As far back as I can remember, I had always wanted a dog. Like every kid, I begged and begged until my parents relented. What followed after that is my life’s complete dedication to dogs and the lifetime of pet ownership with passion. This is my story.
The first dog we had when I was three or four at the most, and yet I distinctly remember pulling him around in our little red wagon. A memory of a fuzzy, little, black and tan dog with no other scraps of memory to tell me where he came from, what breed he was, or what happened to him later.
That little dog serves as a placeholder in my memory, and is now the clue to half of my passwords. Following a very sad cat experiment, were dogs with names like Scruffy and Vern. They lived outside, had it pretty rough, and yet somehow survived a novice owner.
It was a miracle that Vern was nursed back to health after developing pneumonia as a puppy. When he was at his worst, my mother wouldn’t let me stay down in the shed with him, so I cried myself to sleep. As soon as I woke up, I ran to him praying that he was still alive.
Not only was he alive, he grew up to become the toughest and most resilient dog I ever owned. He lived until I was in college, surviving everything from disappearing for days at a time to being bitten by snakes.
It would be remiss to say that I was the perfect pet owner. Unfortunately, there is a learning curve when it comes to caring for another living being, canine or otherwise. With me learning how to care for something other than myself, food was frequently forgotten. If it were not for my mother sneaking out to fill the food dish, then chastising me for neglecting my dog, I probably would have never developed a soft heart for animals.
To this day, I cannot stand to see a hungry dog. When the horrific dog rescue commercials come on, I have to change the channel or leave the room.
The miniature Dachshunds we have now are essentially furry children. Before being aware that I would never be able to have human children of my own, Pepper entered our lives. Even for a miniature, Pepper is small, but has the giant personality of a socialite.
With a black and tan coat interspersed with streaks of silver, she is unusual enough to attract attention. Once people are drawn into her trap of cuteness, she works her magic and has another devotee for life.
Even though she is almost fourteen now, I remember when she was born like it was yesterday. My sister had given birth to a little baby girl six months prior. I was in the grips of baby fever, but at that point children were still thought of as a “someday”.
I wanted a baby. Instead we got a dog.
Pepper was the first dapple dachshund produced from the pairing of two purebred miniature dachshunds owned by two different members of my family. Since there weren’t any puppies in previous litters with a spotted coat, and neither parent had any, we were at a loss of how she came to be.
It was insinuated that maybe she had a different father than her litter mates. Being a redhead who came from two brunette parents, this was the running genetic joke with which I was familiar. So, we looked into the phenomenon of dapples, and discovered that the one white spot barely noticed on her mother meant that there would have been previous parents within her lineage to be considered dappled, or “speckled”.
She came out gray with black spots, and was the tiniest puppy I had ever seen. I fell in love with her immediately. What had been seen initially as a negative that made her parentage suspect, suddenly became something rare and valuable.
The speckled pup I claimed when she was just a few days old was now the same dog that one family member wanted and another wanted to sell for more money. Knowing that giving in was inevitable if there was any hesitation, I fought back.
She was my dog and I was going to pay for her. We brought the money the next day. Since that day, I have never looked back. Pepper inspired me to fight and stick up for myself. It was the first of the many lessons that she would teach me.
RECOMMENDED: Op-Ed on Canine Genetics – How to Make a Dog
Pepper the wanderer
Of all of the dogs I’ve ever had, Pepper is unique in her social skills and true love for people. Living outside the city limits as we did, our dogs were allowed to roam around the yard without a leash or even a fence. They could visit all the sites that smelled of wild animals, and do their business wherever they wished.
With a big yard, Pepper enjoyed every minute of being outside. Branching out beyond our yard all started innocently enough, but led to her being nicknamed the Honorary Neighborhood Association President.
Initially the squirrels lured her over. They swished their tails, chattered, and taunted her from the trees. She would follow them as they played, jumped between trees, and made their way over to the neighbor’s yard. She would bark periodically, and then dig furiously at the base of the tree in order to reach them.
Doggy logic being what it is, it was obvious to her that in order to get to the squirrel at the top, she had to start digging at the bottom. This led to the first phone call from our next door neighbor. Pepper had made a significant hole at the base of one of their trees.
After that, if she was barking or digging, I received a phone call. I would walk outside, and call her back to the house. Disciplined to the core, Pepper obediently came home.
She was smart enough to discover, however, that if she did not bark or dig, she could sit at the base of the neighbors tree and stare to her heart’s content. She would sit perfectly still, looking up into the trees for hours every day after that. Eventually she worked her way into the house of those same neighbors, who became like her second family.
Making friends within the neighborhood was never a problem for Pepper. She didn’t care if they were adults, children, or even cats. She won them all over…eventually. She never ventured farther than our neighborhood.
Very few times did I have to walk all the way down to the last neighbor’s yard, where the road went steeply downhill, to retrieve her. She always turned around and returned to home base.
