Fifteen years ago we made a trip to the local humane society and there we met Hope. She was a petite, trembling blonde sharing a cage with an enormous furry black-haired standard issue Heinz 57 shelter dog. Heinz was much more our style — mammoth enough to usurp more than 50% of the couch and hairy enough to keep our dust bunny population thriving. Alas, it was Hope who chose us. We brought her home and promptly changed her name to Pepper. Hope was a name for some other dog — her personality was spicy as hell and she needed a name to match. For more than a decade Pepper charged around the woods with us, leading the other dogs on myriad adventures in pursuit of poor innocent wildlife. She turned our other two dogs into poorly behaved minions as she bent the will of her pack to accommodate her every whim. Stop here and dig until you find the chipmunk! Not that way, this way! Follow me! Let's go! The other two did just that, often straight into harm’s way. They brought home snouts full of porcupine quills more than once, and found many disgusting things to roll in over the years. All misadventures had Pepper at the helm. Years later, one by one, in heartbreaking fashion, the other two pups met with their final destinies and Pepper found herself as ruler of a kingdom inhabited by only two legged uprights.
She was still in charge. Mostly. Until Owen came along. This small two legged presence was confusing. The very first thing he did was give Pepper another new name. She was now Depper. (D's are easier than P's when you are just learning to talk, I suppose.) She learned patience and tolerance as all dogs who live in homes with small children must learn. Pudgy, sticky hands found her eye sockets and ears and pulled her tail and sat too close and upended her food dish. In these moments, Depper revealed the sweet counterbalance to the ass-kicking spicy that had been the dominant quality of her personality for the past decade. “Depper” lasted about 6 months, until Owen began calling her Tepper. She remained Tepper for the rest of her days.
Even into her teen years Tepper was game for winter hikes up Mt. Abe and long trail runs in the spring, summer, and fall, likely covering twice our distance with her off-trail forays. She only just began to slow down a few months before her 17th birthday. Long runs were not fun for her anymore, so we only brought her on the 2-3 miles ones, and even then she stuck right with us, no longer venturing more than a few feet from our heels. She was just about completely deaf and her vision wasn’t too great. She began to experience “sundowners” on a daily basis — the generalized anxiety which manifested in pacing and panting as the day transitions to night.
This week I came home on a Wednesday and Tepper was listing to one side, walking crooked, and then, in circles. By Thursday morning she could no longer get up or stand up on her own. I carried her outside and, using a towel as a sling, held her up so she could pee. I fed her small bits of chicken, and gave her water from a syringe. By Friday afternoon we reluctantly, tearfully, came to our resolve: it was time to let her go. Her suffering was not overtly apparent, but she was not a happy creature. This ass-kicking dog was not leading an ass-kicking life anymore. This was not Tepper.
So we did that thing that we all know we’re potentially signing up for when we become pet owners: we took her to the vet to kindly, gently, deliberately end her life. Curled up in blankets in my arms, she had little fight left and was gone in a matter of seconds. We brought her home and drank and remembered her and cried.
The next day was a damp, foggy January day. We suited up for a trek up into the mountains with Tepper. Wrapped up carefully in the backpack, she traveled with us into the woods one last time. We hiked mostly silently, focusing on where to place our feet, noticing the clever way that ice crystals formed on the undersides of tree branches. The wind blew and water dripped down the backs of our necks. We pulled our hoods up tight. On top of the snowpack, bunny footprints were everywhere — Tepper would have loved that. A woodpecker considered us from a nearby branch. We climbed.
It took us awhile to find the just right spot for Tepper’s final resting place. We decided that while we weren’t sure if we got it 100% right, we felt okay enough about it. I think it’s just hard to feel good about such a thing. We left her there on the mountain facing east and thinking about how the morning sunlight would look from that spot.
Being a shelter dog, we don’t know much of anything about the first couple of years of her life. But I think it’s safe to say Hope /Pepper /Depper /Tepper had 15 excellent years with us. 15 great years and 3 rough days — not a bad ratio.