I know some of my friends will think less of me for this, since, apparently, I'm not supposed to be sad over the death of a dog, but this post is a tribute to my dog, who died yesterday. I already miss her very much.
Pepper became a part of our family when she was an eight-month old black-lab puppy and I was a thirteen year old boy. We got her from a family that had just had a baby and Pepper was just too crazy for a new baby. I'll never forget the time we went and saw her for the first time. Not only was she the most beautiful dog I'd ever seen, she was the craziest, most out of control, misbehaved, and funniest circus act I'd ever seen. "New people?" she must have thought, "Time for a Pepper greeting!" She ran towards us at full speed and launched her body into us, turned around, ran back into the yard and back again, repeatedly launching herself at these new people. Somehow, this awful display of quite deficient dog-manners, charmed us and we were all hooked. My sister, who had opposed the proposition of a new dog, changed her mind quite quickly and couldn't help but laugh at the ridiculous spectacle. We were all laughing at Pepper, which was characteristic of life with that goofy dog.
I have some favorite memories of Pepper that still, even as I am still very sad, mix in some tears of laughter with the tears of sorrow. She used to always sleep on my bed, mostly because I was a softie and would curl up into a ball while she spread out. I remember once when she got off of my bed and my brother, with whom I shared a room, got quite excited as she walked over to his bed. "Come on Pepper, come on Pepper!" He invited her onto his bed. She hopped up squatted and started to pee all over his bed, to his dismay and, ashamedly, to my delight. She hopped back off and and hopped back on my bed looking very confused as to why Joel was so angry. She looked at me as if to ask, "What's his problem?"
Pepper had so much energy, even as an older dog but especially as for the first couple years, that it was a real chore to contain her. Perhaps her greatest trial was for the first eight or nine months that we had her, we had to keep on tied up in the back yard because she would jump the fence if we didn't. But this was even more of a trial on us! She kept breaking her collars (probably 8-9 times) and our attempt to solve the problem with a harness lasted all of an hour before she broke that too. Even worse, though absolutely hilarious, was when we let her inside because she had to release all of her pent up energy - and she did with vigor! She would tear across the house, full speed, jumping clear over the couch in the middle of the living room, making a big round loop through the dining room and living room, and repeating over and over and over again. I honestly don't remember how long this would last but I would guess it was over five minutes each time of full speed Pepper before she would finally slow down. I wish I had a video of it, it was one of the funniest things ever to watch.
Pepper loved people, but was a very good watch dog. Once she knew you, you were friends for life, but until she did was quite suspicious and not overly friendly. But she couldn't stand for someone not to like her and would not give up trying to make friends. I remember when my Papa (my grandpa) came to visit for a few days and stayed with us. He didn't like dogs, especially dogs that licked - which Pepper did incessantly- and wanted nothing to do with Pepper. She always tried to get to him while he was there but we had to keep her away. Unfortunately for Papa, however, his door was left cracked open while he was sleeping and Pepper snuck in. He woke up to the feeling of a wet slimy tongue all over his nose and mouth, which didn't go over well from his end and Pepper's attempt to make friends failed. But we still laugh about it 10-11 years later.
What a funny dog. I remember her barking at her soup because it was too hot, digging huge holes and getting dirt all over everything, and playing baseball and football with me. I used to play baseball with a tennis ball in the back yard, just me and Pepper, I would bat (throwing the ball to myself) and Pepper would play fielder, and she was quite the fielder. She's also the only dog I've ever seen catch a football. She would bring both paws up and catch it in combination with her mouth. Goofy dog loved her tennis balls. You should of seen her literally prance around the house whenever she got a new one. She was always such a happy dog. You should have seen her dive into lakes and oceans when we'd play water fetch with her and her tennis ball, always so intense and focused, as if there was nothing half so important in all the world.
