I’ve noticed if you’re a pug owner, you’re pug crazy. — Crystal Key
‘Is that a pig or a pug?” asked the little girl.
“It’s a pug in a pig costume,” I said. “If you look very closely, you can see the string around his head, holding that fake snout on his head.”
“Really?” The girl searched my face for signs of humor and, finding none, gazed in astonishment at the animal on the end of my leash. She scanned the room, taking in the hundred or so small, stocky, curly-tailed, flat-faced, wrinkly beasts greeting one another with sniffs of the butt. With a hint of skepticism that will serve her well in adulthood, she looked back at me, and I cracked a smile. “That’s a pig,” she said.
The event was called “Pugs ’n’ Kisses,” a Valentine’s Day-themed fund-raiser for a local pug-rescue organization being held at Fido & Co. Canine Country Club. My friend Jen talked me into going — she has two pugs and what she calls a “mutant pug,” a Pekingese who is “spiritually a pug.”
“Is that a pig? Oh, my God, that is a pig,” said a woman carrying a pug.
“I could have sworn the invitation said ‘pig party,’ but I have a rare form of dyslexia that only affects vowels,” I said. I followed the woman through a gate, into the enclosed area where pugs were allowed to frolic leash-free. Jen pushed her oldest, Jiffy Pop, in a pink stroller. Betty (the Pekingese) and Oscar were allowed to roam.
Partly because Carnitas is not my pet, and partly because I wasn’t sure how the pig would get along with a pen full of pugs, I kept the leash hooked to his harness. Once inside the doggy enclosure, the petite porker was set upon by dozens of curious pugs, pressing their flat faces against his snout, under his tail, and around his hooves in an attempt to identify the foreigner.
About half of the pugs were dressed up: skirts, dresses, angel wings, bat wings, one even wore a hunter’s cap and matching jacket. Jen’s pooches all wore Ed Hardy–style hoodies — the event included a fashion show, and her little trio would be announced as the pug version of Jersey Shore.
Jen insists that pug owners are no more fanatical about their pooches than owners of any other breed. Five of my friends have pugs. Someday, I’d love to have a husky, lab, or Australian sheepdog, but I can see the appeal of those chill little creatures with Yoda heads. Pugs are small and don’t require a lot of activity, and they crave human attention — all the benefits of a cat without the apathy. The perfect breed for, say, a kissing booth.
If the rumors are true, dogs have cleaner mouths than humans. But I wasn’t about to pucker up to the harlot of a pug perched on a red pillow inside the kissing booth that had been set up on a table in the corner. And, anyway, she looked desperate with those giant bug eyes and that rhinestone collar. That didn’t stop a long line of other women from dropping a dollar and leaning forward to let the pug plant a wet one on their lips.
“It’s an addiction,” Jen said after I’d asked her why, of all animals, she wanted pugs. “The same reason people smoke or do heroin — you can’t not do it.” Jen was 18 when she happened to see a pug on the street, and she just had to have one. “I’m an old-school pug owner,” she told me. “I’ve had four. No other dog does it for me.” Betty, the “long-haired pug,” was a fluke. Jen had agreed to foster her and grew attached.
“I don’t think I could handle all their medical issues,” I said. “They’re not like corgis, sturdy things you can squeeze and toss around.”
“One medical problem that pugs have is their eyes can actually pop out of the socket,” Jen said. “Betty’s eye spontaneously popped out before – she had to have surgery to have it put back in. Jiffy has had to go to the emergency room for heat exhaustion. He starts panting if it’s above 76 degrees. He fell over and I thought he was dying, but I took him to the vet and they gave him IV fluids, and then he perked right back up. You’ve got to be careful with your pugs, their brains will fry in their heads.”
“Jesus, that’s horrific,” I said.
Carnitas had gotten himself tangled around my ankles; I crouched down to sort him out and looked with alarm at all of the bulging eyes around me. Yup, I thought, you definitely don’t want to squeeze these things too hard. While I was down there, I realized pigs and pugs have a lot more in common than a few consonants. They both snort and grunt, and they both follow a handful of treats the way Ginger followed Fred on the dance floor.
For the most part, Carnitas was mellow as he waded through the pugs. A larger dog, one of the club’s mascots, kept following him around and barking in his ear, causing Carnitas to flinch each time. As the crowd pressed in around us, Carnitas’s oinks developed into deep-throated yaps as he fended off unwanted friends.
But when one of the pugs intercepted the handful of grapes I was about to give Carnitas, the pig freaked out. His head shook wildly from side to side, and he nipped at any paw or hand that came into contact with his body. “I need to get him out of here,” I said to Jen. In the fracas, Carnitas had become so wound up in his leash that he couldn’t walk. When I tried to help him, he squealed and nipped.
“Let’s go to Wine Steals,” Jen said. She gathered her band of women and pugs and led the way. But unlike his obedient mammalian cousins, the pig refused to budge. It took me 15 minutes and a lot of grapes to travel the length of one block. Jen finally sent one member of her party, Carolyn, over with Jiffy Pop’s stroller. I was afraid to try and lift Carnitas. When I’d attempted to do so earlier, he’d rewarded me with a thundering yowl. Carolyn didn’t hesitate — she just plucked the pig off the sidewalk and plopped him in the stroller. He sat in silence in his piggy limo as she pushed him down the street.
On the patio at Wine Steals, Jen’s three pooches sat in the women’s laps. Aware of the contented pugs above him, Carnitas paced at my feet and oinked with frustration until I extended a leg and pulled him onto my lap, where he rested his head on my arm and fell asleep.