Joy Barnwell Patty of Piedmont, Alabama, is a Facebook friend with whom I connected as a result of our shared love of Pugs. Since she has always had male dogs who are most at home in the country and I’ve always had big city girls, it seemed a good idea to interview her and to compare notes.
Did you have Pugs as a child?
“No. I was not a fan of any dogs as a child.
“We lived in the country and only had outside dogs. I didn’t like the dirt and the smell associated with dogs and I remained that way well into adulthood.
“Then it happened!
“A cute little black dog turned up on our cul-de-sac in Prattville, Alabama. Everybody loved the little boy, fed him, pampered him, and certainly didn’t want to call the dog catcher. I liked him like everybody else, but waited about a month to commit to claiming him. When I did, I really fell for him and did all the proper things—except for putting a fence around the backyard. His name was Poochie. I thought he deserved a better name and people told me that all the time, but we’d gotten used to calling him ‘Poochie’ and it just stayed that way. He weighed about ten pounds, was something like a Poodle/Cocker Spaniel mix.
“After about a year, Poochie wandered down to a main street and was hit by a car. I was devastated. I went to shelters, to dog shows, everyplace I could think of to try to find a dog who looked like him. While at one dog show I noticed some Pugs competing in obedience. Those big eyes looking up at the owner, that tail, that smashed-in face! I fell right then and there and began looking for a Pug of my own.”
Tell me about that first Pug.
“We got our first Pug, Tang, in 1983, from a backyard breeder. Down here in the South, people who breed to sell and are not careful about which dogs they put together (and most times keep them in a pen in the backyard), are called ‘backyard breeders.’
“Tang arrived when he was five weeks old. He was fawn, but both his parents were black. I’m not sure how that happened! I named him Tang—actually Hao Tang Smi Ling Foo. I’ve always loved oriental stuff so I was certainly going to give him an oriental-sounding name!
“If the truth be told, Tang was kind of crazy in some ways. He didn’t like to be cuddled; in fact he had never been in my lap until he saw me with another little dog in my lap! Then he came to me and I lifted him up with my hands on his hips, which is the only way he would permit. He would growl and turn in circles if you tried to pick him up any other way. But he kept us entertained with his peculiar ways. He loved visitors in our house and he would sit in the middle of everybody just waiting for attention. When people would leave, he would turn around in circles and growl.
“During Tang’s years, we were into boating, camping, skiing, and other outdoor activities. He loved the boating trips and would ‘scream’ when he realized we were getting ready to go. But that reminds me of the issue of heat in Alabama. Soon after getting Tang I realized keeping him cool was necessary and was always a priority. He stayed in the air conditioned house except for obvious necessities. Our camper had A/C, he loved to swim, and while walking around the campground, I would drench him with water when needed.
“Tang lived almost fifteen years.”
Who succeeded Tang?
“About a year after Tang died (and there was an eerie quiet in the house that replaced all the funny noises he used to make), Rocky came to our home.
“A beautiful retired show dog, less than two years old, Rocky could not have been more perfect for healing a broken heart. It was fascinating, however, to compare the two.
“Rocky was shy when first meeting new humans while Tang never met a stranger and assumed everybody loved him. Rocky was disturbed by intruders in his home territory; Tang could not have cared less. We had no watchdog in Tang, but Rocky certainly seemed to be one. He let us know of the slightest invasion of our territory.
“Tang thought he could talk and always verbalized his wishes, dissatisfactions, or whatever else with some type of noise. This was especially true when he had been scolded. Rocky used his paw to get our attention—a gentle tap on the leg or arm got increasingly aggressive if he was ignored.
“Tang would not lie on his back and would get upset if we tried to put him in that position; Rocky loved to stretch out and have his stomach rubbed. Both Pugs were truly special in their own unique ways. Rocky did not take Tang’s place—each of those first two Pugs captured our hearts by just being themselves.
“I had realized during Tang’s life that he didn’t exactly fit the AKC Pug standard that I had read so much about. Soon after his death, I started making contacts with show breeders and this went on for about a year. I had talked to some breeders in Atlanta regularly and finally my efforts paid off. They had a dog they regarded as too shy for the show ring and were willing to let him be adopted. That dog was Rocky and he was very beautiful and the breeder hated to give him up but knew it had to be.”
What happened to Rocky?
“When Rocky was about eight, he developed a problem in his spine. I carried him to a major university veterinary school for diagnosis and they told me there that they saw the condition frequently in Pugs. He was eventually operated on but with no guarantee.
