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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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.
* * * * *