Five years ago, my family and I adopted a Basic Black Dog, although she is far from a fashionable accessory to our lives. She is a mutt, a crazy concotion of Dachshund, beagle perhaps, maybe some black lab. It’s anyone’s guess; a DNA report on the Pooch is likely a mile long. We simply like to categorize her as a Cold Cut-Seeking Harbor Seal-Eyed Badger Hound from Lousiana. She is a Bayou dog, supposedly born of a bitch who barely survived Hurricane Katrina. Spooked Mom lives in a shelter with a saint of a foster parent, who has given her a home where no one else would.
The Pooch now enjoys a pretty comfortable lifestyle: daily walks in Edgemont Memorial Park, an Olmsted designed pastoral wonderland of geese, squirrels and canine friends. She has a fenced-in yard in Suburbia, and three kids who slip her tasty morsels of supper between their knees, where her white goateed chin rests with just enough pressure to make her presence known. On cold nights, she finds her way to an empty third floor, where a guest room housing a queen size, pillow-topped mattress is a quiet retreat from all those table scraps and tours of the Park.
She is a welcome addition to our family, a friendly slip of a dog who whines with happiness after one of us returns from a longer than one hour absence. She performs tricks for treats, and in her younger days would even roll over, slap a high five and play dead at the sound of a verbal gunshot. (Although the tail would beat a steady rhythm on our hard wood floor, a nervous twitch of happiness I am certain expires with most “dead” dogs. She fools no one). On Friday nights, when her humans order in pizza and watch a movie, she finds herself in the center of it all, stretched out like a warm breakfast amongst a pile of children on a sectional sofa.
She isn’t perfect however. Ever since our third child arrived she has been snippy with dogs with whom she is unaquainted. She often pulls on the leash, especially around those aforementioned strange dogs. She cannot get through a meal without begging. She barks in response to the neighborhood of canines during times of agitation, incomprehensible to any human. She howls (with impressively perfect pitch) at every passing fire engine.
She’d never make it in Paris. There, le chien is a dignified, noble beast who knows how to behave in a Michelin three star resto. Leashes seem to be for puppies only, as I often would see dogs, bound and attached emotionally to their owners, trotting alongside in step to the beat of the street. No lead necessary. The dog would sit at intersections and would cross without command. I think they understood the traffic signal system.
We almost always had a canine fellow diner in the restaurants we frequented. Watiers catered to them, too; one shitzhu was hydrated with a bottle of Evian served from a silver bowl at one of L’Ateliers Joel Robuchon, en Saint-Germain-des-Près. I condescended to drink mine from a standard glass, and was rewarded with a sneer from the furry muzzle at the next table.
As well behaved and couth as the typical Parisian dog, they weren’t allowed in the parks, for the most part. They’d frequent the Metro, many boutiques and grande department stores. Yet I never once saw a dog run while living in Paris, although I have to admit I wasn’t exactly looking for one either. Most of the Parisian dog population consisted of the toy variety, toted in purses or under a marinière sleeved arm, but never wrestling with a child in the Jardin du Luxembourg. I don’t know where you’d play fetch à Paris either.
Most Parisian pups seemed to be companion dogs, taking on the persona of life partner, rather than my American version of Unconditional Lover and Playmate to Emotionally Developing Children. According to a recent New York Times article, more than half the city of lights is populated by those who live alone. According to Maps of the World, France as a whole ranks #7 in dog population: not bad for a country the size of Texas. I would venture to guess many of the more than 8 millions dogs in France keep those singles en compagnie in Paris.
Ironically, none (save one) of my Parisian friends had a dog. Most had children though; and their children, like mine, begged for one whenever given the opportunity: when that ami française would bring her delightful golden retriever to the Café Raspail Verte where we’d sometimes have a gouter and a café crème after school.
My standard reply: “If we live in a house and not an apartment when we move back to America, we’ll get a dog.”
Mom and the Pooch made good on the promise. I expected her to be the drooling American variety of pet; she would drink tap water and play fetch. She’d be too big for a tote bag and she would be a terrific source of comfort and joy to my kids. With age, however, I see a dignified air of nobility in her brown eyes, similar to those of our non-jaywalking furry French friends. She tolerates the toddler with patience and virtue, but I’d never trust her off a leash. She is no chien de Paris. She is aptly named the Pooch: a Heinz 57 Special with the overt charisma of your typical, overly-affectionate American. We wouldn’t want her any other way.
Post Script: It is not exactly customary to curb your dog in Paris, and because of the inevitable common problem that follows, it is considered good luck to step in a pile of merde, copious piles of which decorate the sidewalks. As such, instead of saying “Break a leg” to a performer in France, it is simply… Merde!
Some of the Pooch simile and metaphor, like “laid out like a warm breakfast” and “dignified, noble beast” is courtesy of John H. Adams, Jr. who along with his delightful wife, Anne M. Adams, always kept his children in good dog company. They also answer to the names Dad and Mom, Grandma and Grandpa…