Mais, qu'est-ce que c'est?
C'est un papillon, which is French for butterfly, of course. This gorgeous little dog is so-called because his ears have a flighty, wing-like silhouette, similar to that of a butterfly. Like many small dogs, the papillon is a lot of dog trapped inside a little body, and he makes a great companion. If push came to shove, he would be described as a toy spaniel, but owners will agree that he is a breed apart (but don't all dog owners claim that?).
Where does he come from?
The origins of the papillon are to be found in Belgium and France, as these toy spaniels were favourites among the royal courtiers of the 17th century. Indeed, it is rumoured that Marie Antoinette so loved her papillon that she took it with her to the guillotine. It seems likely that they were bred mainly for companionship, as their intelligent, placid nature suggests, but they are really quite adaptable. They are delicate creatures, but robust enough to enjoy long walks, though they don't appreciate too much rough and tumble (so they don't mix terribly well with small children and other large dogs).
What makes the papillon different from other small breeds?
Just their general all-round compatibility. Papillons are not only great pets, they are used extensively in therapy for the elderly and infirm, and their intelligence marks them out for use as hearing dogs for the deaf. Some have even been known to work in mountain rescue. The more I'm finding out about them, the more I want one.
How easy are they to keep?
Very easy – they are not nearly as high-maintenance as their general comportment would suggest, and they are happy to go on long walks, but equally happy curling up in front of Antiques Roadshow. (This said, all dogs need at least a half-hour's walk a day, though more is recommended, and they need comfortable bedding and shelter.) As with any dogs, certain health issues tend to affect some breeds more than others, and with these, as with most toy dogs, there is a tendency towards "patella luxation", or dodgy kneecaps. In most cases, rest and relaxation is recommended, but in extreme cases, surgery is required.
Their coats are one of the most endearing traits about them – soft to the touch, and requiring very little upkeep. For this reason, they are known as a "wash and wear" breed. Owners agree that papillons are a classic combination of pretty and well-presented, without being fussy and prone to bouts of neurosis. Must be down to centuries of careful breeding...
How to get hold of one?
You should contact an owners' club, such as the South of England Papillon Club (southpapclub.co.uk), as they will have access to registered breeders of this rare beast, as well as lots of other valuable information.
Who would buy one?
Anyone in search of a loving, faithful hound who won't take up too much space.