“After a few weeks, Rocky seemed to be recovering, but, alas, was still limping. He died during the night only six weeks after that operation.”
Were you still determined to have a Pug after that harrowing experience?
“Yes, I was still determined to have a beautiful Pug. I went back to the same show breeders and they introduced me to Walker. He was less than two years old and had just finished his championship.
“He was perfectly beautiful!
“They gave Walker to me with stipulations: he would be available if they needed him for breeding; I would not breed him; he would not be neutered, etc.
“Walker turned out to be a great little guy even though he favored Don, my husband. Sadly at about seven or eight years old, he, too, developed health issues. He apparently had a malabsorption problem in the intestines.
“Again, I went to the medical school; they said it was a common problem in Pugs and they would do all they could. He was put on prednisone plus some other drugs. Over about seven or eight months, the initial symptoms subsided but he slowly lost all his muscles. Finally I had to say, ‘today is the day.’ At that point all he could do was move his head. It broke my heart since he was still following us with his eyes.
“When he died, I came home and threw his folder with all the health records and bills in the trash. I don’t know how much the total cost was but I know it was a lot. I vowed then that I wouldn’t take another dog to a university medical school. They want them for research and they will keep encouraging you until the end.”
And after Walker?
“By this time, Don and I had moved back to my childhood home here in the country. I contacted the local kennel club to see if they had any members with Pugs. They had one, Verlene Miller, who bred and showed Pugs and also rescued a few. I got in touch with her and Frankie was the result.
“Long story short, Verlene had several rescues in her home and one, Frankie, had been found beside the interstate, almost dead. She said he was just bones and a large head and had been with her for several months. She was just waiting for the right person to come along.
“This breeder had checked up on me with the previous show people with whom I’d dealt, and I passed (!).
Are you and Don currently sharing your life with a Pug?
“We have had Frankie for two-and-a-half years and we think he is about six or seven. He is bigger (twenty-seven pounds) and has a longer body than most Pugs, but is especially endearing. He never wants to be away from my side. As I write this, he is asleep in one of his beds under my computer desk. My feet are rubbing him. If I get up and go to another room, within half a minute he will be there too. But Frankie is used to us leaving him from time to time and knows the signal. If we turn the radio on and shut the blinds, he goes and gets in his laundry room bed, waiting for a little treat.
“One of the advantages to acquiring an older dog is training has usually been done. He never runs out an open door until I tell him ‘come on.’ Frankie is a smart boy and we believe he could be taught a lot of things but we’re not really interested in taking the time to train him. We just want a loving companion that listens to us—at least most of the time!
“I wonder about his unknown previous life a lot. How could someone have dumped him? Did they or is there some other story? He was found near a restaurant that backed up to the interstate. Since he will jump from anything, we speculate that maybe his family was passing through Alabama, left him in the car with an open window, went inside to eat, and he jumped out. Maybe they were under time constraints and couldn’t stay around and look for him. Who knows . . . and ultimately, what does it matter?
“Alabama being Alabama, the heat is still a concern, but we also have to think about other dangers. Our area has a large coyote population so Frankie has never been outside alone. (I don’t even know if he would go outside alone as he always waits for me to step out first.) I hear often of people losing their pet to a coyote.
“Don has always loved the Pugs but I have usually been the ‘lead parent’ so to speak. Walker clearly favored him, so I think he is glad Frankie favors me. I am never without Frankie except when I get out a bottle of hairspray. He does not like hairspray in the air. Understandable.”
“Seeing me at work on this interview, Don has asked, ‘Did you talk about the cemetery?’
“No, but I will now.
“We buried two pugs in Prattville. We put them in indestructible containers since we thought we would move back home after retirement. So we dug up and brought the two containers when we moved. Walker died here so now we have three graves.
“A while back, our local newspaper, The Anniston Star, wrote a story called ‘Do Dogs Go to Heaven?’ I was acquainted with the reporter and he called me for comment. I told him that I wouldn’t comment on that because I had never thought about it but I would comment on why I wanted my Pugs buried in my yard.
“I said, ‘People go to the cemetery to visit those they love who’ve died. It’s different going to the grave than it is just sitting in the living room thinking about them. That’s the way I feel about my dogs. I know it might sound strange to some . . . but I wanted them close. We’re taught that everything is going to be wonderful up in heaven, but how could it be without the pets we love best? In my heaven, all my dogs will be there.’”