Your RDA of Irony

Pug Dogma

img00018-20091117-2129Romeo Pug Finerman

The New York Times seems to have declared war on Pugs, denouncing the endearing little lapdogs as being designer-breed concoctions of recessive genes. Of course, you could say that the same thing about the couples in the Times’ wedding announcements. I will admit that Pugs have not retained many of their ancestral lupine traits. Even two thousand years ago, a pack of Pugs would have only hunted egg rolls dropped from the imperial banquet table.

Here is my tribute to the Pug.

It is said that owners resemble their dogs. I will never be that fortunate. As the nominal owner but actual servant of Pugs, I may yet achieve their wrinkles but Semitic inbreeding precludes the hope of a pug nose. Beyond my physical inferiority, I cannot emulate the charm and grace of a Pug. My Pugs have maintained their decorum despite the frequent queries, “Is that the dog in ‘Pocahontas’ and ‘Men in Black’?” I am the one ready to snarl.

In its creation of Percy, the obnoxious lapdog of the wicked governor of Jamestown, “Pocahontas” depicts the Pug as the embodiment of imperialism: cruel, arrogant, avaricious and corrupt. Percy combines the worst features of Cujo and Oscar Wilde. That is a slanderous representation of the Pug’s ethics and its role in history. The Pug is the most politically correct of pets, with a pedigree of liberal causes.

A Pug could hardly be a symbol of western imperialism since it happens to be Chinese. As early as 600 B.C. the Chinese aristocracy decided that Pugs made better pets than entrees. With the advent of Buddhism, the Pug also acquired a reputation for sanctity: its affable stupor was regarded as a model of Zen contemplation. Pugs often were employed as the guard pet of temples; in a culture of silk garments, a shedding dog might be a deterrent.

The encrouching Europeans of the 16th century should have appreciated the Pug. Its small size and good nature accommodated theft. Yet, the Spaniards and the Portuguese showed terrified restraint. The customs officials of the Ming Dynasty could not have been more intimidating than the Aztecs.

This raises the question: Was the Pug Anti-Catholic? One could never be too paranoid in the Age of Torquemada and Philip II. No flammable person would want to risk the curiosity of the Inquisition by importing a furry avatar of Buddha. The Pug evidently was not permitted in Iberia unless it first converted to a Saint Bernard.

Dutch mariners may not have recognized the Pug as a fellow Protestant, but they clearly saw a market for the ecumenical charmer. One merchant, hopeful for future favors or mindful of past offenses, presented one of these rare oriental dogs to Prince William of Orange. That little bribe, named Pompey, was to save William and the Netherlands.

Through a web of political marriages in the early 16th century, the Spanish royal family got the Hapsburg chin and the Low Countries. Ferdinand, Isabella and Charles V could keep themselves busy in Spain, burning anyone with a suspicious reluctance to pork; but the tax revenues from the Netherlands would justify a little myopia toward Calvinism. Philip II, however, “would rather rule over a desert than a land full of heretics.” Since the Dutch did not appreciate being kindling, they rose in a rebellion led by William of Orange.

“Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!” This does not remotely refer to the Pug, but Prince William insisted on taking Pompey along on campaigns. It was an act of self-indulgence, but so is survival; and Pompey proved a better bodyguard than the Dutch army. One night in 1572, a troupe of assassins eluded the Dutch sentries but not Pompey.

In all probability, the Pug regarded the conspirators as an audience rather than a threat, but his snorts and capers awakened William to the danger. The Prince of Orange survived and, with him, Dutch independence. Without his leadership, the Netherlands might have been reduced to being the northern parish of Belgium. Neither the Prince nor his descendants forgot their debt to Pompey: the Pug became the official dog of the House of Orange and was conferred an orange collar.

Since the English were more interested in robbing the Spaniards rather than the Chinese, there were no Pugs in England (and certainly not in Jamestown) during Pocahantas’ lifetime. The first Pugs crossed the Channel in 1688, when William III of the Netherlands became William III of England. He had been hired by Parliament to replace his uncle and father-in-law, James II, who had been ousted for being too obnoxious and too Catholic. This is remembered as the Glorious Revolution, which established the constitutional supremacy of a mean and bigoted parliament over a mean and bigoted king.

William III proved just as dislikable and not as attractive as his predecessor, but he was impeccably Protestant. Furthermore, he did not need looks or charm; his Pugs provided that. The Pugs became popular as both a loyalty oath and a fashion statement.

Europe’s intellectuals began to regard the English as a race of idiot savants, whose savoir was government. Mindful of royal censors and dungeons, they did not dare openly to espouse the English political system, but owning a Pug was a discreet way of admiring English “fashion.” The Pug developed subversive popularity as an emblem of the Enlightenment. A Masonic Lodge in southern Germany was called the Order of the Pug. In the leading salons of Paris, Pugs associated with Voltaire and Diderot, and shared mistresses with Ben Franklin.

By the mid-19th century, the Pug had lived down any blame for the French Revolution as well as its resemblance to Napoleon. The Pug arrived in America after the Civil War, imported by a Nouveau Riche in need of status symbols. In the Victorian scheme of things, the Pug served as a consolation prize for slighted wives, bored mistresses, ignored children or anyone with a trust fund instead of a life.

Today, guilt by association has left the impression that the Pug is a decadent little twit. The Duke of Windsor certainly was, but his Pugs were not. Of course, Pugs love comfort but that is not a Fascist tendency. Even if a Pug did prefer to chew Mussolini‘s Gucci rather than Mao‘s sandals, who wouldn’t? The Pug’s politics should be judged by his character. Since the Pug is good-natured, naive, defenseless and ineffectual, it obviously is a Liberal.

  1. Eugene Finerman says:

    For Romeo: Of course, dogs go to Heaven. Who do you think are the Angels?

  2. Michele says:

    I am a big-dog person, having grown up with retrievers. I met my first Pug only recently and with some reluctance. Was relieved to find him a very pleasant fellow indeed.

    My building is at the stage of gentrification where almost all apartments are occupied by heterosexual couples with toddlers and gay couples with small dogs — a Jack Russell, English and French bulldogs, even a Pomeranian across the hall. So far, only the Jack is objectionable.

  3. Tom Kelso says:

    Having somehow survived my children’s fascination with Pocahontas — also known as “the movie we don’t tell Daddy we’re watching, or else we have to listen to a history lecture” — I can tell you that Percy eventually realizes the inherent nobility of his breed and confounds his alleged owner by the end of the film.

    Men in Black? Well, at least the aliens recognize a superior species when they see it.

    • Eugene Finerman says:

      Romeo Pug Finerman proved quite a history student himself. He reenacted the Battle of the Boyne on a hapless King Charles spaniel. The canine version was even more humiliating for the Stuarts. At least William of Orange didn’t mount and hump his opponent/uncle/father-in-law James II.


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