“Louis”

12/10/97 t0 12/18/07

So much love can never be forgotten…

I first got interested in French bulldogs in the late 1990s and finally found a good breeder in my city. She put me in a room with about a dozen of them. I spent a long time meeting them all, but there was just one who kept catching my eye and my heart. A brindle, bigger than the rest, he came over and claimed my foot, then my lap, and stared straight into my eyes.

The others were puppies or at least very young, but this one was obviously older. The breeder told me he was 15 months and nobody wanted him because he had some faults: his hind legs were too straight, he had severe luxating patellae, and he was epileptic. He had already had two surgeries: a knee operation and a tumor removed. It rang a bell: I had two bad knees and had just had a couple of operations myself. Nobody wanted me either. Louis (as I would later call him) seemed to sense we had a lot in common. When I finally asked if he wanted to come home with me, he croaked what sounded like a hoarsely whispered “yeah.” I got a deal on price because of all his defects and hoped I wouldn’t have too much expense later on.

As it turned out, he became a model of Frenchie health. He never needed another surgery until the end. My vet put him on a daily dose of phenobarb which completely controlled his seizures and he never had another one. When he turned ten, my vet, who specialized in French bulldogs and owned three of his own, said he had never seen one his age in better health, and whatever I was doing, keep it up. I told him I did nothing special except try to love him as much as he loved me.

At the time I got him, I had already started working from home, so we were together night and day. He slept with me, ate with me, and went everywhere with me except the doctor’s office, the grocery store, and restaurants—except a couple of enlightened ones that allowed dogs on their patios outside in the summer. A neighbor, a serious dog fancier, said she had never seen a dog more devoted to his master. And I, likewise, never felt more devoted to any dog. I had loved them all, but somehow this was different. There was a deeper communication, a caring that I never felt so keenly before. He tenderly nursed me when I was sick, taking my hand gently in his paws and pressing his furry cheek against the back of it; he would stay that way for hours, even fall asleep holding my hand tight.

I could spend all day telling you the hilarious, clever, amazing things he did. But telling stories of his comical behavior is not what I really want to say. I’m sure any Frenchie lover can tell their own wonderful tales.

What was important was the boundless love I felt from him every minute of every day. The patience, the caring, the trust in those big expressive eyes. Eyes in which I saw the true meaning of life, and the pure, selfless love of God—someone, frankly, that I never was very sure about until Louis convinced me.

In his last year, when I knew he was fading, when he couldn’t hear well, when he often seemed distant and confused, he developed serious eye problems. The vet said he would go blind unless I spent several hundred dollars with a canine opthalmologist, and I shouldn’t feel obligated because he was so old, and dogs do fine without eyesight anyway. But I told him that I would refinance my house if I had to, if it would give me one more day to look into those bright orbs and see them sparkle with love. I couldn’t bear to have their light go out. I paid the specialist, and he did laser surgery and saved Louis’s sight.

As the inevitable approached, I made a promise to Louis: that I would never leave him, never forget him, never stop loving him, to my own dying day. I promised him we would be together forever. One day in December, 2007, I discovered a large tumor growing on his upper gumline. I took him to the vet to have it removed. Louis never made a fuss about going in the back of the animal hospital before, but this time he was in a panic. He clung to me and cried and they had to pry him away and drag him to the operating room.

I sat in the waiting room praying and hoping, and finally the aide came out with a big smile and said “Louis sailed right through surgery! He’s waiting for you in the recovery room!” I jumped for joy. There he was, staggering a bit, but making a bee line for me and climbing up in my lap. The aide prepared take-home instructions and we chatted a few minutes as Louis sat with his head on my heart. But when I tried to put him down on the floor to leave, he was dead. The beautiful light was gone from his eyes forever.

I will always believe that he survived the surgery by will power alone, determined he was not going to die anywhere but in my arms. My vet agreed.

Since then I have lived with an indescribable pain in my heart. I miss him so much. I see him everywhere, peeking around corners, romping over hillocks, sitting quietly beside me on my balcony on moonlit nights. I would give everything I have to just hold Louis in my arms again for five minutes; to see his eyes come alive again and sparkle at me with love; to feel his heartbeat under his fur; to feel his soft cheek on the back of my hand. Just five minutes of such joy, and you could take my house, my car, and my bank account. Just give me back my little angel of joy, who taught me that the only thing that matters in life is love.

I have another French bulldog now, Hugo. I love him dearly. I don’t make invidious comparisons between him and Louis. But it’s just not the same. Hugo is wonderful, but in no way does he ‘replace’ Louis. I never forget Louis, not for a day, not for an hour. He has one paw on my shoe for eternity. I have changed my will to specify that his ashes are to be mixed with mine when I die, and placed in the earth at the base of the tree my grandfather planted on our family plot, just as my Mom had done. For now, they rest in an urn on a shelf at home, with a brass plaque that reads: “Louis. Dec. 10, 1997-Dec. 18, 2007. Together forever.” Louis, if you can hear me, I will keep my promise.

Bill Parker, St. Paul. Minnesota