A pug by any other name would still look odd

Posted: Saturday, January 02, 2010

We're pug people now.

We weren't always pug people; this has been a recent development. We used to be mutt people. And big mutts, too -- shepherd and Lab mixes. Our idea of a "little" dog used to be our 40-pound husky mix.

The along came Bernie.

Bernie had been passed around to a couple other households, and ended up with my sister, who owns 40-something sled dogs and another half-dozen or so house dogs out in Kasilof. Unfortunately, Bernie didn't get along with a couple of those dogs, and when we dog-sat while my sister ran the Iditarod last year, Bernie sort of never left.

And we became pug people.

Pugs are interesting creatures. By interesting, I mean funny looking. The are, technically, dogs. The American Kennel Club describes pugs like this on its website: "The Pug is well described by the phrase 'multum in parvo' which means 'a lot of dog in a small space.' They are recognized for their even-tempers, playful personalities, and their outgoing, loving dispositions. This square and cobby breed comes in fawn, silver fawn, apricot fawn or black, with a well-defined 'mask' on his muzzle. A popular companion dog, the pug also excels in the show ring. ...

"The Pug is well described by the phrase 'multum in parvo' which means 'a lot of dog in a small space.' He is small but requires no coddling and his roguish face soon wiggles its way into the hearts of men, women and especially children, for whom this dog seems to have a special affinity. His great reason for living is to be near his people and to please them."

The breed, the website goes on to say, has its origins in China, and was a favorite pet of Tibetan monks. They were the official breed of Holland's House of Orange and became fashionable in Europe when William II, a pug owner, became king of England. Other famous pug owners included Napoleon's wife, Josephine.

Were I to write a description, it might go something like this: "Pugs are odd-looking and even odder-sounding wrinkly little gremlins that shed incessantly and won't stay off the furniture. And they smell funny. Whose idea was this?"

The wrinkled face is cute in an E.T. sort of way -- you do have to clean out the wrinkles from time to time -- but breeding a dog to have no snout just isn't fair. The tail, which curls up like a party favor but straightens when they fall asleep, is just plain strange. And have you ever heard a pug whine, particularly when you'd like to sit on the couch for a few minutes without a dog in your lap? They actually sound just like a child trying to imitate a whining dog, and not inviting the dog up into your lap seems to be the gravest injustice man could do to his best friend.

Bernie gets a regular bath -- which she seems to enjoy, but which doesn't do much for the shedding -- and we got her a nose job to help with the snoring. The veterinarian described the process as essentially implanting a Breathe Right strip inside our dog's nose.

All that said, pug owners may be even stranger than their pugs. When my wife takes Bernie out for a walk, other pug lovers passing by frequently stop to talk about pugs. They have pictures of their dog not just as their screensaver, but also emblazoned on sweatshirts with matching tote bags. They don't seem to notice the fine layer of "fawn"-colored hair all over everything, and I'm guessing someone in the household snores just as loud as the dog, so they don't notice it so much.

We're well on our way to joining them. We did, as I mentioned, pay good money to get our dog a nose job. This year's back-to-school shopping included pug notebooks and folders. And under the tree last week was a pug Beanie Baby and a pug calendar.

My daughter, my wife and my son have birthdays in the next two months. I'm thinking matching sweatshirts ...

Will Morrow is the managing editor at the Peninsula Clarion.

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