
Which is where her charity book It’s A Dog’s Life Monaco comes in. “All dogs are unique, as are their humans. Monaco is also unique. Join these together and you have something quite fascinating. There are highly pampered handbag pooches and also real canine rags to riches stories here. I’ve met and photographed two abused and abandoned rescue dogs in the past week who only ever fly first class these days.”
It’s A Dog’s Life Monaco will be a high-end hardback coffee table book designed to support the Society of the Protection of Animals (SPA Monaco) and its new president Princess Charlene, and its launch will coincide with the opening of the new SPA animal shelter in Peille in spring 2024. “Princess Antoinette created the original SPA in Eze over forty years ago and now Princess Charlene and Prince Albert are teaching the new generation, their 8-year-old twins Jacques and Gabriella, what it is to love and rescue animals,” says Jessica.
The opening of the book will be dedicated to the Princely family’s long love of dogs, from Prince Albert I with his hunting dog on his shoulders to Grace Kelly stepping off the boat with her poodle under her arm to marry Prince Rainier. (Prince Rainier’s faithful dog followed his funeral cortege as Mourner-in-Chief.) The last page will be a collage of portraits of dogs available for adoption at the SPA with a QR code of most recent pooches looking for a home.
The book’s midsection will be made up of hundreds of photos of people and their dogs going about their daily business in Monaco. “Loving dogs transcends social barriers, and it’s a happy thing to be able to show this in action. There’s a homeless man who devotes everything he has to his beautifully looked after dog, ‘ordinary people’ like you and me, famous people, millionaires, young and old, recognised and not.”
Jessica has been coordinating photoshoots non-stop with photographers Julie Franch Guerra and her father, Charles. Charles used to work with Helmut Newton before becoming one of the official palace photographers, which he did for 20 odd years until he retired. “Julie has inherited his talent and combines that with a dynamism that comes from a career of sports and animal photography. The pair of them are absolutely brilliant,” praises Jessica.
And she has already secured several VIP dog-friendly sponsors, including Sir Stelios, the founder of easyPet, which safely drives animals between Monaco, France and the UK. “Stelios has a rescue dog himself and is a big part of making this project possible with his kind support and belief in what we’re doing. I can honestly say easyPet is a genius idea and a huge help to those of us with dogs too big to go under the seat in front.”
Addressing any confusion between It’s A Dog’s Life Monaco and the Dogs of Monaco, Jessica simply says, “The publisher asked me if I would help to create a book called Les Chiens de Monaco but, sadly, it turned out that we had very different values so it wasn’t to be.”
She wants to make clear: “It’s A Dog’s Life Monaco is a Made-in-Monaco non-for-profit project with all sales proceeds to be donated to the charity shelter for animals.
“And by participating in a photoshoot you are already benefitting the SPA by making this book possible. And for that I thank you.”
Photos courtesy of Jessica Fry. Feature photo by Charles Franch Guerra.
Article first published October 27, 2023.