I was at a memorial dinner for a friend’s son the other night, and another girlfriend asked me about my dog. The funny thing was she was asking about a dog she’d met years before, one that no longer lives with me. Wiener is seventeen and still kicking, but when my sis moved in with me, he had to go live with my ex-husband and his group of little dogs. What’s one more when you already have four?
I always told my ex he should open a kennel when he retired.
“So how did you get the lab?” April asked me, once we’d cleared up the Wiener stuff.
Here is Pepper’s story.
My neighborhood was experiencing a lot of mid-day break-ins three years ago. It’s a common thing before the holidays. When a house was hit at the top of my court, and the six neighbors were emailing about it, I jokingly said that I was going to go out and get a pit bull.
My friend, Laurie, asked me to go for a walk with her the Saturday morning before Christmas, which landed on a Friday that year. We met at the Park and Ride right off the freeway by the Iron Horse Trail, the old railroad right of way that runs from Walnut Creek to Pleasanton.
I told her about the break-ins and how I needed a pit bull when we came upon the Danville Farmer’s Market. Right in the center of our path was a dog pen with two puppies in it and a young woman standing nearby.
The woman was from ARF, Tony La Russa’s animal rescue group.
“Take home one of these puppies today!” she said when we stopped to pet the dogs.
“How old?” I asked.
“Eleven weeks,” she said.
The bigger one was black and white with striking marks, four white socks on her legs and a white star on her forehead. The other one was mostly black with a white chest and three white paws.
“Beautiful!” I said.
“Don’t get any ideas,” Laurie said. “Wiener would hate a puppy.”
True, Wiener was pretty old at fourteen, but he wasn’t much of a watch dog anymore. A blind Dachshund that didn’t get up to bark wouldn’t scare two burly guys kicking in a front door.
“Yeah, I guess so,” I said, turning to the volunteer. “What kind of dogs are they?”
“Lab, pit bull mix,” she said. “The mom we rescued is a lab, and the two male puppies have already been adopted. They really looked like pit bulls.”
I laughed out loud. I had joked about a getting a pit bull, and the universe had dropped two of them in my path.
“Susan,” Laurie said in her advising voice.
“I’ll think about it,” I told the volunteer.
“The black and white one is called Northern,” she said, “and the mostly black one is called Western.”
I looked at the two puppies. Northern was less interested in me. Western was jumping around wagging her tail.
After our walk, I went about my business of wrapping gifts and getting my youngest daughter’s bedroom ready for her visit. I ended up on the ARF website looking at Northern’s photo and wondering what it would be like to have a big dog.
The next morning I woke up and wanted to get that puppy. What did Laurie know about it, anyway? She wasn’t a dog owner. Maybe Wiener would love some company.
It was a Sunday, and ARF was closed. I emailed the contact person and said I wanted to come get Northern. Later that day a guy emailed me back that Northern had been adopted that very day. I emailed back and said I’d take Western.
I got another email saying that if I really wanted her, I needed to go to the Mobile ARF truck Monday morning in front of REI in Concord. He explained that everyone wanted a Christmas puppy, and that Western was their only puppy left.
The next morning it was storming outside. Did I want to drive thirteen miles up the freeway to get a dog? I decided that I did.
When I got to the ARF truck, someone was adopting a large adult dog, a Greyhound. I asked about Western, and the volunteer said to hold her for a while until I was sure. She had to do the paperwork for the other family first.
As I sat there with a squirmy puppy on my lap, people kept coming into the truck.
“Are you taking that puppy?” they asked.
“Yes,” I said.
Three different families asked about Western. I decided I was taking her home.
The kids enjoyed a puppy on Christmas day. The youngest named her Pepper since she was mostly black. I guess it was better than my choice – Stormy.
Warning: Don’t ever get a puppy when you are sixty and live alone. They are a lot of work. The last time I’d house-trained a dog was fourteen years before, when Wiener came to us at eight weeks old. I got Pepper house-trained in no time, but I forgot how much energy a puppy has.
Where were my three kids when I needed them? That’s right, they were off at school or working or both. As Pepper grew, she became more and more insistent about getting my attention.
If I was reading the paper, she’d jump up on my chair and put her paw right through the business section.
If I was eating breakfast, she’d be right there at my feet whining at me to play.
If I didn’t walk her soon enough, she’d be pulling at my clothes, reminding me that she needed exercise.
Soon I had a lot of torn shirts. I’d walk Pepper, come home, and give her a treat. She would run around the yard through the dog door and pester Wiener, who didn’t want to play at all. The Dachshund kept turning his back to her. At times, I even locked up Wiener in Pepper’s crate to give him a break from her. He could take a nap without having to keep one eye open for a pouncing playmate.
Wiener didn’t walk much anymore, so Pepper and I toured the neighborhood green belts. As a writer, I’d be sitting at my computer typing, and Pepper would pester me to no end. One day she wouldn’t stop biting my clothes. I looked into her half-lab, half-pit-bull face and for the first time, felt scared of her.
I called ARF and said I was thinking of giving the dog back. In my defense I was exhausted.
The volunteer asked me about Pepper’s day, how much time I spent playing with her, how many walks she got.
“I walk her every day,” I said.
“How many times?”
“Once,” I said, “but she has a doggy door to come in and out.”
“You need to walk her twice a day,” the volunteer said. “And you need a class with a personal trainer.”
Long story short, I kept Pepper. I got her a Squishy Face pole with a rope on it and a squeaky toy at the end of it. This bought me enough time to eat a meal with one hand while she played with the moving squeaky toy that I kept going with my other hand.
We took longer walks more often. I lost ten pounds from the extra exercise. Pepper stopped ripping my shirts. Wiener got used to his big busy housemate who just turned three.
Last Christmas I got a Jack Russell rescue to keep my sis company and to give Pepper a buddy.
Now it’s Pepper who looks at me when Daisy pesters her, growls at her, orders her around.
What goes around comes around, Pepper. Now you know how Wiener felt.
This was a very long post, so if you are still reading, thanks. Now you know the story of Pepper.