When Frenchie Henri (pronounced “Henry”) gets in the water, he sinks straight to the bottom. No dog paddling for this little guy—he can’t float! “He’s not much of a swimmer,” reports owner Samantha Childs. “Given the choice, he only goes in up to his ankles.” It’s just one of the many endearing qualities that made this French bulldog a star on Instagram, stealing the hearts of more than 75,000 followers on his account @henrilefrenchie.
And those followers proved to be a great support system when Henri underwent some serious health issues recently. Henri needed spinal surgery to correct some congenital back problems as well as two slipped disks, which could ultimately have left him paralyzed. The costs for his treatment total about $20,000 so far, and he continues to attend therapy sessions and probably will for some time. “Having people who care really helps. I will read a kind message from someone, and it makes all the difference in my day.”
Some of Henri’s many spinal issues—sadly all common for the French Bulldog breed—included vertebral disease, hemivertebrae, stenosis (narrowing of the bone channel that encloses the spinal nerves or the spinal cord), and malformed vertebrae.
Hemivertebrae is a birth defect in which the vertebrae are deformed. In Henri’s case, he had two slipped discs, one of which had begun to fuse to the bone, causing compression of his spine. When pressure is placed on the spinal cord, the nerves running through the column are unable to receive messages from the brain, ultimately causing paralysis. Sam first noticed that Henri was having trouble when his back legs and hips appeared wobbly and were getting quickly worse. “The nerves were being pinched, and his back legs weren’t getting proper signals, so the muscles were atrophying,” she explains.
“A number of people on Instagram reached out and recommended Dr. Wayne Berry of Southern California Veterinary Specialty Hospital,” Sam says. “He has been incredible, and I’m so grateful to have been told about him.”
Henri underwent two MRIs—one of his middle and lower spine and another of his upper spine and head. Just days after the first MRI, he had a seizure (his first and hopefully only one), so they had to do the second MRI, along with a spinal tap, to see if it was possible to operate. Thankfully, it was, and he had his surgery this spring.
Since then, he’s been participating in hydrotherapy and cold laser therapy at Tsavos Canine Rehab in San Diego. He walks on a water treadmill and sometimes takes to the pool for additional treatment. Henri wears both a life jacket and an inflatable neck support during these sessions, and he looks like a little swimming donut. (See tsavoscaninerehab.com for more on the hydrotherapy.) He also receives K-laser therapy, which is also used on humans, to increase blood flow and lessen pain while healing. (See k-laser.com for more information.) This k-laser treatment, which has shown the most notable results, is administered at his regular veterinarian’s office, Torrey Pines Animal Hospital in San Diego.
With two videos of Henri receiving K-laser treatment topping 2.5 million views, Henri has true friends online. “People have been so supportive of Henri on Instagram during this whole medical crisis,” Sam says. “On Instagram, strangers become friends.” She continues, “Henri and I have become friends with people all over the world. We’re modernday pen pals.” His followers are committed to Henri and want him to get well, be happy, and live a long and healthy life. “They send Henri presents,” reports Sam. “They even send me flowers when I’m sick.”
And Henri’s Instagram followers pop up everywhere. Whether on a walk, rolling in the sand at Del Mar Dog Beach, or rolling down the aisles in a shopping cart running errands, it’s not unusual for Henri le Frenchie to be recognized. “Is that @henrilefrenchie?” people ask, referring to his Instagram name. “I follow him!” Now people ask about his recovery. They know his whole story and follow his daily life. “Sometimes I almost forget how they know so much!” laughs Samantha.
Henri loves the attention, which is good, because he gets a lot of it! And dog mom Sam is happy to oblige his fans. She feels it’s only fair, because, she says, “Before I got Henri, I was obsessed with Frenchies.” At the time, she was living in New York City and studying at Columbia University for an MFA in writing. “I would see a Frenchie three blocks away, and I would literally start running. Then when I got close, I would slow down and be casual and try to pretend that I hadn’t been chasing someone’s dog. But I’d be completely out of breath, so they probably knew, anyway.”
On Samantha’s 30th birthday, her present from her parents was Henri. She finally had a Frenchie of her own.
