"If you have to ask..."



I sat down to lunch with friends one day last month and in a non-offensive, matter-of-fact way the wife said, "I don't get the pug thing." The husband, in turn, asked, "Why pugs?"

I didn't have a ready reply. A couple of months ago I interviewed the board of a local pug rescue and asked them a similar question. I received a lot of funny replies that you often hear among the pug community -- "Pugs are like potato chips, you can't stop with just one" or "Pugs are proof that God has a sense of humor." Cute sayings, but they don't really say anything, at least when it comes to explaining the appeal of pugs over any other breed of dog.

The other day, a new friend from this blog, "Vinny the Pug," replied to this question with a metaphor: "Pugs are very much like 'Jazz.' When the late Louis Armstorng was asked, 'What is Jazz?' Armstrong's reply was 'if you have to ask, you won't understand the answer."

A better answer, I thought, one that helped explain my own inability to formulate an adequate response -- I can't explain because it is something intangible, something that if you have to ask you wouldn't understand. Still, at least when it comes to my own personal response, I still can't help feeling this is a bit of a cop out. Why pugs? What is the pug thing to me?

A part of me thinks that I may have loved any dog to which I was first introduced. After all, I wasn't crazy about the idea of a pug when my younger brother brought one home. I was worried she would bother my beloved cat and besides the only image I had of a pug was a snaggletoothed one in a Harley outfit on the front of a Hallmark Greeting Card -- aren't they kind of ugly? I thought. Then Paul brought Buffy home, a tiny, precious little wisp of a thing that jumped up in my lap and barely left my side for the next 13 years. She has never left my heart.

I had a psychology professor who asked all of us in our class what our transition objects were -- those items like Linus' security blanket or a favorite teddy that we kept and whose giving up signals our turn to independence -- he analyzed us from our answers and told us a bit about ourselves. Mine was indeed a favorite teddy, actually a stuffed Boxer dog named, Sam, that my Grammy gave me when I was just a baby and who I still have to this day. I took him everywhere until I became concerned that he might get lost and would be safer left at home. My professor said that from this story, he could tell I was a very nurturing person, and so I think, I may have nurtured any little creature that jumped up in my lap and stayed there no matter how funny they looked, maybe even because of it.

But would I have been as crazy for another breed of dog? Would I have put their name on my license plate, attended socials, screeched to a halt and jumped out of my car to assault fellow pug owners with a stream of questions and oohs and ahhs? The other day I embarrassed a friend at a stoplight when I leaned out the window of our car and yelled into the open window of the car next to me, "I have a pug, too!" just because I saw a decal reading "I love pugs" on the rear window. My friend seemed even more surprised when the happy pug owner next to us smiled, waved and honked her horn in acknowledgment. What is this pug thing that makes us act this way?

The husband at the beginning of this story, suggested that it is not really about the dog, but about the people; that certain types of people are drawn to certain types of dogs. Thus, much in the way we are often told we look like our dogs, perhaps we act like our dogs, too. He suggested pug people are enthusiastic, friendly, outgoing and I agreed, he is right. And, yes, so are pugs. They are enthusiastic, happy little clowns who love people, seem to love to make them laugh and yes, happen to love a good meal, too. Another thing with which I can identify.

Yes, I think it is about the people, but also about the dog. The pug motto is "multum in parvo" which supposedly translates to a lot of dog in a small space or as we often hear, a big dog in a little dog's body. And, it is to the pug's chutzpah that I am drawn. At 5' 4" and ______lbs. (no, I'm not telling) I sympathize with the pug stature, but more so with their guts -- they do not shrink, they aim for more than what is expected of them. They are bigger than their circumstance.

My first real pug, the one I chose for myself and did not first choose me, was Vader. I went to pick him, almost 14 years ago, from a breeder who would become a friend. He was to be my Independence Dog, the one that would venture out with me into my brave new adult life. Yes, I was in my thirties by then, so some would argue that I was already an adult, but my twenties had been filled with illness, financial troubles and family situations that kept me from being able to claim the life I wanted. With Vader, I pictured moving forward to my own home. My friends might be marrying and making families, but I'd be staking my own claim in the world with my dog.

Things didn't really turn out like I expected on that front either and I am still waiting for a house of my own, but I made a life. From the time I walked through the doors of Vader's breeder's house I became part of something bigger than myself. I found a community of friends, I traveled places I never would have gone, I learned about life and death from watching puppies born and old pugs die. I entered a house filled with magical creatures and found a home in a realm we dub "Pugdom." Maybe it could  have been another breed of dog, but it was not and somehow I don't truly believe it ever would have been. There are many breeds of dogs with many admirable qualities, but I have chosen a big dog in a little dog's body as my own and together we are aiming to be something more.

Like a wise man once said, and Vinny the Pug repeated, "if you have to ask, you won't understand the answer.