The French don’t push pets in strollers. Stares, pointing, odd expressions and sometimes even laughter followed us as we rolled our Top Paw over cobblestone walkways in Paris and Versailles, our cavalier King Charles spaniel Harper riding in stately splendor.
Harper was in a stroller because she was recuperating from heart surgery, but of course onlookers didn’t know that. They just thought we were crazy Americans with a spoiled dog.
Cultural contrasts between American and European pet owners touch all areas, including acceptance in public places, health care and even potty rules. As a traveler, especially one accompanied by a dog, it’s fascinating to experience the differences firsthand – even when someone stops to tell me that people are laughing at my dog in a stroller.
On the plus side, Harper enjoyed dining with us at Chez Michel, one of our favorite Paris restaurants. Even though I had emailed in advance to ensure that she would be welcome there, I was a little hesitant as I walked in to claim our reservation. But the hostess showed us right to our table and brought a bowl of water for Harper. To other diners, she was obviously nothing out of the ordinary; they paid her no attention. At home, when we’re seated outdoors at restaurants, passers-by can’t resist stopping to pet her as she mugs for attention. In Paris, she adopted Gallic savoir-faire and refrained from trying to visit people at other tables.
Some things are the same in France and the U.S. Dogs aren’t allowed in grocery stores or bakeries, for instance. Usually farmers markets are a “non non” as well. But Harper has ridden public transportation in both San Francisco and Paris. In both cities, well-behaved dogs are permitted on subways, although there is sometimes a requirement for the dog to be in a carrier or to be muzzled. Department stores, boutiques and businesses in both countries may or may not allow dogs, depending on the typical clientele and the attitudes of owners.
Parks are a different matter entirely. In the U.S., dogs frequent most grassy, open spaces, or even have parks devoted solely to them. Not so in France. Park areas are strictly for humans, with signs at entrances reading “chiens interdit” (“no dogs allowed”). Rare exceptions include Parc Montsouris in the 14th arrondissement, the north end of the Tuileries and the south end of the Luxembourg Gardens.
Dogs are expected to do their business in the street, not in park grass. You may have heard that French sidewalks are a minefield of dog poop, but that is less the case these days, thanks to hefty fines for people who don’t pick up.
Dogs must wear a leash in most public places. Identification is required as well, in the form of a tattoo or microchip.
French veterinary hospitals – at least the one we went to – are much the same as those in the U.S. Pet owners sit with their German shepherds, Labs, Brittanys or cats in the lobby, waiting to be seen. On the walls are posters about parasites, and shelves are filled with bags and cans of name-brand pet foods. Interestingly, some pet food brands are sold in shops that carry nothing else – no toys, treats or other pet paraphernalia. Pet boutiques in Paris include BHV La Niche, Moustaches and one known simply as Dog Store.
Regardless of differences in laws, culture or philosophy of pet lovers at home and abroad, French and American animal aficionados share one thing in common: Their humans love and dote on them, even if it’s expressed in different ways.
Vive la difference!
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton, affiliated with Vetstreet.com.