Ruston is #9

One of the main things we heard on newscasts about the Tonopah Puppy Mill Pugs last November was “oh they look so healthy, they look great!” Funny thing about pugs though, is that many of their congenital issues (stenotic nares, elongated soft palate, dry eye, luxating patellas, etc.) aren’t seen by looking at them; these issues are diagnosed at the vet clinic, by a qualified, well educated, professional veterinarian.

APARN asked for, and received, the pugs that were older, had issues walking, were blind or clearly in need of eye care or tumor removals; in short, the pugs that needed us. One pug that stumped me as to why he came to APARN was a beautiful apricot male, estimated to be 5 years old. I had picked the name Ruston for one of the males, and oddly enough, this little apricot fell into the right order to receive that name; the first of fate’s little set ups, I suppose.

Over the course of the next week, as pugs were placed into foster homes, Ruston remained at the vet clinic awaiting his procedures. I couldn’t get him off my mind. I sent a quick text to Rachel, APARN’s Foster Home Director. “Hey, I will foster Ruston, the apricot male.” She quickly sent back, “Seriously?” I replied with a simple “Yes.” For some inexplicable reason, I just felt I was supposed to foster him.

After his dental cleaning a few days later, I picked up Ruston and brought him home. A compact little pug, he weighed in at 17.5 pounds. After a quick sniff and a few barks by Nugget, the rest of the pug pack welcomed Ruston into their midst. A little groggy still from his anesthesia, Ruston’s first night was uneventful, and he slept soundly in his crate.

The next morning, all the pugs went outside for potties, and Ruston took his cues from the most unlikely role model, 3-yr old Nikki, a young black female pug with seizure disorder caused by hydrocephalus. In fact, just thinking about it reminded me of the old Charles Barkley Nike commercial where he proclaimed, “I am NOT a role model.” It’s not that Nikki is a bad pug, she just doesn’t always understand the difference between doing what she wants to at the moment or doing what she really should do … nor does she even care to know the difference.

Ruston was a very quiet boy, and seemed very withdrawn, living in his own world inside his head. He seemed to come with a lot of emotional baggage. No wonder I was drawn to him; these were the types of pugs I enjoyed working with. It seems so many foster parents have a particular “type” – some enjoy fostering a demodex pug back to health, where you can see the clear amazing difference in the Before and After photos. Others like the pugs with broken limbs, who just need quiet rest in a crate, and some TLC between vet visits. For me, it’s always been the ones that seem to have no more faith in people; the ones that have given up all trust that human kindness exists; the ones that have created their own little world and edge further and further into it with each passing day.

Ruston was lightweight, so I carried him outside and back in for the first few days, and lifted him up to my lap during those times I took time to sit and relax with the pugs. Surprisingly, fussy little Lexi had no problem with Ruston sharing her mom’s lap, even to the extent of him resting his head on her butt. For the most part, Ruston’s first week was filled with just a lot of snuggling, petting, and speaking to him softly. He seemed to relax slightly, but I could tell he was still holding back, hesitant to let go and trust me.

After the first week, his overall quiet personality was punctuated with bouts of running to the dining room, standing and barking at the wall for 30 seconds or so, and then running to the living room, whining for a moment, then escalating to another fit of barking at a wall. It quickly became apparent that he was indeed a typical puppy mill pug, with a high level of PTSD from all of his emotional baggage. Ruston was not a pug who could have all his issues “fixed” in a week or two. His issues were deep-seated and could take months for him to really learn to relax and trust again. His anxiety level was high enough to ask the vet for something to help him calm down, so he started on anti-anxiety meds as needed.

It seemed though, that aside from the frenetic bouts of wall-barking, Ruston spent an inordinate amount of time sleeping, or just laying around. He just seemed a bit too lethargic for a five year old pug. I made an appointment for him, and took him to the vet to make sure he didn’t have valley fever. I also wanted to check on his back legs, because he didn’t lift his leg to pee like a normal dog would; when he lifted his back leg to pee, he looked like he had a T-Rex arm as a back leg.

The doctor ruled out the need for a valley fever screen, as that had been done during his first week there, and he was negative. Next up were x-rays of his hips. Because he is such a compact little pug, it was easy to get his entire spine on the x-ray. This feat was also made easy due to the fact he has scoliosis (his spine curves off to one side, rather than going straight), and he has a huge u-shaped dip in his spine just past his neck (some hemi-vertebrae included there). I have seen enough pug x-rays over the last 15 years to know that not only was his spine a mess, but so were his hips, which were seen in the next view.

After a moment of silent staring, “Oh my God,” was about all I could manage to say. One side of his hips didn’t have anything even resembling a femoral head or socket, and the other side had a very shallow socket and femoral head that looked like a deformed cauliflower stalk. Finally, I said, “So basically, he isn’t really lethargic, he is just in pretty bad pain.” The doctor nodded. “I think so. We can start him on Tramadol and Metacam, and if that doesn’t seem to help, maybe add Gabapentin.” I said, “Ok, I also have Omega 3 fish oil caps and Synovi G4 Joint supplements so I will add those as well.”

The good news is, six weeks of meds have really made a difference in Ruston’s physical abilities. He will even use the step to climb up on the sofa by himself if no one is there to lift him up. And he enjoys going out in the back yard and exploring all of the potential pee places. He still lifts like a T-Rex arm, and probably always will, but at least it is not painful for him. He will need to remain on these medications and supplements the rest of his life.

Emotionally, he still has a very long way to go. After five months, he still doesn’t understand what toys are all about. He has learned “Sit” but only in conjunction with getting his meds twice a day. He still has days where he needs the anti-anxiety meds, and nights where he wakes up crying. And maybe the saddest thing of all, he still has no idea what pug kisses are, and what a major milestone it will be when I finally get one from him.

In 16 years of pug rescue, I have only adopted eight pugs. It looks like Ruston is finally number nine.

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