- By Susan Saiter Sullivan and N.R. Kleinfield The New York Times
The idea of bringing Pip along on our vacation to France was so we would blend in. Of course we were thinking of him, too. Pip is our dog, a runaway rat terrier we adopted from a shelter. He has leftover anxiety from his past life, and we worried that he would be stressed out in a kennel. But we admit that we had a selfish reason. We wanted to experience France more as temporary residents than obvious tourists.
The French cherish dogs. Their high, uncompromising regard for them is pretty much world legend. Dogs are a mainstay of French public life. Almost everywhere the French go, dogs go. When you leave your house, you take your wallet, your keys, your dog.
So our notion was that Pip would bestow French cred on us, inspire the French to view us almost as indigenous: a couple of locals. A dog, we figured, could offset a lot of inevitable touristy behavior on our part. (As for language skills, Susan is fluent enough to get through a French dinner party if the discussion doesn’t get too rarefied, while N. R. is still trying to recall his high school lessons.)
There was an issue. While Pip presents a sweet disposition around people (except, for some reason, anyone wearing red sneakers), he barks indiscriminately at other dogs. Lack of confidence, we’ve surmised, a small guy’s bluff. We didn’t want to lead him into restaurants and stores and start rumbles that would cause the French unnecessary emotional trauma.
Thus we prepared. We purchased a gizmo known as an anti-bark collar. Whenever he barked he would be sprayed in the face with citronella. It helped somewhat, but we felt bad when he scratched his neck in our elevator and got sprayed.
So we enrolled him in a six-session Canine Good Citizen class at the Southampton Animal Shelter in Hampton Bays, New York. Unexpectedly, the one dog he was tranquil around was a pit bull named Bundles. Great, but how many pit bulls were we likely to encounter on the Champs-Élysées? As summer wore on, Pip got better. He did not get perfect.
There was one other ticklish issue. Pronounced in French, “Pip” translates poorly, to a word vastly inappropriate for proper public discourse. It would be awkward to yell out breezily while on a congested street, “Pip. Pip. Pip.” It is not unknown for the French to call dogs names like Marceau or Quesnel or Xarles. For his time on French soil, Susan suggested Pip should just become Pierre.
Our trip was to Paris for a week, then a few days in Bordeaux, winding up back in Paris. We chose September, when vacationing Parisians would have replenished the city and be ready to greet people who fit in smoothly. Like us and Pip.
Pip strutted onto our Air France plane as if he did this every day, while we toted the canine carrier he was supposed to occupy. To ride in the cabin on Air France, a dog plus carrier must not exceed 17 pounds. Pip made it by ounces, but, then, no one weighed him. He was also required to have a microchip and rabies vaccination, plus the U.S. Department of Agriculture needed to sign off on a health certificate. The vet gave us anti-anxiety pills, but Pip nodded off at the first hum of the engines. When he awoke, we were in Paris.
At our hotel, the Regina near the Tuileries Garden, the staff was as exceedingly polite to Pip, now traveling as Pierre, as they were to us. A bed and dishes for him were already in the room.
A high number of French hotels, including the swankiest, accept dogs. Some impose a fee, as ours did, and allow only small dogs, while any size goes at others. There are hotels that furnish personalized dog tags inscribed with the hotel contact information. One offers a “team of butlers” to take pets for “a special journey.” We didn’t tell Pierre about that one.
Light seeped from the day when we went out to catch the pulse of Paris. The streets echoed with car and motorcycle engines. We stopped at a cafe and attached Pierre’s leash to a chair. He plopped down, content to watch the churn of traffic and flurry of passing humanity. Then a Yorkshire sauntered by and Pierre nearly flipped over the table. The fellow diners seemed to find that cute.
On subsequent outings, we meandered along the picturesque Seine. We admired the fountains with water sprouting from improbable places at Place de Concorde.
Pierre adapted amazingly. He was alert and curious, knowing from the different smells, sights, language and street sounds that this was a foreign country. Nothing intimidated him — except the swooshing sound of our hotel’s old-fashioned revolving doors.
It became obvious that in Paris, with a dog, you are regarded warmly as a fellow dog lover or, conversely, not noticed because it’s commonplace. A dog makes you seem local. One afternoon, in fact, we encountered a Frenchwoman walking two small dogs, and she stopped to chat thinking we lived in the neighborhood.
To make a birthday celebration memorable, we asked a French friend to call some plush restaurants to check if they minded dogs. He seemed amused that we found this necessary, but humored us. In every instance, the translated reply was, “Your dog is welcome.” One went so far as to say, “It would be our pleasure,” as if we would be doing them a big favor. We weren’t fully prepared, though, for the one we picked, the starchy kind that makes you terrified to even glance at the wrong fork, let alone allows an animal to pass beneath its gold-leaf entrance. Pierre had more composure than we did, prancing in as if he were royalty.
At a more relaxed place, where a glass of wine was a mere five euros, the waiter assured us that he enjoys serving dogs: “We bring them a bowl of water and mix in a little whiskey.”
A French issue of some concern is dog deposits. For a while, motorized pooper scoopers used to vacuum them up. That ended some years ago — cost pressures. Now you’re supposed to handle the job yourself or fines can reach hundreds of euros.
We packed plenty of plastic bags — Susan’s last Zumba class, instead of granola bars, happened to offer free dispensers full of them — and did our part. Yet it was clear that many French dog owners think otherwise, or else they don’t go to Zumba. Possibly it had to do with a French superstition that stepping in dog poop with your left foot brings good luck.
