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  • Writer's pictureShari Simpson

Vintage Pug Senior Sanctuary (and their People, Melissa & Laurel)

Oh, Pug People, we have to tell you ahead of time that we didn’t have a lot of clever comebacks during our interview with Vintage Pug Senior Sanctuary because we were too busy gushing over the amazing work Melissa and her wife Laurel are doing for these sweet, sweet seniors. The good news is, Melissa (the spokesperson for our feature) is hilarious all on her own. Please read about everything they do and consider making a donation to this incredible rescue!

PP: Lemon is sooo yummy. Those ears! Is she a mix?

Melissa: Yes, her DNA came back 80% pug, a little bit of Pekinese, and a bit of toy poodle.

PP: Okay, we need to move onto the questions, we’re getting too enraptured by Lemon’s yumminess. So, Melissa, tell us your pug history.

Melissa: My wife Laurel had intended to foster a senior pug, nine years old, through a rescue and it turned out that his family had surrendered him because he had mast cell cancer. Obviously, we thought this was a hospice situation, but Snickers got into an experimental trial and beat cancer. We had him until he was 15.

PP: Wow!

Melissa: We know that a lot of senior pugs end up in rescues because they become expensive with medical bills or the care becomes too much for people. But we’d had this amazing experience and realized that this was the sort of thing that we were drawn to, because Snickers was the greatest thing that ever happened to us. He had a companion pug, Harper, so he wouldn’t be alone, and when she passed, we got Biscuit. And then we didn’t want Biscuit to be alone and at a certain point, we just looked at each other and said, “we probably just need to commit to the fact that we’re never going to say ‘no’ to a senior pug that needs a home.”

PP: Amen.

Melissa: In 2020, for our anniversary, I had a lawyer do all the paper work for an official nonprofit and I could present Laurel with her own senior pug hospice, because it was clearly her passion.

PP: Ohhhhh, how incredibly sweet! Did she cry?

Melissa: Well, I ended up giving it to her a bit early, because we lost one of our hospice dogs, Whisper. That was such a hard loss. I wanted something to remind us both what we’re in this for, even when it’s hard.

PP: So beautiful. Now we’re crying.

Melissa: I gave her the paperwork and then we went and picked up Lemon that weekend. We were told that she had a few days to a few weeks to live and she needed a soft place to land to ride out the rest of her time. And that was two years ago.

PP: You guys are magical!

Melissa: A little time and energy, that’s all. There’s something about Lemon that people are just drawn to. She’s very charismatic and a wonderful example of how rewarding it can be to take on a senior.

PP: How many pugs do you have right now?

Melissa: Currently we have 13.

PP: Oh PUG, that’s a lot.

Melissa: We have nine that are diaper babies, but we’re having an easier time right now because no one is in a wheelchair.

PP: Do have anyone to help you? This sounds like a ridiculous amount of work.

Melissa: It’s just me and Laurel. And we both have full-time jobs. But Laurel works from home so that she’s always here.

PP: That is seriously impressive. We both work from home and can barely find time to shower, much less take care of thirteen pugs.

Melissa: Thanks. We don’t sleep very much.

PP: Can you list all their names off the top of your head?

Melissa: I think I can do it. Lemon, Kiwi, Biscuit, Moo, Tofu, Crumpet, Gummy Bear, Butterball, Fig, Waffles, Ladybug, Marmalade and Sweet James.

PP: (applauds)

Melissa: Since Snickers came with that name and we’ve done everything in his honor, we try to give everyone food names. Moo is for Midnight Moo, the chocolate syrup from Trader Joe’s. If the pugs are with us for only a very short time, we try to keep the names they came with, so they don’t get confused in the time they have left.

PP: So, Lemon wasn’t Lemon when you got her.

Melissa: No, she was just an unnamed stray.

PP: That’s heartbreaking. But a perfect name, because she’s such a tangy lemon.

Melissa: And we got Kiwi at the same time. She had really bad infections, malignant mammary carcinoma, she had almost no fur from a ringworm infection. We thought, well, that sounds like someone else who needs to get in our car.

PP: And she’s also been with you for two years.

Melissa: Yes, and now she’s a gorgeous dog, beautiful fur. It’s so sweet, one of the most rewarding things about this is you can tell how much they appreciate it. You get them home and let them sleep in the big bed and be somebody’s best friend, and they just adore it.

PP: The big bed?! Do all thirteen sleep with you?!

Melissa: No. If I had my way, maybe. The ‘big bed’ is just a big dog bed.

PP: Before you started this amazing organization, were you already Pug People?

Melissa: Laurel was. I was a general dog person, I’d had all breeds. Of course, once you have a pug, you realize you were wrong to choose any other breed.

PP: Thank you for acknowledging that infinite and eternal truth.

Melissa: There’s lots of great dogs, but you should only have pugs.

PP: Do you remember when you crossed over to that thought? Was it gradual or can you pinpoint a moment?

