Aspen Princess: The pug and the purpose of life |

Aspen Princess: The pug and the purpose of life

Alison Berkley Margo
The Aspen Princess

Crazy things I’ve done in the week since my pug died: Spent over $100 on a custom ceramic urn on Etsy that looks like a sugar jar from Pottery Barn and probably costs like, five bucks to make; wrapped Gertie’s pink crystal-studded collar around my wrist and worn it as a bracelet; filled out a 10-page application online to be considered for a championship line pug puppy from a California breeder that probably costs more than a used car; and cried like a baby in front of everyone and anyone, from lying on my mat sobbing during yoga to losing it at the bank when I saw the bowl of treats in the cashiers window to bursting into tears at the car wash where the guy said, “Hey, where’s your cool little dog?” when I pulled up to pay.

Here’s the thing: I have friends whose parents have died or who have undergone treatment for cancer or have lost friends in fatal accidents or watched their family home burn to the ground in a California wildfire. That is real tragedy. I’ve been asking myself what, if anything, did I do for that person in their time of need? There were times when I showed up, and times I didn’t.

I have a friend from college who is mentally ill and does not use a filter with his comments on social media. His response to Gertie’s death was, “I am laughing so hard I’m crying. I mean, it was a dog.” I deleted the comment but maybe I shouldn’t have. It was his truth, and I appreciate that.

I know there are people out there who are shaking their heads in disgust, whispering “I told you so,” under their breath, people who think you get what you deserve when you don’t rescue a shelter dog. There are also people who don’t understand flat-faced breeds and to that I say if it’s good enough for Chinese emperors, it’s good enough for me.

That’s not to undermine the outpouring of support and love my family has received over the last week from family, friends, my readers, and fans and friends of Gertie.

There’s also the international pug community that I’ve been commiserating with on Instagram, which is right up there with the designer urn and the collar-as-a-bracelet-thing in terms of getting into weird pug lady territory. It’s just that Gertie’s Instagram was getting some real traction. She had thousands, not hundreds of followers and her photos got likes often hitting the triple digits. I’ve decided to keep her account going, despite the fact that it’s creepy and weird.

There’s also the way a tragedy can bring you closer to the people you love. I know sometimes the opposite can happen, so I’m pretty grateful that isn’t the case with me, and grateful isn’t a word I toss around lightly. I kind of can’t stand that word. It’s right up there with “blessed” and “gratitude” and other annoying hashtags yogis throw around even though you just know they sneak cigs and get road rage and cheat on their wives and yell at their kids.

Anyway, Ryan has been a saint, even though he has hardly had a minute to himself to grieve. I know there are guys out there that can’t understand how you could ever love a fat little designer dog, and I know Ryan thought that once, too. But he loved our loaf of fur bread and would carry her around and coo at her and call her baby girl. Every night when he got into bed, he’d snap his fingers and she’d curl up into his huge arms, her little head in the crook of his elbow and they’d snore together in unison, the background music of my life. I will say since she’s been gone, we can lay a lot closer to each other, my cold feet finding their way back between Ryan’s giant calves, right where I left them before that pug established herself as the queen of our household.

The day Gertie passed, Ryan came home from work to spend the day with me. We went for a hike and I walked behind him as he talked a blue streak about the meaning of life, what happens when you die, and what matters most in life. He talked so much and so fast that I almost fell asleep to the sound of his voice prattling on, like I do when a football game is on. It was comforting in a way, not so much about what he was saying as the sound of his voice. I tuned in somewhere around, “I mean, what’s the point? You work your ass off for a paycheck and then you just die? We should pack it in and take Levi on a trip around the world.”

I liked the sound of that.

Just after we’d left Gertie’s body at the vet and were about to crumple into our grief, we ran into our friend Ivana who had just picked up her Frenchie. She’s this beautiful, stunning Eastern European woman who spits tacks when she talks, carrying on like a drunken sailor in these staccato bursts with her heavy accent, like she is taking a drag from a cigarette in between each phrase. She gave us both a warm hug and when we asked her why she was there, she launches into this story about how the dog had ruptured his anal gland from his habit of rubbing his butt against the carpet. “I mean, who does that?” she crowed.

We laughed so hard we cried. “That was a movie. We were in a movie,” Ryan kept saying. And that’s the thing about death; it does make you appreciate life. Maybe life isn’t always but a dream, but at least it’s entertaining.

The Princess wants to hear from people who lost a dog and then got another dog of the same breed. Good idea or not? Email your comments to