When I first met Pepper, her name was Pippi, and she was a terrified 10 pound puppy who looked like a fawn: delicate frame, slender body shivering from fear, long legs, long snout, and a thin tucked-away tail. She was dark brown if you looked closely and black if you didn’t. Her paws and neck were white. She crouched, and her eyes dared not meet yours. She flinched and cowered at a hand’s approach.
There was a special kind of sweetness about Pippi, and a heart-wrenching innocence. She was rescued from a puppy mill (an evil dog breeding factory – more on this some other time) where she was going to be put down because as a mutt, she was deemed unprofitable. Until being rescued, Pippi had never known kindness or safety; she had never known life outside of a filthy, foul, cramped cage.
“She needs confidence-building,” Liz, the lady from the rescue organization* explained to me. “She needs to learn trust.” (Don’t we all?)
It took 2 years of research and careful thought for me to finally decide that I was ready to bring a dog into my life. It was important for me to not adopt for the wrong reasons: because I simply love dogs; because they’re so cute; because I want one; because I have this fantastic vision of what it will be like to own one. When you adopt a dog, or any pet, you adopt a life… for life. (Otherwise just buy yourself a stuffed animal if you want something cute to look at and cuddle with.)
In the end I didn’t choose Pippi because I was taken by her story or frailty or cuteness (although those factors did help). I chose her because her size and the needs of her breed matched my lifestyle, my living situation, and sure, my preferences. Mostly, I chose her because when I picked her up and felt her soft little unsure body on my lap, it felt right. Like when a puzzle piece snaps into place and you smile.
And so she became my dog and I named her Pepper.
I knew that a dog in my life would change many things for me. The responsibility would shift some priorities; the financial implications and mobility restrictions would mean some sacrifices. I knew all this… and became slightly terrified. What was I doing? All my life I had wanted a dog… and it suddenly occurred to me that all my life as I dreamed this dream I had never actually visiualized it happening. And that’s when excitement erupted like fireworks in my heart. It was actually happening!
But what I didn’t realize about having a dog was that her presence in my life would mean so much more than just sweet, cute, loving company. I didn’t realize, for instance, that she would introduce me to the neighborhood I’d lived in for years. I bonded with my neighborhood so much more after adopting Pepper. I began to notice things I had normally walked past in absent-minded haste. Because of our daily walks, she made me slow down, explore, notice the height of the trees, feel the rain, the snow, the wind, the heat. Each season brought its own beautiful assortments of wonder, and because of our walks I found myself bonding with the elements and appreciating their power all the more.
In the winter I noticed a lone tree that refused to part with its leaves. In the spring I mused at the flower beds and marveled at the fact that just one day before the beds had been bare. I got to know the people who made up my neighborhood and I got to know other dogs and their owners — we didn’t know each other’s names but we knew the names of each other’s dogs! I learned that a basenji is a breed of dog that has no bark. Children would run up to me and ask to pet my dog and I would teach them the golden rule of “always let a dog sniff you first.”
Pepper absorbed her new environment. I watched as she first feared then slowly came to ignore the sound of the train raging past us on the tracks, the police sirens screaming by every so often, the nonstop flow of people jogging, biking, walking, rushing. Witnessing her experience the newness of city life made me observe my habitat, which I’d become somewhat immune to, as we all do, more closely.
I also didn’t realize just how much a dog in my life would influence my perceptions on patience and kindness. She puts up a mirror to me every single day because dogs feed off a person’s energy. They sense the energy you exude, absorb it, then reflect it right back to you. Because of this I pay better attention to the way I handle stress, to the way I interact with others, to the energy I put out into the universe.
But Pepper didn’t just teach me to be patient with her and with all things, she taught me the importance of being patient with myself. Whether it’s personal expectations or something new I’m learning, I look at her funny little clueless, worried face and it reminds me to be patient because just like her, I too will learn and adjust and get better at whatever I’m trying to do.
It’s refreshing living with a creature that has no expectations, no ill-wishes, no worries, no demands, no coarse emotions — just love. It’s refreshing waking up to a creature who lives every day in the moment and wants nothing but a meal, a walk, and a hug. It’s refreshing to take a break from the “me, me, me” and “I, I, I” and “my, my, my” by caring for something outside of yourself.
At the end of the day, it’s true that Pepper is just an animal… but she’s far from “just a dog.” To me she’s a true role model for real love, real friendship, real selflessness, and real trust. She’s a testament to what can happen when you give a rescue pupp a chance, or anyone a chance for that matter. Everyone has the potential to love and be loved. Everyone deserves that chance. When you remove words, assumptions, and the congestion of complex emotions… when you remove your ego, expectations, and the mentality of “what’s in it for me?”… you are left only with your soul’s energy and your body’s simple actions to be able to communicate and connect with someone.
It’s been 3 years and my 10 pound puppy named Pippi is now an 18 pound dog named Pepper. She’s still delicate though a little more shaply, still brown if you look closely and black if you don’t. Instead of crouch she may just come up to you with a curious nose and a wagging tail. She still flinches but out of shyness, not fear. And she still embodies a special kind of sweetness, still lives in her little bubble of innocence.
In this world that’s ruled by needs and wants and the time on a clock, I must say that the greatest thing about being a dog owner is having a loving presence and a peaceful constant in my life that reminds me… Now and Each Other is all we’ve ever had and all we’ve really got… so… take a breath why don’t you and slow down for second… how about a walk?
*ROMP Italian Greyhound Rescue