• God’s little weirdos help ease my grief


    Shawn Taylor


    Like most things that begin this way, I’d hoped, even then, that it would have a more romantic ending.

    While a trendy resurgence in the breed’s popularity has them bordering on fashion accessory status, my foray into pug ownership had less auspicious beginnings.

    My first marriage ended, in great part, due to my desire to have more children and though in need of a vasectomy reversal to make it happen, my second husband was an enthusiastic supporter of what by my mid-30s had become increasing desperation to fill what did (and frankly still does feel like) a hole in my life, every bit as real as the loss of my parents, of anything.

    Until he wasn’t.

    He announced unceremoniously that he’d decided he didn’t want more children and that it was no longer open for discussion. He later relented, had a failed surgery, and by then in my early 40s, it was too late.

    While he felt guilty but uninterested in resolving what was, for now, less grief and more lack of support in general, sometimes there were gifts of appeasement. One of them involved a Craigslist ad in an unusual section for the rehoming of pets — maybe household goods. The family had a newly flooded house and a newly unemployed daddy and a brand new high-needs baby that kept them from feeling they could properly care for their little pug.

    I was in no market for more pets, but the story itself, and something about the little face in the picture wouldn’t let me go. My husband suggested I could dress it up in little clothes, you know… like a baby. I wanted to punch him in the face while he slept. Instead I responded to the people in the ad to let them know that while I wasn’t interested in another pet or the $200 rehoming fee, their story touched me. That I hoped they would find the perfect home for little Weezie Jefferson Brown.

    That was her real live legal name. That alone was irresistible.

    They responded with hesitant questions and we corresponded for some time before they asked if I just wanted her. I did. I gave them $100 gas money anyway, plus gratitude and well wishes as I surveyed the little toad-like creature secured in the carrier. At best, something in her hind end looked maybe vaguely Corgi-esque but nothing I’d readily think of as canine. Her face was closer to amphibian; simian. She made weird yipping noises and whoops instead of barking and sneezed a lot — typically as close to whatever I was eating as possible.

    She came outfitted with a tiny pink bathing suit and within the week I’d made the purchase of a pack of pocket tissues to wipe her little nose. I bought little sweaters and vacillated between grieving the loss of my dream of more children, angry that I was reduced to the indignity of dressing this beast in tiny sundresses instead of welcoming a longed-for baby into our family, and delighting in this snuggly little creature who needed me as much as I needed her.

    Less than a year later, following the loss of the pet love-of-my-life, my Weimaraner, Pasha, six month old William came into my life as what we joked was a “birthday/Valentine’s day gift” for Weezie and me. He was handsome and serious, with undisclosed behavioral issues following a short lifetime of being crated in a small apartment and a wildly overdeveloped sense of responsibility. It was about to come in handy.

    Still inexplicably, my husband was more interested in breeding pugs than he had been about breeding people and for reasons I’ll never understand, when Weezie went into heat only weeks later (as we were preparing financially for the upcoming pug spay/neuter extravaganza), arranged for the appropriate assignation.

    “Pugs almost never conceive without medical intervention,” he said reassuringly. “Just see what happens.”

    What happened in reality was that he’d already secretly made plans to leave the marriage. Once he’d helped with the unexpected natural delivery, he was gone.  While I refuse to accept that it was just a cheap shot at meanness, I also suddenly found myself heartbroken with an increasingly pregnant pug who waited day and night by the door for her “daddy,” with the guilt of someone who believes wholeheartedly that the world doesn’t need another unwanted creature. Not even pugs. Not even free purebred pugs that I ultimately found the best homes for among my friends. I couldn’t bear to turn a profit, or maybe in the most heartsick time in my life, I just couldn’t bear to face other people.

    I’ve always maintained pugs aren’t so much “dogs” as sort of “creatures.” God’s little weirdos. There is no such thing as “my dog woke me up at 5 a.m. to go out” in our world. They adore wearing little clothes and sweaters to the point of having obvious fashion preferences. At night they snore as loud as two grown men and even after a bath smell mostly like shrimp boats. We snuggle every morning, go to a pug meet-up every fall and we go on about our lives.

    So, did any of it salve my original grief? Not really. Guilt over having brought puppies into the world that might have taken homes from other less pedigreed pets? Nope. I see my “grandpuglets” in pictures at the park posted on Facebook, in tiny bomber jackets, in homes, in families, in hearts. Someone told me one time, “Grief? You’re going to do every day of it, there’s no way around it.” And that’s been the case for me. Every single day. But I do it with little flat, snotty faces, and sometimes wave at our friends jogging past with athletic retrievers and elegant collies. And someone else they’ve come to know as “Daddy.”



    Shawn Taylor and her pugs live in St. Louis, Missouri. She describes herself as “writer, designer, granter of wishes, manufacturer of fabulous people… Verum Fabula.” 

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