Last year, I had three weeks annual leave from my job and I decided I wanted to go somewhere. It had always been my dream to visit France and in particular the City of Love. Ever since I was a child and saw the iconic Eiffel Tower in a movie, I made a promise to myself that one day, some how, I would get there. I came very close about 5 years ago when a family tragedy forced me to go to London at the last minute. Paris was only a train ride away. Only 2.5 hours by train and only 20 minutes under the Channel Tunnel. But I never made it there. Why? Well, I couldn’t quite remember but I’m sure if was something connected to a lack of time and money. But last year I finally made it.
I decided to reserve a luxury apartment in the city in the most elegant district I could find. My plan was to rent a bike, so I would have access to the whole city very easily. My other plan was to eat, eat, eat. I love bread and I had heard and read a lot about the variety on offer. In fact, I had read an awful lot about Paris before I went. Whether it was recent politics to the history to the typical tourist information I wanted to absorb myself in the city and reading about it seemed like the best idea. But I didn’t bank on one problem.
I didn’t have anyone to go with. All of friends either couldn’t get the time off, or didn’t have the money, or, the most annoying excuse of all, – I’m going to wait till I fall in love before I go to Paris. Well, I hadn’t fallen in love but I wanted to go all the same. But I really wanted a partner. I searched and searched and in the end, without really knowing what I was doing, I took the only living thing I love must in the world ……. my dog. You might think it sounds sad, but I can’t be the only person who has done it or indeed thought it.
I have heard and read some horror stories online about people who travel with their pets and it needs to be said, that the French love their paperwork. There is paperwork and red tape for just about everything, it seems. But I was lucky as Clare (my dog, yes I know it’s a human name but I like it) had all the necessary paperwork in order. If you are traveling with your pet and you don’t know whats needed, then do the research. Pettravel.com is a great help to many people, offering good, solid advice. If you don’t do the research, don’t take your pet. You may be denied entry and I have read about this happening. Your pet must have a passport (not literally of course). For Americans, the animal passport is also known as an Annex II certificate. This certificate shows that your pet has all the necessary vaccinations that it requires, which includes but not limited to rabies. You need to make sure that your dog or cat also has a microchip.
When it comes to the paperwork, its not as complex as you think, but you need to be on the ball. Use FedEx to send your documents. This ensures that it is recorded, if lost. The USDA is amazing for advice and contact your regional department if you have questions about the paperwork. The rules for most of the European Union countries are the same, so its worth noting that if you have taken your pet from the States to say, Spain or Italy, the rules for France are pretty much similar.
The airline I traveled with was Air France and they were very helpful and accustomed to passengers traveling with animals. You can relax and know that your pet is safe. I can’t say Claire enjoyed it that much though, she looked a little shaken when I picked her up at Charles de Gaul airport. But I can’t blame AirFrance for that. If you are traveling with a dog, remember Air France has weight restrictions which are a bit stricter than typical American airlines like Delta. Exiting CDG airport was a lot simpler than I had ever dreamed. When I was in the UK 4 years earlier, I felt like I had been given a grilling by customs. Maybe it was because the police had no guns… I’m not sure. The French customs guy barely looked at my passport and I’m sure they even noticed Claire.
Claire and I took a taxi and made our way to our beautiful two bed apartment. Don’t go thinking I paid for a bedroom for the cat, that would be silly. I reserved a two bed room property hoping I would someone else to come with me. Not such luck. But I thought about canceling and finding a pet friendly studio in the same district but I just fell in love with the property from the online pictures and despite pushing me slightly over budget, I just couldn’t part with it. It was spacious with plenty of light and right beside the Eiffel Tower in the 7th district. Ok, you couldn’t see the Eiffel Tower from my balcony but the rental company assured me that I could have a great view from the public roof terrace and they were right.
Paris was actually not as dog friendly as I has had imagined. I had this image of adorable dogs everywhere in the city but this is not really the case. If you do your research online, you’ll find that there is a French law (“Arrêté du 23 novembre 1979 portant règlement sanitaire du département de Paris, to be exact for any of you legal academics reading this) which states that dogs are not allowed anywhere where there is food, so this includes restaurants and food shops. In my experience this law is rarely enforced but I struggled to understand how to work around the system.
