Here are the Table of Contents, Introduction, and Chapter One of
How Canine Comedy Helped Me Cope with Personal Tragedy
Table of Contents
Chapter 1. One Paraplegic, Two Pedestrians, and a Bozo 5
Chapter 2. The Pink Gorilla and Other Critters 13
Chapter 3. Sympathetic Reflexes? 20
Chapter 4. Against All Expectations 35
Chapter 5. Pugged 41
Chapter 6. The Case of the Missing Snout 55
Chapter 7. The Dog Trainer 61
Chapter 8. The Banshee Shrieks 69
Chapter 9. The Velcro Pug 81
Chapter 10. The Other Woman 91
Chapter 11. Canis Piranhis 103
Chapter 12. Abba Abba Abba 115
Chapter 13. See No Evil, Hear No Evil 126
Chapter 14. The Dog Smells 133
Chapter 15. The Carolina Clown Dog 142
Chapter 16. Love is Lovelier the Second Time Around 154
Chapter 17. Taking Care of Business 170
Chapter 18. The Chinese “Gang of Three” 179
Chapter 19. Grandmum’s Camp 194
Chapter 20. What’s Up, Doc? 203
Chapter 21. Dog Fight at the OK Corral 214
Chapter 22. Rainbow Bridge 219
Chapter 23. Filling a Costume and Filling a Space 224
Chapter 24. Foster Parents Again 234
Chapter 25. Chipper Chopper 248
Chapter 26. Teaching a Pug, Learning a Lesson 260
Chapter 27. A True Pug 274
Chapter 28. Sarah Rules with Sarah’s Rules 281
Author’s Note 286
Reference Notes 289
This is a relatively “feel good” book about dogs – but not completely, because, after all, a dog’s life is shorter than a human’s. Many of the anecdotes in the book will make you laugh, but a couple of them may make you cry. By reading how I fumbled and bumbled along, learning to take care of the three pugs that my husband Bill and I adopted, as well as a number of foster pugs, you also may become more knowledgeable about the pug breed and the issues that affect these funny, flat-faced little urchins. Overall, what you’ll find here is a lighthearted look at ten years of living with the most delightful dogs I’ve ever met.
The fact that I can use the term “lighthearted” in relation to these ten years is a testament to the flat-faced, frog-eyed pugs who filled my life with companionship, cuddling, and more than a little comedy. At the top of my career as a nursing professor, I developed a painful neurological illness that severely limited my activity and damaged my autonomic nervous system, which governs the vital bodily functions we normally don’t think about, such as maintaining adequate blood pressure, making blood cells, and managing the immune system. As a result of this disease, I lost my career and was expected to lose my life.
Then I was introduced to my daughter’s pug, whose calm and cuddly presence seemed to work wonders on my body. Instead of dying, I began a degree of recovery – so, Bill and I adopted one, then two, and then three pugs. Learning to live with these pint-sized rascals involved adventure and misadventure, comedy and tragedy. These funny little dogs helped me develop a new, fulfilling life beyond my lost career, and, most important of all, they helped me laugh and live with my illness.
Bill and I are besotted with our pugs because of their unique and sometimes peculiar personalities, as well as the many positive attributes they share with other members of their breed. Most pugs are good with kids, other dogs, and cats. They don’t need much exercise or grooming, and they’re great apartment dogs and superb lap dogs. They usually are not yappy, and they rarely become problem barkers. They’re playful and, let’s face it, they are so darn cute!
These highly desirable traits have helped the pug to consistently rank among the 20 (out of over 150) most popular breeds in the U.S. However, the very characteristics that make pugs so adorable in the first place may cause serious health problems for these little dogs. In this book, as you follow my adventures and misadventures with our pugs, you’ll also learn about both the positive and the negative aspects of having a pug. If, at some point, you should consider adopting a pug, it’s important to do so with knowledge of the potential drawbacks as well as the delights of pug ownership.
