I have been remiss in posting here of late. There are no excuses other than life taking up a lot of room in my head. Plus, a new computer distracting me, a work-in-progress I’m trying to finalize and a bunch of other (fairly major) things worthy of their own posts. More to come soon, juré, crâché. (That’s French for ‘I swear’…)
Plus, most importantly, November. My most-detested month is now behind us. It was mercifully short due to everything else going on. Now, December has come in with a bang in Central Switzerland as it has in much of the northern hemisphere. With a mood-boosting ton of snow. Schnee! Neige!
For us November ended on a rather astonishing event. You may remember that we moved last year from a house in France to an apartment in Switzerland. At that time we decided to downsize the pet population. I did not post much about this at the time as I wasn’t particularly proud of it. Basically, we decided to rehome our two cats as we were moving into a space with no direct access to the outside. My excuse was that they were outdoor cats and that surely we would find loving homes for two sweet, if senior, cats? The real reason was that I couldn’t face the idea of all that hair and being a full-time cat caretaker. Mea culpa.
A very kind friend who lives in a neighbouring town offered to have the cats at her place for the interim. Within weeks, we had found an adoptive family for the elder male cat and other other, a female, had run away. Guilt-racked, we posted notices all around the village, called the local animal shelters and went out looking. But as anyone who has ever known a feline will attest, cats do not come when called. And when they’ve decided to go into hiding, they cannot be found.
The winter was cold last year with a ton of snow. I sometimes pictured Bianca having graced herself into a new home, or alternatively I imagined her hanging out in a barn with a whole herd of cats. At worst I assumed she’d been hit by a car. Sometimes I dreamed about her, feeling like I’d abandoned a child. After several months, I gave up worrying. We got rid of all the cat accoutrements.
You feel it coming, right? Out of the blue last week I got a call from a German-speaking woman, who fortunately also spoke English.
“Mrs. Lewis? This is the Tierheim Allenwinden. We found your cat.”
Shock. Silence. Brain scrambles. “Which one?”
“You do have a cat?”
“Yes. I mean no. That is, I did have a cat, two in fact. The female ran away over a year ago.”
“A year? That’s amazing. When are you coming to get her?”
I went that afternoon. She was dirty and matted but in pretty good shape, all things considered. We decided somebody in the area must have been feeding her. She had been turned in by a woman who apparently found her just a block away from where she disappeared.
The vet shaved a big wide stripe down her back to remove the worst of the mats. They were amazed at how well she had survived as a feral cat all those 14 months.
She has forgiven us and we have decided she deserves to stay. How’s that for redemption?
Update January 2022: We ended up contacting the woman who had turned in Bianca to the shelter to thank her. It turned out she was the granddaughter of a 90-year-old woman who had been feeding our cat for the better part of last year. As the grandmother had to move into a nursing home, she had not wanted to just abandon Bianca. We sent her a bouquet of white roses and a photo of Bianca just before Christmas. Yesterday we heard that the grandmother sadly passed away. 💔
I am called Higgins, as we say in French. But that doesn’t mean I come when I’m called. Madame has posted about this character trait here before. I can’t say whether it’s because I’m a purebred French bulldog, un bouledogue français, or just 100% French.
About the purebred part. I suppose it’s why she fell for me. She’s had a soft spot for Frenchies ever since she first came to France way before I was born. Something about big ears and brown eyes. But beyond that, we have a special connection.
Ever since she and Monsieur came to pick me up from my breeder’s place in Toulouse, back in 2012, she has fallen under my charm. I must say I was a handsome fellow even as a young pup. Although ma petite maman didn’t seem to be too sure about giving me up so young.
I got my good looks from her, don’t you think?
Anyhow, the thing about being a French bulldog is we belong to a group called called brachycephalic breeds. It means we have a skull with a short snout. There are quite a few of us: cats, from Persian to Burmese, and dogs, from boxers to pugs, lhasa apsos, chow chows and chihuahuas. While this gives us round eyes and flat faces reminiscent of the human, it also makes it a little difficult to breathe.
All my life I snored up a storm. Snorted and reverse sneezed. It got pretty loud at night and Madame ended up putting me downstairs in the laundry room.
Also, I’m no good in the heat.
This was one long, hot summer and by the end of it I was feeling sluggish. I could hardly walk around the block without panting for hours to catch my breath.
