Le Chien Prétentieux
Updated: Dec 13, 2018
When I step into the lobby of Le Chien Prétentieux, it is like being transported to another world. My senses are immediately overwhelmed as delicate rays of light dance around the breathtaking crystal chandelier that hangs above the front desk. My nostrils are greeted with a potpourri of intoxicating aromas - faint scents of lavender and rosemary wafting from every corner of the room. A fifty foot cascading glass waterfall stands majestically against the backdrop of a lush, impeccably manicured succulent wall. This, I think to myself, is by far THE nicest doggy day care center I have ever been to!
I let the leash in my hand slack a bit so that my one-year-old cockapoo, Otto, can sniff around the lobby. As I stand admiring the beautiful, diamond-encrusted tile mosaic on the floor below me, a woman appears from behind the front desk. She is tall - probably around six feet, and her face carries an intense scowl that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up. She looks young - probably no more than 30, and yet her eyes tell a different story; one of pain and anguish. Certainly a strange look for someone who plays with puppies all day, I think.
“Yes?” the woman asks impatiently. I could tell small talk wasn’t her thing.
“Hi, um, I’m sorry to bother you. I was just walking by with my dog, Otto, here. Otto come say hi, boy!” I give a light jerk on the leash and Otto turns his floppy head toward the woman. The woman looks stoically at Otto, one eyebrow raised, before turning back to me.
“We would prefer that here at Le Chien Prétentieux, you not use the term ‘boy’ when referring to your dog,” the woman says sternly. “I can provide you with an approved list of gender inclusive pronouns if you would like.”
I can’t help but feel this is a weirdly progressive stance for a doggy day care to take, but then again, who am I to judge?
“I’m sorry about that, it won’t happen again,” I assure her. “Anyway, I’ve been looking for a doggy day care for Otto and I saw that you guys have great reviews online, so I figured I’d pop by.”
“Well typically we book site visits 4 years in advance...But it appears you are in luck,” the woman says, without even the slightest hint of a smile. “Apparently the prospective client who was supposed to tour today suffered a terrible hot yoga injury, so I could show you around now if you would like.”
“That would be great! I mean, I hope that person is okay. But yes, I would love a tour,” I say, before turning to look around the lobby again. “I really can’t believe how classy this place is! The waterfall’s such a nice touch!” I add.
“Yes, this room is quite adequate. Let’s get started. My name is Apolline.” She does not extend a hand out as she says this, but rather remains stiffly in place behind the counter of the front desk.
“My name’s Dave and this is Otto,” I respond with an awkward wave.
“Welcome. Would either you or Otto care for a cucumber-infused water before we tour the day care facility? I will warn you though, we did run out of mint sprigs this morning, so the water won’t have it’s usually flavor pallet. I apologize for the inconvenience.”
“What? No mint sprigs! Come on, Otto, we’re outta here,” I yell sarcastically as I take a dramatic pretend step toward the front door. I wait a moment for her to laugh, but my joke lands with a hard thud and not even the semblance of a smile on her face.
“I’m kidding,” I say quickly, hoping to ease the obvious tension in the room. “We’re really not thirsty. Thank you though.”
“Very well,” she says, completely disregarding my previous attempt at humor. “Let’s begin.”
Apolline grabs a wooden clipboard from the desk and guides Otto and I down a long corridor off the lobby. The walls in the hallway are white and pristine, giving off a strangely sterile vibe that seems more fitting for a hospital than for a doggy day care.
“Can you send your cleaning staff over to my house?” I joke. “I can’t believe with all these dogs around there’s no hair anywhere. This is incredible!”
“Shedding is highly frowned upon here,” Apolline says without missing a beat.
I assume she’s joking, but the blank expression on her face would beg to differ. To be safe, I make sure to subdue my laughter. As we approach what looks to be a doorway into another room, Apolline suddenly stops and puts her hand up, freezing Otto and I in our tracks.
