A look at the world through the eyes of a man whose dearest friend is the target of prejudice and misunderstanding, but who still reaches out to love the world.
For years my pug’s barks were silenced. As a puppy, just three months old and opening up his eyes to a New York world of kiss-worthy people, pee-worthy bushes, and smells to savor till fresh rains made them anew, he knew only love and the kindness of a stranger’s ear scratch. DJ, like all lucky dogs, experienced pure happiness.
Then, around the six-month mark, when he’d lost that new-puppy smell and started to develop more pronounced features and a tail that remained permanently curled, something unexpected happened: People treated him differently than the other dogs. Often, they just ignored him. At first DJ attributed the change of attitude to city-dwellers’ always-hectic schedules, assuming these kind folks had more pressing matters to attend to; perhaps the Pope was in town. I knew what was happening, but I said nothing. Yes, I looked the other way.
Until I couldn’t. At first the prejudice was subtle, people approaching me and saying things like “did you get the license plate of the truck that smashed your dog’s nose?” or “he must make a great pet cause damn is he hideous” or “that’s a face only a bitch could love.” When the dog-baptizing woman at the park passed by DJ while whispering “even God wouldn’t take that thing into His kingdom,” I knew it was time for DJ and I to have “the talk.”
When Donald Trump said we should no longer allow pugs intp the country, I knew it was time to scream. #pugswithbettercomboversmatter
Pugs, as it’s well documented, do not have “classic” canine features. Their faces appear wrinkly (actually, those are skin folds but who checks facts?!), their eyes protrude, and their thin legs seem at odds with their rock-solid frames. They are imperfect creatures in a world that is obsessed with physical perfection. And they are treated as such.
But don’t just take my word for it: Examine the media’s portrayal of pugs and you’ll find countless examples of pug-shaming. While collies are depicted as heroic (Lassie), Dalmatians as romantics (101), and Labradors as, let’s be honest, God’s Chosen (Marley & Me), pugs are depicted as Jekyll & Hyde creatures (there’s a reason everyone names their pug Gismo, from Gremlins), alien-related beings (E.T., anyone), and just plain aliens (Men in Black). Yoda (a pug in racist green-face) is wise and heroic, but he’s not exactly the kind of creature you want to play fetch with or belly scratch him you will. Incidentally, DJ barks in perfect subject-verb sentences, thank you very much!
It’s not just the Main-Breed Media that’s to blame. Pug-owners themselves, perhaps persuaded to cash in on their pet’s sideshow appeal, have fallen prey to the cheap gags that America’s depraved crave. Spend time on any social media site and you’ll be bombarded with carnival pug acts. Pugs dressed as hot dogs, pugs dressed as insects, pugs carrying around balloon versions of themselves–so desperate for friendship, apparently, they’ll accept inanimate objects as pals–pugs licking your computer screen clean. Because the only good pug is a subservient pug!
When people send me these photos, along with words like “Does DJ also wear this outfit?” I am shocked at their ignorance. DJ does not “do” off the rack.
Pug profiling has also reached epidemic proportions. All it takes is for one bad-seed pug to wreak havoc on someone’s shoe, and the mob mentality goes after every pug on the block. Worse, the true perpetrator can be a French Bulldog or a Boston Terrier and the doormen still eye my dog suspiciously. We may have come a long way in race relationships, but the same old “they all look alike” breedaphobia exists.
Every morning I tell DJ not to question authority, not to whimper when he sees someone who looks like they could use a little love, and never, under any circumstances, to sniff a “superior breed’s” butt. Ashamed as I am to admit it, sometimes I even iron DJ’s tail so it falls flat and helps him to move around the block unnoticed.
DJ, who identifies as “fawn,” never complains about the treatment he receives from our so-called liberal block, but it’s come to a point where he needs to raise his voice the way other dogs raise their legs. In today’s PC culture, no one would dare label a designer dog “mutt,” but there’s no media backlash if anyone calls a pug ugly, fat, deformed, or Jabba the Hut. Where is the outrage? When DJ calls out the trolls all they do is shout back “takes one to know one!” And then, nothing.
This has to stop. With the help of his PoopStarter campaign, DJ has formed “Hello, Gorgeous!”, a not-for-pug-profit that helps to ensure his breed is shown in a more positive media light. After continued pressure, both Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have promised to pre-screen future projects to ensure they receive a “cute pug snore” seal of approval. Tori Spelling has promised to never adopt another pug, because we just don’t need that kind of publicity. Come 2018 we can expect the first ever motion picture about the History of Pugs in Chinese Royalty, one of the most important chapters in pugs’ esteemed past, and one that has been, suspiciously, omitted from most classroom textbooks. People, if we forget the past we are doomed to repeat the Benji flicks. No director has been confirmed, but DJ will mostly likely star.
In addition, DJ travels the country to educate people on the truths and myths about pugs and pug culture. Do pug tails serve as helicopter blades in high winds? No! Are pugs part of the Canine Illuminati, deliberately cross-breeding to get more pug-like dogs on the street? No! Are pugs generally adopted my incredibly sexy men who are (astonishingly) single? Yes! With so much false information out there, it’s imperative to educate. Ignorance breeds fear and fear breeds dogs that are born really, really scared!
The good news is how much progress has been made on the pug-acceptance front. The breed has been featured in at least one recent movie, The Nut Job, and pugs now show up on dog commercials that were once dominated by more “acceptable” breeds. The pug with dentures in one TV spot was a major setback, perpetuating the myth that pugs’ under bites are deformities that need to be fixed. My neighbor, who became rather infamous in my book for saying DJ needed braces, actually sat down on the stoop the other day with my pug and me and said, “I used to hate this breed, but I’ve grown to love your dog so much.” Baby paw steps.
My mother, who spent the first year of DJ’s life calling him a Pekinese, then, when rebuked, insisted they were the same breed, has come to love DJ just like the dog I grew up with. Sure, she still sends birthday cards with pictures of bull dogs and boxers and pit bulls, and writes, “Saw this picture of DJ and thought of you,” but it’s progress. Remember, she grew up on a farm in the Midwest where the only dogs you saw were hounds and retrievers. So much of the pug intolerance is from lack of exposure.
This holiday season, should you pass by a pug, fawn or black, big or small, left or right left lifted, include him in your reindeer games. He’s not a misfit, and he’s not a toy. He just wants to love you. The kindness you give back just might help you transition into a better person. And, if you’re lucky, get a few licks in the process. That makes you one lucky dog.
David Toussaint is the author of DJ: The Dog Who Rescued ME. Photograph of DJ: Piero Ribelli.
Originally published at huffingtonpost.com.