I already miss her. A lot. As I was heading out this morning for a meeting in Des Plaines, I caught myself saying, as I usually do, “See you guys later,” forgetting that there is only “guy.”
Pepper’s health had been rapidly degenerating over the past few weeks, to the point that we sought medical help. And we discovered August 13, that she was so far gone that it would be better for her if we let her go. Since making that decision, my mind has been whirling with memories and regrets – a state that could, I suppose, be described as mourning.
Pepper was only a few weeks old when we first met her. Our Cocker Spaniel, Coco, had just recently met a very tragic end, and we (mostly me and Janelle, I think – Janelle was almost four years old at the time) decided to look at these Australian Shepherd pups that were advertised in the Iowa City Press-Citizen.
Pepper’s mom was a blue merle, and her dad was a tri-color, like her. The whole litter was adorable, but Pepper seemed mellower somehow, and while the others were jumping all over us like a bunch of honyocks, Pepper seemed drawn to us. We liked her right away.
A few days later, when we brought her home, she was terrified and didn’t leave the couch for days. She was a giant ball of black fluff with a little white face. It took her several days to adjust to being a Taylor, but eventually she took to us – even our cat, Zip. I don’t know if she and Zip were ever friends, really, but they were tolerant of one another.
We brought Pepper home to a house with a big, fenced-in backyard, which she loved. We could just let her out and she would run around and chase all of the other critters out.
One of the really endearing things about Pepper that manifested right away was her instinctive shepherd behavior. She would lie across the entrance to the sheepfold (also known as our front door) to keep us from leaving and prevent any wolves from coming in to eat us, and she would shepherd us, literally. Whenever she was outside and we were walking on the sidewalk to the garage, Pepper would switch back and forth to either side of us, herding us onto the sidewalk. It was a little annoying, but adorable.
Pepper seemed like kind of a doofus, because she was very submissive and lovey (her standard greeting was to try to climb your front in order to get a hug, then to immediately roll over on her back to get a belly scratch), but she was not. She was smart. And very trainable. At one point, we thought about entering her in those contests where she would navigate obstacles and whatnot, but I could never get her to go up the angled plywood mountain thing on her own (I know, there are names for all of these things, but I don’t care. I wasn’t that into it). But she could sit, stay, shake, and rollover like a champ. And, when she was little, with no training at all, she could catch a tennis ball in midair like it was a game she’d played a 1,000 times. Crazy.
But later on, she became the worst “fetch dog” that ever lived. She would bring you a stick, all excited and wagging her whole body as she always did when she was excited (she had no tail, so she wagged her whole back half. It was hilarious), and you would throw it, and maybe one time, she’d bring it back, but for subsequent throws, she would run out, then forget what she was doing and go smell something, or just lay down in the grass like a lazy bum and stop even looking for the stick.
I wouldn’t be talking about Pepper if I didn’t mention that she had a couple annoying habits. She was ALWAYS hungry, so you couldn’t leave any food on the table or the counter or you would come back to find it gone. Also trashcans without lids were not an option.
We always buy cheese in big blocks and slice it ourselves. Once, I left the cheese out on the counter, and I came back later to put it away, and it was gone. All ¼ pound of it!
Another time, Eddie and I won a cake at a Cub Scout cake auction – we paid a ton of money for it because it was huge, and it was Broncos themed (Eddie’s favorite team), and we had just brought it home and had yet to figure out what we were to do with such a huge cake. Pepper was not similarly confused. We left for a little while, to go out to eat, I think, and when we returned, there was a huge hunk of the cake missing right out of the middle of it; the cake was completely ruined and completely inedible – for anyone but Pepper that is.
Unfortunately, as amusing as these food-pilfering stories are in hindsight, the thing that was NEVER amusing was that every time Pepper would snatch some “human” food, she would get a terrible case of diarrhea. Have you ever tried to clean diarrhea from the butt fur of a big old fluffy Australian Shepherd? Well, you don’t want to. It is horrifying, and it would usually end in a bath, which Pepper hated but tolerated. I would have to ask Kim for sure, but I think I did all of Pepper’s baths, because she was really heavy, and there’s no way she was going into that tub on her own. You had to hoist her in, unwillingly.
The other annoying thing about Pepper was that, especially in summer, she would shed EVERYWHERE. I can’t imagine where all of that fur came from. She was like a ridiculously efficient fur factory. There would be little balls of fur in every corner of the house and, within a couple days after vacuuming, the whole carpet would look like a black fur coat again. Only just recently, when Pepper was staying with the kids, did Janelle come up with the idea to give her a summer haircut. It made her look adorable and young and thin, and she didn’t shed. Yay!
One other thing: she got Lyme disease when she was about five, which was scary, but she recovered. After that, though, she always tested positive, even though she wasn’t showing any symptoms or anything. She was cured but it would show false positive every time, which was also annoying. And every time, I would forget and get all scared again. Then I would remember the false positive thing.
Just about a year after we got Pepper, we “rescued” a Jack Russell Terrier named “Charlie” from a relative’s home, not because of abuse or neglect, but to prevent him from going to a shelter. Right away, we changed his name from Charlie to Rocky, because it just seemed right. His full name was Rocket J. Squirrel, but, like the flying squirrel of Bullwinkle-sidekick fame, we called him Rocky for short. We gave him this name because he was always jumping. Always. I think he thinks he can fly.
He and Pepper were fast friends, and one of my favorite things they would do was play tug-of-war, which was hilarious because they were so mismatched in size and weight. But Pepper would let Rocky think he could win. She would toy with him for hours playing tug-of-war with the two-foot knotted ropes from the dog area at Wal-Mart. It was so fun to watch. There was growling and snarling like the fight was fair, but when Pepper wanted Rocky to settle down, she could swing him around like a kite. But there was never any doubt; Rocky was the alpha.
And while on the tug-of-war thing – we would sometimes board Pepper with a friend from work who had two Newfoundland’s. If you’ve never seen a Newf, they are like a cross between a dog and a bear. They are huge. Pepper would run these dogs ragged, chasing them around the farm where they lived, and then later, when the Newfs were exhausted, she would still want to play. They would be down in the basement of the house, and Pepper would get them to take the other end of the rope and then, literally, drag them around the cement basement floor like a rag doll. The Newfs were so tired they would just lay there and get dragged. It was awesome.
Those last few days before we had to let Pepper go were really sad. She was very lethargic, she wouldn’t go outside much and she wouldn’t eat. In fact, she hardly moved. It was so unlike her. She had certainly slowed down – she was like a 95-year-old woman after all – but now she just seemed to have run out of steam for living. When I finally took her to the vet to see what was wrong with her, I couldn’t even get her to stand. I had to carry her to the car.
I couldn’t sleep tonight because I kept remembering stuff about her, so I got up and started typing. I wanted to get some of my memories, fond and not so fond, of Pepper down on paper, because I wanted to make sure I never forgot them. Worse than losing her would be forgetting her.
She was a great dog, and I wish I could give her one more hug, get one more shake, and scratch her tummy one more time.