Even though German Shepherds seem to be part of our family canon, there was one dog that holds a special place in our lives.
Pepper, my evil beagle, was like no other.
The little 10-inch, tri-colored beagle was perhaps the best gift my ex-husband ever gave me. Named after the peppering on her front feet that we were told would make her not suitable for being a show beagle, she was also the runt of her litter, making her too small to make a good hunting dog and there were concerns she couldn’t be bred. So he got her for an incredible price of something ridiculous like $100 to cover her vet visits.
Growing up, all of my pups had been outside, and that just never felt right to me. I always yearned for my dogs to be with me, but Granny had long believed dogs were not meant to be in the house. The ex thought that, too, wanting Pepper to stay in our shed at night, but the minute he went out of town for a week shortly after we got her, she was inside with me, snuggled under the cover.
“What is she doing in here?” he asked when he got home.
“She’s an indoor dog now,” I declared and dared him to challenge my executive decision. Pepper dared him, too, but her defiance then was a bit more adorable than anything.
Of course, as her personality developed, that defiance was just second nature to her. She was stubborn, mischievous, and a bit on the cantankerous side at times.
And Pepper was a darn good judge of character.
She had a select few people she adored and always wanted to see. One friend, however, made Pepper bare her teeth and refuse to let past the kitchen door.
Come to find out later, that friend was more foe.
“Pepper knew,” Mama said.
Pepper did indeed. “Your grandfather would say she’s not a proper dog,” Granny stated the first time she had a good gander at the beagle. “A darn good dog has to be bigger than a football. She’s basically a football with legs.”
“She’s perfect,” I said.
“She’s a football,” Granny repeated. “She ain’t no kind of protector.”
Oh, but she was. She was a darn good protector.
Pepper would take on anything, regardless of size.
One evening, a neighbor’s chow charged at us, teeth gnashing, growling, and making sounds straight out of a horror movie. I was terrified. I had never been attacked by a dog before but this dog was coming at us like a devil hound. Screaming for the neighbors to get their dog, I tried to run back towards the house to find Pepper had planted her feet and was letting out a battle cry like she was Braveheart. I tugged at her leash to no avail. The more I tugged, the more she pulled, until I had her suspended in the air by her harness. She thought she was flying!
I was trying to reel her in like she was the biggest fish on a hook, but that didn’t stop Pepper. She was not easily intimidated; in fact, I don’t think she was intimidated by anything.
When I married Lamar and we blended our dog families, Pepper considered herself the tiniest leader of a furry little mob.
She was not impressed by their pack hierarchy and would sometimes pick a fight with one, especially Roubaix, just to show she didn’t care.
For whatever reason, Pepper always had an issue with that male dog.
At least that is, until they were both in the mudroom one night and one of them, probably Pepper, realized there was a box of Moist ‘N Meaty on the dryer. The next morning, we found them lying on their backs, moaning in a combination of agony and food bliss, with the plastic wrapping of the dog treats littered all around them.
They were friends for one night. Pepper promptly snapped at his face a few days later, letting him know that act of food larceny had not cemented any friendship.
Pepper was a fierce foe and a loyal companion, but for whatever reason, she did not like it when we moved to the mountains. Maybe her soul was a bit restless without the sounds of a city around her to keep her on her toes and make her question when the next battle would appear. She was a city pup, after all, and I don’t think she ever adjusted to life up here.
“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight,” Mama began.
“It’s the size of the fight in the dog,” I concluded.
Pepper had the spirit, tenacity, and fight of a dog far bigger than she was, maybe even bigger than the German Shepherds in her pack. She may have been basically a football with legs, but for 13 years, she was one darn good dog.