An American Chien In Paris

An American Chien In Paris

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It was our first appointment with the French vet. He eyed our little
puppy with a discerning look, paused, and then told her to hop up on
the scales.  As the numbers flashed up on the screen, his
assistant silently raised one eyebrow and I felt like I was being
judged harshly. We looked at the scale, trying to calculate kilograms
into pounds but I could only see that it was more than what I had just
weighed in at with my doctor. The vet contorted his face into an
expression that only French people seem to be able to make and
officially declared her to be a “fat Americain”. Feeling very defensive
I said the first thing that popped into my head “she’s not fat, she’s
just big boned.”

It’s not like she was the only big boned
chien in France! You don’t have to be here long to see those emaciated
French men and women passing food under the table to their chubby
puppies. I finally figured out why so many of the dogs here are trained
off-leash. They’re not following their owners. They’re following the
baguettes their owners are carrying. At our local patisserie there’s a
giant shop dog that sleeps lazily outside in the warm sun. The long
lines form around the snoring beast and he is completely oblivious of
the people and dogs surrounding him.  When the warm baguettes come
out of the oven he awakens from his slumber, stretches, gets a warm
treat and then collapses in the sun again, exhausted.  He is old
and gray and looks like he’s been waiting for baguettes to come out of
the oven since he was a puppy.

We were in a Paris
restaurant once and noticed a “restaurant dog” sound asleep in the
corner. The restaurant was full and very animated. Noises were coming
from the kitchen, and he was just sleeping like a baby… that is until
someone dropped their plate. Like firemen hearing the alarm, he was up
and in action. Clearly, this wasn’t merely a pet, this was a restaurant
employee with a duty to perform; keep that floor entirely free of
crumbs and spilled food. They probably don’t even own a vacuum cleaner.
He was under the table, had the mess “under control” and was back to
his sleeping spot before you could say “good dog”.

We don’t
take our dog to restaurants because we rarely see other dogs sitting
with their heads on the table or crying like they’ve been seriously
wounded when they want a bite, or dogs who run to the kitchen and howl
like they’re rounding up the wolf pack when dinner is ready.  When
I see those perfectly trained French dogs sitting outside the grocery
store, waiting for their master to return, I think they must be
medicated. My dog would be running through the aisles, gobbling up the

Where did I go wrong?

It’s not like
she hasn’t had the best of trainers. We wanted her to be ready for
Paris so a trainer came to our house in the states 5 days a week for
over 2 months. I called him the “Dog Whisperer” because she was in love
with him and would do anything requested. He trained our local police
dogs and declared her ready to join the force. The “Dog Whisperer”
seemed to think I was the one that needed boot camp and did not think
it was “appropriate” for me to give her commands with the word “please”
before them.  

He said she rivaled his best dog
and tried to get me to sell her to him. He had her off leash, pulling
my wheelchair, sitting at every curb, doing tricks, and staring at him
with adoration, waiting for his next command. When he would leave,
taking his pockets of hot dogs with him I was back to a rebellious
teenager that not only ignored my requests, but also appeared to roll
her eyes when doing so.  

If she had joined the
force she’d be one of those big bellied cops eating the Grand Slam
breakfast at Denny’s or getting free Crispy Creme donuts when taking a
break from fighting crime.  She also could have used her natural
instincts to drag criminals down to the ground, something she does to
me on a regular basis, despite my “please don’t drag mommy to the
ground”.  She would have really loved the force!

of joining the force she came to Paris and a whole new world opened up
to her. The first time we went to buy dog food we looked at the choices
and thought she would especially enjoy the brand with pasta and tiny
vegetables… only in France. Enjoy it she did! However, once her vet
declared her to be a “fat Americain” we brought home a bag of reduced
fat adult dog food. She turned her nose up to it and didn’t seem

Instead she turned to “trash diving” and would dig
corncobs out of the trash because she was so hungry. I started making
her an extra bowl of grilled vegetables, which seemed to help her
hunger pains but I didn’t understand why she continued to gain weight.
Finally I realized her diet was being “supplemented”. My best guess is
that the phrase “It takes a village to raise a child” was translated
incorrectly here in Paris to “It takes a village to feed a dog”. We
live in a home and the fence surrounds the front and back of the house.
She’s an indoor dog but took up an unusual interest in nature after
moving here and she would sit for hours in the front yard, in the
underbrush, waiting for action on the street below.

seemed to have appointed herself as the American Canine Ambassador to
France. She has furry friends that come by regularly. Some of them are
absolute hoodlums that run the streets all day, looking for trouble.
There’s a cocker spaniel across the street that’s really her best
friend and frankly, he is nothing but a troublemaker. I’m not sure if
his name is Biscuit or if his owner just calls “biscuit” over and over
again to lure him inside, but when Biscuit sounds the alarm she goes
running into position.

After a few weeks of
wondering what could be so interesting outside, I was watching one
morning and noticed many of the people walking by our house would stop
and pass little treats through the fence to her. If it’s a woman she
lets them pet her through the fence and blesses them with her cutest
expressions. If it’s a man she growls, howls and barks. I was curious
why I would hear brief intermissions between the growling and howling.
I peeked outside and saw that she would stop long enough to allow a man
put a treat through the fence. She’d grab it, eat it and then go back
to being a guard dog.  I was grilling this dog vegetables every
day!  This was not a hungry dog. This was a dog doing a “dramatic
interpretation” of a hungry dog!

We put a sign on the
fence “Chien Merchant Et Perspicace”. This did not deter the feeding.
Not only was she still sitting in wait for treats, she was learning
French! I was watching her following commands before getting treats. I
was disgusted.  I would have gone and said something, but I was
not learning French at the same pace as my dog. These people did not
seem the least bit concerned with canine obesity.

mailman walks up the street pulling a trolley filled with mail, his
cigarette hanging from his mouth and his dog running ahead, going from
house to house to alert his friends. I’ve actually seen this man take a
water gun and squirt it at my dog through the fence if she barks. When
she behaves he hands her a treat.  This is the same man that takes
my packages and without even slowing down he just tosses them over the
tall fence.  I sneeze when I open my mail because it reeks of

She’s accepting treats from him!  Instead of a
sign saying Chien Merchant I need a sign that says Ne Donnez Pas de
Nourriture à l’Ours S’il Vous Plait!—Don’t feed the Bear!

recently learned she’ll be giving up her ambassador position and moving
back to the States and taking up her old position in charge of Homeland
Security. Her primary duties will once again include keeping the
backyard “squirrel free” and alerting me of any boats passing by on the
bayou.  Prior to moving to Paris she was very busy watching for
“pirates”.   There will be no fence around the front of the
house, no canine companions running the streets and barking for her to
come outside, no warm baguettes, no one feeding her through the fence,
no one oohing and ahhing over the grande chien in Français. She won’t
even be welcome into our local shops or restaurants.   I’m
very concerned about canine depression but understand veterinarians are
now prescribing Prozac in the States. And I bet as he writes the
prescription, he won’t call her a fat American!