French bulldogs are now one of the world’s most popular dog breeds. The American Kennel Club (AKC) calls them “adaptable, playful and smart,” and Henri is certainly that. This muscular dog, with his stand-up bat ears and big melting eyes, has done a lot of adapting since Sam adopted him. The little New Yorker headed to the West Coast with Sam when she finished her classes and moved back to the San Diego area to write her thesis. He has a new uncle (Sam’s parents have a new Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy), and even at 8 years old, Henri loves to tumble and play with his new family member, Zulu. He’s extremely tolerant when it comes to dressing up all kinds of silly (but festive!) costumes. Even when he had surgery this year, he never lost his sweet and affectionate nature, he completes his physical therapy sessions with good humor and a big smile on his face.
“He still looks and acts like a puppy,” Sam reflects. Though he’s long since grown out of his puppy chewing stage, she says that when he was young, he ate her passport, destroyed five pairs of sunglasses— including one Cartier pair that didn’t belong to her!—and chewed the corners off her sofa. But, she says, how could anyone stay mad at a face like that?
So how did Henri become such an Instagram hit? Samantha’s answer? “Procrastination.”
In an attempt to focus on finishing her thesis, Sam went with Henri to her family’s quiet cabin in Montana for two weeks. There would be no TV, no friends, and no Internet. Nothing to do but write. But she did have her phone. And she discovered that one of her best friends had created an Instagram account for her dog, Daphne, and that Daphne had 50 followers. “At first I thought it was hilarious that 50 people were following a dog! But soon I was making an account for Henri. I spent the entire time in Montana doing it. I maybe wrote 3 pages for my thesis. Actually, probably more like 2 and a half.”
It was exciting to watch his account grow. “First he had 100 followers, and I remember that was super exciting. Then it was 500. Then 1,000.” Now Henri has 75,500 followers, and the number keeps rising.
Sam is happy that she gets to share Henri with the world and that he has become a part of so many people’s lives. “One of the earliest really touching messages I received was from a young man who had severe epilepsy and couldn’t leave his house. He was an artist and had drawn a fantastic cartoon of Henri. He said that seeing pictures of Henri on Instagram every day made his health issues more bearable. That really blew me away.”
Henri’s Instagram account has also inspired Samantha creatively. Since she started managing Henri’s Instagram account, she’s become extremely skilled at social media, leading her to social media management jobs. Always a writer at heart, she’s currently publishing a children’s book—“It’s a book about bullying and Henri is the protagonist. The book is filled with other celebridogs as well. I am really excited for it to come out, especially after the delay we’ve had with Henri’s health issues.” Sam met her illustrator for the book, Hannah Farr, through Instagram, and she’s turned out to be one of those amazing friends that Sam has never met. “She lives in England, and while I’ve known her for a long time and she’s a good friend, we’ve never actually met in person.”
Sam says she likes to use Henri’s platform to partner with small artists whose work she admires, to help garner them some publicity. She’s very careful how and where she uses Henri’s “voice,” because, she says, she would never want to associate him with something she (and he) didn’t believe in. One thing she loves to support is animal causes. For one of Henri’s birthdays she had a huge party at a local dog-friendly bar. There were goody bags and a photographer and raffles and over a dozen vendors who’d donated. The tickets sold out and the proceeds went to an animal rescue in Baja, Mexico.
And as for Henri, he’s happy and getting stronger. And despite all he’s been through, Sam reveals that he’s never been down or depressed. “He’s still full of happiness, every single day, no matter what he has to face,” she confides. “He has such an amazing, positive attitude. He’s pretty much my role model. Even when he’s on the water treadmill— which is not his favorite—he’ll look up at me and give a big Frenchie smile.”
“He’s the nicest soul I’ve ever met.”
You can find Henri on Instagram at @henrilefrenchie.
Henri Le Frenchie
• Purrs like a cat
• Snorts like a pig
• Likes to smell people’s eyeballs
• Doesn’t have a tail (he was born without one)
• Is named after French King Henri IV
• Favorite food is cheese
Sneak peek at some illustrations from Henri’s upcoming book about bullying.