Pepper had me trained from the start.
I've heard Great Danes have the intelligence of four-year-olds. If that were so, I'd hate to think what my IQ was back in 1984. First thing each morning, I threw open the blinds to let in what little sunshine Frankfurt Germany boasted. Then I would smile into my Great Dane puppy's soulful dark eyes and gather him in my arms for his early tinkle. Faithfully I would trudge down three long sets of steps - as soon as I got 'the look' he needed to go.
Boy did he have me fooled.
When I finally caught on that he wasn't really afraid of the stairs, I also realized it was more my need to be needed than about Pepper. Funny what a person can learn from a dog.
Kids look cute when they're small. So do pets.
With its back facing the hallway we had an old leather recliner in the living room. When Pepper was bad – once he actually realized he was in trouble, he would lunge for that chair. The bigger that rascal got, the stronger his pounce became; eventually it got so the lounger would just shoot across the hardwood floor.
Pepper was an escape artist. He watched everything, even how I opened doors.
One night, I lay in bed blissfully unaware of what my beloved pet was up to - until the sound of galloping feet came to a dead stop outside the bedroom door. First there was the sound of hammering as he jumped up in order to come down on the levered handle. Then the door silently opened and Pepper stealthily crept across the floor to gingerly place first one paw, then another, on the end of the bed. I effortlessly shoved him back down with my foot and burst out laughing.
But the last laugh was on me.
Pepper got bigger and I couldn't fasten the door. Both the hallway and bedroom entrances had locks that released when the handles were pressed down. The dog grew to the point where once he had his torso on the bed, it was impossible to shove him off. When my resistance broke, Pepper must have seen a white flag somewhere. From that point on his sneaking in at night stopped and he just walked in. Eventually I no longer even bothered closing the door; the sounds of him breaking in were simply too disruptive.
I haven't mentioned Pepper's social sphere.
This dog by his sheer size attracted audiences, but it was his fascination with people that drew children. Though the military housing unit I lived in was on the third floor, a balcony provided space for Pepper to freely go outside. Sometimes for hours at a time, he loved to lean against its metal railing with his two black skinny front paws dangling out over the top. After school when the neighborhood kids stood below waving, he would hold court with a regal air as if they were his subjects.
Sadly my tenure in Europe came to an end and it was time to leave.
With its abundant trails and dog-friendly restaurants, I found Frankfurt a literal Mecca for dogs. The prospect of returning to the United States with my now grown-up Dane depressed me. I envisioned him confined to an apartment or tethered at the end of a rope - with few alternative options.
Brokenhearted, I chose what was best for my dog and eventually gave him to a farmer. Even now the mental picture, of Pepper's remaining days spent running free in the fields, removes the sting of the loss I still feel. But I'll never forget the image of my skinny black Dane lounging against the balcony rail like an old man with time on his hands.
Yes, Pepper had me trained. God used that goofy dog to teach me patience, tolerance and wonder. But most of all, He used him to teach me self-less love.
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