Pugs & Pics

In 1998, I visited the home of Joan Foster in Warren, Vt. in search of buying my own pug, Vader. In 2012, I began writing a book about this place we call "Pugdom."

We let love fill the empty places.
— Kim J. Gifford

Tears, a Reading by Kim J. Gifford

Vader and Joan

Vader and Joan

Excerpt-Welcome to Pugdom: A Memoir in the Making

I stand at the door of a sprawling yellow house, surrounded by woods, high on a hill in spitting distance of Sugarbush Ski Area in Warren, Vermont.

Trees engulf the crooked house, hugging it, caressing it, anchoring it in place. The effect deceives, making the house seem smaller than its sprawling nature. The very charm of its bucolic setting urges you to dub it a cottage when in fact it is HUGE, long, two-storied, with a deck still firm and functioning. In the years to come, I will view this scene on a summer’s eve, the lemon walls of the house cast in the green tint of rampant vegetation, the white light of the waning sun cascading over the roof, falling through the windows like the last, lazy trickle of a mountain stream. I will visit this home in winter when snow banks drown the walls and the glowing windows peek over their tops like mischievous eyes, winking and welcoming you into a living, breathing Thomas Kinkade painting. I will know this house when its walls swell, deck rots and bowels fill like a ship taking in too much water. Like all embraced by age it will bloat and sag and I will love it more then because I will know it intimately. Right now, it’s just a house, like a hole is a hole and a wardrobe, a wardrobe. I have not yet ventured to the other side.

On that day the house stands starched and crisp like the fall air and the crunch of crimson leaves beneath my feet. I remember the windows open—clear, long, panes of glass lining the entryway, offering a first unfettered glimpse of the topsy-turvy world. The raucous barks suggest all the ghouls and goblins of hell lie inside. And, they are loud!

Above the din rises a calmer, friendlier voice. “Come on in. Joan’s upstairs.” I turn to peer through the glass, bringing the enchanted world into view. Pugs, those squished-faced, cobby-bodied, curly-tailed gremlins, recline from every possible surface—two full-sized sofas, on cushions and back, fireside hearths, floors, dog beds, wooden boxes, and in distinct, round, black, rubber bins, I later learn are pig troughs. They are fat and thin, old and young, some missing eyes, some dragging legs, a few barking in circles as if chasing their own tails. Like  any magical land, this one has its fair share of kings and queens, dukes and duchesses, barons and baronesses, court jesters and sages, subjects and madmen. Each is a character, each has a story to tell and I will learn them all, discovering with each, a bit more about myself.

A man sits in the midst of this huddle closest to the door. Naked except for a pair of checkered briefs. Mostly bald and clean-shaven, his belly hangs over his lap, but his eyes twinkle, reminding me of Santa in his off-season. Pugs stand on their tiptoes at his feet, reaching up to paw him and I imagine the sting of scratching nails against his dimpled skin. He wears a colostomy bag and not much else, I think, unsure whether to look away. The man sees us through the window and gestures us in. This is the strangest place I’ve ever been.

“Joan’s upstairs,” he says again, referring to the pug breeder and owner of the place, his voice warm and chuckling, like golden honey. “Welcome to Pugdom!”

I enter as the pugs rush to greet me. Down the rabbit’s hole, through the looking glass. I’m in thick of it now.