One day in elementary school, I had to do a “get to know you” activity with another student. At the part of the form that required me to fill in “Best Friend,” I wrote PEPPY.
“Who’s Peppy?” the classmate asked.
“Your dog is your best friend?!”
Up until that point, this didn’t seem so strange. And why would it? Peppy and I came into each other’s lives when I was 7, and I will always think of her as the best Christmas gift ever. A small, scruffy Schnauzer, she quickly became my confidante and my protector. Like all good friends, she sensed when I was sad and needed to be supported, and she always knew when it was time to play tag. She never cast judgement on the people around her and always stood up for me when she felt there was a threat. (Usually the letter carrier or another, much bigger dog).
Mostly though, she just liked to be included. And just like we all have funny quirks and tastes, Peppy was the same. She loved potatoes and plain noodles, disliked softball umpires, and would often sleep on my head at nights. If she didn’t want to do something, she was stubborn and wouldn’t budge. The only person who was allowed to lift her up was my mom, and when she was excited, she would run around the coffee table. When I think of growing up, it’s impossible not to think of Peppy.
But, in the end, everything is impermanent. Pets are one of the few relationships we enter into with the knowledge that we will likely outlive our furry (or scaly, or feathered) partner. It was hard to watch Peppy get old. She had a few health scares and eventually had a stroke. She was very proud and independent, so having to rely on us for everything was a transition for her, and my family. But in a strange way, and through the gift of hindsight, I can see that this difficult time also deepened our bond. We spent many afternoons together, just Peppy and I. I would ride the bus back to my parents’ house to make sure she took her special medication, but what Peppy needed most was company. There’s nothing worse than feeling lonely when you’re sick and it was time to return the favour. Whenever I was ill or had a migraine, Peppy always, without fail, sat by my side, providing unfettered kindness. Getting to be there for my dog when she needed companionship most was humbling and special, and I’ll forever be grateful for this opportunity.
Just as I was finishing up university, it was clear that Peppy was tired. It was time to let go. I often wonder if she made sure she recovered from her stroke so that my family and I could come to terms with the fact that as formidable and loyal and feisty as she was, Peppy couldn’t be with us forever. When it was time to say goodbye, it was awful. Loving someone more than yourself isn’t always easy, especially when they’re in pain. Looking back at that afternoon at the vet’s, though, my mom and I both feel that Peppy managed to show us that she was ready, so we could feel okay with letting go. To the end, my friend took care of us.
After Peppy was put to sleep, it felt like some essential part of my life—an element I’d always sort of thought would just be there—was suddenly gone. When we experience loss, there is pain and there can be regret, but what was most jarring for me was the shift in routines. I no longer heard my best friend’s little red collar jingling as she raced around the corner to say hello. We no longer needed to scoop food into a little ceramic bowl and suddenly the old knotted leash seemed extra conspicuous now that it wasn’t being used. It was a really sad time.
Since Peppy, I’ve had several dogs in my life and each one has something to teach about life. Peppy showed me what it meant to be attuned to those around you and that loving fiercely comes in many forms. Peppy was selfless, sometimes psychic, and intelligent. She lived her life with her whole heart and seemed to completely embrace who she was.
A true friend, Peppy showed me that loving completely, no matter how impermanent, is always life-affirming and good. I will forever be grateful to the little Schnauzer who stuck by me no matter what.