There were many occasions when I left Claire at home because I saw a fancy restaurant I wanted to eat in, only then to go to the restaurant and find mini dogs popping out of peoples handbags. If you have a small dog, it seems like you can take it just about anywhere and no one will notice. I tried, on a few occasions to bring Claire to the grocery store to stock up on some basic supplies.No matter where I went, for the entire 3 weeks, I was turned away by some rude attendant shouting in French. It was a bit embarassing but I didn’t really mind as it encouraged me to go to the local outdoor food markets, which were so much better, cheaper and had fresher ingredients and it also encouraged me to eat in restaurants and not stay indoors.
I was lucky enough to go to Paris in May. The weather was amazing and Summer was just starting but it wasn’t too hot just yet. If the restaurant had a terrace, I was generally permitted to sit down outside and enjoy my food and noticed a lot of other people doing the same thing with their dogs. It goes without saying that your dog needs to be on leash at all times, although in larger parks you’ll see dogs walking around freely. Most of the laws around dogs are not really enforced which is a good thing for owners but confusing and unreliable. Take, for example the metro.
There are a lot hazy rules about the metro in Paris. In three weeks, I saw two elderly people smoking and nobody said anything. I can’t imagine this happening in New York or London. The rules for dogs is basically that large dogs are not allowed on the metro. But if they have a leash and a muzzle most of the metro attendants are very lenient. In fact, I brought Claire on the metro several times and no one said anything. A nice French waiter told me that its normally cool just don’t take them on the metro – during rush hour 7.00 to 9.30 and 16.30 to 19.30. Makes sense I suppose. The same rule applies for buses but its important to note that RER ( that’s the regional train service that goes to the suburbs and further afield from Paris), dogs can always travel on these trains but you need to purchase a special ticket first. Don’t panic if you don’t know how to ask for a dog ticket in French. At the ticket counter, I just pointed to Claire and looked confused. The attendant understood and printed another ticket (2 euros) for her. Not bad, just don’t forget the leash and muzzle.
I was lucky enough not to read all the info I could find online about dogs in Paris. There is a lot of very different opinions out there and some people report having a horrible time and being mistreated because they have a dog and dirty streets of dog droppings. I can say, it might affect certain aspects of your trip and little bit more taxing but its interesting to note that for every 7 people in Paris, there is one dog. Dogs are everywhere. And when I say that Paris wasn’t as dog friendly as I imagined, I mean that although dogs are everywhere, they are not allowed everywhere. But people are generally friendly to dogs and have their own. In fact, Claire got much more attention that I did. I was quite envious.
But before my envy kicked in, I decided to give Claire a bit of a treat. You see, my logic (which the animal lovers will completely understand) was that I felt a bit guilty seeing the museums and the sights while for a large part of some of the days, she was at home, in the apartment. Ok, it was a really nice apartment, there was plenty of space for her to walk around but still, I decided she needed a treat. So I went online and found a really nice dog groomer in the area I was staying in. In fact, the dog groomer was just around the corner from my building and was apparently one of the best in the whole city. This is one of the reasons I love trip advisor. Never underestimate the amount of information that you can find on trip adviser, its not just restaurants and monuments.
The dog groomer wasn’t cheap but a holiday is a holiday and apart from the bi-annual trip to the local budget vet in my district, Claire has never really been to a dog groomer and why should it be only me that gets to see the City of Lights in style, luxury and elegance. In 5 hours, Claire got a bath, a haircut, her nails cut and a host of other things that I couldn’t understand. I just liked the look for the building, the smell of coconut lotion and the man that took her. I was 200 euros poorer when Claire came out but she seemed very very happy indeed.
All in all, as a tourist who plans every part of their visit before they go away, take my advice and don’t read too much that’s out there. Contact the USDA and make sure your pet has everything they need, after that, just go with the experience. The unknown is a great way to talk to locals and ask them questions.. if they can speak a bit of English of course. But if you can enquire in French, then already you’re a better tourist than I am.
Finding a pet friendly apartment in Paris is not easy. Welcome2France has a whole range of options which really helped me. You can contact one of their specialists today.