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Number of pug cast-offs may surge due to canine co-star of 'Men in Black II'

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

By Linda Wilson Fuoco, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

It takes a heck of an actor to upstage Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, but Frank the pug does all that and more. Frank talks and sings and sometimes wears a black suit in the recently released hit movie "Men in Black II." The little dog has some of the best lines in the movie and drew some of the biggest laughs at a recent screening in a South Hills movie theater.

Paul Kovach, left, and Ray Kinneman Jr. own their own pugs and also offer their Bloomfield house as a temporary "foster" home for unwanted pugs through Guardian Angels Pug Rescue. They hold, from left, Candy, Sampson, Lilly and Buggy. (Andy Starnes, Post-Gazette)

Movie Review
'Men in Black II'

Now pug lovers fear that Frank, who's supposed to be Smith's alien partner, will draw interest of a less pleasant kind. In the next four to 12 months, breeders, shelters and "rescue" volunteers expect to be deluged with pugs purchased by fans of Frank who have grown tired of the real thing.

Seventeen pugs who were given up by their owners currently live at a "rescue" shelter in Latrobe. They arrived there long before "MIB II" came out. Patti Levay, who has been finding new homes for unwanted pugs since 1987, believes more pugs will be dropped on her doorstep because of this movie.

Pugs' popularity last soared after the 1989 release of "The Adventures of Milo and Otis."

"That first year, seven pugs named Otis were turned in to us -- and a few named Milo," Levay said, though Milo was the name of the feline co-star. And that was in addition to dozens of other cast-off pugs with more original names.

The "M & O" fall-out continues, as video sales and rentals remain strong. She's still taking in pugs named Otis.

Levay has found homes for hundreds of pugs, though she says she has "never actually done a head count. That would be too sad -- all those abandoned pets."

She started out as a one-woman outfit called Southwestern Pennsylvania Pug Rescue. By 1995, she had become an "operation," and the name changed to Guardian Angels Pug Rescue. The Angels organization is now a 501(c)4 nonprofit organization with more than 250 member families, including special volunteers such as Paul Kovach and Ray Kinneman Jr.

Visitors who knock on the door of their Bloomfield home are greeted with a chorus of barks that sound as though they come from the throats of big burly dogs. A pack of pugs -- five of them -- jump and snort and yip behind a baby gate installed to keep them from rushing the front door. When the gates open, the pugs bound onto the couch to slather the visitor with wet slurpy tongues.

They are unrelentingly friendly, even with strangers.

Buggy, Sampson, Lilly, Ruby and Candy have all been dumped by people who purported to love them. Three are the classic fawn color with black faces, like Frank. One is coal black. Sampson is reddish fawn without the black face, for he is a pug mix whose "other half" is clearly terrier -- either Cairn or Border.

For the past two years, Kovach and Kinneman have provided what rescue people call "foster" homes. They house unwanted pugs until a new home can be found.

Rescue volunteers are concerned the movie "Men in Black II" and its canine co-star will lead to more unwanted pugs, such as Buggy, a foster dog. (Andy Starnes, Post-Gazette)

Lilly, Ruby and Candy were supposed to be temporary residents, but they quickly graduated to permanent status. Buggy, 2, and Sampson, 3, are in the market for a permanent home, Kovach and Kinneman say, with an obvious tinge of regret.

It doesn't take long to figure out that no black-suited movie star would want a pug for a partner. Their coats are short but thick, and they shed heavily, year-round.

Many pug people -- including Kovach and Kinneman -- give their pugs the run of the house, including free access to couches and beds. Such pug owners routinely vacuum several times each day and avoid wearing black or navy blue clothes. The dogs' heavy shedding is one reason many pugs are turned in to the Guardian Angels.

Pugs have many qualities that make them ideal pets. They are small -- 14 to 18 pounds is the ideal. They are not, by nature, nippy or snippy.

The breed originated in China more than 2,000 years ago. They were not bred to hunt, protect, herd or track. They apparently were designed to do nothing except be companions to people, which points to a quality that is either good or bad, depending on your perspective. They are relentlessly devoted to their people and require -- some would say demand -- a lot of attention.

Pugs do not thrive in outdoor kennels and don't do very well indoors if they are crated and ignored for long periods of time.

They are usually good with children, though they are too small to withstand the rough play of small children, and their large, protruding eyes are frequently injured by children who poke and prod.

Buggy was sent to Guardian Angels by a mother who said her two children were too rough with him. Sampson's origins are unknown, but Kovach and Kinneman took him out of a feces-strewn cage at a West Virginia shelter.

Lilly, 11, was dumped -- literally -- in a box left outside a local shelter. Ruby, 6, was rescued from a puppy mill. She has multiple health problems and expensive, ongoing veterinarian bills because she had too many litters of puppies.

Candy, 10, had a great home with a wealthy family until they got new carpets. Candy had to go because she was not completely housebroken, though she is now.

Fans of Frank who are considering buying or rescuing a pug need to know that the breed is prone to many health problems, including crippling spinal disorders, seizures and eye problems.

Many of the Guardian Angels pugs have health problems, which is why Levay asks for adoption fees that range from $150 to $350. Fund-raisers such as the organization's fall "Pugfest" are needed to offset veterinary expenses that have run as much as $10,000 for a single seizure-prone pug.

For further information about Guardian Angels Pug Rescue, check out the Web site: www.guardianangelspugrescue.com or call Levay at 724-537-3466.

Another site -- www.frankthepug.org -- explains many of the pug ownership pitfalls and has links to other informative sites.

The Web site of The American Kennel Club -- www.akc.org -- has information about all breeds, breeders and rescue organizations.

Correction/Clarification: (Published July 25, 2002) A story yesterday about pugs and the movie "Men In Black II" gave an incorrect location for a rescue shelter run by Guardian Angels Pug Rescue. It is in Latrobe.

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