A Certain Kind of Dog

When I think of Sailor, one word comes to mind – “Barking”. She was the dog who disproved my theory that “Frenchies are sensible barkers” – a theory I published on my much read, but lamentably rarely updated “French Bulldog FAQ”. If you ended up with a barking Frenchie after having read the FAQ, my condolences, but until Sailor, all of my other dogs had been sensible about barking. Not Sailor, though – for her, barking was a recreational sport, a diversionary tactic and a life long proclivity. Sailor was to barking what Tessa was to snuggling, namely: really, really good at it.

Sailor was also good at pulling – not on her leash, but on other dogs. In fact, the first time we realized that there just might be something different about Sailor was when we noticed her out in the yard, towing her siblings around by their collars. If a collar wasn’t to be found, an ear would do just as nicely. In the absence of another dog with an ear or a collar, Sailor would make do with a stuffed animal, something (anything!) she could carry around in her mouth. At six weeks of age, she’d fetch a squeaky mouse for half an hour before losing interest.

When you have a big litter, people assume that it’s hard to tell one puppy from another, especially when they’re all the same color or pattern. There was never any problem telling Sailor apart from her siblings – of the nine puppies in her litter, she was the only with a sailboat shaped marking on her neck, hence “Bullmarket Roch the Boat”, hence Sailor (or Sailorgirl, or Sailormoon, or, more usually, “ShutUPSailor!”, all one word). Barb later dubbed that distinctive white marking “The devil’s thumbprint”, placed there when the devil reached down and said, “You’re going to be the naughty puppy in the bunch”. Based on Sailor’s kids and grandkids who have inherited this marking, I’d say she was pretty spot on.

Sailor has the dubious distinction of being the only dog I know of to have been thrown out of obedience classes. When I’d told my friend Charlotte about Sailor’s various annoying behaviours, she mentioned that maybe it would be a good idea to get her into a training class, before she re-modeled the house or got arrested by the cops. I enrolled her in one, and on our second night they asked the puppies to all do a sit on a long lead. Sailor’s idea of a sit was to lunge across the circle and grab a really well behaved Golden puppy by his collar, and to then drag him around in circles. We got a lot of dirty looks, and after class was over, the instructor politely asked us not to return. I now know that was more of a failure on the part of the trainer than it was on my part or Sailor’s, but at the time I was mortified, and we slunk home in disgrace. Sailor didn’t submit easily to authority.

In spite of her bad girl ways, Sailor was enamored of puppies even before having any of her own. When her half siblings were born, Sailor climbed into the whelping box alongside Tessa. She pushed them into tidy piles, cleaned their bottoms and then lay down to try to get them to nurse. After a few days, she was even producing a minuscule amount of milk. Tessa was tolerant of this for four or five days, and then not so gently told Sailor to bugger off and get her own puppies, after which Sailor would skulk around outside the whelping room, waiting for Tessa to take a bathroom break so she could reclaim the kids as her own.

Sailor was also the dog who taught me that the term ‘pack dynamics’ is not always just hype. Living under the same roof as her small but powerful mother put Sailor firmly into the role of lower dog on the totem pole. Barking and pulling were fine, with other dogs, but Sailor walked lightly around Tessa. She knew that Tessa was the boss, and this extended to Tessa’s right to procreate. Sailor was 18 months old, and had not yet come into her first season, and while the vets were baffled, Barb decided that it was all because Sailor had ‘been told by Tessa that she wasn’t allowed to have puppies’. I was skeptical, but agreed to send Sailor to Barb’s house for a trial run. Two weeks after she arrived there, Sailor came into season. Two months later, her first litter was born, and I came to Barb’s house to make sure Sailor was settling in and to see her through the first week.  Sailor was not happy about being in the house, Barb had told me – she kept grabbing her newborn puppies and running for the yard, where she’d climb under the garden shed into the nest she had dug for herself. Since this was in the middle of a Michigan winter, Barb was a little bit worried, so I drove 8 hours to go and be with my girl. Sailor was glad to see me – she climbed up on the bed beside me for a nap, but first she dropped a newborn puppy onto my chest. “Here, you watch them”, she said. “I need to catch up on my sleep”. We agreed to take shifts.

In Sailor’s last litter, she adopted a stuffed monkey that she carried around the house, and out into the yard. When I inadvertently tossed Mr. Monkey into the washing machine with some blankets, Sailor spent twenty minutes trying to figure out where her missing ‘child’ was. I didn’t have the heart to let her see him swirling around the washer – I thought it might give her a heart attack.

As she aged, Sailor mellowed out – she barked less, ran slower, slept more. She could be let off leash at the park, without heading off on a ten mile run. She could walk to the back of the property without leaving for Winnipeg. I enjoyed the kinder, gentler Sailor, but I missed the brindle blur who had amused and exasperated us.

Sailor was a certain kind of dog – stubborn, challenging, smart and irascible. It’s this certain kind of dog that leaves behind a certain kind of space when they leave – a space you can only fill with memories, because nothing else could fit there.

7 replies
  1. Susan
    Susan says:

    RIP Sailor. I got to meet her once when I picked up Bunny. She came to snuggle with me. 🙂
    Bunny’s a barker now. I don’t know what happened. She likes to announce that she’s taking a bathroom break to the neighbourhood. Maybe Sailor rubbed off on her.

  2. Tish Hudgens
    Tish Hudgens says:

    What a wonderful tribute to an obviously very special dog! So sorry for your loss. I am sure Sailor has left a hole in your heart for another special Frenchie to come along and fill in its own unique way.

  3. Michele Long
    Michele Long says:

    First, I am so sorry for your loss. I slowly read thru your blog all the way back to 2007. I feel like I almost knew Sailor. Love the fact that she resisted being like everyone else. On my search for a French bulldog, I will think of Sailor and Solo and all the rest.
    Thanks for all your advice and recommendations!

  4. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    You write so well and so animatedly about Sailor and all your frenchies. Thank you for putting into words the silliness and joy (and horror) that frenchies bring into the world.


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