He’s big, white, long and fluffy, with nearly 2,000 Facebook followers. And that’s not counting his other admirers who fawn over him as he strolls through McGill’s downtown campus and neighbouring streets.
Because what’s not to like about Confiture? He’s a canine rock star at McGill where many students volunteer to walk the 38-kilogram (84-pound) Great Pyrenees who suffers from separation anxiety and can’t be left alone in his owners’ apartment.
In his own way, Confiture, which is French for jam, gives back – in spades. Faces light up when students spot him on campus and they stop to pat or hug him.
On a grey day in April, McGill kinesiology student Danika Kapeikis is walking Confiture for the first time.
“With finals coming up and everything, it’s just such a nice stress relief. I’m a dog person. I love dogs,” says Kapeikis, who has a Samoyed named Icy back home in Seattle.
She had already crossed paths with someone who exclaimed, “Oh, it’s Confiture!” Strangers quickly become friends when you walk such a distinctive pooch.
“So many people come up to cuddle with him, say hi,” says Kapeikis. “I think so many people on campus know who he is, too. So it’s great to be able to walk around and kind of have that familiar figure.”
As she cuts through campus, a student approaches Confiture and says, “Hi baby.”
Does she know the dog?
“Yes, of course. He’s a celebrity,” says Avleen Mokha, a second-year English literature student who writes for the McGill Tribune student paper, which ran a story and photo spread on Confiture last fall.
Mokha sees him on campus a lot “and he always brightens my day.”
Kapeikis heads to Milton St., adjacent to campus, where another student spots Confiture.
“I walked him a few times last semester and it’s a great way to de-stress,” says Iva Demirova, a first-year student.
“He’s a very fluffy good boy. I’m a fan. I’m a big fan,” Demirova says.
A few blocks later, Confiture locks eyes with a brown dog across the street. Neither budges. The stare down begins.
“I haven’t seen what he acts like around other dogs yet, so this should be interesting,” Kapeikis says.
No drama here. Confiture continues on his merry way, sniffing tree trunks, inspecting the sidewalk and attracting more admiring glances. He’s handsome. Il est beau, ton gros toutou.
His owners Jean Snow and Yuko Fujiwara live near campus and were looking for a daytime solution for Confiture after moving to Montreal from Japan.
The fact that Confiture can’t be left alone was less of a problem when they lived in Tokyo because Snow used to work more at home. But he now has a full-time job in Montreal and his wife, a PhD candidate, wanted to spend time at the University library.
“So we were just wondering what should we do. We can’t really afford to pay for daycare every day for him,” Snow says.
His wife came up with the idea of handing out pamphlets to see if anyone wanted to help them by spending time with Confiture. Someone shared it on a McGill Facebook group, Snow says, and that night 100 people had reached out by email.
Snow created a private Confiture Facebook group and every week posts the walking schedule.
Many people write that they have a dog back home that they miss and it’s a chance for them to walk a dog, Snow says. When things get stressful, Confiture also serves a therapeutic role.
Snow acknowledges he was “very” nervous to let strangers walk his dog and didn’t think it was a good idea when his wife initially suggested it. “But it didn’t take long before I saw, hey this is working, everybody is so happy and saying such nice things… People are thanking us for letting them walk him, but we’re so happy that they’re walking him. So everybody wins,” including Confiture.
McGill students make up the vast majority of walkers. Confiture is nine years old, and Snow says he tries to limit the outings to about three hours a day. One walker (or group of walkers) hands off Confiture to the next walker.
“I’ve never had a problem, amazingly,” says Snow, noting hundreds of different people have walked their dog for nearly two years now.
“A lot of people bring him up the mountain, so it gives him a lot of good exercise and then it gives a chance for my wife also to get out.”
People are occasionally surprised that Confiture doesn’t like stopping, he says. “I think some people they kind of want to take him and just go in a park and relax with him. And then he just kind of gets antsy – (like) no, let’s go. I want to move.”
On this day in April, Confiture patiently sat still for a few minutes during a brief photo shoot on campus. Then, “Wooooooooof, woooooof, woooof….”
Some people joke they’re not sure who is walking whom, Snow says.
“I think he’s generally a good dog to walk and he just kind of goes around. But when he’s interested in something, he can pull.”
Like when people bring him up to Mount Royal, which just happens to be near a dog park that Confiture likes.
Snow laughs, recalling how he sometimes hears from walkers that “all of a sudden he starts pulling in that direction and he brings them to the park.”
Kapeikis thinks the dog-walking arrangement is a neat idea. “It’s kind of almost like your own little school mascot that everyone knows. And it’s so cool that he’s able to share such a sweet dog with everyone on campus. If I had my dog here, I’d want to do the same thing.”
One thing’s for sure – Confiture is everyone’s jam.