In 1965, my Uncle Johnny gave Pepper to my family. We always loved to visit Uncle Johnny, partly because he was an interesting and fun person and partly because he raised crossbreed Chihuahuas (as well as other animals including chickens and sheep) on his property just outside of Calgary, where we lived at the time.
I clearly remember the day we got Pepper. I was only seven years old and while on a visit to Uncle Johnny’s, he showed us his new puppies. One was so incredibly small she could fit in a teacup. He called her Tinker. I fell in love with her bigger sister, who had no name. My sisters and I begged my parents to let us have her. Please, please, please, oh please. We hoped they’d say yes, but didn’t actually believe they would. So imagine our surprise, our utter delight, when just before we left for home, Dad agreed to bring the puppy along with us. I held her the entire way, and although the puppy was given to the family, she and I both knew differently. She was completely my girl. We tried out different names on the way home, but settled for my choice of Pepper because she had a coat the colour of pepper.
We quickly came to realize small puppies have sharp teeth. She would chase us as we ran, nipping at our feet. We’d jump on the couch or a chair, anything, to avoid getting nipped. It didn’t take long before she figured out how to jump onto the furniture right behind us, giving her access to our fingers and toes. So we had to make the long frantic dash down the hallway, with Pepper nipping at our heels the entire way, and madly scramble up the ladder to the safety of the top bunk. It must’ve looked rather comical to see several little girls, and perhaps a small boy, all cowering on the top bunk, hiding from a puppy who couldn’t weigh more than five pounds.
Thankfully, she quickly outgrew the nipping stage – although for her entire life, she thought it was her job to prevent kids from running in the house. Without actually biting, she nipped at feet and bottoms of rambunctious children, teaching them proper manners. In HER house, you walked.
As the years went by, Pepper grew from a skinny little Chihuahua into a portly little Chihuahua. She loved to eat, and losing all her teeth didn’t slow her down a bit. Having an endless supply of small people willing to share snacks didn’t help matters. I think in her prime, she weighed a hefty twelve pounds. Her cranky nature also grew as she aged, so we were thankful she could only ‘gum’ us when she got mad. She slept with me at night, under the covers, at the foot of the bed. Heaven help me if my feet happened to bother her. I laugh about it now, and I sure loved her to pieces back then, but she could be a crabby little so-and-so.
Immediately after my graduation from high school, my parents moved from Calgary to a very small town in the Okanagan region of BC. Being seventeen years old, I did not want to live in a small town with no job prospects, so I stayed behind in Calgary. That meant saying goodbye to my baby. It was traumatic for both of us. But she never forgot me, and whenever I came to visit, she gave me such a welcome. She squealed and squirmed and generally made such a fuss, it warmed and broke my heart, both at the same time.
Just before Christmas, in 1976, I got a call from my mom, telling me she had Pepper put down. My mind understood that Pepper had been ill for a while and it was the humane thing to do, but my heart was crushed. I didn’t get to say goodbye, I didn’t get to hold her one last time. I had recently moved to BC, just a half hour from my parents’ place, so I lived close enough to pop over. I wished Mom would’ve let me know beforehand. She reasoned it would be easier to just do it without telling anyone, and I imagine it was difficult enough for her to handle alone without a bunch of weeping kids making it worse. I still wish I’d had the chance to say goodbye.
Pepper’s been gone for a long time, many other pets have come and gone since then, but that old saying is true, you never forget your first love.