Four-year-old Olaf and his younger sister, Greta, dressed up as ketchup and mustard for the annual Halloween party on Oct. 26. Competing among others, they won the award for best matching costumes. Their prize: a bunch of bone-shaped treats and squeaking stuffed animals.
“We’ve been coming for the past six years,” said Greta and Olaf’s owner, Francine Boyer. Her daughter was completing the trio as a giant hotdog. “The dogs just love it.”
Along with the two curly-tailed condiments, Lilou was awarded for having the funniest costume: he was dressed as a chicken. His owner, Julie Larivière, was delighted when her oldest of two was victorious. Lilou’s younger sister, Ciboulette, had to pass up the opportunity because she is too small to fit in any costume.
“Even the tiniest were making her tumble all over the place,” Larivière laughed.
But the event itself is far more than winning free bacon-flavoured treats in exchange for cute dog apparel. The Halloween party is just one gathering among many others from the online Montreal Pug Meetup Group.
“We gather once every month and the dogs play and have a lot of fun,” said Meredith Chatman, who coordinates Montreal Pug Meetup alongside her 12-year-old pug, Benny. “Owners come here and make friends, and the community just keeps growing and growing,” she said.
Over the years, the pug community in Montreal has grown significantly and it isn’t just a local phenomenon, Chatman explained. In fact, the native Chinese breed has gained huge popularity worldwide in the past decades. Back in the 18th century, they were introduced to European countries. They even became the mascot of a Saxon excommunicated group of masons, The Order of the Pugs.
Nowadays, their squished snouts, popping eyes and snoring habits make them popular on social media. Their online presence includes Instagram pages, such as Doug the Pug, that have millions of followers. Some of the most trending posts feature costumed pugs and short sketches like eating pizza and snuggling during a cold winter day.
But it isn’t always la vie en rose for most pugs. They are the product of generations of inbreeding resulting in numerous health issues.
“At some point, breeders thought ‘Hey! Those features are pretty cute on dogs,’ but they didn’t really know they were actually creating medical deficiencies,” said Tara Ogaick, former veterinarian technical assistant at Animal Health Clinic, and a pug lover herself. “If you keep breeding the same types of genes over and over again, those genes will carry through and, in some cases, they will develop more strongly.”
Over the years, pugs and other breeds like bulldogs have been genetically engineered to keep their popular physical traits. These breeds are said to be brachycephalic; in other words, they have flat faces. Added to their distorted physique, common obesity and squat necks, these dogs suffer from constricted airways. According to a study by the Universities Federation of Animal Wellness, only a handful of pugs actually breathe normally.
“This makes them really susceptible to weather conditions,” said Ogaick. “In summer they can overheat and, during the winter, their breathing becomes even harder.
But Pug Meetup prioritizes their dogs’ health over anything else. There are no meetups during the winter and they are postponed in summer when the weather gets too hot.
“Many people also join to talk about health issues on the Montreal Pug Meetup website, so people will post online and talk about certain health related things,” said Chatman.
Owners also take plenty of precautions to ensure their dogs stay safe. Boyer, for example, opted for a surgery consisting of cutting a small filament in the nostrils to slightly open up the airways.
“It doesn’t cure it, per say. They still snore, but it helps their breathing significantly,” she said.
Despite pugs having breathing problems, it is important to understand that each breed comes with their own issues. Ogaick explained that golden retrievers are also known to have hip problems because of inbreeding.
But it is possible to reduce issues, and by consequence, the cost of vet bills. Ogaick said that some breeders have started cross-breeding pugs with other elongated snout dogs in order to reduce airway constrictions. People can also choose dogs with more prominent snouts.
While this may contradict the century-old purity of the traditional pug, owners are not totally against it. Larivière explained that, if such changes may benefit the breed, she doesn’t mind losing a bit of cuteness.
“We choose dogs that fit with our lifestyles,” said Larivière. “Pugs aren’t like huskies; while you need to take them out for walks, they aren’t as energetic as others.”
So, while they will keep their reputation of couch potatoes, pugs will stay among the most popular breeds and bring smiles to their owners and their Instagram followers.
Photo by Jad Abukasm