We understood that dogs can ride the Metro, but to make sure we asked a booth attendant. Uncertain, she ushered us to a giant board containing what seemed like thousands of Metro regulations. Scrolling down with her finger, she found the “les chiens, les animaux” section. Turns out if your dog fits inside a bag, he’s good to go. Bigger dogs need a child-fare ticket.
About the barking. He got better, even with so much public presence, but we had to regularly remind him and carry a tremendous amount of treats to divert him.
The good thing is, French dog owners found his behavior comical. Apparently their attitude is that it is much better to have a dog that barks a lot than to not have a dog at all.
We went out with Pierre to a perfume shop, because you have to do that in Paris. The chatty man working there, presumably seeking to bond with us, mentioned that a French friend travels back and forth to the United States with her cat. Then he began telling us an extremely elaborate story about the history of a new perfume line and we needed to get going. We stopped at a jammed clothing store, where Pierre embarrassed himself by barking at a dog that turned out to be himself in the mirror.
On another day, we drifted into a top art gallery in the Marais district. Pierre seemed as intrigued as we were by a conceptual sculpture that was basically a cluster of large rocks. Or maybe it struck him as a convenient place to lift his leg. It was definitely time to leave really fast.
One evening, we met a French friend for drinks. She found it unremarkable that we were with a dog at a bar full of business people and in-the-know Parisians. Before we had even ordered, the waiter set down a dish of water for Pierre. He was especially pleased that the waiter remembered his favorite snack to go with his drink: peanuts.
Paris doesn’t accept dogs everywhere humans go, like museums. So Pierre had to miss the Musée de l’Armée, the Musée des Arts Decoratifs and the Louvre. When we had a phone problem, he did tag along to the Apple store in the Louvre Carousel. The limber technician helping us got a kick out of an American dog named Pierre. He waved over several fellow technicians, who clustered around Pierre and fussed over him. We got spectacular service.
Though supermarkets dislike dogs thumping around, when we visited a small one for some snacks the manager said to just tie him up in the front. When we finished shopping, Pierre was cozied up to an Italian man with a florid face and getting a great neck rub.
Oddly, dogs are banned from most Paris parks. Some of the glorious ones, though, like the Tuileries and the Luxembourg Gardens, have designated sections. We noticed pickier ones that besides dogs, forbid drinking alcohol, smoking, kicking soccer balls and visiting during a thunderstorm.
Sifting for things to do one languid day, we read that on the outskirts of Paris is one of the world’s oldest pet cemeteries, Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestiques, dating to 1899. Rin Tin Tin, who, yes indeed, was French, is buried there. Thinking it over, we decided it didn’t seem like something we wanted Pierre to see.
Some say the real France lies in the more leisurely and traditional provinces, and so we went to find out. Pip slept through the two-hour, high-speed train trip to Bordeaux, the stately ancient port city southwest of Paris. What attracted us was its cultural history, which traces back not only to its conquest by Caesar Augustus, but to cave-dwellers, its reputation as a gourmet center and, of course, the wine.
It turned out Bordeaux was also brimming with dogs, about one for every four residents. It’s even home to an old French breed, the Dogue de Bordeaux, a hefty mastiff that was the drooling co-star of the Tom Hanks movie “Turner and Hooch.”
Our hotel, the Intercontinental, presented Pierre with a bed, and the town provided plentiful “Sac-O-Mat” stations for dispensing with “chien déjections.” The parks were canine, as well as human, strolling grounds.
One afternoon, we appropriately had lunch at Le Chien de Pavlov, a bistro on one of the medieval side streets. Maxime Rosselin, the convivial, bespectacled patron, stopped by our table. His docile French bulldog, Denise, was the picture of contentment perched on a sofa between the dining room and bar, where tables were higher. These satisfied those with larger dogs.
Pierre, demonstrating insufficient deference, noticed Denise and began barking. Denise simply ignored him.
“Ever any barroom scuffles? Canine, that is?” we asked.
“Never,” he said.
Actually, he added, Denise is beneficial for business. “She’s very good with our favorite customers,” he said. “One often takes Denise for a little walk.”
On a welcome sun-splashed day after a string of moist ones, we visited the impressive Miroir d’Eau reflecting pool, then crossed the Pont de Pierre, the bridge demanded by Napoleon. We read that he fell overboard while on a ship during his escape from Elba. He couldn’t swim and, sure enough, a Newfoundland saved him.
For our waning days in Paris, we stayed on the Left Bank at the Hotel Duc de Saint Simon in the St. Germain-des-Prés district. Pierre got to sample fresh neighborhoods like the Latin Quarter, with its curvy streets. Sometimes you have to draw practical limits, so we didn’t take him with us to the opera. Anyway, his toe pads were a bit scuffed from covering countless French kilometers. We rubbed Vaseline on them and let him rest.
Taking our last wistful stroll along the Rue des Peres, Pierre’s tiny-dog prance seemed all the more confident. He sniffed for discarded fragments of croque-monsieurs. People saturated him with endearing smiles, reached to pet him. Pierre had risen to the challenge and applied his training to a novel situation. We found that our bond with him tightened.
We took Pip to France so we would be accepted, and we were. At the same time, the French took Pip into their hearts. Pip took the French into his.