I was listening to my backlog of Kermode and Mayo’s Film podcasts at the weekend – if you’re not already a paid-up member of the Church of Wittertainment, then join, it’s everything film you need! If you are already, hello to Jason Isaacs/Jeremy Irons! – and a topic came up which really struck a nerve with me: pugs. And the promotion, or otherwise, of.
The film under review was Disney’s Patrick, the story of a woman who is unexpectedly landed with a spoiled pug to look after. (I know, I did wonder if I’d accidentally written this filmscript without knowing… It sounds kind of Longhampton.) A listener had got in touch to raise his concerns, not about the script or acting but about the star: he was a vet, and he was concerned that films like this encouraged people to buy cute dogs without really thinking about what they’re like to live with – and worse, that such films encouraged unscrupulous breeders to churn out puppies to meet a commercial demand. Pugs suffered with enough health issues as a breed, he wrote, without irresponsible breeders compounding existing breathing and birthing problems.
And… I kind of agree with him. When I wrote All I Ever Wanted, which features two loyal, sociable, utterly charismatic pugs, I did so with a niggle in the back of my mind. Bumble and Bee were inspired by a box of black and white photographs of my next-door neighbour’s mother’s dogs – also called Bumble and Bee (what can I say? They’re such perfect pug names). The family photos caught their charm and their playfulness, and also the gently hippie-ish spirit of their 60s countryside lifestyle. B&B were the heart of the family, and the apple of their owner’s eye. They were also born decades before the current craze for pugs which has accelerated problems for a breed already struggling to fix genetic issues with their eyes, their shortened nasal passages, hip dysplasia, encephalitis, skin conditions, etc, etc, etc. Basically, for the first time in all the books I’ve written about dogs, I wondered if it was the wrong thing to do, to promote, as it were, a breed that was already getting the wrong sort of attention on duvet covers and phone cases up and down the country. Pugs are utterly adorable. But they’re not toys. They’re still animals with needs and responsibilities, and – partly because of the way they’ve been bred – real physical issues that the owner has to understand and look after.
We’ve made them cute – and in doing so, we’ve also made weather like this pretty unbearable for the poor little mites.
(I have to say at this point that the pugs I’ve met were all utterly delightful and pretty hardy little souls. One of my favourites was the pug who lived in my old village with two huskies. The first time I met his owners was when I was pounding through the woods on an interminable Couch to 5K run, only to crash into two strangers in trailing coats walking two ice blue-eyed huskies. I nearly fainted. I thought I’d run into Game of Thrones. Next time I saw them, they were accompanied a fawn pug who definitely brought the Goth Quotient down nicely.)
Anyway, what I fully intended to do to compensate for Bumble and Bee’s utter cuteness – it’s my fault, I ran out of time during a pretty grim year, I’m sorry – was to add extra material in at the end of All I Ever Wanted, discussing the pros and cons of pug ownerships, how to find a healthy dog from a responsible breeder or indeed, where to find a pug needing a new home. Pugfax. I’d happily ramble on endlessly about all the dogs I write about – don’t even start me on basset hounds, seriously – but pugs, I felt, were in danger of being seen as something not quite dog-like – a half-dog, half-scatter cushion – and I really didn’t want to add to that.
So this is my belated attempt to set that right, somewhat…
Meet an actual pug, in real life – talk to owners, meet their dogs and generally let them tell you everything, warts and all. Pugs are such sociable creatures that they organise get-togethers for their owners, where the humans can be walked up and down and even fed cups of tea. I’ve never met a pug owner who didn’t want to tell me all about it. Facebook is your friend for pug meet-ups.
Get in touch with the breed associations, and let them guide you towards responsible breeders who select their lines carefully to avoid known problems. The Pug Dog Club is the main UK owners club, but there are five regional Pug Clubs covering the whole of the country.
Consider rehoming a rescue pug (always my fave option) as ever, dogs aren’t always surrendered because they’re problematic – often divorce, job moves, illness or any number of unexpected life hitches can mean dogs end up needing another home. Pug Welfare is a fantastic site with lots of excellent advice about rehoming a pug.
I’m always, always happy to have more recommendations – and more pug photos!