Pepper, in 2000
We're at the pointy end of the stick, folks. Surely there are not any more winters left in our dear old girl. Mind you, once again (and if you've been reading this blog since 2005, I'll be sounding like a broken record by now), I have stated this since oh about 2007.
Pepper is becoming somewhat disoriented now. She is comfortable, but oh so slow. She slips when her back legs buckle under her. The arthritis more than anything has slowed her to a stumbling dodder. There will be some, undoubtedly, who say I am cruel for not "being kind" and getting her euthanased. I put it to those people that so was my grandmother (slow and doddery, with a dodgy hip and even broke her ankle in what turned out to be the final months of her long life, from having a very simple slip in the shower) but we didn't give her the Big Needle.
I'm writing today in honour of all those gorgeous, dear dogs who don't find a home as good as this one. See, Steve and I rescued Pepper from certain death in 1995. She was already out of her puppy stage (the vets' best estimate over the years is that she was already at least 18 months-2 years old, which makes her 17 now) and had been cooped up at this shelter for over a month already. Everybody who came to take a dog home had overlooked her. Heck, even I went past her without a second glance the first time.
There were 35 cages. And thirty-five cages had an occupant - some of them had two. The reality was, most of these dogs were not going to go to a home. They were going to be put to sleep. I knew it and the decision weighed on me so heavily I could hardly stand upright. But we could only take one dog. We were renting at the time and had managed to convince our landlady to let us have a dog as it was.
This was the section of the shelter that housed the most difficult/unfortunate animals: dogs that had surpassed their cute-puppy factor period. These were the dogs most likely to reach a quick end on a vet table. I cannot even bear to think about the mass production of this killing operation. I suppose it's a must. After all, there are only so many dogs that even concerned and considerate animal shelter workers and volunteers can take home.
To think that our Pepper was so close to being one of those faceless, nameless numbers just makes me catch my breath. To think that other, so grateful, keen, loyal and beautiful dogs are overlooked - the reasons are probably many and varied - is a crying tragedy. I am a devout believer that you most certainly CAN teach an old dog new tricks. And if the occasion arose, I would rescue an adult dog in a heartbeat.
We bought a puppy ten years after we got Pepper. The difference in our two fluffy children has been evident. Where one is extremely grateful, eager to please, almost apologetic for getting in the way and asks only for love and nothing else in return, the other (the pup, who is now about to turn six) has been quite clueless to hardship - she has known nothing but food, shelter, warmth, companionship and care.
Pepper was brought to the shelter as a stray. She was undernourished, obviously abused/had been through some torment (which has permanently altered her), and she had a gaping wound on her foreleg. Over the fifteen years we have had her, we have discovered this wound is a vice - a psychological self-soothing vice that flares up when she is highly distressed (there have been a couple of points even with us that she has begun licking her leg so repetitively that she actually literally licks it almost to the bone, pulling at her flesh with her teeth during the worst episodes). And this, we have been told, is due to her scarring from what has happened to her.
Despite all this, if I had to choose just one of our dogs again..... I would have to say, our shelter dog is the one I would pick, time and time again. I cannot underestimate the deep loyalty to be found in these particular animals, so much more enduring and endearing than a puppy who has always been raised in a nurturing environment.
If you are considering getting a dog/puppy, please don't overlook or underestimate an adult dog from your local shelter. I don't know where I would have been through the biggest trials of my life without my old girl. She has been my mother, my friend, my midwife.... my hanky.... and I believe a very important factor in her ability to be such a great comfort is the very fact that she was a shelter dog.
Me and my pal, 1998