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Dog owners come in as many varieties as our trusty canine friends. No-nonsense dog owners keep their dependable dogs for hunting and sport. Some keep their status-symbol show dogs bubble-wrapped. Demonstrative dog lovers treat their pets to the best accessories, special diets and doggy daycare. Others keep a tumble-bumble menagerie of mutts. Our faithful friends are found on farms, in forest cabins or five-story walk-ups.
In Paris, canines have always held a special place in people’s hearts. Today the city continues to have a high number of dogs per capita. Here’s a rundown of historical Parisian celebrities of arts and letters, and their four-legged companions – plus some other fur and feathers.
The celebrated writer Colette was an aesthete of the natural world and a devotée of dogs. On her first day at her village school, she took with her two tamed swallows nestled in her pocket and the family dog Toutouque, a piglet-like bulldog who hovered over Colette like a nanny.
Colette learned her love of nature from her mother, Sido. As a child Colette remembered her mother taking the hound Moffino to church with her, despite the priest’s objections. Sido’s door was always open to strays.
When Colette’s impresario husband Willy forced his young bride into the role of ghostwriter, her cat, Kiki-la-Doucette and her dog, Toby-Chien, were there to cheer her through her loneliness. With a face like a squashed toad, the little black bulldog started a long line of dogs inhabiting Colette’s adulthood. The writer said, “I am not exactly sure what it is about him – his lovely dark velvety face, his white napkin of fur, his ears that go in different directions, or that soft nuzzling little snout. Toby-Chien figures in a number of Colette’s books and is the lead character in “Dialogues de Bêtes.”
Toby-Chien and Colette were rarely apart; she took Toby and Kiki-La-Doucette with her when she traveled. Later when Colette was living on her own, and she and Willy were tussling over joint custody of Toby-Chien, she acquired another French bulldog, a female called Poucette, and Belgian sheep-dog called Belle-Aude. After living with a toxic boar of a husband for 13 years, Colette preferred the company of female animals from here-on-in. Colette’s friend, the writer Natalie Clifford Barney, said that Colette’s animals represented her bodily and in spirit.
Bagheera and Ricotte were a dog and a squirrel that she and second husband Henry de Jouvenel kept during World War One. She smuggled them to the Front where Henry was stationed.
Colette and third husband Maurice Goudeket acquired Souci, a brindle bulldog, during their time at Saint-Tropez. She also picked up Pati-Pati, a petit-brabançon, another pug-like dog who dreamt of running in her sleep. Colette was also a devotée of the Beauceron, an Alsatian-like shepherd. She gave the breed its nickname, “the country gentleman.” At La Treille-Muscat in Saint-Tropez, no fewer than 10 cats surrounded Colette.
In 1939 both Colette’s most beloved cat and dog died. She was so affected that for the rest of her life she didn’t keep a pet.
Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas
Purchased as a puppy at the 1929 Paris dog show, people commented on Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas’s white poodle, saying he looked like a sheep. Alice had wanted a white poodle for years and had the strange fancy that her poodle should carry a basket of flowers in his mouth. He was preordained as Basket. Children called the giant poodle Monsieur Basket, or the dog in pajamas.
The avant-garde painter Francis Picabia gave the couple a rescued Chihuahua named Byron. Like his poet namesake, the small dog had a prurient interest in the female members of his own canine family. Basket was jealous of the little dog and ran away from home, to be quickly rescued and smooched by his two moms. When Byron died he was replaced by another Chihuahua named Pepe.
At their country home Gertrude Stein would walk up to 16 kilometers a day with Basket, a number she recorded on her pedometer. Alice gave Basket a beauty-bath in sulphur water everyday. He whimpered during the process, but also whimpered when his bath was late.
Basket died in 1938. Picasso advised never to get the same dog again, and to get Afghan hounds like his. Other friends suggested to replace Basket with another poodle and call him by the same name. “A dog is a dog is a dog” and the couple purchased another standard white poodle which they named Basket. Baby Basket was afraid of everything. He was a leaper who could jump as high as his hefty owner. Aside from their two Baskets, and two Chihuahuas, Stein and Toklas also had a hound called Polpe, who loved to take time to sniff the flowers.
