Friday, August 23, 2013

Colin Purrington & Ling-Ling

Who is in the photo at right?

I'm Colin Purrington, and I blog about photography, food, and gardening at the unimaginatively-named "". I'm sitting with Ling-Ling, a one year-old female pug. My hair isn't usually that big, for the record. The wind picked up during that shot only, but I liked how Ling-Ling was trying to drink my coffee. Her hair is always like that -- only pug I've ever seen with mohawk cowlick.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

We were on the way to the barn where my daughter takes riding lessons. We stop there (Burlap and Bean, in Newtown Square, PA) regularly to pick up coffee beans (roasted in-house to perfection) and to eat fresh waffles with ice cream. Ling-Ling loves to come to the barn to play with the other dogs, but they have no interest in playing with her. She also likes to jump at the ponies, who also have no interest in her. That's a theme in her life. But we play with her.

What's brewing?

Ethiopia Harrar, straight up. I love milk, but only add it to my coffee when the coffee is bad and needs to be masked. Milking good coffee is a crime.

Any treats for you or Ling-Ling on this occasion?

Sadly, no treats for Ling-Ling or me. But I bought my daughter a bunch of cake pops, and Ling-Ling got the inevitable crumbs.

How did Ling-Ling get her name? Any nicknames?

All fawn pugs look like gyoza, those Asian dumplings with prominent folds sealing in the lard and such. And since pugs are Asian in origin we really had to name her something like Gyoza or Dumpling, although those were a bit too obvious. So we went with Ling-Ling, which has the added benefit of being a company that makes frozen gyozas (you can buy them at Target...they are actually pretty good). Sometimes we call her Cha Siu Bao (those spongy buns filled with barbecued pork that you get at dim sum restaurants). Occasionally, Loaf. All the nicknames are all mildly derogatory and make fun of her belly. We are bad people.

How were you and Ling-Ling united?

I spent a long time trying to find a female pug puppy, and eventually hooked up with Gas Hollow Pugs in the Pocono Mountains, about 3 hours north of me. Even if you aren't in the market for a pug, I think everyone should put on their bucket list, "Visit pug breeder," just so they can witness a boil of puglets tearing around. Yes, I just made up "boil of puglets" — a "herd" just doesn't do justice to the chaos. They just don't corner well, among other issues. Among a lot of other issues, in fact. Anyway, that's how we were united. She didn't immediately like me, and spent the whole drive home avoiding direct eye contact. Their eyes bug out in an alarming way and thus they have peripheral vision to rival that of stalk-eyed flies (there are such things, and they are truly freaky, trust me), so when they look at you askance it's really quite the look.

You taught evolutionary biology at Swarthmore College for 15 years. What's an insight into that subject that relates to dogs?

One feature of pugs is that they have tightly curled tails. So curled that they collect leaves and other detritus (personal observation) when they are outside. We put toys in the tail to see how long it takes her to extract them (again, we are bad people). Why so curled? Surely partly it's because the breed standard includes curly tails, so breeders don't breed the straight-tailed mutants. But the ultimate reason, perhaps, is that past artificial selection for intense friendliness caused the inadvertent curling. Here's why: if you take a population of wolves and continually breed only the friendliest, after a few generations you'll notice that the tails get curlier. There's just something about the alleles that cause friendliness that also make tails curl. And this is not just true of wolves — silver foxes got curly tails when domesticated. So pugs are astonishingly friendly. You could lop off a pug's legs and it would still want to be your best friend (don't try this, though; that's just my guess). Thus it's possible that the friendliness and the tail curl are related. They also lack a proper snout, and it's thought that an adult pug is actually just a dog that never fully matured ... it still has the short snout that baby dogs have when they need to nurse. All domesticated dogs are puppies to some degree...I just think pugs are the extreme example of that type of artificial selection.

Who are Ling-Ling's best pet-pals?

She doesn't really have a pal in town, unfortunately. We've been looking, but most other dogs want to eat her.

Squeaky toy, ball, stick...?

Without a doubt her favorite toy is a stuffing-free raccoon that we call, Coon. Coon drags on the ground when she runs with him, and sometimes she trips on him during a full gallop. And she knows him by name, so we can say "Where's Coon?" or "Get Coon!!!!" and she'll snap to attention and go find him. Usually. We are actually now on Coon II, since Coon I went missing. Ling-Ling loves to chew on Coon after dinner and to play fetch with him. She sometimes tries to take Coon on walkies. Coon, luckily, is washable.

What is Ling-Ling's best quality?

I'd have to say her best quality is that she uses a litter box, just like our cats do. It's beyond great to know that if I'm running late getting home, she's fine. Actually, she's better at using a litter box than one of our cats, who shall go unnamed just in case she's reading this.

If Ling-Ling could change one thing about you, what would it be?

She'd want me to lose my hearing so that her snoring wasn't so much of a problem. It's a problem. It's hard to explain how such a small package can make such a loud noise. I have deep respect for pug breeders. They probably sleep with noise-cancelling headphones.

If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Ling-Ling could speak, which actor should do her voice?

Well, she'd have to be young, perky, like food, and have a Chinese accent (much better than a Pennsylvania accent). I don't know that many actresses, so perhaps Ching-He Huang could be conned into doing it. She has a gig on the Cooking Channel.

If Ling-Ling could answer only one question in English, what would you ask her?

Does it feel like your eyes are about to pop out of your head? Sure looks that way. I get alarmed when she sneezes.

If you're hired as CPBR's new CEO, what do you think Ling-Ling will like most about relocating to St Simons Island, Georgia?

It doesn't look like The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research is terribly interested in hiring me in any capacity. Maybe they'll invite me to give a guest lecture on plagiarism in the granting process. But I'd still love to see St Simons Island someday even if they don't call me.

Visit Colin Purrington's blog and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue


  1. Well I never knew that about tails and friendliness, is that really true? Interesting post

  2. Yea, something causes link between curly tail and social behavior ... but I don't know what causes the link. Here's an article: There are lots of articles on the topic.