Pugs have a rich heritage. Once the pampered companions of Chinese royals, they travelled to Europe in the 1500s. In the Netherlands, a Pug is said to have saved the life of Dutch royal, William the Silent, which meant the little dogs were credited with being brave and loyal as well as appealing.

I had never met Pugs until about a year ago, when our street was graced by a new arrival: Tara, a three-year-old Pug. The new resident introduced herself by striding out, and barking furiously to warn me away from my own gate.

Luckily, Tara is a sensible girl and, after her mum introduced us, we became friends. We’d meet often, with Tara standing up against the gate, and letting me rub her ears and tummy.

Tara had a companion, Roxie, an eight-year-old lady Pug with the manners of an indulged Empress.

While the aristocratic Roxie was sourced from a breeder in Thailand, I learned that Tara was a rescue. Her original owners bought her online and gave her away six months later, saying they were moving to a dog-hostile condo.

I thought it a one-off but then Tara was joined by two more rescued Pugs, in rather quick succession, and I lost track of who was who.

This week, I got to visit and meet them all properly.


Nisha Sarwindren with her pack of Pugs. Part of their attraction is that Pugs are very sociable. They don’t have a personal space concept, so they just pile in, on each other and on you, she says. Photo: Ellen Whyte

“Pugs aren’t easy to maintain as they need constant attention,” explains their mum, Nisha Sarwindren, a freelance trainer and consultant from Banting, Selangor.

“Part of their attraction is that Pugs are very sociable. They don’t have a personal space concept, so they just pile in, on each other and on you. Also, if you leave them alone, they can be destructive.”

Tara, the lady of the house, looks angelic but has a naughty side. “We went to a wedding,” Nisha recalls. “While we were out, she shredded one of our pillows and spread it in a fine layer all over the bedroom. Mind you, she did have the grace to look as if she regretted it.”

Apart from needing a lot of company and attention, Pugs tend to be inbred, which has led to some severe health issues.

“Tara has the classic Pug problem of bad eyes,” Nisha discloses. “She came to us with one scarred eye, and now age is adding to the problem. She’s fine inside the house but we’re careful about walks.”

Tara’s new sister Lily was probably abandoned because of health issues. “We got Lily six months ago after a rescuer picked her up on the side of the motorway,” Nisha reveals. “She was skeletal, full of ticks and had serious skin issues.”

A trip to the vet led to a RM600 bill and weeks of tender care, rubbing in ointments and unguents, some of which helped and others that were less useful.

“From her teeth and size, we think Lily is four or five years old,” Nisha says. “We’ve got her almost back to proper health but when it’s hot, her rashes surface again, so it’s probably a lifelong issue.”

Four months ago, the family was rounded out to include Hulk. “We were told he was a pup of about one, but the vet says he’s probably around two,” Nisha says. “He was tiny and abused, so he needs a lot of TLC. He has these impressions in his side that we think came from being kicked, and he panics at loud voices.”

While it’s impossible to know what happened, Hulk quickly learned to love his new mum and fellow dogs, but the poor Pug was terrified of men – until Nisha’s husband convinced him otherwise.

The secret of his success? “Bribery,” Nisha giggles. “A constant flow of food and soft words.”

While Hulk is happy and active – chewing my fingers and my top before dancing off and coming back to show me his best toys – the little Pug wears a mini diaper. He is old enough to be trained but his new parents feel he has to be completely secure first.

“If I call out now, it may be okay,” Nisha says, “but it may also scare him. The other day, I raised my voice to Lily – and Hulk was upset. So, I think we’ll wait just a little longer.”

Looking at the gang, I can see why Pugs are so popular. It’s not the screwed-up faces or bulbous eyes; it’s the vitality and character that spills out of them.

I must say, I find them charming.

“Roxie is the Empress, regal and relaxed,” Nisha shares. “Tara is a rascal. With her dad, she’s an angel. But the second he goes to work, she’s wrestling with Hulk and Lily. Pugs play rough and Hulk is a bit hyper so it can get very noisy.

“Lily is the mastermind, a planner who likes investigating and being busy. I suspect she was behind the destruction of the toilet roll the other day. And if there’s water involved, you can bet Hulk is in it. He’s a water baby.”

While they are adorable, Nisha says they have hit their limit. “Four is the charm.”

Sadly though, she does hear of other pugs who are passed up because owners can’t cope. “People buy them because they don’t do research, and don’t know how to keep them. It’s very sad.”

Looking at fat little Roxie, panting Tara, and laughing/chewing Lily and Hulk, it occurs to me that these are very much like small kids; wild and fun but also non-stop action.

They’re bouncing around, jumping off and on the sofas, dashing about with their toys, wrestling one another and then diving on us. As their mum pointed out: personal space is not a concept that Pugs buy into. If you have them, you’re part of the pack.

It’s adorable but not everyone’s deal.

I shall visit often, enjoy the doggy hyperactivity, and be glad to hand them back.

Pugs, a ticking health timebomb

Pugs are adorable but they are, unfortunately, also the poster dog for what goes wrong when animals are bred for the purposes of money rather than good health and vitality.

Pugs can be deemed designer pets – animals that are bred for their looks, typically “cute” features such as big eyes, little noses and exaggerated body line.

These pets may sell well, but they often suffer from lifelong illnesses and conditions. This is cruel to the animal and it also impacts owners who spend a lot of money at the vet trying to retroactively fix these issues.

Pugs are well known for suffering from several designer breeding issues:

> Pinched noses that make it hard to breathe properly. This is why the dogs gasp and snort so much.

> Overly bulging eyes that can fail to close properly, leading to poor vision and blindness. In severe cases, the eyeball may pop out of the socket and need to be put back in.

> Skin issues due to deep wrinkling that traps dirt and sweat. Also, Pugs are associated with demodex, a type of mange.

> Hip socket deformation or hip dysplasia, that can lead to pain, crippling and arthritis.

> Pug dog encephalitis (PDE), a fatal condition that causes inflammation of the brain and central nervous system. It is an inherited issue that tends to show at seven months or so.

If you want a healthy, happy pet, do your homework and know what you’re getting into. If in doubt, talk to a vet or a shelter manager – these people are more likely to give you sensible advice as they aren’t making money from the sale/adoption.