Sometimes I go to the animal shelter just to look around. People are like, "How can you do that? Go there and look at those animals?" Because I like to torture myself, maybe. Or perhaps I think that stooping down to pet a dog or cat makes their day a tad brighter. So I do, I go to the animal shelter when I have no intention of adding to my home zoo.
On a nice July afternoon, my niece and I cruise the animal shelter in my parents' hometown. And there is this thing; this thing in cage number one. I see a butt. I can't tell the size, breed or color. All I see is what I assume to be dogbutt. She has turned away from the world, because the world turned away from her. I go to the desk and say, "I'd like to see the dog in cage one, please." Without looking up from her computer, the kind and gentle public servant growls (Working with dogs a bit too long, dear? You growl and bark rather than speaking?) "Is there an 'A' on the door?" I am perplexed. "A what?" Bark, "An
I wander over and look. Yes, there is an A. Does it stand for "adoptable"? I don't know and I'm not going to ask the growly lady. She huffs, and slowly prises her behind from the desk chair, where apparently it has fused with the stained canvas. She goes into the dog room - visitors must look through the glass at the dogs, like a hospital nursery - and gets the dogbutt.
We are handed the world's ugliest dog. She shivers. Her bald body resembles that of a hog, with a few wild, bristling hairs scattered on black and grey speckled skin. What fur she has is no definable color: individual hairs are randomly part black, part grey, part tan. Her ears are squared off at the top and heavily scabbed, a result of biting flies the animal control meanie says (and the vet later confirms). She is sickly thin, yet proceeds to vomit all over the floor. Twice. And she smells horrible. Far, far beyond "dirty dog" and into the realm of "pork chops left in the sun for a week in August."
It is, of course, love at first sight. My mother gene kicks in. Or my rescue complex. Or maybe I just want the animal control meanie to know that she did not rise from the chair in vain. My sister arrives and names this miserable beast "Pepper" because of the speckled skin. We later add "Coyote" because she looks like a wild animal. And "Half-Ear" because...you figure it out. Luckily the fur on her ears grows past the chewed off tips and this particular abnormality is no longer obvious.
I sign the papers, pay $95 ($75 is refundable if the vet determines that the dog is already spayed - she is), and ask if I can PLEASE wash the dog before leaving. If I take her in my car the way she is, the smell will work its way into the upholstery and make me gag forever. Suddenly the animal control meanie is the animal control angel. She gets two different kinds of doggie shampoo, a couple of towels, and tells me the dog's life story.
Pepper's life story is thus: a deputy found her on the road and brought her in. That's it. That's all we know. Pepper's body tells the rest of the story. She is spayed so someone once cared for her. She is in horrible condition, so she hasn't been loved in a long time. She is desperate for affection, so she still has hope. We take her home.
For months she is skittish. We move slowly around her. Touching her side or trying to pick her up usually results in a nasty reaction and sometimes a bite. It may be that she was injured during her vagabond time; possibly there were some cracked ribs. One afternoon she bites Rob badly on the leg and almost gets a ticket back to the slammer for that.
Our patience eventually is rewarded. Pepper is still a bitch, but she doesn't bite at all. She is bossy and loud and we love her. The kids like to form the wiry hair on her head into various wild styles and Pepper puts up with it. Sometimes she chases the cat and he plays along like he is really scared of a dog that weighs less than he does. She is prancy and proud and proof that the best dogs in the world are the ones that find US.