It’s not as if I could cool down with a dip in the pool. Me and deep water don’t get along. Thing is, I sink like a stone to the bottom before I even get a chance to try and swim. Happened this very summer. Madame threw the ball and I was so intent on chasing it I fell right into the deep end. The little lady sure has a set of lungs on her! Dieu soit loué, Monsieur was home. He came running, dove right in and popped me up for air almost before I knew what hit me.
This is right where it happened.
Anyway, after all the heat this past summer they decided to take me to a specialist for BOAS surgery to help me breathe better.
As you can see I was a little nervous when we went in for our appointment, even though I made a new friend.
The vet was very nice. He trimmed a bit of my soft palate away to open up my airway. Then I got a nose job! How do you like these new nostrils?
This was taken in the car on the trip home a few weeks ago. I’ve been feeling pretty perky ever since. You could say the operation has given me a new lease on life. I’m sure giving my roommate Humphrey a run for his money. He’s a much better breather than me and pretty light on his feet despite his heart murmur.
A bit of a show off! Sorry for the pooch porn.
You see, that’s the thing with us purebreds. We’re prone to certain congenital problems thanks to all that breeding. So even if people go to a reputable breeder, we tend to be a bit of a crap-shoot healthwise.
Speaking of health, I guess I’m pretty lucky. That’s twice in one year I’ve been under the knife.
Guess it’s not only cats who have nine lives, eh?
Note from Madame:
Thanks for taking over the guest post, Higgins. You certainly are a survivor! But I must say, you boys are a lot of work. I would suggest that anyone who is thinking of adopting a French bulldog as a pet consider a rescue. There are so many sweet Frenchies out there who have been abandoned.
Mais non! If we’re talking about those balls, as a breed, most French bulldogs can’t reach theirs. Which makes for a lot less grooming (if that’s what you call it).
And if you’re talking about the other kind, also non.
We have two (Frenchies, that is). One is a ball dog and the other is not. Humphrey’s only interest in balls is the potential to fight over them. He’s a scrapper, loves a game of tug-of-war and any other opportunity for one-upmanship.
Higgins, on the other hand, is 100% French ball dog. He has a collection of balls and other toys that he likes to run after, chew, even bring on walks. When I decide enough is enough, I have to distract him in order to get him to drop the ball. Obedience training has failed. He is, after all, French. And you try unwedging a rubber ball from a determined bulldog’s jaw!
For some reason, he also likes to drop the ball in the pool and then wait for me to come and fish it out. Sometimes I don’t obey right away (hey, I’m also French), and this happens.
But sometimes, I admit to using his toys as an attention-getting device. (“You don’t want to go outside in the cold? Here, go get it!”) Frenchies are hard-headed. You use any available means to get them to follow.
The problem is that Frenchies can destroy even vet-approved toys in minutes. So when we found a brand of heavy rubber ball that he could really sink his teeth into, he was a happy boy.
“C’est trop de la balle!” he told me, using familiar French to say ‘Wow, that’s awesome!’
Last week our Higgins was under the weather. He barfed his breakfast one morning, which was not that unusual. The next day he threw up some more. I still wasn’t worried.
On more than one occasion a vet has explained to me: “Dogs are a vomitory species.” Right, because their ancestors, wolves, notoriously regurgitate their dinners to feed the young.
But when he stopped eating entirely for three days, I knew something was up. The vet confirmed it, first by palpating his gut and finding it hard. Then with an x-ray that seemed to show some strange objects lodged in his large intestine. He had an obstruction, and surgery would be needed.
I was mystified. What on earth could he have eaten?
You guessed it. Trop de la balle. On Tuesday, the vet removed a 1-inch chunk of rubber ball, along with a piece of his intestine.
And it is absolutely awesome good luck that he has so far come through the operation and is recovering well. Operating on bulldogs can be tricky due to their respiratory challenges, so we spent a sleepless night or two. And we’ll be keeping a close eye out over the next ten days for infection. But so far so good.
I went to visit him at the vet’s yesterday. He seemed a little sad at first but perked right up when I got him some new toys. Vet approved and, fingers-crossed, bulldog-proof.
By the way, if you have a dog who likes to chew, do NOT buy him toys like this! They are very dangerous if a piece breaks off and gets stuck in the gut.
