Clara, the Early Years: The Story of the Pug Who Ruled My Life

Clara, the Early Years: The Story of the Pug Who Ruled My Life

by Margo Kaufman

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Pugs were dogs. Cute dogs, willful dogs, lovable to be sure, but I was a Human. I was in charge.
        Then along came Clara, and all bets were off.
        Once a pug owner, always a pug owner--or so thought Margo Kaufman, having shared her home with the lovable snub-faced imps since her college days. But it was not until the 1992 arrival of Clara--petite, imperious, whip-smart, and seductive--that Margo found what it meant to be a pug parent: that a pug could rule her life, and perhaps the world as well.
        Clara, the Early Years is the hilarious story of how a glossy-black, twelve-pound package of canine energy took over Margo's heart and home while charming the pants off the rest of the world. From commandeering the dressing rooms at Saks (where a personal shopper offers Clara Evian in a cut-crystal bowl), to accompanying Margo on her first book tour, to an appearance on PrimeTime Live (where Margo plays a supporting role), the indomitable Clara establishes herself as a world-class personality, a star of the first order. But there is one event Clara cannot upstage, as Margo and her husband, Duke, travel to Russia to adopt an infant boy, and all of them learn new meanings for parent, family, and home.
        Full of the kind of uproarious observations and brilliant insights that have won Margo Kaufman's books and commentary legions of loyal followers, Clara, the Early Years is a laugh-filled portrait of a singularly memorable pet.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307824622
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/19/2012
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 391,676
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Margo Kaufman is the Hollywood correspondent for Pug Talk magazine as well as a columnist for the Los Angeles Times and a frequent contributor to The New York Times. She is a regular panelist on the syndicated National Public Radio news-quiz program Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me! and the author of 1-800-AM-I-NUTS? and This Damn House! She lives with her husband, her son, and two pugs in Venice, California.

