Every year I create a scrapbook for my friend Joan, Waffles’ and Vader’s breeder, and every year I send out a Christmas letter for her chronicling the deaths and births and other happenings at Pugdom, our name for her house. She never asked me to do either, but after repeatedly peppering her with questions about the myriad pugs that had come before, and learning that many of the details had been lost in the haze of life, I decided a scrapbook would be a good idea. Then, after seeing litters born myself, helping to name them and witnessing old ones pass away, I knew how much I cared and understood how many others might as well. So I appointed myself unofficial Pugdom Historian and the job title stuck.
As the years have passed I have found how relentless that haze can be; time and the hustle and bustle of daily life often swallow the details of memory and clamp shut their jaws, so now while I still tend to remember who has come and gone, I often have to confer with Joan and our friend Jane to confirm the details. Joan has gotten so used to me sending out her Christmas newsletter that this year she gave me names of random people who had called inquiring about puppies to add to the list. I do not mind. It is a role I cherish although I have difficulty formulating exactly why.
“Is it just about the pugs?” someone asked me a few weeks ago, referring to my friendship with Joan, this blog, my writing. And, the answer to all is the same: “yes,” “no,” “yes.” They have come and gone in Joan’s life – show pugs and rescues, puppies and old-timers. Pugs remain a constant even as the individual dogs and friends and husbands have passed on, and something about having seen these creatures as the individuals they are makes me want to mark them, make note that they were here. They lived good lives, they gave their love. They should not be lost to the haze. Although they can’t speak in words, they were not without a voice. They may have relied on us for food and care, but they were not victims. None of us are. We were their stewards and I want to remember their faces and their quirks, although they moved through our lives too quickly.
I know there is also a psychological root – my own desire for a voice, my nurturing of my own inner child, Joan of hers. I like caring for these creatures, tending them, giving them voice, noting as I would like to be noted, that they were here, that they mattered, that we all do. I like their survival stories – the rescues who arrive having escaped a hardscrabble existence; the geriatrics, having survived the passage of time; the puppies setting out into the world full of hope and promise Their years will pass quickly. I admire their independence, the part that we cannot touch. They may need our care, but in the end, they are their own souls. I may not have gotten all I needed as a child or even as an adult, but in the end I am also.
When I come to Pugdom, I hold church with my own wide-eyed, curly-tailed congregation. I pick up blind Ghanny Man and sing Amazing Grace, my voice always rising with the words, “I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.” There are those that question the existence of a dog’s soul and those who do not. I walk among the pugs belting Christmas carols, cutting nails, bending down to lift them up and cuddle them close. I pray for those who are sick, I offer Christmas blessings. I glide through the rooms at Pugdom, socializing with the young and ministering to the elderly. It is a congregation of love and I return and I chronicle because I find in this communion between dog and human, between Joan and the brood she cares for, between me and the aid I try to give to her and this pack, something akin to holy ground.
It is a genesis for me, the beginning to understanding. Pugdom is a microcosm of birth and death, a lifecycle played out before my eyes. I learn how to give and how to let go. I am my brother’s keeper. In caring for these creatures and in chronicling their story, I discover my own. The years pass quickly, time devours us all. In this haze, what better mark to leave than a song in the darkness, the hand of a friend, a note of a name, a wag of a tail, an act of love for another, whoever that other may be. In the end it is about the pugs. In the end it is about each other. It is about finding the love we crave through the acting out of the same. It doesn’t matter whether it is dogs or humans, whether we are combing matted fur or helping a friend feed dogs and stave off loneliness for an evening. Love is love – in giving, we receive.