“I will ask you a series of questions now before we proceed,” she says robotically. “Please answer honestly. It is important that we collect accurate data so that we can best serve the needs of our clients. Understood?”
“Of course,” I say. “Otto and I are open books!”
Apolline looks both of us up and down with a skeptical eye.
“Is Otto potty trained?” she asks.
“Yes, since he was about 10 weeks old,” I boast. “He picked it up really quickly. He hasn’t had an accident since he was a little puppy.” Apolline smiles at that and jots something down on her clipboard.
“And do you wipe for him?” she asks, “or does he know how to use the bidet?”
“Use the bidet?” I can’t help but laugh at the thought of that. “You’re kidding, right? I don’t even have a bidet in my house. And why would Otto need one?” I chuckle to myself again but Apolline’s expression does not waver.
“I apologize, sir. I should have been more clear. When I asked if Otto was potty trained, I meant on the toilet,” she explains. “You see, we encourage our dogs to do their business in much the same way we do. It gives them a heightened sense of pride.”
“Well I’ve never tried to teach Otto how to use the toilet,” I admit. “Although he really doesn’t seem to mind going on the grass outside.”
“Yes, I’m sure he takes to the grass quite well,” Apolline states coldly. “That seems to be the case for many of our emotionally insecure dogs. Not to worry though - if Otto enrolls here we can put him on a strict potty training regimen.”
Before I have a chance to respond, Apolline turns and walks into the first room on the right. I glance at Otto, who cocks his head to the side and gives me his ‘where the fuck are we?’ look. I nod in silent agreement before leading him into the room after her.
This room is as mesmerizing as the lobby, with the look and feel of a high-end meditation center. Oversized bohemian tapestries flutter on the walls as beams of natural light flood in from two high-vaulted, stained-glass windows. The faint sounds of Vivaldi fill my ears as I take a few more steps into the open space. Suddenly I notice ten dogs, each sitting in personalized, monogrammed dog beds, staring up with alertness at an older gentleman stationed at the front of the room. Without warning, the man shouts something in another language, and all ten dogs rise up onto their hind legs, twirl around in a complete circle, and return to their original seated positions. The man shouts again and all of the dogs lie down in the same synchronized fashion.
“We dedicate the first hour of each day to intensive Mandarin lessons,” Apolline explains. “As you can see, we place an enormous emphasis on multiculturalism in our day care curriculum.”
I nod in amazement. “I can’t believe how well trained these dogs are!” I gush. “And in another language no less. I can barely get Otto to roll over in English!”
Apolline gives me an incredulous look before scribbling something down on her clipboard.
“You see,” she continues, “Studies show that exposure to cultural diversity at a young age can give dogs a much richer understanding of the complex world around them. But I take it that Otto here is... not multi-lingual?”
She lingers on the word not in such a way that it feels like a slap in the face. I look down at Otto who lovingly brushes up against my leg, and I am suddenly overwhelmed with shame and disappointment. Here I am bragging to all of my friends about how smart Otto is and he’s not even multi-lingual. Come to think of it, I’m not even multi-lingual. What am I doing with my life? Did I make a wrong turn somewhere? I try to push these nagging thoughts out of my mind and finally look back up to meet Apolline’s austere gaze.
“We’re still working on mastering English I guess,” I muster up with a faint smile.
“That is not a problem,” she says curtly. “We can start Otto in our beginner’s course. But it is crucial that you follow up with him at home. Do you currently read to him at night?”
“Um...no,” I say, even more embarrassed. “I didn’t know I was supposed to. I mean, he watches TV with me sometimes. Especially if there’s a dog in the commercials.”
“Dogs can learn up to 30,000 new words,” Apolline states. “But it is imperative that you limit his screen time and try to focus on daily readings. I’d recommend starting with non-fiction before venturing into some of the denser classics.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I say, as if I were being scolded by a parent. I can’t believe I just called her ma’am. What is happening to me? I used to be confident. God she scares the shit out of me.