When I went to college, I lived on campus so I would be gone for a few months at a time. I have never received more enthusiastic greetings than Pepper's. Even as she got older she would get so excited, jumping up, wagging her tail, rubbing up against me, it would take quite a while for her to calm down. Every time I came home there were few things I looked forward to more than Pepper's greetings. It was nice to know that not only were people happy to see you, but that someone was so excited that she couldn't contain herself. It was really funny the last couple years when I came home (I usually only go home once a year these days) because she would sleep on my bed again (she always slept on my bed when I was a kid) when I got home for the first two nights and then go back to her normal spot. It was like she wanted to spend time with me because I had been gone for so long then she would think things were normal again after two days. It was always the first two days. So very funny.
She had different relationships with everybody in the family. Mom always said that she thought I was her puppy. Maybe so. She licked me much more than she licked anyone else and there was something of a ritual about it. She would hold my hand down with one paw and lick my hand until it was literally dripping wet, then turn it over with her other paw until she finished the other side. If I let her she would do the other hand. Everytime I came home after being gone for a while she had to repeat this ritual. Mom said she was "reclaiming me". Maybe so, I just always found that really funny, especially since she usually only did it to me.
I would like to say that she was "my" dog especially but this would be inaccurate. She was my Mom's dog more than anyone else. She was my Mom's constant companion on walks, always reminding her when it was "time". She would watch my mom intently around walk time, waiting for signs: shoes, leash, collar, change of clothes, or any of the words "collar", "leash", or "walk". Mom used to try and get ready on the sly because Pepper would get too excited if she realized it was time and jump all over everything. Of course we kids would always ask Pepper if "she wanted to go on a walk", just to see her cock her head, and start racing around the house looking for Mom. As she grew older she became increasingly more attached to Mom and would barely leave her. When she was younger she always had to have a leash because she would go chase some cat or smell of some kind, but Mom largely stopped using the leash later because Pepper didn't want to leave her. When I was home last I tried to take the dog on a walk without Mom and Pepper flatly refused. She would only go if Mom went.
I told my Mom yesterday that it was okay to cry. I know she was a dog. I know she wasn't human. I know much more tragic things happen all around the world constantly. I know all those things you're going to say. But even though I truly feel thankful and grateful to God for Pepper, with the laughter and joy that came with her, I am also very sad for the loss. I've been told its wrong to cry over a dog. But I join with all Creation in crying, because this world is not the way its supposed to be. I praise God for his creation, but I cry over the brokenness, pain, suffering, and death that sin brought in. I remember that God created the animals and called them good. I look forward to the day when, with the New Creation, all will be good forever, without the tears, pain, sorrow, and death. I remember Jesus' affirmation of God's care for the sparrows, surely he must also care for Pepper. I so often thought about Creation when Pepper would curl up next to me. How cool it must have been back then when the world was without sin. I've always wondered what human-animal relationships were like. Perhaps knowing Pepper gave me a glimpse of what was and what will be. If the "lion laying down with the lamb" and the "little child leading them" is more than a figure of speech and actually denotes something of future animal behavior, perhaps C. S. Lewis' thought on the subject is somewhat accurate. He wrote something to the effect in his book "The Problem of Pain" (which I would quote exactly had someone not borrowed it without ever returning it... grrr...) that tame animals are more natural than wild animals. That it is inaccurate to say that wild animals are in their "natural state" and tame animals are in an "unnatural state", is indeed an intriguing thought. For now, anyway, I will leave this with the Apostles Paul and John:
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And allow me a couple pictures. These are all in the last couple years (because we didn't have digital cameras 10 years ago...)
Pepper and her Momma...
Always happy, and spoiled rotten
She always was getting into things so she occasionally got sores on her paws that she wasn't allowed to lick. Of course she would lick them anyway so we had to put this on her. It was quite hilarious actually- she didn't much like it.
Goodbye Pepper. Thanks for the memories and the loyal friendship. I know I will never be able to forget you....
I have to quit before I get sappy