When I finished college and my Master’s Degree I worked one day as a salesperson at a clothing store before looking around for newspapers at which to work. I started working as a proofreader and writer for a local business paper and soon turned it into a freelance career. I eventually began teaching memoir writing to others, encouraging them to tell their stories, to find their voices. Occasionally, I wrote personal essays for the local paper, but mostly I concentrated on journalistic pieces, saving my stories, my distinct point of view for Christmas letters.
Then I began to snap photos, create scrapbooks, take up my art again. Soon, I was showing and selling my photos and digital collage and I realized my stories were leaking out, not in words per se, but in images – the pugs and nieces and nephews I cherished were taking center stage in my work and their stories and my feelings about them manifested in spite of my verbal silence. So, I started this blog and a Facebook page to share my photos and occasionally wrote a sentence or two to describe them.
One day I received a call from a writer telling me about a writers’ workshop he was starting, so I applied and was accepted and soon I found myself blogging about the pugs in my life, my work and my photography. Suddenly, I had a voice, but it’s a bit of a challenge figuring out what it is I want to say. It’s like taking baby steps and teetering here and there. I find myself challenged to give context, to explain why this world of dogs and pugs in particular is important to me, to inform readers of why they should care.
I know there is a story to tell about the home where I got my pug Vader, the place we call “Pugdom” and his breeder, Joan, a widow with a fascinating past living alone on the top of a mountain near Sugarbush ski area in a sprawling house with a heck of a lot of pugs. Her story is interesting, in part, because she was a concert pianist who toured the world only to return and settle in Vermont with a score of pugs. She even received her first pug from Clement Attlee, the former prime minister of England. Entering her home for the first time was like falling down the rabbit hole, but just like Alice, I found myself in a magical land, one complete with kings and queens and funny court jesters all clad in the disguise of flat-faced, curly-tailed pugs. To me her home became a microcosm of emotion – a place to witness birth and death, struggle and survival. It is not easy to be an older woman living alone in rural Vermont. It is even more challenging with a household of pugs. There is a scripture verse in the Bible that says, “..as you have done onto the least of these, my brothers you did unto me,” and I always feel that this applies to my friend Joan and her pugs and perhaps just as importantly to me. I go there often to help her, to help care for her pugs and learn from her care of them. Sometimes, I feel as if I am the lucky one, that I came looking and searching for something – friendship, meaning, purpose, a place to belong, creatures to care for and nurture, and sometimes I feel as a result, it was I, not them, who was “one of the least of these” and I am the one this magical place propped up and embraced.
So this is both my backstory and the beginning of my tale, the context for what I am starting to try to share. Why should anyone care? I believe one of the best things about our relationship with animals is that they teach us empathy. We may over emotionalize or anthropomorphize them and there may be harm in that, but I think there is also hope – we may fall short of getting it right, but we are trying to reach beyond ourselves to connect with something foreign. Pugdom is a unique and foreign place, a home with more pugs than people and the challenges that come with that. It is also a place where I have learned compassion, empathy and not to judge. There is joy and freedom to be found in defying convention and choosing one’s own path. And, I think we should care because that’s what we all want -- to not be judged for who we are, to have our own voice, to write our own stories.