Read an Excerpt

The pug, Clara, sensed disaster. My husband, Duke, and I had two weeks to go until we departed on a journey to the ends of the earth. This wasn’t unusual. We travel a lot. Yet somehow Clara had come to believe this trip marked the end of life as she knew it. Spectacularly correct, her hunch was worthy of the Psychic Friends Network, because the tangible evidence was slight. Our suitcases were still in the attic, the airline tickets locked in my desk; the only indication that something extraordinary was in the works was a growing mound of shopping bags in the laundry room.
But ever self-protective and watchful, the suspicious dog dragged her faux leopard-skin bed from its customary position in the corner of my study to a superior vantage point in front of our bedroom heater and henceforth refused to let me out of sight. Her dim pug sister, Sophie, who long ago learned to follow Clara’s instincts, chirped like a dying smoke alarm until I carried her bed in too.
Never mind that I’d spent four years accustoming the dictators—excuse me, companion animals—to sleep in another room, where Sophie’s compulsion to wake me at 5:30 A.M. with her insanely irritating yips and shrieks and Clara’s nightly attempt to invade the sanctity of our marital bed wouldn’t cause sleep deprivation. Overwhelmed with guilt, anxiety, and nostalgia, I relented. Even Duke, who isn’t nearly as vulnerable to their manipulations as me—the Official Pug Lollipop—grew powerless at the sight of the matching faux leopard-skin cuddlers in a line.
“They’re like the schoolgirls’ beds in Madeline,” he sighed with uncharacteristic sentimentality. Sensing weakness, Clara widened her eyes to chocolate-drop size, flattened her bat ears, and made herself look even smaller than her far-below-breed-standard twelve pounds. “The Dewdrop is looking unusually needy,” Duke said reproachfully.
He had no right to complain. His days were spent downtown at the university, so Clara only stalked him on weekends and after business hours. She shadowed me round the clock. As the date of our departure grew near, she maintained a vigil over my car keys the way an alcoholic keeps tabs on all the liquor in the house. If I attempted to leave home alone, she skittered under my feet, dashed out the gate, and bounced defiantly into the passenger seat of my car. I felt like Morgan Freeman in Driving Miss Daisy.
I consulted my friend Blanche Roberts, a three-time winner of the title National Pug Breeder of the Year. Blanche is one of the few people I know capable of treating the usually coddled lapdogs as livestock. She assured me that Clara’s behavior was reasonable. “You’re making changes,” Blanche said in her please-don’t-be-stupid voice. “She knows it and wants to be near you when it happens. She wants to support you.”
Supportive? Clara? Unlike Sophie, who exasperates me more than any living creature including my ex-husband but is goodhearted and actively prefers me to other human beings, Clara has the character and personality of her breed: that of the schemer Eve Harrington in All About Eve. (My husband claims that the hallmark of the pug’s personality is its indifference to pleasing the master. “Where some dogs will really work to make their master happy, pugs are only in it for themselves,” Duke says.)
“But I haven’t even brought the suitcases out,” I protested to Blanche. For good reason. Clara, who frequently travels with me, reacts to my luggage with an emotional meltdown.
“You smell different,” Blanche said. “A little more stressed, a little more worried.”
Pugs don’t have a standard dog snout—just a snub leathery half mushroom—but I knew better than to argue with Blanche. In pug circles her word is gospel, but more important, she was going to board Clara and Sophie while we were away, for a fraction of what it would cost to send them to a swanky dog camp with hanging plants, homemade curtains, and piped-in classical music twenty-four hours a day. I’d go to any lengths to avoid getting on her bad side. Besides, there was no denying that Clara was getting less lap time than her preferred eighteen hours a day.
“Just let her do her thing,” Blanche advised.
Since it is impossible to control Clara, this was easy advice to take.
My little dog caused a sensation at the Adventure Store, where I reluctantly went to be fitted for warm boots, perhaps the only pair of expensive shoes that I have no desire to own. Cedar incense wafted through the air, a sound system played a grating environmental soundtrack of chirping birds and mating whales, the floor was carpeted in Astroturf punctuated by papier-mâché redwood stumps and rocks. It evoked unhappy memories of damp sleeping bags and mosquito-filled Camp Kinni Kinnic camping trips, and I felt a panic attack coming on. The highly urbanized Clara, whose idea of communing with Mother Nature is to frolic around the orange and lemon trees and drought-resistant bushes in my in-laws’ meticulously landscaped backyard in Santa Barbara, trotted past a display rack containing doggy backpacks with the slogan: SO YOUR DOG CAN CARRY HIS OWN LOAD. (As if!)
“Can I pet your pug?” asked a lanky youth with marmalade dreadlocks, dressed in khaki Patagonia shorts and a white camp shirt embroidered with the title BOOT COUNSELOR. (I think it’s against the law in Los Angeles to be a regular salesperson.)
Before I could respond, he dropped to the ground and went eyeball to eyeball with Clara. She ran through her entire menu of attention-getting behaviors. Cock gnome head. Wag doughnut tail. Fold ears forward to sugar-won’t-melt-in-my-mouth position. Flash crooked front tooth. By the time she came to the finale—Flop on back so Human can scratch gently rounded belly!—Clara was surrounded by the Sock Analyst and the Down-Vest Consultant, each ripping open a package of beef jerky. This is a substance that I would only eat after five weeks on a lifeboat just before turning cannibal, but Clara was most appreciative.
“Excuse me,” I said, “I need lightweight boots that can withstand minus-twenty-degree cold.”
The Boot Counselor sighed and took his eyes off Clara. “Are you going on a trek?” he asked hopefully. I was worried. Did I look like one of those adventurous idiots who scaled Everest for fun?
“God forbid.” I shuddered. How to explain my mission without Clara learning the truth: We were flying across the world to adopt a six-month-old human baby. “It’s sort of a business trip,” I said evasively and ran through my boot requirements. Cute. Lightweight. Waterproof. Preferably black.
He measured my feet perfunctorily, all the while caressing Clara, who daintily pirouetted on her hind legs and devoured beef jerky at the same time. “My grandmother had a fawn pug named Pugsly,” he said.
If I had a dollar for everyone who’s told me that their grandmother had a pug named Pugsly, I could buy Clara and Sophie the black braided leather collars with the engraveable sterling silver locket that I admired in the Saks Fifth Avenue Christmas catalog (only $265 each!). I waited expectantly. I knew that soon I would learn Pugsly’s fate.
Sure enough, the youth sadly shook his dreadlocks. “Pugsly choked to death on a chicken bone.”
If I had a dollar for everyone who’s told me a gruesome story about how a pug died, I could fly Clara and Sophie to Manhattan every weekend, so they could attend Central Park Pug Pals, a gathering of pugs and their pug-besotted humans that meets every Saturday and Sunday at twelve-thirty on the grassy knoll behind the Alice in Wonderland statue.
“Poor Pugsly,” I said pro forma. “About my boots …”
Finally, he vanished into the stockroom and returned with a pair of definitely not adorable, industrial-strength black lace-up boots, which he explained would be warm enough if I wore two layers of special wicking socks. (No, he couldn’t show me any; I had to consult the Sock Analyst.) “Does Clara want Gore-Tex booties?”
Clara was open to the suggestion, but despite all appearances to the contrary, I have standards. My pug’s footwear is limited to a small can of Musher’s Wax, which I bought in Manhattan one snowy December morning because the salt on the icy streets burned her delicate dime-sized paws. Anyway, this was one trip that Clara would definitely not be making.
“If she were mine, I’d take her everywhere,” he said, and she sluttishly licked his face.
I was so guilt-ridden I pulled out my cell phone and made an emergency appointment with Dr. Pangloss, my therapist. He has seen Clara since she was a pup. (Not that she has difficulty coping; she just feels I need moral support.) Dr. Pangloss only sees one other dog regularly in his practice. “Would you believe it’s another pug?” he asked.
You bet I would.

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