Pet peeves


My dictators plot together

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.

HH sleep

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).

Leo's leftovers

Leo’s leftovers

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?



Our Frenchies fooled by trompe l’oeil

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.

French Poop bagThe 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.

So that’s my scoop on the poop. What’s yours?

Avoir du chien


Higgins and Humphrey, our third generation of French bulldogs

The French bulldog became my preferred pet just as France became my country. The first time I saw those perky ears , I thought they were funny looking. The second time I fell in love. By the time I noticed all the imperfections — panting, snoring, farting — there was no going back.

“Avoir du chien” is how the French describe someone with a certain style and elegance. Exactly why “having dog” equates to being attractive is unclear but one thing is sure: the French love their canines. From Paris to province, here is a look at the dog’s life in France.

Sidewalk art. Like so many visitors to the city of light, the first thing I did upon arriving in Paris was to put my foot into a sample of its sidewalk art. This despite the fact that French city streets have a dedicated place for dogs to do their business: le caniveau, the gutter that runs along the side of major streets and which, in Paris at least, is cleaned out daily by running water and troops of street cleaners brandishing brooms. However, most dogs’ interpretation of the caniveau is rather broad, or their aim is off, which makes navigating the city streets rather like sweeping for mines. They recently introduced laws that require you to pick up after your pet, but the French are resistant to such discipline and sidewalk art remains a fact of life. The city of Paris has a whole series of videos designed to train dog owners how to be good citizens.

La promenade. The French verb for walking the dog says it all. Promener le chien is a chance to see and be seen, while buying the daily baguette and taking moderate exercise. Nothing as undignified as jogging (the French don’t like to sweat unless sitting on a beach) but the daily constitutional keeps the bourrelet at bay. If you really want a slice of French life, go to one of its parks or squares and watch the doggies parade their owners around.

Pet friendly. Dogs are welcome most everywhere in France. In restaurants it is not uncommon to dine with one’s dog and most wait staff will cheerfully bring a bowl of water for le toutou. Contrary to customs in North America, pets are allowed in apartment buildings and hotels. However, many parks and beaches do not allow dogs or have a keep-off-the-grass policy.

Well groomed. Dog grooming salons (“salon de toilettage”) are almost as common as beauty parlors in France, where long-haired breeds like poodles and lhasa apsos are popular. Keeping them impeccably groomed is de rigueur and that requires a professional touch.

Pedigreed. The French love their pedigrees as much as they do their protocols. So to ensure order in the breeding world, a strict naming protocol was implemented by the organization responsible for pedigrees, the LOF (Livre des Origines Français). In any given year, a pedigreed pup must be given a name beginning with the same letter of the alphabet (for simplicity’s sake they deleted the k, q, w, x, y, z). Of course you are free to call your pooch whatever you please, but his papers will show the regulation name – and it is so much more chic to call one’s dog by his pedigreed moniker, n’est-ce pas? Note that 2013 is an ‘i’ year, so prepare to hear all kinds of unusual names: Igor, Ivan, Izac…

Well bred. You can tell a lot about a person from his or her choice of breed. Little old ladies tend to prefer the French poodle. Fashion hounds of all ages favor the Yorkshire terrier (“le York”) or other fluff balls that can be carried as fashion accessories. (NB. Have you ever noticed how mean those tiny terriers can be? On the other hand, if someone put a pink bow in my hair, I’d probably growl too.) People with children will often have a beagle, spaniel or some variant. And of course hunting dogs of all description are commonly kept in the country, where la chasse is widely followed in game season.  Oddly, apartment dwellers often have the biggest breeds.

What’s in a name? In a lovely example of synchronicity, the word ‘pet’ actually means fart in French. And the word ‘puppy’ pronounced the French way (“poopy”), accurately describes its primary activity. Also in French: ‘chiot’ (shit – oh!)

Why the French bulldog is, in my view, the only truly French breed. The Frenchie, as he’s known to lovers of the breed, is not quite a dog. He understands the importance of sniffing and chewing his food. He does not know that his place is under the table but insists on sitting at it with you. The Frenchie expects — and gets — attention everywhere he goes. He struts his stuff with innate style. He may not be the most beautiful – crooked teeth, big ears, a stocky shape – but he will win you with his charm. And that, mesdames et messieurs, is 100% French.