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The Little Frenchman

He came to me unexpectedly at a time when I already lived with two dogs in a development that allowed only two dogs. In her capacity as the Broward County Animal Control veterinaray technician who had to euthanize those too weak for adoption, my neighbor would bring home borderline cases . She would nurse them back to adoptable health and in the late afternoons would sit on her front lawn with anywhere from two to five kittens or puppies, hoping passersby would stop, fall in love, and bring one home. This was the case when I came home from work one spring 1998 afternoon. I looked down the street (she lived about ten houses away) for her usual menagerie romping around her German Shepherds but this time, it was different. Bat ears and a squat body cast a spell that levitated me.

"Whatcha got there?"I yelled. "Boston?" Her reply changed my life for the next ten years.


I mystically flew to her front yard .
A Frenchie!

"Look at his chest. This is no Boston Terrier!," she said. He was a wide, barrel-chested "fully hooded pied" boy with abnormally bulging eyes, a hint of a tail and a tush that wagged his whole body.

"He's got heartworm," she said. " He just had a treatment."

My whole adult life I'd wanted a French bulldog but couldn't quite afford the breders' $1500 =-plus asking price. . "Take him home," Trish requested.

"I can't," I said. "I already have two."

"Take him for an hour. Look at me. I've got 8 here . Try him for an hour."

I stared at her,. saying "no, no, no" even as I picked up the dog and carried him home. I tried him for an hour. We watched t.v., he drank some water, he coughed a lot, he peed. He seemed to like the house though he never drfited far from my side.

After an hour, Trish said, "Keep him overnight."
I said. "I can't have three dogs."

"Just overnight."

OK, just overnight.

He found his place at the foot of the bed. Gracie the schnauzer ignored him completely but let me know she didn't particularly enjoy sleepovers (what? he's staying?????) , and Seamus, my Irish Water Spaniel, polished his macho armor and every hour on the hour from midnight to 7 a.m. jostled me and hung his head over the bed right above where the Frenchie slept, growling menacingly, baring glow in the dark teeth just to let him know who was boss. It was tear-jerking to watch that poor little orphan, so lonely and sick, be so humiliated.

The next day, Trish begged me to keep him "just a bit longer. " She didn't have to. By morning, I wasn't giving him back to Animal Control. I'd find something better for him. The truth is, by 8 p.m. the night before he had already dug a well in my heart.

But the prospect of the condo commandos raiding my home and confiscating my extra dog terrified me. I thought of placing him with my parents who had just lost their Boston Terrier to cancer. They didn't want him. I asked my brothers and a few other people who didn't want him. Then I contacted the French Bulldog Rescue Network, which runs an "underground railroad" by which volunteer rescuers pick up the dog and drive them to the next rescuer and the next location until the dog reaches its foster home in preparation for a future permanent adoption. I arranged for a man in the Keys to pick him up on Monday and drive him to Orlando, where someone else would take him and drive him out of state, and so on , and so on.

Just try him for an hour. By Saturday I had decided he would not leave my home at all and cancelled the plan. We sat in the kitchen where I fed him snausages and tried every name I remembered from junior high school French class (Jaques? Philippe? Jean-Claude?) He stared at me blankly until I said, "Frenchie," and his bat ears twitched, so Frenchie he became. I also called him "Little One," which he seemed to adore.

He and Seamus grew into the best of friends, mismatched bookends at my heels whenever I left the room, both of them sleeping alongside me, both of them sharing my affection without incident; however even years later Frenchie moved in deference to Seamus, never entering a room that Seamus was in unless I assured him, "You're safe" and physically escorted him in. That first night of Seamus's beastly threats stayed with him for life. Gracie ignored him for weeks until the day Frenchie attempted to play with her in that half-down sprinting position and she realized how much more fun it would be to rumble and tumble with a dog her own size. From that day on she left a heartbroken Seamus without a playmate.

When Seamus became ill, about a year and a half before he died, I contacted another animal communicator through the Distant Healing Network for Pets, a free service for whom I also work. She was someone I didn't know who responded to my inquiry from England or Australia. She told me Seamus wasn't ready to leave us, but he had one major concern and request when that time came: "take care of the little one."

So I did. For ten years, as he became crippled, incontinent, immobile, as his dignity faded, as he couldn't get up, as he couldn't sit down. For the last two years he and Gracie were my major focus. When I realized he didn't have much time left, I asked him what he wanted more than anything else and he told me he wanted free run of the house. He wanted to greet me at the door when I came home instead of waiting for me to run into the family room and open his crate. Of course I honored his wish. The very next day when I came home from work, the little Frenchman, even with his crippled and crossed rear legs, was first dog at the door, doing his twirly dance and jumping...and so it remained that way for the next eight months or so.

Every day when I came home I had to mop the floor, clean the sofa, sometimes clean Frenchie himself. When Gracie died, he didn't seem upset but grew quiet. He followed her exit about two months later. It was a Sunday and he collapsed when one rear leg could no longer support him. He couldn't even find a comfortable way to sit.

He is the one dog I have not mourned, that I have not until now allowed myself to mourn, because the pain is too great when I even think of reaching in and acknowledging it. He was pure sweetness and without any doubt a gift from the universe that just ended up in my lap (which is where he was most of the time). Sure, we struggled with 9 years of copraphagia and almost as many of incontinence. Sure, lots of people said "EWWWWW" when his scent reached them before he did. But to me, snoring and snorting in my ear every night, he was a sacred luulabye.

So I am trying hard to avoid mourning and instead celebrating my ten years with a remarkably loving companion who survived cancer, severe heartworm infestation, the wrath of Seamus, and the piercing and sneaky peckings of my mischievous macaw, and who remained unrattled and quiet through his end. He is the only dog I could not pull myself away from. After he died I remained with him and held his body for a long time, sobbing. And even though I did have to let go, I still cannot release that image: his eyes closed, his thick little bulldog body so, so still, his tongue, hanging from his mouth, amost frozen on the exam table.

Frenchie, for the many blessings I received from you and for what you have given me, I wish so many more blessings to you.


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