The problem with designer dogs Winnie the French bulldog was bred for cuteness, but her health issues were abundant and fatal


By Paul Karrer

Our daughter adopted a French bulldog pup about six years ago. She checked out a litter and was taken with all of the big-eyed, seal-like fur balls, but she was particularly smitten with the smallest — the runt of the litter. She named it Winnie.

For a year she took care of it, but realized a young nurse on the graveyard shift couldn’t give Winnie the attention she deserved. The breed, known as “Frenchies,” pretty much require 24-hour care. They are bred to be with humans and they suffer when they are not around them.

According to their origin story, English lace makers — the people who made doilies and tablecloths — lost their jobs in Nottingham and fled to France, where demand for lace was still high. They brought their bulldogs with them. Another version claims it was the French buyers of doilies in England who brought the dogs to France. In either case the dogs became popular in France as ratters and family dogs. Then Parisian sex workers — belles de nuit — found the dogs peculiar companions in the 1880s. They were the first to tag the dogs “bouledogues Francais,” or French bulldogs.

Even Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who regularly painted ladies of the night, immortalized the dogs. His famous paintings — “The Chestnut Vendor” in particular — often included French bulldogs. In them he depicted the rawness of working-class life and his paintings with Frenchies also provided a sharp poke at the upper classes.

Our daughter did what many kids do. She gave her Frenchie to us when she realized she couldn’t be all she could be to Winnie. Who better to take care of her? I’m retired and able to be there for her.

Winnie was with us for four-plus years. She was a darling. She wiggled, she snored, she snuggled. She emitted Mach 5 toxic death farts. Frenchies are called the Velcro dog for good reason: Where you go, they go.

She also vomited. A lot. We could set our clock by her fits of vomiting — every morning around 4 o’clock.

And therein is my issue with Frenchies. They are not healthy. Far from it. They are known to have more than 20 serious health issues, many possibly fatal, and all of those issues come with quality-of-life issues. And their treatments are all expensive. Many owners abandon them when expensive health issues ensue.

Among the issues include food and skin allergies, tracheal collapse, heat stress, intervertebral disc disease, thyroid issues, and stomach and intestinal inflammation. Their cute little pushed-in noses cause something called brachycephalic airway syndrome.

Winnie was much beloved wherever she went. She turned heads. She made people laugh. A 2-year-old girl once mistook her for a bunny. A bank employee always gave Winnie a good five-minute leg massage when I went in with her.

On Veterans Day last year, Winnie’s face became badly swollen. Allergies? A spider bite? A reaction from the daily steroids we had to give her? She suffered from all the issues I mentioned above. Our veterinarian tried but couldn’t save her. She is gone and we are crushed.

I don’t think people should tinker with dog genetics if the health outcome outweighs the desired cute look. French bulldogs of the 1880s were very different from Frenchies now.

Some things ought to be left to nature or to the hand of the deity upstairs. Dog experts readily agree boxers have a high propensity for having cancer. German shepherds’ issue is hip dysplasia. Retrievers suffer from both cancer and dysplasia. All a side effect of purebred breeding.

I couldn’t stand living without a dog, so we got a rescue from SPCA recently. She’s 6 years old, sweet to the max. Her name was Snookie. But that sounds kinda like the name of well a… Parisian belles de nuit. So we are calling her Snoopy. She’s a bull terrier, mixed with who-knows-what. It’s much healthier that way.

Featured image: Winnie | Photo by Kelli Uldall

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About Paul Karrer

A retired elementary school teacher, Paul Karrer’s writing has appeared in San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Monterey Herald. His podcast, “Teacher Tails,”  can be found at