I just came across this article that someone posted on my facebook. It brought me to complete tears. June will be two years since we put my childhood dog, Pepper, down. Not a single day goes by that I don’t think about him. I miss him all the time.
We got him the day before I started high school. We picked him out from the local shelter. Actually, my mom picked him out. Everyone had picked a different one. He was a cute puppy, scared to death. The first few times we went to visit him before we could take him home he was totally not into it. They had found him in a backyard. Totally neglected, occassionally thrown some food. He was fearful of us. He sat there in the middle of the room, hunched over, hoping we’d just leave him alone. Eventually he warmed up to us and we got to take him home after he got fixed. I was 14 at the time and I was over the moon that we finally had a dog. I am the one who named him. He had a weird black spot on his pink tongue and was black with a white chest and feet. They told us he was a lab mix and had a long snout like a setter. As he got older he grew a longer coat and we realized he was more boarder collie than lab.
He very quickly became one of the family. We used to just sit and watch him sleep. I used to lay next to him on the floor and pet his head and nap with him. High school is a difficult time and he was always there when I needed him. He sat with me when I cried and licked my tears and let me ramble on and on. He would always chase something you threw and had to go on a walk before bed otherwise he wouldn’t go to sleep. No one was ever more excited when you came home than Pepper. I felt terrible when I went off to college, I felt like I abandoned him. I knew I missed me too. All through college and even when I moved up to New York, he could tell when I was leaving. He would lay in another room and I would have to find him to say goodbye and I could tell he knew. Everytime I called home I used to ask how he was doing, especially as he got older. When no one answered the house phone I used to leave messages on the answering machine for him.
Right before I got married my family went to Cape Cod for two weeks. Since I had to use all of my vacation time for the wedding and my honeymoon, I could only go for the middle weekend. Since I refused to let Pepper go to a kennel, I took him for three weeks. It was nice to have him around all time again. As he got older, he could no longer leap from the back yard over the deck stairs and onto the stairs and even do the stairs all that well. He started this weird thing where all he wanted to do was lay in the backyard and he wouldn’t want to come in. Hearing about this of course always made me sad. One weekend we were visiting my parents and I let him out in the back one last time before I went to bed. He didn’t want to come in. I made T come help me bring him in. He eventually came in with him and came into the den to sleep under the pullout. He always slept there when we came to visit. The next night we were getting ready to leave and saying our goodbyes when I noticed that his eyes were really drooping and had lots of eye gunk, I freaked out and got really concerned. We went home and my mom called me the next morning at 7:30 and told me she was taking him to the vet because he had been up all night puking. I racked my brain and asked one of my co-workers (who is a dog breeder) what could possibly be wrong with him. My mom called and said she had to leave him there for more tests. I went to lunch that day at the local pizzeria with one of my other co-workers when my mom called again. I could tell she was upset and I was worried about what she’d say. As it turned out he was still throwing up and had cancer and it would be best to put him down. She cried as she told me and everything inside me died. I sat there sobbing in the middle of a pizzeria and didn’t know what to do. I was still at work, it wouldn’t be until 4 that they were going to do it and I couldn’t decide if I should go be with him.
As it turns out, I was too upset to keep working and went home early. I couldn’t stop crying. I decided it was too late for me to go home and I left my mom, brother and sister to be with him in his last moments. Parts of my hates myself for not going and being there for him and part of me doesn’t think I would have been able to handle it. I feel guilty for not going, like I failed him or something. I was two hours away and probably would have driven off the road for being so upset. I never wanted him to miss me or think I didn’t love him. I sat in the dark in my house for hours just sobbing. It was a solid four days of that. Every day the rest of that week I came home after work and sat in the dark and cried. I talked to my family a lot and we talked about him and cried together. I found all of the pictures I had. The first time I went home to visit my family was the worst. I didn’t even make it down the road. As soon as I turned on to our street I started crying. To walk in the door and not have him come running to me killed me. It took me a long time to be able to think about him and not cry. I can’t even really do it now. I’m even crying as I write this.
I don’t know if I’ll ever forgive myself for not going home to him. I still don’t know if I did the right thing or not. What I do know is that I was there to see him before the end. I feel like he waited for me. Like he knew I would be there one last time. Every time I go to my parents’ I say hi to his box of ashes. I know that sounds outrageous, but I can’t help it. I know I’ll never get over him. I can never replace him. He was my first dog. The best dog. My best friend.