PARIS DAYS : Pampered pets rewrite rules on a dog's life
One of the country’s most respected commentators on Russia, the EU and the US, Mary Dejevsky has worked as a foreign correspondent all over the world, including Washington, Paris and Moscow. A former diplomatic editor and chief leader writer at The Independent, she now writes a weekly column and makes regular contributions to UK and international radio and television. She is a member of the international foreign affairs think-tank, Chatham House, the Valdai Group of international Russia specialists and the Franco-British Council. She also sits on the advisory board of the School of Slavonic and East European Studies at University College London.
Monday 18 March 1996
Parisians do not resemble their dogs so much as choose them to be an extension of themselves, an image accessory to be seen and taken everywhere. And when I say everywhere, we are not just talking food shops, carpet showrooms and other such places where they would not be welcome in Britain, but serious restaurants, and the Metro.
For despite a highly official notice in every carriage, quoting chapter and verse of the Paris by-law that denies access to animals and beggars, both are readily carried - and the animals are greeted like small heroes, with much fussing and smiling.
It has to be said that the bylaw allows exceptions where animals are concerned. Domestic pets, it says, may travel if they are "very small" and "carried in a bag or basket that can be closed". Experience suggests, however, that "very small" is a concept of considerable elasticity, and that a bag or basket is not quite as obligatory as the law implies.
Access, though, is not what sets the Paris dog apart so much as grooming. From miniature poodle to collie, they look to a dog as though they have just come from a particularly rigorous session of wash-and-blow-drying at the hairdresser's - promenading like showdogs and basking in the friendly and admiring glances they attract from two-legged passers-by.
This aura of fondness that surrounds French dogs suggests that the defendants in a case due to come to court shortly will attract particular sympathy. A shoe company is trying to dismiss the manager of one of its shops - for having his dog on the premises in violation of the contract. The manager says it was necessary to take the dog to work because neighbours complained about it howling.
Soon afterwards, however, an inspector on a routine visit chanced upon the animal. "We didn't let him into the shop area at all," said the manager. "He stayed in the office." But this was not good enough for the company which instituted proceedings. If the shoe company wins, many other shopkeepers will fear for their licences.
Cats are not as visible in Paris as in London, but appearances are deceptive. Of Europeans, only Belgians keep more cats than the French (one in four households keeps a cat, one in three has a dog). The chic cats of Paris, unlike the chic dogs, however, seem to be kept off the streets. Perhaps it is so that they don't come into contact with the sort of skinny felines that roam the higher reaches of Montmartre.
There are plenty of cats out there though, and a pretty sophisticated market they comprise, if the legion of cat-directed advertising is anything to go by. A recent arrival on the Paris hoardings shows a large white Persian with suitably supercilious expression, looking critically at a can of catfood. The caption reads: "Twenty-nine flavours? Why aren't there 30?"
And a postscript. A few weeks ago, I bought an umbrella with a handle in the shape of a duck's head in the hope that this would encourage me not to lose it. Alas, at the end of a morning which began with a blizzard and ended in bright sunshine, I left it on a bus. A week later, at the public transport lost property office, I filled in a retrieval slip on the off-chance the umbrella had been handed in.
The girl at the counter sounded optimistic. A few minutes later the depository sent up an umbrella. But it wasn't mine: the right colour, but no duck. The girl was furious and told the lad who brought it: "I told you, it has to have a duck. Don't worry too much about the number, bring back one with a duck."
Another few minutes, and my umbrella appeared. So it was worth getting a duck-headed one after all. Even if I don't look after it properly, the honorary animal status of ducks guarantees that the French will.
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