Let me share with you a day in the life of our little ménagerie. The word finds its roots in ménage, which means household, so perhaps it’s normal that a collection of animals is part of ours.
I am a dog person. There is no translation for this expression in French. You can say you like dogs, or that you are ‘plus chien que chat.’ You can choose to like neither although you will not be typical of the French who love their pets and generally have one or the other.
Which is to say I am not a cat person. My daughter is a cat person. We got her a kitten for her fourth birthday. Over the years the feline population in our household expanded to two. Madeline moved away to attend university a few years ago and we kept the cats.
Bianca and Leo hanging out
The current pair (I’m tempted to say culprits but let’s keep this polite) are Bianca and Leo. Leo was foisted upon us by a former cleaner who saw a window of opportunity when we were momentarily down one. These cat people stick together. He had been rejected by his mother, she explained in a poignant tale of woe, and she’d tried to place him once already but after a week the woman had changed her mind. That person clearly was smarter harder hearted than I. Leo came to stay, although he almost got ejected after doing his business on my bed.
His younger cohort in crime is Bianca. A bit of a princess is our little girl. Or perhaps a white supremacist. In any case, she does not like to mingle with any Tom, Dick or Harry. So she hangs around the house a lot, requiring two litter boxes and frequent displays of worship.
I’m not sure what possessed me to agree to add two puppies to our ménage after the kids left home – put it down to empty-nest syndrome. Our last dog had died in tragic circumstances a few years before and we were feeling, well….outnumbered by the cats. So it really is all the cats’ fault.
My husband and I have always been suckers for dogs. Our preferred breed was chosen before we married, when we met our first French bulldog at a friend’s home in Normandy. A snorting, smelly, impertinent fellow he was – proving the breed to be well deserving of its name. We got our first Frenchie a couple of years later, then a second shortly after. Edouard and Dorothée were our first children. They taught us that, yes, we were capable of taking care of beings other than ourselves, going for walks, picking up poops. We passed our first caretaker tests with flying colors.
Sadly, the dynamic duo did not live long, whether due to problems of the breed or medical back luck. A few years (and one failed adoption of a stray) later, a third Frenchie came to stay. By then our own children were center stage (or almost, as they will tell you.) Mooqs was with us for ten years or so, until he became blind and stumbled into the swimming pool. Frenchies are not good swimmers.
H&H snore fest
Higgins and Humphrey now rule the roost. They are adorable dictators, who have me flying out of bed in the wee hours in the hopes that they will not have weed theirs. I let them out in the backyard first thing, while keeping a close eye on Higgins, who likes to search for truffles (left by the cats) while pretending to relieve himself. I also check the mat in front of the door to make sure that Leo hasn’t left one of his trophies – frequent offerings of mice and bird remains that the dogs are only too happy to devour as an apéritif.
Then it’s breakfast for the dogs while I go down to the basement and let the cats in to the laundry room where their food and litter boxes are kept. Let’s be very clear: cats are nocturnal beings and I am not. We live in the country so the cats are out at night (both are chipped and sterilized, so we are good citizens).
Should any cat people be about to protest: the cats have access to shelter in the cellar via a cat flap with a chip reader. This innovation has paid for itself in that we do not now feed half of the neighborhood cat population when we go away and leave their food out.
Then begins the daily ballet of my life as a cat and dog concierge. Imagine these scenes being played to the music ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’ from The Nutcracker.
Take the dogs for their morning walk. Stoop and scoop on as-needs basis (i.e., if on sidewalk, private property or when someone’s looking…). Return home, wipe their feet before letting them in (2 dogs X 4 legs = 8 feet). Make coffee. Leo pussyfoots by kitchen door indicating a desire to go back out. Open door, let cat out.
Take coffee upstairs to office. Remove dogs’ bed from workspace as Higgins snores so loudly I cannot hear myself think, never mind hear clients on the phone.
Bianca then comes by for a cuddle. Give her a scrub and close the door. Start in on work. Urgent mewing from downstairs. Open door and remove dead mouse from doormat. Leo comes in. Bianca goes out. Return to work. Ten minutes later, faint mewing from basement where Bianca has come in through cat flap but now wants in to the house proper. She can wait, I tell myself. Focus on work for ten more minutes.
