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 Lady & the ancient Dalmatian, Pepper Ann
by Laurel

Pepper Anne was a temporary foster. An amazing girl, she is the star of this story but Lady, the Bouvier, had an, ah... supporting role we might say.

Older dogs are sometimes hard to place, but one of the shelter volunteers could not bear to watch the ancient Dalmatian struggle to her feet after laying on the hard cement floors to greet visitors and asked if we could help. I agreed to take her as a temporary foster until K-9 Strays Rescue had room for her. Thus it was that the amazing Pepper Ann came into my life.

Our first stop was the vet's to see how old she was and what her overall condition was. I was apprehensive. Was she in so much pain or did she have some grave disease that might mean we had done her no favor? Those gentle eyes studying me from the passenger seat made such thoughts unbearable.

But soon the question of if and how to get Pepper Ann out of the pick up took precedence. Now, at fifty, with five hip surgeries in the last six years, I don't move so well either. It was the decrepit leading the decrepit with me trying to help Pepper Ann out of the high-riding pick up truck.

Together we struggled with the long, steep stairway down to the waiting room. I had one hand steadying myself while the other served as Pepper Ann's brake. By the time we reached bottom, I was really beginning to wonder what I was doing with this ancient dog and hoping we could make it back up the stairs again.

Pepper Ann sank down and was resting on the waiting room floor when the sound of children's laughter rolled out from the open door of the examining room. Instantly, Pepper Ann's ears shifted forward, she struggled to her feet and then tottered straight towards the sound, tail just a wagging up a storm.

A little boy glanced out the open door of the examining room just then and exclaimed "Oh Mama ! A Dalmatian !" It was a mutual love affair when the children exited the examining room, clutching a raggedy looking kitten to surround Pepper Ann.

"See our kitty" said one little guy, shoving his kitten proudly under Pepper Ann's nose. "My mama just found it" announced his sister. "We're gonna keep it" chimed another. Pepper Ann's head turned from child to child. "Can I pet her?" the little boy asked. And before I could say that I wasn't sure if that was a good idea, Pepper Ann was already accepting each child's timid pets and touches.

"Well, her tail works just fine", I thought to myself. "And she sure likes kids."

The doctor estimated Pepper Ann to be 12 or 13....very near the end of a Dalmatian's life span. She had arthritis and a cough that was most likely from congestive heart failure. He made no bones about there being nothing that could "fix" her. But, asked if she was suffering to the extent where we should let her go with dignity, he merely said we could try giving her an aspirin twice a day.

The aspirin did reduce the inflammation and left her moving more easily, but it was clearly Pepper Ann's spirit that propelled her forth in life. One minute I'd be helping her down the stairs to the yard, muttering about my aching back and the next I'd find her lying on my son's futon, snoring softly.

I was afraid she would hurt herself. Climbing up onto the bed was surely too much for her. I folded an old sleeping bag over several times and made her a soft place to lie on the floor. The next morning, I found her sleeping on the couch.

Always, she greeted everyone with her tail wagging. When her wagging tail attracted the attention of our kittens, she kept on wagging. When caught sleeping on the furniture, the tail did overtime. It was a thunderstorm, however, that demonstrated the real extent of her resourcefulness.

It was 3:00 am one morning when booming thunder woke me. In the doorway, illuminated by the almost continuous flashes of lightening, just beyond my sound-sleeping Bouvier, stood Pepper Ann, tail wagging.

"Ohhhh no, she has to go outside", I groaned.

Crawling over the Bouvier and nudging her awake, I led them out the back door to the porch. They made their way to the stairs, took one look at the pouring rain and both dogs promptly turned around and marched straight back to the door. Muttering, I made my way back to the bedroom where my Bouvier promptly claimed her place beside my bed as I crawled back in.

Pepper Ann stood forlornly in the bedroom doorway, eyes pleading, tail thumping. Suddenly it dawned on me she was just scared. She wanted to be in there with us. Unfortunately, as tolerant as my sweet Bouvier is, she does not permit these sojourners at our house to invade HER sleeping place, nor are they allowed to step over her to make their way to the bed.

While I was pondering whether or not I could possibly persuade the Bouvier to move over or if it would be possible for me to help the hefty Pepper Ann up onto my high old sleigh bed, I was distracted as the kittens found some exposed flesh and pounced. While I was trying to extract kittens from places they did not belong, suddenly there was one short growl from my Bouvier and Pepper Ann's head and front legs appeared at my feet.

"What the?" She could not possibly be standing on the floor, given the height of the bed. Nor were her front legs strong enough to clutch the bed and hold her plump rear end off the floor. When I finally got in position to see over the edge of the bed, there was Pepper Ann, standing firmly on the rear haunches of the Bouvier who was looking on, clearly disgusted, but allowing Pepper Ann to use her for a step stool nonetheless. Needless to say, Pepper Ann was assisted the rest of the way up into the bed and there she slept out the storm.

Happily, Pepper Ann was given a forever home by the woman who had first been touched by the sight of the old dog whose loving spirit overlooked the pain of cold, hard, cement floors to stand and wag at the door of her shelter cage. A simple diuretic has all but eliminated the cough and her daily aspirin keeps the inflamation down. Her forever may not be as long as some, but it will be spent with the children she clearly loves and all the comfort can be provided for her.

And in return, Pepper Ann is teaching us that the trick to growing old with grace and dignity is throw the heart over each new hurdle and stubbornly follow it, no matter how slowly, heads up and tail wagging.

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