Thursday, November 29, 2012

I Had a Dog Her Name was Pepper

Usually when I think about where puppies come from, an image of a mother dog licking her little 'uns as they nuss her forms in my mind. But when I think about where my old dog Pepper came from, a black, slimy, oily creature crawling out from a rock or a swamp is the only way I can see how she was spawned.
We first got her back in the late 90's and we fittingly named her Pepper because her coat was flecked with white and black. The first couple of days she adjusted to the new environment but I remember one night vividly because she was lonely and wouldn't stop barking. I let her inside and she slept on my chest with her head tucked under my chin the whole night. "Perhaps this isn't so bad," I thought. And indeed it wasn't.
But later that morning I noticed something was off about her. When my golden retriever came in, happy to greet me, Pepper provided her own salutation by jumping up and biting the golden's tongue. And thus started the beginning of a wonderful friendship that subjugated my golden retriever's legs for Pepper's target practice and Pepper provided...come to think of it, it was just a one way relationship with Pepper getting the most out of it.
"Oh that's so sweet! See how they're playing?" my mother cooed. My sister Hope and I shared a worried glance as Pepper did her damnedest to rip the legs off of our poor golden retriever while growling "RAWR RAWR RAWR RAWR!" and with the golden jumping to try and knock Pepper over to get away. This went on for about a year until Pepper got spayed. Then she just sort of half-heartedly attacked our golden retriever and would occasionally wrestle with her, but you could tell that her heart wasn't into it and that she was just doing it for old time's sake.

But this wasn't the only incident that tipped us off that Pepper was different. After one morning of not seeing Pepper, I asked my dad if he had seen her at all.
"No, I haven't seen her [RAWF!]. I mean I can [RAWF!] hear her pretty clearly but I don't [RAAAAAWF!] see her at all."
"Well, [RAWF RAWF RAWF!] maybe she's just up close to the house [RAWF RAWF!], right up under the windows or something."
"She [RAWF!] could be."
"You know what? [RAWF RAWF RAWF] It [RAWF] sounds [RAWF] like [RAWF] she's [RAWF] under [RAWF] the [RAWF] house! [RAWF RAWF RAWF!]"
My dad and I grabbed some flashlights and pulled off the covers to the crawlspace and saw Pepper coated in dust and dirt and happy to see us. She came running out, leaped into the air, and then ran over and started chasing our golden retriever around the yard. My dad and I didn't see any openings in the crawlspace. Hope suggested that Pepper had attempted to use her magic and teleport, but instead of winding up in a McDonald's greasetrap like she had originally planned, she wound up under the house.

It was around this time that we realized Pepper was slowly trying to communicate with us. Whenever she wanted something, she would slowly extend out her right paw, touch us with it, and continue to do this until we petted her or got her what she wanted.
"What a smart dog!" we'd exclaim, and then look outside to see Pepper running in circles, viciously trying to eat her tail.
Intelligence was completely contradictory with Pepper. If she were outside and begged for food, sometimes we would give her some just so she would stop touching us with her paw. And if she really liked the piece of food, she would rush inside as soon as we would open the door, and then immediately lay down on her back. The first time I attempted to pick her up in this position she clamped down on my hand like a vise. A vise with sharp pointy teeth. After that we just coaxed her out with food, but the end result was the same. She got an extra piece of food and we got to enjoy all of our digits for yet another day.

