Some people say that dogs show you what it feels like to be loved unconditionally. That's true. I think the more remarkable thing about Pepper was how unconditionally I loved her.
She never once made me angry. She never disappointed. She couldn't even if she tried. She was nothing other than pure love and joy.
It all started when I was 17 years old. I had been volunteering at my local animal shelter for several years by then and certainly had my heart broken more than once. One day, a sweet brindle pit bull caught my eye. She was in one of the stackable cages with newspaper on the floor. Her wiggling butt and fast circling tail made it clear that her cage was way too small for her. Even after weeks at the shelter, her love for life and people was unshakeable. All she wanted was to kiss you and hang out with you. So the day I noticed her kennel card was turned sideways -- an indication that she was likely to be put down soon -- I could already feel my heart breaking. At the shelter with one of my good friends, we took her for a walk and did not come back. This time my heart didn't break.
I remember arriving home with Pepper. I am certain my Mom knew this day was coming. We had indeed fostered a couple of dogs before.
"We are just fostering her, Mom. She is definitely not a pit bull."
We were definitely not just fostering her, and she definitely was a pit bull. My mom probably already knew both of these things and just welcomed us all inside.
It worked out well that my Dad happened to out of the country for a couple of weeks. One of Pepper's first adventures was eating part of my Dad's chair. The chair where you are only allowed to sit if you are over the age of 40. The chair got fixed and don't get me wrong: Pepper wiggled her way into my Dad's heart after not long as well. She was like that. She would get up in your face and love you until you have no choice but to love her back. It's why one Thanksgiving morning my Mom sent me this text of Pepper and my Dad on that same chair:
It's why I get exactly what my Dad meant when he remembered Pepper by saying:
"If she was a dog, she was the best damn dog we ever had."
For the first several years, Pepper would go on long runs with my Dad. But, then Pepper became too lazy or realized being home was too awesome. She still loved to go on trips to pick up bagels on Saturday mornings with my Dad, and go on daily long walks with my Mom.
Two things that made Pepper the happiest? First - going home. It did not matter if she only had walked outside for 2 minutes or taken a 2-hour trip to the beach. Whenever Pepper's paws stepped back inside our home, pure joy broke out. She would sprint around, find a toy, show her people her toy, and then convince her people to come sit with her and her toy on the couch. Sometimes, my parents would drive Pepper to the end of our block and back just so she could experience the joy of coming home again.
Second - people coming to visit her at home. One friend summarized it perfectly:
"What I remember about Pepper is how excited she was to meet people. She had the highest hops, the hardest tail, and the most energy of any dog I know."
Once people came through the door, Pepper's joy did not dwindle. Indeed, a close family member recalls:
"Pepper showed her joy through that whipping tail, so much so that she'd self-induce a sprain when surrounded by the people she loved."
For me? What do I remember about Pepper? Everything.
The crazy thing is, I only got to live (full-time) with Pepper for one year. After that, I was off to college, and grad school, and then my first job. It didn't take long before Pepper was my Mom's shadow. When I think of how much my Mom loved Pepper and Pepper loved my Mom, it is impossible to describe. They were an unstoppable duo -- dance walking around the neighborhood -- showing off just how wonderful this wiggly-butt pit bull was. And, of course, my Mom always kept me in the loop.
I'll close with just two notes:
Dear World: Let's just stop with breed discrimination. If you want to get into the economics behind why there are so many misconceptions about pit bulls, let me know. But, a simpler answer is as follows: If you want a nice dog (or landlords - want to ensure your tenants have nice dogs), judge the dog's behavior. A dog's behavior is more predictive of a dog's behavior than a dog's breed. Breed discimination is less effective and causes pups like Pepper to be killed because they cannot find homes. That is a lose-lose. The world shouldn't be robbed of pure goodness like Pepper.
Dear Mom - You are the best. I hope every kid is lucky enough to have a Mom who will love their pup like you loved Pepper. I promise to pass on her treasured pig, and I promise to pass on the love that you and Pepper showed me.