Strange hacking and gagging sound comes from next door. Humphrey has just vomited his breakfast, along with several other unidentifiable objects. Curse, cover nose and clean it up before Higgins does. Return to work. Mewing becomes more intense. Go to basement, let one cat up as other goes out. Make another coffee. Return to work.
Flash forward to late afternoon, several door openings later. Dogs begin to circle in growing impatience as the time for their second walk gets closer. Go lie down, I order. Click click click, toenails on the floor. Grumble. Groan. Snort. Snore. Snore. Snore. Then click click click. Two pairs of feet, two wet noses. Take H & H for second walk. Clean eight feet again.
Refresh water bowl. Feed dogs. Leo circles impatiently by the stairs. Go down to basement, replenish already half-full cat food. Bianca watches from upstairs.
Evening settles in and it’s time to let dogs out for final utility run. Cats nowhere in sight. Get ready for bed and hear mewing from below stairs. Go down and let Leo out. Bianca nowhere to be seen. Come back upstairs and look for her. Check under beds, behind curtains, no cat. Settle in to bed with book. Eyes grow heavy. Begin to nod off. Plaintive cat call from basement. Go downstairs and let her out.
There are moments when I feel less like a concierge and more like a happy pet owner. When Bianca nestles in beside me and goes into ecstasy as I stroke her. When I look deep into those Frenchie eyes and see love.
The dogs sleep in the upstairs bathroom. There are several practical reasons for this. Our house is open plan and does not have many rooms with doors that close. Once I left them the run of the house and they got into their food. Came down in the morning to find two sausages about to split their casings. What followed was a purging session (both ends) that lasted 24 hours and almost made me split mine. Never again, I swore.
The French bulldog is an uppity breed with delusions of humanity. Basically it does not accept the notion that it is a dog. Therefore, any attempt to house them in inferior accommodation will result in a trashing of the premises that is simply not worth it. Also the bathroom is tiled which is easier to clean.
Finally, in one of those lovely synchronicities of translation: the word ‘pet’ means fart in French. ‘Nuff said.
How about you? Do you have any pets – or pet peeves?
Before you say, “Another post about poop?” or “Will she ever get her mind out of the gutter?” allow me to apologize. Ever since posting ‘Merde alors!’ and various tributes to all things Swiss, it seems I can’t stop talking about poop. But I swear – juré, craché – this will be the last one from the toilet bowl.
Owning two dogs, (shown opposite during a walk over the border), means that I am frequently faced with the dog poop dilemma. To scoop or not to scoop? In France, outside of cities like Paris and Lyon, there is no law or rule requiring you to do so. But rules of common courtesy apply, so stoop and scoop I do, at least when it lands on anyone’s lawn or sidewalk or anywhere that could possibly be problematic.
French bulldogs are a considerate breed who often, for dignity’s sake, drop their drawers under a hedge, deep in the bush or over the sewer grate. In which case I blithely leave the scene of the grime. But it also happens that the urge comes upon them by a manicured lawn or on a crowded street. Then I do my best to clear up the mess. Sometimes one does get caught sans sac, though, especially in France. When I make my frequent forays across the border to civilization (ie, Switzerland), I discreetly stuff a few extra poop bags in my pocket.
Recently out and about in the touristy town of Yvoire, I discovered a rarity in France: a stack of poop bags provided for the convenience of pet owners. Of which there are un certain nombre in this country, as I posted in Avoir du Chien.
Here, my friends, is everything that is wrong with this country.
The bag is an example of French innovation. Cleverly designed, costly, and utterly impractical. Both to use, and to provide. It’s made of recycled and biodegradable paper, with a heavy cardboard flap and 4-color instructions printed on one side. A stack of 10 took up all the room that was available in the distributor. I took two (for my two pups), leaving eight. How far will that go?
Furthermore, it’s not easy to scoop the poops with the cardboard – warning: we are entering the TMI zone – the compact turds my pets produce tend to roll away; the occasional semi-liquid messes would soak right through!
The good old plastic bag, placed over one’s hand like a glove to pick up les crottes, then flipped over and knotted, is far easier to use. Cheap to produce and compact to store. And it ties so neatly around the leash!
Surprisingly, it’s not easy to find the things online. I’ve tried, and inevitably get bags that are too small, prone to tearing (yuck!) and clearly not biodegradable.