Her breath started getting worse. A lot worse. "Get away from me dog, you've been eating garlic!" My dad would say. Naturally we gave her rawhides and nylabones to get the plaque off of her teeth, but the chicken liver flavor wasn't agreeable to her, so she would bury these in the yard until they acquired a musty, rancid flavor. "What is she carrying in her mouth?!" "It looks like an evil root!" We could practically see the saliva flowing out of Pepper's mouth as she carried an unraveled jet black rawhide to one of her hidey holes to enjoy in private. It seems we had an answer to her foul breath.
Or so we thought. One day I saw Pepper eating something in the liriope bushes on the outer edge of our yard. "That's weird," I thought, "there's nothing over there; that's just where they use the bathroom." Of course it didn't occur to me that dog refuse is indeed something. My older sister went running out, yelling "PEPPER THAT IS SO GROSS! STOP THAT RIGHT NOW!" and Pepper did indeed stop and ran straight to Katie. Katie picked her up with the intention of putting Pepper inside so that she could get over whatever craving she was having for feces. Pepper was just really excited to see Katie and began licking her all over the face. "EEEEEEWWWWW" Katie cried and deposited Pepper on the floor while she ran to the bathroom to start pouring rubbing alcohol all over her face. Pepper looked around, saw me, and made a straight beeline for me. "AAAAAH! GET AWAY! GET AWAY!"
I took off. No way was that dog going to lick me after what she just ate. I ran from the living room to the dining room. Pepper thought it was a game and met me at the other door. "AHHH! GET AWAY! GET AWAY!" We played ring around the rosy with the piano, the dining table, the coffee table, the kitchen island, and individual chairs. Pepper was having the time of her life chasing me. I was running for my life, convinced that any part of my body that she licked with her tongue would develop some incurable fungus that would begin to rot and require immediate amputation. I finally jumped up on the kitchen table with Pepper staring up at me, convinced that we would remain like this until judgement day.
However my mom heard all the ruckus downstairs and found me biting my nails while hunched over on top of the kitchen table muttering, "humminahumminahumminahummina."
"YOU get off the kitchen table. YOU get outside right now." We both complied. But we explained what happened to our mother who suggested that we take Pepper to the veterinarian. "And make sure to clean Pepper's ears out before we take her, Trey."
I attended to the duty with a pair of Kleenexes. Pepper didn't seem to mind, but it was pretty gross considering the amount of hard, sable bits of ear wax that wound up on the tissues. My sister and mom took Pepper to the vet, and the vet suggested putting meat tenderizer on their dog food to prevent Pepper from eating her used food. Then he got down to brass tacks, muzzled Pepper, and began cleaning her ears out with a q-tip. "Oh gosh, your ears are dirty, girl!" the vet exclaimed. My mother and sister looked on in horror as q-tip after q-tip came out coated with some sort of coal tar. "I don't understand, my son said he cleaned her ears yesterday." "Well, dog ears are kind of s-shaped. The outsides of them look pretty clean."
And with that he turned to throw away all of the dirty q-tips. Pepper began shaking her head and loose ear wax flew everywhere, including on my sister's lip. "Thanks," she said, "by the way, you don't have any rubbing alcohol do you?"

I heard all about it when I got back and retold the story to Hope. Hope got a knowing look on her eyes and silently lead me to the garage where we had Pepper's chair. Pepper originally had a bed, but when my dad moved one of his old orange, green, and yellow striped upholstered chairs into the garage, Pepper claimed that as her little castle and would sleep in it every night. "It all makes sense now," Hope whispered, as if discovering the reason behind a thoughtless crime. I looked at the seat of the chair. A black, tarry substance in a Pepper-shaped ring was on the seat. I got a twig and poked at it. It was very firm but still gummy. "I think we've found an alternative for drilling crude oil," I remember thinking, as we could shear Pepper every summer and squeeze the tar out of her fur and just have that refined into asphalt and diesel fuel.

But alas, this alternative fuel was not to be. Pepper died shortly thereafter and was buried next to the legs of our gold retriever. I would often think about her fondly, remembering all the times I would pet her, and she would gently bite me to show her appreciation. Three years later, I was flipping through Popular Science and read an article about MRI research being conducted with dogs. The dog in the picture was getting a treat from a scientist, but the dog looked exactly like Pepper. Maybe, just maybe, I thought, when we interred her into the earth, she emerged from another swamp in California, looking for something stinky to eat and a pair of legs to bite.
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