That joke about pugs being out of fashion isn’t funny anymore

Pedigree breeds are more than fashion statements


This is my pug. He’s called Hogan and he turned four this month. 

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Aside from being, admittedly, a little fat, Hogan is loved and cared for. My whole family dotes on him. For the people in his life, he’s more than a “pugs not drugs” t-shirt, a funny phone advert, an iPhone5 case. Basically, he’s surrounded by people who know that a pug is more than an expensive fashion statement. But that’s not always the case. 

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Pop culture pugs probably reached their peak last year. You know you’ve gone full saturation when even Primark was decked out in pug pjs, handbags, printed jumpers, and hand-warmers. I was part of it: because people knew I had a pug, they thought it was pretty easy to buy presents for me. Christmas and my birthday were a pug-fest, and I loved it.

The hype wasn’t just in shops either – you saw them everywhere, hobbling around, breathing uncomfortably heavily. It’s easy to think that because the pug was everywhere, that they’re over. It’s easy to make jokes about the French bulldogs you see everywhere being the new cute accessories, or that the sausage dog is actually the new breed of 2016But there’s a dangerous side to what’s already a pretty annoying joke.

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It’s the reason dogs like Oscar are abandoned, beaten, mistreated and discarded by people who buy into the hype. Oscar was abandoned and found in a small, battered cardboard box outside a shelter in LA, on one of the coldest nights of the year. A well-dressed man in a suit left the tiny box at the counter and said “I’m turning this dog in because he’s old and can’t walk anymore” then left without explanation. Oscar, who was 13, was covered in ear mites, sores, fleas and his back legs were paralysed. He was frightened and alone, and it didn’t matter to him that it’s probably uncool to love pug merch these days. Pug Nation Rescue of Los Angeles, who eventually took him in, said that he’d probably been left without medical attention for months, maybe years. 

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Thankfully, Oscar was saved by thousands of dollars of online donations, a foster family, and a specially-made wheelchair. His rescue family posted pictures of his life online as part of “The Oscar Diaries”, and he was well loved until he died, sadly, late last year. His owner, Julie, held benefits and raised money to help other neglected, abused and abandoned pugs like him. 

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If you’re a dog lover, stories like Oscar’s are heartbreaking, but they’re not uncommon. These shelters and fundraising pages are filled with sad, lonely pugs, dogs who wandered away from homes where nobody cared enough anymore, or were hit by cars, or thrown away because they’re too old, too fat, too blind, or too expensive. Some of these guys, once they grew out of the cute, chubby puppy stage, were discovered, ruined with mange, on the side of busy roads. Charity was found with her puppy Georgia, who was just nine weeks old. Clyde was tied to a pole with his sister Bonnie, one of six pugs handed in to a shelter in the same city in just one week.

They’re “unadoptable” to the people who just buy into the hype of “pugs being cool”, because the same people who rush to love them temporarily don’t bother looking into how they’re susceptible to blindness, to tumours, and to respiratory problems. 

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When you look at them in these shelters or in sad YouTube videos or on lost dog groups, you can see the danger in making jokes about them being out of fashion or past it. They’re not a picture on a t-shirt, or a keyring or a phone cover, they’re real animals. 

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For me, the appeal of having a pug, like the appeal to having any dog, is that they’re completely dependent on you. They need you to do gross day-to-day things, like clean out their wrinkles, or stop them pushing their bug eyes into dirt, or save them from eating themselves into oblivion and obesity. That doesn’t stop when Urban Outfitters put their t-shirts on sale, it doesn’t stop when people decide they’ve seen too much of pugs. 

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They’re simple creatures: they like hugs, food, sleep, food, eating and food. They don’t understand that they’re now apparently uncool, and we shouldn’t be taking the cruel joke of dog-trends out on them by suddenly abandoning them or deciding they’re not adorable anymore.