Pepper was my dog for the last 15 years.   Her story is so unique in so many ways, it could probably be turned into a book.  But I want to write a synopsis of her life to honor this lovable furry friend of not just myself  but my whole family.  I still can’t believe she’s gone, and have been too upset at this point to even write about her.   But Pepper deserves to be honored this way.  We started out rescuing each other.

Pepper was a rescue dog from PetsMart.  I went there while Stacy was working out at the gym to buy something for our other dog, Sasha.  I saw her in the cage looking up at me with her big brown eyes, and it was love at first sight.  I went running over to the gym and told Stacy, “I have to have this dog I just saw.”  His answer was, “No way in hell.”  I went back and looked at her again, and took her for a walk, and went back and pleaded, “I have got to have this dog.”  Stacy said, “No way but I know you’ll get the dog anyway.”

I took that as a “yes” and adopted Pepper on the spot.

Holly was home from college and was there the day we picked her up.  We got her groomed, gave her the shots she needed, bought her a lease and collar and brought her home to meet our other dog at the bottom of the driveway.  (This was suggested as a way to introduce her to the dog already in the home.)

She got out of her new collar and bolted.  Holly and I chased her all over the neighborhood and she would have nothing to do with us.  The people who we adopted her from (the foster family that saved her and her siblings when they were dumped on the side of the road) had to drive 40 miles to call her and she came to them.    The time of reckoning was at hand.  The woman said, “Do you want to keep her?”  I said, “Yes,” and that started our 15 years together.  And Stacy loved her the moment she hit the door when she put her head on his lap.

Pepper became my walking buddy.  I was still so fragile and upset most of the time of recovering from that breast cancer diagnosis 6 months before.  She and I walked 3 miles at least 4 times a week.  And this was how we saved each other.  I gave her a home and she was my constant companion.

All was well for 6 months if you ignore the accidents on the new wall to wall carpeting and the uncanny grabs for food.  But  one fateful day, I took Pepper to Parent’s Weekend at Randolph Macon College.  This time with a harness on, and left her for just a minute with friends of Holly. She did a Houdini maneuver and ran off again.  Once again there was Holly and I chasing her and we saw her cross the railroad tracks and then she  was gone.   That started a week adventure of trying to get our dog back.  We were all so devastated.

I lived on and off at the college for a week with my other dog, Sasha.  (That was Stacy’s idea to leave the other dog’s scent around)  We stayed in Will’s SAE fraternity by day (Probably the only mom to ever live there during the day) and in Holly’s room at night.  There were Pepper sightings, but no Pepper.  Holly and Will and I had placed dog bones and familiar items all over that college.  We even left our scent on the ground as the dog experts told us with our bare feet.  Sasha did her part walking with me miles and miles especially at night looking for her.

I had to go home without the dog, but the next Sunday the owner of the restaurant Home Made by Suzanne’s called me and said, “I saw your dog running across Route 1.”

I dashed to Richmond, having been there with Stacy the previous day when the pound called and said they had her, but it was a Pepper look a like.  I was already writing Pepper’s story without the end at the time of that phone call.  For one week I had called and called the dog.  This time since it was a Sunday, I decided not to call but to sing.  So I kept singing hymns for several hours.  Deep into the woods I heard a rustling and Pepper came to us.  I tackled her to the ground to get a collar on her and led her to the car a mile away.  She was found!  The verse I was singing when this happened was from Amazing Grace.  Through many trials, storms and snares I have already come, and Grace has led me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.  

So Pepper was home again, and the story had a happy ending.

The Herald-Progress newspaper in Ashland loved the story and gave it 1/3 of its first page.  The title was Pepper Came to Ashland and stayed and stayed.

Several years later, Holly and I went back to RMC and re-enacted the whole event with pictures.  Here are two of them.

Pepper settled into life with Stacy and me.  We continued our wellness walks, except for one slight problem.  She got bit by other dogs several times, so when she even saw another dog, she showed her displeasure in a big way.  She pulled me all the time.   She couldn’t stand being in training because that would mean being around other dogs.  This pulling inadvertently led to a frozen shoulder when I pulled the leash too hard.

Pepper continued to get into problems with food.  She even got a piece of toast that popped up from the toaster.  And if anything was left around, that was gone.  I felt a lot of this food behavior was the starvation she remembered with life on the street.

One time she even exhibited Pica.  That is eating things that are not food, and she chewed an entire mat edge that was hard rubber and ate all of it.  I was scheduled to go to a wedding but had to cancel because the vet said she would probably need a major operation.  I saw the x-rays–pointed rubber from one end to the other.  She passed it all.

Then all of us had to face Sasha’s passing.  But soon Will got puppies and she felt no threat from them.  Then the grandchildren came, and she loved little kids being rehabilitated with a family of kids.  Everyone loved Pepper.

Her health was compromised with back problems and a holistic vet offered good advice and we cooked food for her for at least a year.  We included long time family friend, Marilyn Perry.

Stacy spent a lot of time with her, and when he got sick, she took it all in stride until the walks stopped.  In caring for him, something happened that compromised my feet and I couldn’t take her anymore.  So she had to be content with the fenced in yard her last 4 years.

Pepper plodded along until her kidneys started to show stress a year and a half ago.  The vet suggested special food and along with herbs that I remembered from that holistic vet,  and the excellent care with her now Nanny (Marilyn Perry) it all kept Pepper going until last month.

I didn’t realize that the weakness she was experiencing was actually her kidneys failing.  When I took her in with the help of Stacy’s son Scott right before New Years, I didn’t expect to put her to sleep.  But when I looked at the lab numbers and the vet said it would be days and suffering for Pepper, I knew I had to say good-bye.  It blindsided me really.  I had a long talk with her.  I thanked her for all the times she helped me cope with the whole breast cancer ordeal, and then Stacy’s illness ordeal.  I repeatedly told her I loved her and then called the vet in.  I held her as she went to the Rainbow Bridge.  Just as I was about to leave the vets, in came Holly in her business suit from Richmond to be with me.  Holly kept that promise that she would try and be there when this happened.  Then the Vets office gave me this book mark which read:

If it should be that I grow weak, and pain should keep me from my sleep; Then you must do what must be done.  For this battle can not be won.

You will be sad, I understand, but don’t let grief then stay your hand.  For this day more than all the rest, your love for me must stand the test.

We have had so many happy years, what is to come can hold no fears.  You don’t want me to suffer so; the time has come to let me go.

Take me where my needs they’ll tend, but please stay with  me until the end.  To hold me close and speak to me, until my eyes no longer see.

I know in time you will agree, it was a kindness done for me.  Although my tail it’s last had waved,  from pain and suffering I am saved.

Please do not grieve that it was you who had this painful thing to do.  We’ve been so close we two, these years.  Don’t let your heart hold any tears.  

Well, that last line is impossible.  I’m crying writing this.  I had Pepper cremated and she’s back in the family room with me.  Soon after she died, I heard her collar jingle, and I heard her paws clicking on the floor.  Maybe that was her way of communicating with me that she is all right waiting for me.  Which leads me to the Rainbow Bridge.

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. Her bright eyes are intent; Her eager body quivers. Suddenly she begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, her legs carrying her faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together….

Author unknown…

Til we meet again my faithful friend. . . .