Alexandre Dumas père’s chateau was fittingly called the Chateau de Monte-Cristo. We know from Dumas’ 1868 book, Adventures with my Pets, that the chateau was a veritable Noah’s Ark. There Dumas kept a vulture called Diogenes who lived in a tub. He had a trio of monkeys that he named after famous people they resembled. Of birds, Dumas kept a golden pheasant called Lucullus, a heron called Charles Quint, a blue and red parrot named Buvat, and a yellow and green one called Papa Everard. Then there were the roosters Caesar and Marlborough. And cats: Catinat, Catalina and Mysouff. On the day when the monkeys unlatched the aviary door, Mysouff the Second had a hearty feast of those who lived there.
But it was the Dumas dogs that ruled the roost. There was Mouton, who was hostile to his owner and most of the neighborhood. Phanor, Turc, Tambo, and Flora and last but not least Pritchard, a Scottish pointer, who ate with Dumas à la table.
Pritchard, who like his owner enjoyed company, sat by the side of the road and would bring passing dogs into his master’s house until at one time there were 13 dogs living in the chateau. Being superstitious, the gardener asked if he should turn one dog away. “No,” Dumas bellowed. “Bring in one more!”
Picasso’s home and studio were a literal menagerie of animals. There were dogs of all shapes and sizes. Kaboul and Kasbek were Afghan hounds. Jan was a boxer. There were a wide variety of cats, plus doves, a parrot, an owl and a goat called Esmerelda. Then there was Lump, a dachshund he acquired from his friend the photographer, David Douglas Duncan. Picasso once said: “Lump, he’s not a dog, he’s not a little man, he’s somebody else.”
In 1957 Duncan and Lump visited Picasso at La Californie, his home in the south of France. There was instant chemistry between Picasso and the dog. That first day he drew Lump on a ceramic plate which he signed and dated. Picasso cast his usual spell and Duncan gave the artist the characterful little dog. There was strife at home between Lump and Duncan’s Afghan Kublai-Khan, and he was resigned to let him go.
“Lump immediately decided that this would be his new home,” Mr. Duncan recalled. Lump stayed with Picasso for the next six years of his life. Lump enjoyed the run of the house. In Mr. Duncan’s photographs, the dachshund is seen at the dining table, and in one shot he stands on Picasso’s lap to eat off the artist’s plate. In another, Picasso cradles Lump in his arms like a baby. He slept on Picasso’s bed and utilized a bronze Picasso sculpture as his favorite spot to relieve himself.
Sarah Bernhardt was a celebrated melodramatic actress and also a sculptor, a side she revealed when her theater troupe had a brief appearance in London. The exhibition of Bernhardt’s works was reviewed enthusiastically in the society pages and she used the proceeds of the sale to add several exotic creatures to her already sizeable collection of animals. From her memoirs we know she originally wanted to raise money for two lion cubs on offer to her in Liverpool, but came away instead with a cheetah, a white wolf and six cross-eyed chameleons that Mr. Cross, the Liverpool animal trader, gave her as a gift. A gold chain made for her favorite, Cross-ci Cross-ça, enabled him to sit on her shoulder while attached to her buttonhole. Already in her London lodgings were three dogs, Minnicio, Bull and Fly, plus her parrot Bizibouzou and her monkey Darwin. Somewhere along the way was a Griffon named Hamlet. Pets were Sarah’s living accessories. Her tortoise, Chrysagére, had a gilded shell set with brilliant topazes and another called Zerbinette.
Bernhardt was not sensible about her animals in the least. The second of her alligators – the first died from a diet of champagne – was still in a torpor when uncrated at her summer home on Belle Île. Her tiny Manchester terrier was allowed to investigate the primordial beast and the roused reptile made mincemeat of the dog in a twinkling. Sarah had the alligator’s head mounted in her corridor where she would often point and say, “My beloved little dog… his tomb.”
Sarah, herself an exotic stray, had no business being a pet owner.
Lead photo credit : Sarah Bernhardt and her Griffon, Hamlet. © Getty Open Image