Pug-ugly, but pretty dear; is it worth it?

Pugs have taken over from Tamagotchis as the must-have pet. But at a cost that would keep a poor abandoned mongrel in Pal for the rest of its days. Take your pick

TO BE HONEST, it wasn't going to be long before we stopped fobbing ourselves off with redundant lumps of plastic as pets. Tamagotchis, last year's bleeping cyberpet annoyances, have died of malnutrition, and it's time to start learning how to take responsibility for something of the flesh-and-blood variety.

One word for you - pug. From pounds 550 the next ideal city pet could be yours. It embodies the camp delights of all toy dogs, whilst bypassing the Barbara- Cartland excesses of Pekinese and Yorkies. Top this with the perverse kick you get out of owning a dog whose breed name is usually prefixed to the word "ugly" and one gets closer to understanding the unique experience of pug-ownership. With its large head feauring the trademark squashed muzzle, if the pug was any larger than its stocky 11 inches it might have a few self-image problems. But they have perfect temperaments: obedient and eager to please, comfortable with children, and they only need 10- 15 minutes exercise per day. Pugs are companion dogs that succeed where others fail; as John Smith, secretary of the Pug Dog Club put it: "Most people who buy a pug will always have a pug."

The only special care they need is keeping their ear and nose wrinkles clean. They shed hair, and have problems growing old gracefully, going obviously grey and deploying their porcine snorts with greater regularity.

It would be behind the times however to level any similar criticisms at their owners - the most popular breed in New York reaches far beyond the tea-party circuit. Their renewed appeal has been put down to the recent sale of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor's pug memorabilia. The pug has also shown its iconic face in movies and in fashion. A wise-cracking pug stole scenes in last year's Men in Black, and fashion designer Valentino has named an entire collection after his pug, Oliver.

So if you're after something pedigree, a pug could be the answer. What else can fill the previously unexploited style window that is the bicycle basket? But for pounds 550?

The alternative is to go to a rescue society and provide a home for a dog who needs one. (Good dogs' homes employ animal behaviourists to solve dogs' problems before they are re-homed.) The decision is yours: to take on a dog from a refuge is to change an abandoned dog into a loved pet. To pay for a pug is to pay for a compact friend, an animated accessory and a surrogate child ... with the face of Jack Nicholson.

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