Thursday, June 19, 2014

Saying Goodbye to Pepper

Our Australian Shepherd, Pepper, was hit and killed on the road last evening just as the light was fading from the sky. Pepper was not often on the road. She had followed Shawn and the kids when they went for a bike ride. She stopped to rest on the road while Shawn and the kids made their way down the driveway to the house. A pickup truck barreled down the gravel road, going way too fast, hit Pepper hard and kept right on going. Our neighbor was mowing close to the road and saw it happen. He said Pepper died instantly.

Sydney and Pepper, never far apart
How do you tell your little girl that her playmate, her constant companion, her faithful friend, will never follow her down the lane again? I wanted to wait until the next day, after summer school even, so Sydney’s sleep would not be disrupted and her school day would go well. Her daddy, always the wise one, knew Sydney would need to say goodbye. He gently broke the news to her, and let her choose what she wanted to do. She had to see for herself and she had to pet Pepper again. He took Sydney out to love on that dog one more time and to watch him bury her. Sydney held a flashlight while Shawn dug the hole. She asked questions and she cried, but letting her be a part of the goodbye instead of trying to cushion the cruel truth, was the right thing to do. It might not have been for every child, but for Sydney it was. Sydney always has the need to know and she will not rest until her questions are answered. I wanted to take the easy way out but the easy way is not always the best way.

Sydney with Dusty and Pumpkin
I’m not a dog person normally. I’ve always been a cat person. I do not hate dogs. I like them just fine as long as they are not really smelly, or licking me in the face, or barking at me, or jumping all over me, or shedding their hair everywhere, or shaking water on me, or chasing my cats or my car. I’ve had some really special cats over the years. We’ve lived here 21 years now and I have vivid memories of the first two cats we had: Jack and Shadow. We had a cat for many years named Socks. Socks’ mission was to produce as many kittens as physically possible in her lifetime. She kept me busy finding homes for kittens! Then there was Dusty. Sydney got a kitten when she was about four that was with us for 3 or 4 years. Dusty had the best personality and was so special to us. She loved to bring us dead things and once made it into the house with a dead rat, which she gave to Tate, of all people. He was about eight years old. It was very early in the morning and Dusty delivered that rat to Tate while he was still in bed. I guess she felt he needed breakfast in bed. Ha! A cat around here rarely makes it to an old age. It is not because we are not feeding them and providing them with shelter. We are. They just sometimes wander out and become prey for all the wildlife we have around. We have lots of coyotes around our place, as well as other animals that eat cats. Once, we were out in the yard and watched an owl pick up one of our adult cats. Luckily, it only got a few feet off the ground and dropped him. He was too heavy.

There have been dozens of felines come and go over the past 21 years, but we’ve had our fair share of dogs too. Our first, Sparky, was a Blue Healer mix we got when he was a puppy. We got him past the chewing stage and he was a really good with our kids. He was just not good with anyone else. People were afraid to get out of their cars when they came over. Sparky got more threatening and vicious as time went on and we had to keep him on a chain. One day he was lunging against his chain trying hard to get to a little girl that was visiting us. Sparky was just too dangerous and had to be put down. A friend raised Boarder Collies and offered us one we named Bandit. Bandit was a one-man dog and adored Shawn and only Shawn. She was a herder and tried to herd the kids in the yard. It was often hard for them to play. The kids couldn’t ride their bikes without her biting at their tires either. Bandit harassed our horse and cattle every day for hours. She chased the car every time we left home. As she got older she started biting people and breaking the skin. She bit a visitor one night on the back of the leg. A short time later she bit two of our kids and she drew blood. Both times it seemed to be because Shawn was interacting with the kids instead of giving his attention to her. Bandit had to go. 

Red in 2010
Just when I was beginning to think that all dogs were evil, we found a hound mix advertised in the classified ads. His name was Red and his owners had moved to town and left him on the farm to fend for himself. He was well past the puppy stage. We went to check him out and brought him home. He was the perfect dog for us, except he peed on anything that was left on the ground, including small children in car seats, diaper bags, purses, and Shawn’s tool belt. HA. As soon as we had him neutered, that stopped though and we had a lot of really good years with that dog. We especially loved his deep bark. His bark at night meant he was keeping away all the raccoons and possums and coyotes. Red was very old when he died two years ago. He was almost deaf and his eyesight was dim. We still miss him.

Sydney and Trooper
During the time we had Red, I let the kids talk me into a puppy. We got a Lab and named him Trooper. Trooper and I were like oil and water. Think Marley from the movie. Trooper shredded things, including the kids trampoline, and countless jackets and shirts. Trooper jumped on us, including tiny three-year-old Sydney and five-year-old Tate who shuddered in fear and stopped going outside to play. I, myself, even hated to go outside and have him jump all over me. Trooper got sick and died unexpectedly when he was only two years old. No, I did not do it; but no, I did not shed a tear. I will never own another Lab and I do not believe anyone will ever be able to talk me into a puppy again. Ever. I know they are cute and sweet and fun. They are also more work than a newborn baby.

We are not the kind of family who would pay hundreds of dollars for a special breed of dog. We would not run up a vet bill hoping to save an injured animal. We would not treat a pet for a serious disease like diabetes or cancer. We don’t take them to a groomer. We don’t take them to a kennel when we are going on a trip. We do not let them sleep with us in our beds. We choose not to. That does not mean we think badly of people who do choose to spend large amounts of money on their pets though. I’m sure we spend our money on things that other people would not and have hobbies that some would not appreciate.

We get our pets spayed or neutered and all the basic shots. We worm them and provide them with tick and flea prevention. We comb them. We feed them. We love them. But we remember that they are not people. God gave us animals to enjoy and to use. If you read the creation story you know that God put man OVER the animals. Since we live in the country and have a lot of animals, we sometimes become almost calloused to them dying or disappearing. Almost. It is very hard for a few days and then we move on. I was thinking last night while I was choking back the tears, about how much Pepper has meant to us. She has meant a lot. But was she family? She was a dog. I still get an ache in my heart when I think about the day Dusty died as well but I could never compare it to the day Chaney, my baby girl died. It pains me sometimes to hear people say that their animals are as important to them as their children are. My kids and husband were on the road last night, only minutes before that truck came barreling down the road and killed Pepper. I am so thankful that we aren’t planning a funeral today. I’m so thankful I am mourning the loss of a dog, not a child.

Bailey and Pepper 
My girls found Pepper on Craig’s list just a few days after Red died. She was a three-year-old Australian Shepherd, living in a small backyard in Kansas City. She had become an escape artist and needed a place out in the country. Within a few days of owning Pepper we could tell she was the perfect fit. She barked at cars that came down our lane just as Red had, but she was not threatening though. She was really smart, by far the smartest dog we have owned. Bailey taught Pepper several tricks easily. Pepper was friendly, but not overly so and she adored Sydney. Sydney went nowhere that Pepper did not follow. When Sydney came into the house, Pepper sat at the door and waited for her to come back out. The rest of us could be in the yard and Pepper would be interacting with us but if Sydney came out, the rest of us were forgotten. Pepper did not wander the neighborhood. She did not chase the cattle, unless we asked her to. She will be very hard to replace. We need another dog. A dog who can keep all the wildlife out of the yard at night and entertain Sydney during the day; A dog like Pepper who can help me forget I am not a dog person. So the hunt is on. Can we do it again? Yes. Yes we can!

Read about our search for a new dog here: Stinkin' Dogs This one will make you laugh I think. 

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