I met my dog online, at PuppyFind.com.
He went by the name of “Oliver,” and he was a fawn piebald puppy with huge bat ears and an endearingly inquisitive expression. Not only was he the cutest creature I’d ever seen, but he’d be weaned by the middle of August, which was exactly when we’d be ready for him. I e-mailed my partner, D, the photo, though it was a symbolic gesture only (how could anyone possibly say no?).
“Very handsome,” he e-mailed me back a few hours later, “but haven’t we already seen that one?” To D, the puppies were starting to blend into one another. To me, there were looking more and more distinct, and I’d never seen one quite as adorable as Oliver.
We paid the deposit to the breeders, Clem and Betty Disterhaupt of Stuart, Nebraska, and “Oliver”—all ears—was all ours.
The arrival of this young creature in Baltimore was preceded by the kind of anticipation—at least, on my part—that might herald the coronation of a young rajah. A trip to Petsmart produced a top-of-the-line puppy bed, a box full of toys, training snacks, a selection of leashes, harnesses and collars, and a pile of books about French bulldogs. The puppy’s delivery date was marked on the wall calendar, and the countdown began.
We had decided to call our dog Grisby, after a French film we both liked (I recall the name as David’s choice, though he’s equally certain it was mine): Touchez Pas au Grisbi, which translates along the lines of Don’t Touch the Loot! The movie, which came out in 1954, is directed by Jacques Becker and stars the aging French actor Jean Gabin. It deals with a band of jaded, world-weary French gangsters who spend most of their time sitting around a café mumbling about le grisbi, which is old-fashioned French criminal slang for “the booty.” We thought it would be a good name for a French bulldog because it contained a growling “grrr” sound, because it was French, and because it sort of meant “treasure,” but in a tough, macho way that seemed appropriate for a sturdy little bulldog, especially a boy. I still love the name, though now of course I’m not able to separate it from the being to whom it refers, and it continues to annoy me when people who’ve known him for years continue to call him Frisby, Grizzly, Grigsby or Grimsby.
When G-day finally dawned, I was so excited I could hardly function; I actually got into a minor argument with D about directions to the freight terminal at Baltimore Washington Aiport, and we never argue, so I must have been feeling tense. After driving around in circles for a while, we finally found the right bay. We signed some papers, turned over a credit card, signed more papers, and were finally handed a small, maroon-colored dog crate which we carried out into the August heat. I rested it on the hood of our car and opened the door. A small, curious face peered up at us. Reaching inside, I lifted out a small, velvety creature with markings the color of milky tea. He was squat and muscular, with a flat face, no tail, and ears so big they were actually shocking. I was instantly smitten.
At first, our little puppy was so cute that it was actually a serious problem. We couldn’t take him anywhere without attracting attention. French bulldogs seem to be rare in Baltimore, because on catching sight of him, strangers would dash across a busy street to get a closer look. A quick stroll round the block was impossible. To make matters worse, we live in the Belvedere whose function rooms on the ground floor are often used for wedding receptions on weekends. I soon learned the how fatal could be the combination of a French bulldog puppy and a crowd of drunken, sentimental bridesmaids, who would begin to throb loudly and coo maternally at the sight of a small puppy. It got to the stage that, on weekends, I would put Grisby in a bag—a sort of makeshift burkah—and zip it up, so I could sneak him out without being spotted.
Another problem was that, while he may have been the cutest little French bulldog on earth, Grisby did not seem to be especially smart. French bulldogs are notoriously, ridiculously hard to housebreak, and toilet training took the best part of a year. Since we live on the fifth floor, this meant five or six trips in the elevator every day, sometimes in an emergency, and if the elevator took a long time to arrive, the results were not pretty. The books seemed to be right about French bulldogs being stubborn and especially difficult to train; once the lesson is learned, though, it is seldom forgotten, and after that first year, there were no more “accidents”–
at least, none big enough not to be forgiven.