A few words about the terminology in this book: I consistently use the pronoun “who,” not “which,” when referring to dogs – in spite of those wavy green lines that Microsoft Word inserts to alert me that this is grammatically incorrect. On the other hand, I do sometimes use the term “owner,” particularly when the text refers to obtaining or surrendering ownership of a dog, which are legally binding processes. Finally, when speaking of a hypothetical dog, I usually use a masculine pronoun, mostly to avoid confusion with my two female pugs.
I’m indebted to a number of authors for information that was helpful in writing this book. The works I’ve used are listed in the Reference Notes at the end of the book.
To protect people’s privacy, I’ve changed the names and identifying features of certain humans and dogs in these stories. To the best of my memory, the stories are accurate – if you allow for my interpretations of what my dogs may have been thinking. . . .
One Paraplegic, Two Pedestrians, and a Bozo
I’m carrying a paraplegic pug against my left hip and holding two leashes in my right hand, while the pedestrian pugs attached to those leashes excitedly circle my legs in opposite directions. The leashes wind around my legs so tightly that I can move only by doing a baby-step shuffle – a not-uncommon predicament for me when I try to enter the veterinary clinic with my pug “Gang of Three.” Fortunately for me, the clinic receptionist, seeing us through the glass doors, cheerfully comes out to unwind me, and then walks me over to the counter to check in my canine patients. I like to think that the pugs and I, frequent visitors that we are, add some levity to the work days of the clinic staff.
Pugs, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the breed, are flat-faced, short-haired little dogs with coiled-up tails. Our veterinarian describes them well: “They look like they ran face-first into the flat side of a frying pan.” The largest dogs in the “toy” breed group, pugs look like they might be miniature bulldogs. However, the two breeds are totally different. Bulldogs originally were bred for the old English “blood sport” of bull baiting, in which the dog would bite into a bull’s snout and hang on as the bull whirled around in pain. (Yuck!) Pugs, on the other hand, were bred solely to be cuddly companions for people.
First among our pugs is Sarah, our “princess.” A dropout from the dog show circuit, she rules the household, or at least the human part of it, which consists of me and my husband Bill. I’ve been trying to train Sarah to be a well-behaved family dog, but she is the one who has become an expert “dog trainer” – the dog who teaches me just when to dispense doggy delicacies into her waiting mouth. She also has introduced me to many of the unique health issues that may affect a dog without a snout. In fact, her issues are a major reason why we’re so well-known at the veterinary clinic.
Sarah, our “princess,” is a dropout from the dog show circuit.
Then there’s Harley, my “Velcro pug.” He began as a foster dog in our home, but he entwined his invisible Velcro straps so tightly around me – and my heart – that we adopted him. Sarah approved of the adoption, and Harley adores her almost as much as he loves me. He’s a dear, but he’s not exactly the brightest crayon in the box. For example, after nine years of daily lessons, he still has not learned that when he steps on his leash, he really could extricate himself simply by lifting his foot off the leash. Instead, he continues to struggle manfully, trying to move his body forward while his foot remains firmly on the leash, solidly holding him back. But Harley is so gentle and sweet that Bill and I tend to see his imperfections as added attributes that make us laugh.
Harley, my “Velcro pug,” began as a foster dog in our home.
Our third pug, the regal Duchess, also started her new life in our home as a foster dog. Regardless of the fact that she’d been abandoned on a stranger’s porch, she appears to believe that her royal rank is higher than that of our resident pug princess and, evidently, higher than mine as well. While competing for Bill’s affections, she has made a lasting impression on me – with her teeth. Partially paralyzed because of a deadly neurologic disease, the feisty Duchess apparently does not consider herself disabled. She creates chaos wherever she goes, whether she’s riding in her baby buggy, padding along in her doggy wheelchair, or sliding across the floor on her own bottom.
When we go to the vet, we sometimes also bring along a foster pug or our long-term foster sheepdog, Bozo. We like to call Bozo a “Carolina Clown Dog” – a breed that doesn’t exist – but he’s actually a cross between a rough collie (like Lassie, from movies and television) and a bearded collie (a somewhat smaller, slimmer, and more athletic cousin of the Old English sheepdog, like the one in The Shaggy Dog movie). Whenever Bozo comes with us to the clinic, our arrival there becomes even more of a Keystone Cops comedy caper.
