A Dog Named Pepper
Pepper was a dog of presence, of formidable presence. He was big and dark with subtle curls and whorls of color winding across his great shoulders and back. He looked like a combination of Boxer and Mastiff. If you were a friend, he was a friend.
If you were a foe, God help you.
He had massive feet and a broad head that held black intelligent eyes. He would stand like a soldier, looking at you and waiting for you to declare yourself. He was willing to let you make a mistake. He was more willing to jump up, put those big feet on both shoulders and smile at you, maybe lick you.
With his nose close to yours you could look into his eyes and see gentleness. A dog so big, looking so fierce would be enough to change the mind of anyone considering stepping onto his territory. But the eyes told a different story. He would almost wink at you, sharing the secret of the big heart hidden in that chest; the playful pup in the lumbering body. He was glorious duality on four legs.
He would walk with his master on the quiet tree lined road leading to his home and sometimes, he would walk alone. He loved the woods and everything in it and his forays would bring him back home with stories of hunts and scents, holes dug and battles won. He was a delight to his human partner, but what Pepper gave was more than realized. Where he wandered left an imprint even larger than those paws… even larger than that enormous heart.
You see, his daily constitutional brought him down the road, across our neighbor’s driveway, down the hill and onto our land. The soil there is soft and often moist, having numerous springs that are fed by generous rain, so when I began seeing his footprints, I was surprised. I imagined coyotes, and all manner of wild things, but it was only Pepper doing his rounds, and each of his walks would bring him past our front door. The exact route would vary, but most every day, he would zigzag his way through, leaving his calling cards as he went.
To ease my mind, and to be sure that I was correct about Pepper being the owner of the footprints and not some wild and dangerous creature, I got onto my ATV with my little dog Chutney harnessed willingly in front of me, and tracked his journey home. To my relief, the trail went directly to his yard and Pepper was laying peacefully under his deck in the shade. Chutney and I made our way up and over the mountain and circled back home. I was relieved.
We never saw Pepper. He came and went in the quiet hours of the day and left his prints, his scent, and his calling cards which were…. Prodigious. I would sigh and began leaving a shovel by the steps. Chutney, however, had a different take on the matter.
Chutney was a “red zone” dog. She did not like other dogs, other animals or most people. We had adopted her from a shelter at 8 months of age. She had already seen enough of the world to make her want to be alone, away from other dogs, but she took to me, and I took to her. She never had the experience of playing with other dogs. She didn’t want to, and when dogs happened onto her territory, she told them to leave, vigorously. So when Pepper began coming by, I was nervous that the hundred pound dog and the twenty pound dog would meet, and the result would be bad. They never did.
What happened instead was Chutney would look forward to going out in the morning with a new interest. She would follow the trail that Pepper left to each of his stopping places and add a couple drops to let him know that she knew he was there. She excitedly crisscrossed the yard, the driveway or sometimes the road, snorting and puffing as she raced along. I would often have to call her back when the trail began to lead back to Peppers house and she headed happily up the hill.
My independent and solitary little Chutney was taking an interest in another dog, and she was obviously happy with her findings each day. She would eagerly demand that we go out, spinning, bouncing and barking for me to hurry it up. I would slip her collar around her neck, open the door, and out she would go and I would follow and watch her as I always did. She was never outside alone. She was a twenty pound dog in a world with coyotes and bears and bigger dogs… always bigger dogs. She never raised her hackles or growled. It was so apparent that this was something she looked forward to, and something she enjoyed each day for weeks and then months. Peppers excursions became Chutneys excursions, and though they never met each other on the trail, they messaged each other in the ways dogs always do. They had a relationship. They shared knowledge. They talked.
I noticed right away when the tracks stopped appearing, and before long I heard of Peppers untimely passing. This is the way of things when you love a dog. Their lives are so short compared to ours and even when we know this it doesn’t help the pain of their passing. I remember standing over the dried, once muddy spot where Pepper left one of his last footprints, knowing that the coming storm would wash it slowly away. After a time, Chutney stopped looking, and I wonder what she thought about the change. The hardest part of loving a dog is not knowing what they truly understand.
On February 25, 2015 Chutney lost her fight with cancer. She was 15 years old, and not old enough. I was not prepared to say goodbye to her any more than I was prepared for my neighbor to stop and tell me that his beloved Pepper had passed. I sat crying this morning thinking about them both and wondered if they had finally met nose to nose in some peaceful grassy place. I imagine them recognizing one another by scent, and wagging their tails and sniffing each other to be sure, then bounding off together into some lovely stand of trees, sending the dry leaf fodder flying.
While Pepper and Chutney never met face to face, they shared with each other as only dogs do. I have to believe that Peppers visits were deliberate, and that he looked forward to finding her calling cards as much as she did his. In this time when there is so much strife in the world, it does us good to watch for and appreciate the little things, including the delight of our beloved companions, the sweet dogs we love so much.
R.I.P., Pepper and Chutney. May you always run happy and free.