“Let’s continue on with the tour,” Apolline says abruptly, temporarily snapping me out of my own personal pity party. I never knew a doggy day care center could make someone feel so inadequate.
As she leads us back into the hallway, Otto and I walk silently behind her for a few steps, before she stops us at the entrance of the next room.
“This,” she proclaims, “is our brand new art therapy studio.”
I peer inside the room to see at least five dogs dipping their paws into different colored paint pallets before gingerly walking across an oversized canvas on the ground.
“Every morning after their Mandarin lessons, we give the dogs a few hours to sort out their feelings through the creation of original, interpretive pieces of artwork.”
I stare in awe at the highly impressive, Jackson Pollock-like canvases before me.
“We find that this paw painting serves as a useful coping strategy as our dogs struggle to find their greater purpose,” she explains.
“Well it looks to me like you have some Pawblo Picassos in here already,” I say cheekily, praying for the first smile of the day. Apolline does not do me the honor.
“Low-brow humor aside,” Apolline says, “art therapy has allowed our dogs to gain a much deeper sense of self.”
I can't help but blush.
“I honestly had no idea that dogs had such profound thoughts,” I admit. I glance down at Otto, who looks me deep in the eyes, gently nuzzles my leg, and then immediately begins to lick himself. Apolline seems to notice this as well, and with a heavy sigh she turns to direct us back down the long hallway.
“After art therapy,” she says as we walk, “we provide a catered lunch for the dogs. Only locally-sourced vegan food, but that goes without saying.”
“Obviously,” I say in mock agreement. She either doesn’t seem to register the sarcasm in my tone, or simply doesn’t care.
“Then after lunch,” she continues, “Each dog heads to one of our private video conferencing rooms for a half hour Facetime session with their owners.”
“The owners have enough to talk about to fill a half hour every single day?” I ask.
“Our owners cherish these mid-day updates from their dogs,” Apolline insists. “It’s also a good chance to review the dogs’ daily goals as a collaborative team. And obviously it's a time for the dogs to show off their new art projects.”
“Sure,” I say, in disbelief. “What you put it that way...”
“And then finally," Apolline cuts in, "the last activity of the day is usually dedicated to FETCH in the courtyard."
“Well that’s where you’ll really see Otto excel,” I brag. “He loves playing with tennis balls!”
“There’s no playing involved in FETCH,” Apolline states matter-of-factly. “It’s an acronym. Freedom to Engage Thoughtfully in Chakra Healing. We think of it as an unstructured time for the dogs to work on their mental wellness and energy balance.”
“Oh, an acronym,” I say with an exaggerated nod and feigned smile. “Of course FETCH is an acronym. How did I not know that?”
Apolline does not respond, but clearly senses that my patience is wearing thin.
“Yes, well that concludes the tour of our day care facility. We do thank for you considering us,” she says while leading Otto and I back to the lobby. “Do you or Otto have any lingering questions?”
“No,” I say with my best fake smile. “I think you’ve given us more than enough to consider.”
“Obviously with all of these amenities, you will find our cost of one thousand per week to be quite reasonable,” she adds. “But we understand that Le Chien Pretentieux is not for everyone.”
“One thousand...per...week?” I mutter in complete disbelief. “That’s more than my mortgage!”
“I know the cost can be prohibitive for some of our clientele,” she says. "But I think ultimately this really needs to be Otto’s decision. It is his journey after all,” Apolline states.
“Yes, well then I’ll have to discuss it with Otto after our nightly reading tonight,” I say, before quickly turning and pushing open the front door.
I linger outside on the steps for a moment, staring back at the front facade of Le Chien Prétentieux in utter bewilderment, trying frantically to process the ridiculousness of what just occurred. When I finally turn to leave, I notice that Otto has taken a huge dump right outside the front door of the building.
I am suddenly overcome with immense pride and let out a huge grin.
“Good boy,” I say, patting Otto's head. “Now let’s go get you a bidet.”