Bozo, our “Carolina Clown Dog,” makes going to the vet into a comedy caper.
On those occasions, I draft Bill to hold Bozo’s leash. I have to hold Sarah’s and Harley’s leashes because Harley insists on being close both to me and to his beloved Sarah. That leaves the disabled Duchess, but no one can simultaneously carry her safely and keep Bozo in check; when the big dog gets frightened, he’s apt to make unexpected and uncontrolled changes of direction. And one thing we can count on is that Bozo, who’s had some less-than-pleasant veterinary experiences, will get frightened at the clinic. Given these canine-imposed restrictions, I have to hold both Sarah’s and Harley’s leashes while also carrying Duchess. Although it appears that I’m the one doing all the work (and, I admit, it sometimes feels that way, too), when we’re visiting the vet with four dogs in tow, Bill does perform some critical tasks: holding onto Bozo, opening doors for me and the pedestrian pugs, and preventing Duchess from brazenly burglarizing the clinic’s display of dog biscuits and chew toys.
On this day, Bozo’s at home and Bill is at work, and I’m at the vet’s office with only the three pugs. Duchess needs a follow-up on the progression of the neurological disease that causes her paralysis. Sarah has a skin infection on her face, and Harley is here for the equivalent of a well-child check-up, albeit one for an arthritic old dog who’s losing his vision and his hearing. Nevertheless, Harley is still my baby.
The pugs are to be examined by Dr. Mary Tau, the veterinarian who’s been managing the health care of my various dogs for over 25 years. She is Bill’s and my favorite vet, but the dogs seem to have differing opinions about her and the clinic. Unlike Bozo, Harley loves to go to the vet. His ears and his spirits perk up the moment we pull into the clinic parking lot and he realizes where we are. Once inside the clinic, he wags his coiled tail incessantly, inviting everyone he encounters to make a cheerful fuss over him. When they oblige, he rewards them with an explosion of new waggles and wiggles, showing his sheer delight in having captured their attention. Duchess also seems to view a vet visit as an enjoyable outing. When I start to set her down on the waiting room floor, she begins running in place in mid-air, excited about scooting over to the display of doggy delicacies near the receptionist’s desk. Sarah, however, does not share in Duchess’s and Harley’s fondness for the clinic. Like Bozo, she’s been a surgical patient a few times, and those experiences evidently have not engendered fond memories of veterinary services.
Before we go to the examining room, the pug patients have to be weighed. Getting Duchess’s weight is fairly straightforward: I set her down on the step-on scale, and read off her weight before she can get her butt moving – and I mean that quite literally, because that’s how Duchess travels when she’s on the floor. With the other pugs, getting their weights is a little more complicated. As soon as I lift Duchess off the scale, Sarah and Harley, knowing the drill, hop up onto it – in unison. Sighing, because I know what’s coming next, I set Duchess on the floor, hoping she won’t scoot off too far while I sort out the weights of her adoptive siblings.
I shoo one of the pugs off the scale, but the one who’s left on the scale jumps off before the one-pug weight can register. Getting into the swing of things, the two pedestrian pugs then alternate jumping on and off at the wrong time. Having suffered through this pastime of theirs multiple times, I’ve asked the receptionist if we could simply divide the total number of pounds by two. She has refused my request. Somehow, she seems to think I’m just kidding.
Meanwhile, Duchess evidently believes she’s spent enough time watching Sarah and Harley weighing themselves. From a sitting position, our paraplegic pug rocks her body forward and back until she gets the momentum going for a good scoot, which enables her to slide her bum surprisingly swiftly across the smooth tile floor. Before I finish weighing Sarah and Harley (separately, that is), Duchess may already be sliding around the reception desk, glowering at a greyhound, or sitting by the dog food rack, happily holding a bag of treats in her teeth. And all this happens even before we’re ushered into an examining room. That’s when the real fun begins.
