By Michele Reed
Photos by Bill Reed
Le chien — the dog. There’s nothing the French like better — except for the baguette and wine, of course.
Dogs accompany their owners everywhere, including restaurants and cafes. In the U.S. you might expect a restaurateur to quickly escort a dog owner out the door, if nothing else for the health code violations a canine diner would mean. In France, they are welcomed as a part of the family. Dogs, for their part, lie quietly beside the table or under it, hoping for a bit of croissant or maybe a pomme frite (French fry).
And that’s a good thing for us, now, too. With worldwide travel upended by the pandemic, we’re not going anywhere soon, especially given Europe’s ban (at this writing) on American visitors.
So we decided to take this opportunity to welcome a new traveling companion into our adventures. Meet Benoit Bonhomme, French for Benny Goodman, or Benny, as he is known to his friends. His name also echoes the quality of bonhomie, an easy-going, friendly nature, that typifies his breed.
Benny is a Lakeland Terrier and his weight should top out at about 17 pounds, within airline guidelines. This brave, tenacious little breed is perfect for adventure. As soon as we can travel again to our home in France, Benny, whose name also means “blessing,” in French, will be part of the entourage.
On our frequent train trips in Europe, we see that dogs are welcome travelers. There are the little pocket dogs, who ride in their ladies’ purses and the bigger dogs, who hang out in the larger spaces at the end of cars. On our way to Spain one time, a young man entered the train and immediatelyspread a soft blanket between the cars for his two German Shepherd dogs. He wore outdoor gear and boots, and carried a pack with what looked like walking sticks, so since we were close to the Pyrenees, we assumed he was a hiker. He plopped down onto the blankets with his dogs and gave them constant attention — petting them, kissing noses, wiping eyes, inspecting ears and cleaning the pads of their feet. It was only when he went to get off the train, that Bill, my husband, noticed that his pack was not holding walking sticks but shovels. He was a truffle hunter and these dogs were probably his prize truffle-finders, given that the town where he boarded the train was named after a mushroom.
In our own town of Beziérs, we see the dogs riding buses, visiting stores and enjoying leisurely afternoons at the café. We frequent an arts supply store, where the owner’s golden retriever, Nala, accompanies him to work daily. One day, not seeing here in her usual post, I asked where she was, and he told me, “Le chien est en vacance. (The dog is on vacation.)” She was probably off at the beach with the rest of the family. Every day, he promptly closes the shop at 12:30 p.m. and heads to our favorite café, whereNala is welcomed inside, accepting the pats of her many admirers — and a pomme frite or two – while her boss enjoys the plat du jour. Then they head back to the art store.
It is true that dogs and baguettes are omnipresent. We saw evidence of it one day. A stray dog started bothering a child riding his bike. The father, wanting to protect his child but having nothing to use as a deterrent, brandished the baguette out of his shopping bag and the dog ran away.
No mention of the French love affair with pooches would be complete without at least one negative. In many places, people do not pooper-scoop their dog’s leavings. So a walker must be constantly vigilant to avoid stepping in a mess. The mayor of Beziers was so upset by the continuing problem, he put into effect a regulation where owners must have their dogs’ DNA registered with the city or face a fine. Then, when unscooped emissions du chien are found, they can be traced back to the lazy owner, who faces an even stiffer fine.
We’ve been doing our research and learned that dogs are welcome to travel throughout Europe and you can get a “pet passport” for them to cross borders. At this writing all that is required is a vet statement of up-to-date vaccinations and a Euro-friendly microchip.
We are hoping that the world gets back to normal soon, and Monsieur Benoit Bonhomme, aka Benny, will be at our side as we return to our French village once again.