Melissa: Oh, the minute I met Snickers. He was the most charismatic old man who ever existed. We built a whole day’s soundtrack around him, he had a wake-up song, a potty song, a breakfast song. He had more nicknames than our son.

PP: Wait—you have a human child, too?! How old??

Melissa: Nine.

PP: You really are the most impressive people. We’re never going to complain again about how much we have on our plates.

Melissa: We do a lot of laundry. That’s the only thing that brings complaints.

PP: We’re assuming your son’s a Pug Person. Not that he has a choice.

Melissa: He adores them. We have a cat too, but she’s pretty convinced that she’s a pug.

PP: Is there a club within the club of pugs? Like, little cliques?

Melissa: Oh, yes. We text each other throughout the day with updates from ‘The Old and the Puggy’, which is our version of ‘The Young and the Restless’.

Melissa: Most of the drama usually revolves around Lemon and who Lemon’s current boyfriend is. When we brought home Waffles she was clearly swooning. He’s the tallest pug you will ever meet and she was all over this tall drink of water. But then we brought home Fig and she dropped Waffles like a bad habit.

PP: That little hussy!

Melissa: But we’re fostering a pug named Grandma and Fig decided Grandma was going to be his lady. However, last night I discovered Lemon and Grandma in bed together, so we think they’ve decided they had enough of boy drama and are just going to be gal pals.

PP: Lemon and Grandma have the right idea. Melissa, can you give us a general idea of what an average day looks like at Vintage Pugs Senior Sanctuary?

Melissa: We get up at 5 and round the gang up. Anybody who’s still able goes out for morning potties and the rest get diaper changes. Then we do meal prep and feeding, a.m. meds, start the morning load of laundry, get everyone situated in whatever part of the house they feel like, and go to work. We repeat everything at midday and at dinner time. If it’s spa day, they get bathed, you know, their fluff ‘n’ fold, then nails, ears, and the like. Fridays are vet appointments.

PP: Knowing pugs, do they all sit there and bark while you’re making their food?

Melissa: Well, we converted the garage into a meal prep and supply area, so they don’t really see it happening. We rented a storage unit for all of our personal stuff.

PP: You guys are awesome. Truly.

Melissa: They seem to know what’s happening in the garage, but the only one who really reacts is Tofu, and because she’s a pug mix, that little bit of Pekinese in her expresses appreciation while we’re prepping. Pugs are more demanding, as you know.

PP: They’re more entitled, like, ‘serve me, hooman’. On that note, what are the qualities of pugs that you love the most?

Melissa: It’s funny, because any pug we pick up is a best friend immediately. ‘This is Lemon, she’s my best friend. This is Tofu, she’s my best friend.’

Melissa: We’re lucky to have so many and see all of their adorable differences, but still there’s that pugness that runs through all of them. One thing we love in particular is what we call the ‘pug roots’, where they just have to rub their faces on the blanket, into the bed, onto your clean sweatshirt. Everything in our house is covered in pug face juice.

PP: Pug face juice is delicious. What do you love most about Pug People?

Melissa: It’s the most amazing community, honestly. There is not a Pug Person out there that wouldn’t bend over backwards to help another Pug Parent or a pug. We’ve had people in other states driving pugs to us, the donations and supplies, the amazing messages they send us every single day. I just don’t think you see this level with other breeds, it’s very special to the pug community.

PP: And that’s why we decided to do this project, Pug People Tales, because we wanted to tell the stories of the amazing people we meet and see every day.

Melissa: Such a good idea.

PP: Thanks! Now we’re sure you have many, many of these, but do you have a favorite memory or story of one or more of the pugs?

Melissa: Well… we never treat the seniors like their time is limited, no matter what the vets tell us. When we take them, they become part of the family, they’re our babies, they’re going to live forever. As soon as they get here, we pick their name and make a tag for their collar. They don’t really wear the collars, you know, they’re just for show. But how many of them have ever had someone take the time to pick out a collar that suits them and has their own special name on it? Symbolically, we all know that a tag on an animal shows that it has a person, right? This is always my favorite part of bringing someone home. Even if they don’t understand what’s happening, they feel the energy of our love. Oh, and we got the supplies to make their own tags at home, so we don’t have to wait to know that they’re family.

PP: We love the ritual of making their own tag to show that they are loved. Okay, Melissa, we’re well aware that your entire life is a True Pug Confession, but do you have one particular instance you’d like to share?

Melissa: We have these lovely, lovely neighbors and I didn’t realize quite how much they can hear of us and what we’re doing with the pugs, all day, every day. But one neighbor stopped me to tell me that he actually takes a break to go out in the yard when he knows I’m getting home from work, because he thinks the way I talk to them is so funny. It took him a while to realize that I was having an argument with a bunch of pugs, that I wasn’t having issues with Laurel or that I was a very strange parent. Apparently, one day he overheard me tell the pugs that it was like running a penal colony and they all belonged in a federal prison because this is not how we behave at dinnertime.

PP: OMP, you’re killing us.

Melissa: Yeah, unfortunately it hasn’t caused me to lower my volume, but at least I know I have a captive audience now.

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