When Bozo comes with us, he and Sarah take turns entertaining me with their efforts to become invisible as they try to evade the clutches of Dr. Tau or other staff members. Bozo takes his cue from the proverbial ostrich who buries his head in the sand, utterly convinced that no one can see him if he can’t see them. The 75-pound sheepdog hides his head and neck behind Bill’s or my legs, leaving at least 60 pounds of his fluffy, hairy self, from his shoulders to the tip of his tail, in full view. Thus, his chosen method of concealment leaves much to be desired. Bozo, I’m sure, is grateful that he doesn’t have an appointment here today, even though this means that he’s missed out on one of his best-loved activities, a car ride.
So today, I proceed to the examining room with only my three pug patients. Sitting on the bench, I watch as Sarah employs several rather clever techniques to avoid being seen by Dr. Tau. Being a fifth the size of Bozo, she can easily fit her entire 15-pound frame under the bench, behind my legs. Apparently this tactic is at the forefront of her anti-veterinary armamentarium, for it’s the one she always attempts first. However, when I lean over the bench and look her in the eye, she looks back at me as if she’s now remembering that hiding in this location hasn’t worked very well for her in the past.
She hops up onto my lap and, with her claws digging into the front of my shirt, she scrambles up my chest to perch on my shoulders. There, she seems to realize that this redoubt, high as it is, still is not beyond Dr. Tau’s reach; so she decides to try to escape from the exam room by climbing even higher. Using my head and my now-ruined hairdo as her base camp, the intrepid pug embarks on a mountaineering mission, trying to scale the glacial wall I’m leaning against. Apparently she believes there really are footholds in that slick wall, if only she could find them. . . .
When our little Sherpa fails to find those footholds, she descends back down to my lap. Frantically scanning the room, she verifies that Dr. Tau has not yet entered. Now is the time for Sarah to employ her most imaginative strategy, a truly superb cloaking mechanism. She vaults across my lap, landing on the low table at the end of the bench. There, she carefully positions herself to sit down in the middle of the end table. Not making a sound, she then cocks her head to the side in an exquisite pug pose. She sits absolutely still, a perfect and perfectly unnoticed ceramic pug figure, a very appropriate decoration for a veterinarian’s office.
When Dr. Tau enters, she looks around the examining room and, seeing only Harley and Duchess on the floor, she asks, “Where’s Sarah?” I feel like a traitor when I nod toward the living pug statue on the end table. I wonder why Sarah continues to use this technique, given that it always fails in the end, but I’m proud of her ingenuity in coming up with it.
To hide from the vet, Sarah makes herself into a decorative pug statue.
After the veterinary exams, Dr. Tau rewards the dogs with treats from the supply of apparently delicious dog yummies that she keeps in a cabinet in each exam room. I say “apparently” because I have not tasted them. The last time I ate a dog treat was when I was eight years old, on a dare from my older brother. From that experience, I learned that our family’s cocker spaniel and I disagreed vehemently in our opinions about the taste of Milk Bone dog biscuits.
Harley, however, has tasted Dr. Tau’s culinary stash – and with great gustatory gusto, I might add. He seems to consider visiting the veterinarian to be the canine equivalent of dining at a five-star restaurant. Throughout the exam, shots, and even a toenail clipping, he ingratiates himself by wagging his tail and wiggling his little body in the most adorable ways. When the veterinary ministrations are complete, his demeanor abruptly changes: He walks over to the cabinet where the treats are stored and, looking back and forth from the cabinet to Dr. Tau, he barks urgently and persistently at her. Knowing exactly what Harley wants, Dr. Tau laughingly rewards him and his adoptive siblings with the desired delicacies.
Even Sarah is mollified. Eagerly swallowing each of the offered treats whole, without chewing a single one, she apparently forgives the vet for the indignities she has endured – at least until the next visit to the clinic, when she’ll try to invent a better, perhaps even an effective method for insuring her invisibility.
As I return home with the pugs, I think back on the circumstances that brought these magical little beings into my life. . . .