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Saturday, July 11, 2009

I just kept waiting for a sign; something that would tell me it was time, but alas, it was my heart that told me today was the day that I would help Pepper go to the other side.

Pepper was Codi’s dog, our busy Australian Shepherd that seemed to need a playmate some 14 years ago. It was a poor reason to get a 2nd dog, but a great decision in the long run as Codi’s life ended way too early and Pepper filled a very large gap when the grief and pain of loosing Codi might have otherwise, sent me into the fetal position, unable to function or face all the happy people and their dogs each day at the humane society where I worked at the time.

I nearly euthanized Pepper twice before this, but not for heath reasons. The other two times, (the last one with an appointment made for euthanasia) were for behavioral issues. Pepper slipped, now and then into a behavior problem known as predatory drift. When it happened, it was mostly triggered by high-pitched sounds such as Codi’s “Frisbee scream,” causing Pepper to bee-line to Goldie, (our three-legged dog) and attack her. Poor Goldie wound up in the hospital at least 4 times over the years, but luckily, things calmed down as Pepper got older and after I went to work on teaching both Pepper and Goldie to respond to me if I thought there was a trigger that would cause Pepper to attack.

I’m glad I didn’t follow though with my thoughts and that euthanasia appointment, as I had the last 5 years to really get to know Pepper for the amazing dog that she really was. My regret is that I didn’t get to know her well until after Codi’s larger than life presence was gone, finally allowing Pepper to seek her own level in our household of dogs and cats.

Pepper was mostly a polite dog; good at the vet’s, patient with the on-going foster dogs and cats, and accepting that she would be separated from the Goldie and Austin when we had to leave them alone. Pepper was easy to train and I only wish I had really put the time into her as a young dog to teach her more than just basic manners, but she did have her one favorite trick, which was Play Dead. Pepper took that trick to the limits of drama, slowly collapsing and rolling to her back when we pointed our “finger gun,” and said “Bang,” as the cue to do her thing. It made everyone laugh and Pepper would gleefully, wag her tail as she lay on her back, feet up in the air with a happy dog look on her face.

Pepper could be a real clown at times, but she was also a beautiful dog. Her heritage was of Border collie or Aussie lines, or even a combination of both. Whatever her background, Pepper had the most beautiful tail I have ever seen on a dog. I loved to watch her run on our hill in the back yard with her tail extended behind her and the long stream of black and white strands hanging in harmony and flowing behind her body as she ran. I could watch her tail all day, and often joked with Mike that when Pepper died, I would like to save her tail. Instead, I clipped a small lock of the fur from her tail to keep with me as a reminder of how much joy she and her beauty brought to our lives.

I haven’t seen Pepper’s tail like that in a few months. That’s when she began showing more and more signs of her 14 + years. Of course, there is always some denial when something is amiss with a beloved animal, and we both chose to ignore some of the early stages of her decline. There comes a point, however, when reality is in one’s face and decisions have to be made, but I kept waiting for a sign—a falling star, a owl flying by in the night, Pepper mentally messaging to me that it was time for her to leave—but nothing appeared except the ache in my heart when I looked at her struggle to get up and move into a more comfortable position, or when eating seemed like an obligation, not a joy for a dog that constantly had to have her weight monitored because she loved to eat so much.

I’m embarrassed by my weeping as I’m normally such a rational person, and for those that have shared and experienced the joy of connecting with an animal and then loosing them, I hope you will understand I can’t talk about this with my voice or I will fall apart. And so I write to let people know that we lost a friend today, but her presence will always be a part of who we are, as Pepper touched us in a manner that taught both compassion and patience and it was time to let her go and find peace.