Mugsy had been ill since last fall. We had countless visits to the vet for pancreatitis and stomach ailments. Some treatments seemed to help for a while, but he just never fully recovered. Ultimately, his once-voracious appetite was gone, and he fell from a healthy weight of 25 pounds to 17 or 18 pounds. Last Monday, we took him to a specialist for an all-day battery of tests. The veterinarian said she suspected that he had cancer, though only a biopsy could confirm it, and he was perhaps too weak for the procedure. Over the years, Mugsy had numerous operations to remove mast cell tumors from his skin, and the cancer probably spread throughout his gastrointestinal tract.
As I took Mugsy home, I thought about ways to make him feel better after a long day of being poked and prodded at the vet's office. I drove to a park, remembering how he'd once loved to sniff around and explore. But we never got out of the car. As I looked at Mugsy, I knew that he didn't have the energy. Instead, I just sat in the car stroking his soft fur, Mugsy comforting me more than I could comfort him.
Mugsy came into our lives in mid-2001, when my current wife (then my fiancee) and I decided to take a drive to Wylie, Texas, to get an up-close look at this breed of dog we'd been reading about but had yet to encounter up close: a pug. A pug seemed like a good fit for our personalities and our small apartment; we'd just moved to Dallas after graduating from college. But we had no intention of taking a puppy home that day -- until we caught a glimpse of that snorting, fuzzy ball of energy. I can't remember the exact price we paid that day; I think it was $250. Whatever it was, it was one of the best investments we ever made.
After a day, the 6-pound pup had learned to sit on command. Within a week, he could shake hands. But such discipline was strictly on Mugsy's terms. I remember him grabbing ahold of my pant legs, hanging on and growling mischievously as I shuffled across the room. I remember him racing around the room in dizzying circles, occasionally making a play for the food on my plate or some underwear from the laundry bin before fleeing the scene. I remember him chewing up a $72 money order that I'd procured to pay a speeding ticket in Grayson County. Mugsy would misbehave, but usually in hilarious fashion. He was a born entertainer.
He was also the smartest dog I ever knew, and he had a way of bending his human subjects to his will. If he wanted a stick of rawhide or to go outside or for you to sit down so that he could curl up by your feet to relax, chances are he'd find a way to make it happen. That playful yet imperious nature was, in part, what inspired this blog.
Many of the adventures on this blog were based on real events in Mugsy's life. He did, indeed, have an endless appetite for rawhide. He would brutally massacre most chew toys (the thick-skinned Mallard being a notable exception). In his younger days, he would have spent hours licking a belly button, if given the opportunity. And he loved to dress up for Pug-O-Ween and other occasions.
Over the last couple of years, Mugsy became completely deaf and nearly blind. But he retained his happy-go-lucky nature. Whether on a long road trip or at the unfamiliar house of a friend, Mugsy was at ease and in command. As long as he had somebody to snuggle up to, he was content.
After our daughter, Cecelia, was born in 2012, I had trouble keeping up with this blog and with the ayatollah's social media accounts. I was caring for her and our two pugs during the day and working late into the evening, and so new posts slowed to a trickle before ultimately drying up. But Mugsy's adventures continued, albeit at a slower pace. He was a wonderful big brother and made quite an impression at last year's Pug-O-Ween as a bison alongside Celie's cowgirl and Wendell's old coot of the Old West.
As I alluded to in the opening sentence, we know what we're getting into when we let a dog into our hearts. With their lifespans being so much shorter than ours, we know it's a story that's likely to end in grief. And yet it's worth it, without question. Mugsy gave us 13 wonderful years and earned a lasting place in our hearts. Rest in peace, old friend. I miss you, and I love you.
FIVE MUGSY MEMORIES
- For Mugsy's first Pug-O-Ween, we bought a kids' Batman costume and modified it to fit him. A lot of people assume dogs don't want to be in costume, and that's certainly true of some. My childhood mutt Sophie wasn't thrilled when we dressed her up for Halloween. But put Mugsy in a crimefighter cowl or a Viking helmet, and he simply beamed. And having a few hundred other pugs to meet and sniff didn't hurt, either.
- When we lived in an apartment in Far North Dallas, we'd take Mugsy for regular walks around a nearby shopping center, past the Tom Thumb grocery store and around the Blockbuster video store (remember those?). With Men in Black being a recent box-office phenomenon, we were constantly approached by people smiling at Mugsy and saying, "Frank the Pug!"
- Mugsy didn't generally like the water. He didn't swim, and one sure way to get him to turn and run the other way was to mention the word "bath." But for some reason, he always liked the annual end-of-summer dog days at the local water parks. The first year we went, we almost left him at home and just took Wendell, instead. I'm so glad we didn't. Watching Mugsy's smile grow as we set off on an inner tube around the lazy river was a joy.
- My workplace, not usually a dog-friendly office, needed a model for a canine fashion shoot. So Mugsy, being the handsome and photogenic fellow that he was, was recruited. Though usually quiet, Mugsy became quite vocal in the office, spending several hours after the photo shoot barking gruffly under my desk at passers-by. That was one of my favorite workdays ever.
- The first day we brought Celie home from the hospital, we sat her car seat down, and the pugs eagerly approached to meet her. Mugsy had a natural way with kids, knowing how to put them at ease. Celie was never afraid of the dogs and loved them from Day 1, and Mugsy was the ideal big brother.