Since we moved away, I have been glad she has what I call “doggy dementia.” She does not dwell on the good old days or miss her free spirited life up on the hill. Now is the only time she knows.
RELATED: Op-Ed – Serendipity and Dogs
Pepper’s daily escapades
At the beginning, what transpired at the neighbors’ houses was unknown to us. The neighbors directly next to us were always the first visit on her daily rounds, and they shared that Pepper came in, greeted all the cats, tried to get into their cat food, received her own special treat, and was back out and on to the next stop.
It took a while before we even realized that she was visiting more than one family. She was going to visit all of them!
Essentially, she was found out when I met some of the new neighbors at a block party. They shared that I was known to them simply as Pepper’s Mom. Other neighbors did actually know my name. However, there were two or three of the houses that changed ownership more than once in the ten years we lived there.
Each time a new family moved in, the welcoming committee of one, Pepper, showed up on their front porch requesting water. Begging for attention, poised to jump up and greet them, she had one trick that worked perfectly every time. She laid on her back, presented her belly to be petted, and waited for the right moment.
Just as soon as the intended victim bent down to pet her, she would jump up and give them a big slurp right in the mouth. It always made me think of Lucy, from the Peanuts cartoon, wailing about dog germs and dog lips.
Pepper’s was an assault of dog tongue. She could slip in and French kiss your mouth (or nose for that matter) with equal speed. It would be over, and she would be moving on toward the next house before anyone even knew what hit them.
She was a ninja surgeon of speed removing the taste of your own mouth, and replacing it with hers. We came to refer to it as a tonsillectomy, since she almost reached into the throat in her enthusiasm.
After the day of the block party, we were on to her! I watched to see what her full schedule was. I referred to it as making her rounds, since she would make her way through the neighborhood very methodically, using the same paths every day, and visiting homes in the same order.
If they weren’t home that morning, she would sniff around their trash. She would pretend she didn’t find anything until I wasn’t looking, then grab the hidden prize and haul ass to the next house.
She absolutely loved playing with the children who lived down the street. Hearing the kids come home after school was like an alarm had gone off in her head. If she was already outside, she took off down the road without a backward glance.
If she was inside, she would lure me to the door. Before I realized she didn’t really need to go out, she would wriggle past me and run full tilt toward the kids. They would look for her every day. I would laugh as she hit them like a running, furry cannonball. They would all roll down the sloped front yard together, and then go into the house.
Pepper was the only dog I’ve ever seen welcomed into homes just like she lived there.
She knew which door or window each neighbor would sit by to drink their morning coffee, who would let her up on the couch or not, and, of course, who had the best treats.
One of the highlights of Pepper’s social calendar was a wine tasting party that our next door neighbors hosted every year in November. We were usually unable to attend due to prior commitments with extended family gatherings before Thanksgiving.
How it all started is beyond understanding, but somehow Pepper ended up at that very first party. Evidently, she made her way around to each guest to soak up attention, receive whatever petting, snack, or playtime they offered, and then move on to the next person. She was a regular social butterfly, except with fur.
Unbeknownst to her parents, all of this transpired while we thought she was out doing her business. When she didn’t return within a few minutes after a routine trip outside, we called to check as we had often done before. Yes, she was at their house, so we weren’t worried.
There would always be a yip at the front door, and we knew she had returned. Finding out the next day that she had basically hosted the party on her own level was so crazy it was believable. After all, this was Pepper.
This annual tradition was repeated over the next few years. We would go if we could, and if not, would allow her to go outside after all the cars arrived. There were always special requests for Pepper.
We would receive our own invitation addressed to “Pepper and family”.
I’m not even sure we realized that she was more important than we were, until we had to cancel at the last minute one year. The neighbor frantically asked if we would still let Pepper outside after everyone had arrived, since they were all expecting her. After that year, I didn’t really even feel guilty if we couldn’t attend. After all, we were not the guest of honor – we were just her parents.
Pepper’s life now
For the last few years, Pepper has no longer been able to travel the neighborhood, visit with the children, or receive treats from all the neighbors. As a senior doggy, she is on heart medication, extremely picky about what she eats, and sleeps the majority of the time.
She is content with being petted by her own family, enjoying the best of dog treats, and .sleeping on her favorite bed. However, she does periodically turn into a puppy again, jump off the porch and sprint after the squirrel running across the yard.
Throughout her life, Pepper has brought joy to many people. I never knew how much she would make me laugh: shuffling down the road in her little beatnik jog, hiding behind the couch or under the bed when she didn’t want a bath, luring people into the smooch of a lifetime, or barking very quietly when she didn’t want to go inside if she got caught.
As bad as my memory has grown as of late, each experience and personality quirk of each of my dogs is firmly embedded in my mind. Yesterday has already been forgotten, but the saga of each of my dogs will live with me until I am senile and don’t even realize they are no longer with me.
In my own way, I hope to be content like Pepper. I want to enjoy my life and dream of running to play with the kids… or finally catching that squirrel. Whichever makes me happiest that day.