Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Princess' 9th Birthday Celebration

9 years ago today, a puppy was born on a farm in the Pyrenees. 

For some reason, her choosing fell through. She was still playing with her siblings when someone on her breeder’s waiting list phoned for news of the next litter and said ‘We’ll take her.’ 
Jean and Blanche's family at the Neouvielle kennels
The masters-to-be drove for 5 hours to fetch her and 5 hours home. Then they suffered hours of Béarnaise folk songs howled until no-one could bear any more and a compromise on sleeping-place was negotiated (the puppy chose her place and the people got some sleep). And so Blanche-Neige de Néouvielle arrived like an avalanche into our lives.  

You always think that having had dogs prepares you for the next one. It doesn’t. If you’re lucky enough to have known the friendship of an old dog, you are doubly unprepared for the next puppy, lulled into a false sense of expertise. It’s like childbirth; if anyone remembered what it was really like, no-one would do it twice. And with giant dogs, everything is bigger.

Blanche is the only dog I’ve known who didn’t just devour books; she chose them by sniffing along the bookshelves. She had a penchant for Terry Pratchett but if she could sniff out a book one of us was currently reading, and chew the last pages up on the lawn before we finished it, she was in ecstasy. Just when we’d established some basic principles of living together, we collected her friend, Bételgeuse de la Plaine d'Astrée. And that’s when the fun really began. You’ll note that the humans look much younger in the early photos.


Official Photo - John with the puppies 2006
Before allowing us to take her puppy away, Blanche’s breeder, Nadine, asked us, ‘What sort of life are you offering her?’ I’ve written about Nadine and her Pyreneans, in The Dog who cries Wolf (One Sixth of a Gill) and she can be fierce on her dogs’ behalf.

I can answer Nadine now; this is the life Blanche has offered us, for 9 crazy years.

We prepared for our puppy.

Daiquiri preparing to train her 4th and 5th Pyrenean Mountain Dogs
The puppy had things to learn too.

So that's a cat!
Like most aristocratic demoiselles, Blanche went to finishing school in Switzerland. Here she says thank you to top dog trainer Michel Hasbrouck, at the end of 2 days of Dressage Tendresse (I translated his bestseller into English as Gentle Dog Training)
Blanche and Michel
The only time I've ever dressed up a dog was when Arsenal reached the Champions' League Final and I became over-excited.
Thierry Blanche Henry
The dynamic duo grew up together... and grew... up. 

... finishing at 50kg and 70kg. Weighing a 6 month old male Pyrenean is fun.           

The games Bétel invented with Blanche lived on after we lost him to health problems and visitors can still enjoy being ambushed by white lightning. She hides behind the hedge then surprise-bombs them.

In her middle years Blanche perfected her modelling skills for my istock portfolio and can be found on many leaflets and websites, the face of pet care and dog training, both on her own and with her friend Lou.

When I told John my idea for this shoot, his get-out clause was 'You'll never get the dog to do it.' Blanche gave an Oscar-winning performance and I love this family portrait. She was actually obeying a long down-stay but the expression shows total immersion in the role. This photo features in a French article about homeless people and their dogs 

Blanche has welcomed two shelter dogs into her life, always confident in her relationship with us. We've holidayed together and we've grieved together. A year ago she had a stomach torsion, an emergency which is usually fatal. The operation was successful, despite her trashing her stitches and her cage the next day at the vet's, and refusing to eat until I was summoned to take charge. 

Blanche and Sherlock on holiday, Lac Ste Croix
She has a BIG character and an even bigger sense of fun.She inspired the character of Snow in Someone to Look Up To and committed some of the funny crimes attributed to Sirius. On one occasion, Bétel barked in the middle of the night to alert me; I threw on my dressing-gown, expecting burglars, and I found the door to the spare bedroom ajar. Blanche was curled up on the sofa in there, tucking into a box of dog treats she'd filched from the wardrobe. She still tests me out and she's still happy when I win. Dogs!

Her latest modelling credits include the book trailer for One Sixth of a Gill which also includes some of her photos; and a cameo role in the trailer for Someone to Look Up To, acting Sirius' brother. If Belle in the famous film can be played by a male, I don't see why my star actress can't change gender if required.

She is even going to be a pin-up girl. The 1st edition of the new International Magazine for Pyrs will be printed in March - with Blanche and Bétel featuring on the cover. You can see Blanche. The beautiful male featured on the left is called Romeo.

The magazine will also feature Someone to Look Up To in serial form. Check it out!

Subscribe to Pyr International Magazine

Happy 9th birthday, princess.

Among top dog books since 2013. 
'A wonderful dog story'

Amazon link


  1. Absolutely great! I have skimmed through and loved all the beautiful photos and look forward to an in-depth read later - right now my Tess is wondering why her routine is being altered: mother doesn't usually spend so much time on the computer before the day's work begins! See you later!

  2. Replies
    1. Lesley asked me to add this - her post got lost.

      I have now read all about Blanche at greater leisure and loved learning all about her. I am lucky enough to have met her and, when she was a young dog, I was able to get her to play by pouncing around. She would dash off around the lovely walled garden in fits of fun. As an adult dog, she is far more demure and disdains my efforts with a shake of the head and a sympathetic sigh.

      I remember other exploits, too - the disappearing shirt/tea towel trick to name just one. I also recall that Blanche is a keen gardener! Poor John - but I am impressed that he can even lift a male Pyrenean! Respect! And although there are out-takes of the puppy shots, they were actually very good to sit together at all, as anyone who has tried to photograph two puppies together will testify to. When I am in residence at Dieulefit, I am always careful to shut the door to my bedroom very securely, mindful of Blanche's impish streak and the fact that her treats are stored in my wardrobe! I hope to see Blanche in the not too distant future. Happy birthday Blanche Neige xx

    2. Your treats are in the usual place too, Lesley ;) Time you came back out to see us.

  3. I love to hear about your dogs, Jean. I have to say, I had a great 'thing' for Belle and Sebastian when I was a child. Always wanted one of those big cuddly white dogs. But when you grow up, you realize its much more than 'big and cuddly'. Its an experience!

    Thank you so much for this marvelous window into a puppy's life.

    1. Thanks, Claire! Yes, I watched Belle and Sebastien as a child, then again in French as an adult - and now I'v watched the new version directed by Nicholas Vanier. Pyreneans look so cuddly that people never think twice about stroking them - and yet they are just as varied in nature as rottweilers. Their independence (and size) make them ... interesting:) companions. As you say - it is an experience! But addictive...

  4. Thank you so much for connecting with me Jean. Sorry it has taken me so long to see your post. My daughter was considering getting one of these. Right now she has 3 dachshunds and a Husky and a Bernese -- but she wanted one for the livestock. What do you think?

    1. Hi Carol, I'd be happy to talk through the pros and cons with your daughter. A Pyrenean is THE defense dog for livestock if you get one that has been brought up correctly (raised as a puppy with sheep or goats) but integration with other dogs needs good handling. Male Pyreneans can be very difficult with other males.

  5. To celebrate a birthday party of a princess is a great feelings..

    princess parties