There is a memoir called A Three Dog Life (by Abigail Thomas) that details how three pets - each with a unique personality and therefore different purpose in her own evolution - aided the author through abstract darkness and internal struggle. The penmenship made me think of the canine companions that I've had in my own life: Pepper, Reggie and Monty.
When I was younger, I was terribly afraid of dogs after witnessing my father being attacked by one in Wall Drug, South Dakota (the BEST spot for roadside kitsch in the continental U.S. of A.). So when he called my mother from work one day to say he found a puppy that he was going to bring home, I was not feeling it. I spent the afternoon whining, too stressed to continue playing my beloved Nintendo and thinking "damnit, I had always wanted a kitten!". I braced for him to arrive home with the monster...and then there he was. With a tiny box. And inside, a tiny weeks-old border collie puppy that my father discovered abandoned in a boxcar at CP Rail where he was employed. The dog was left alone with a small dish of water (which happened to be frozen over as this was February) and nothing else. My initial hesitation ceased within seconds; this guy was staying.
I started to think of names for the wee pup, "Jumper" being one I liked early on. I have no idea why in retrospect but hey, I was 8. My parents told me perhaps I should think of a few more names, which is really a nice way of saying "that one is shite". Being now employed in a profession where people judge what I do on a daily basis, this was a nice introduction to the world of receiving critical feedback. Thus, after a few monikers that failed the endurance test, "Pepper" was settled on. Although every dog I have adopted since has also adopted a slew of nicknames. Just ask Monty, AKA "Montgomery C. Beans", AKA "Meatsauce", AKA "DJ Freshie Fresh", AKA "Teddies", AKA "Tiddlywinks", AKA...you get the picture. I swear to god, he responds to all of them and so did Pepper.
Pepper and I in Yellowstone National Park in 1991:
Being an only child who was (and still is) naturally a bit of a loner, Pepper really made me come out of my shell. He was a companion when I had no other and that means a lot to a kid. There was also something unique about him: he had six toes on all of his paws. During a family camping trip to the Pacific Northwest in '94, a curious incident occurred regarding this. We were in Seattle shopping at Pike's Place Market when a fortuneteller - yes, a fortuneteller, gypsy scarves and all - left her shop to approach us and state that the dog would bring us good luck because of this overabundance of digits. We always wonder how she knew this as from within her storefront it would have been difficult to even see Pep's paws (she wasn't seeking financial remuneration for this nugget of news either). Cue Twilight Zone music. Luck comes in different forms though; Pepper definitely enriched all of our lives and he was lucky himself living a very healthy (and spoiled) 17.5 years.
Dealing with death and grieving was something he also taught me. Pepper was my sidekick from the age of 8 to 25, the most developmental years of anyone's life. He was there through elementary school to graduating college, from first jobs to first boyfriends, supporting me silently through good decisions to comforting me after making terribly bad ones. As his health started to deteriorate in 2005, I knew that I would not only be bidding adieu to my best friend but also an era of my life. When the day came to close that door, I knew it was time. My father held Pepper on their deck before heading to the vet. When I walked outside to join them, Pepper must have sensed me and looked over in my direction for what seemed like an eternity. He was nearly blind at that point and I like to think this was his way of telepathically communicating to me that he was ready and it would be okay. It eventually was, but in the moment there is nothing harder than saying goodbye. I still miss him.
One week later, I went to a no-kill rescue shelter near my home in Winnipeg and met a wee guy that wasn't a border collie, but rather a lab-X that looked very much looked like Pepper (sans the extra toes). He had a ball in his cage that he would repeatedly bring to me, coaxing me to play fetch. During this period of my life, I was self-employed and while I had a ton of work to do, playing fetch was given top priority that afternoon. Heck, it was my birthday after all. And heck, because of this, I decided to adopt him. Right place, right time for both of us.
There was no second-guessing on this one's name...with his raven hair he was a "Reggie", named after a character in the Archie comics pantheon with similar physical features. It just so happens that this character is also the biggest jerk in the Riverdale universe and little did I know how apt the tribute would eventually turn out to be - I love Reggie with all my heart, but at times he can be the most ornery, entitled dog shamelessly pilfering food off my plate as though he's starving, stealing my spot on the couch as though his dog bed is made of nails and always miserably howling at me when I scold him. This brings me to the next life lesson I received through canine intervention: to not be so ornery and entitled myself. For Reggie and I are truly two peas in a pod: headstrong, stubborn, ambitious and often craving steak. He's also incredibly intelligent and well-versed in machiavellianism; that playtime at the no-kill was the last time he played fetch with me. Having said that, he is THE most loyal and protective to a fault. Less a pet, more a bodyguard. The five years I had him, he was my shadow. Stealing my spot on the couch, yes...but in another viewpoint, warming it up.
Reggie, the day I brought him home:
In 2010, I moved west and couldn't take him with me. He was too big to be accepted into any apartment and I wasn't sure how he would adjust from his familiar surroundings & not having someone around all day. My parents have since adopted him. Whenever I visit, Reggie is happy to see me (and still bearish) but now he has someone else vying for attention and leftovers. This guy (check out those eyeballs, they're bigger than mine):
A few weeks before I officially moved to Saskatoon, I visited the city to scope out apartments. Each morning in my hotel room, I would watch "Let's Make a Deal" (millennial version with Wayne Brady). I had never seen it before and quickly became hooked at how unapologetically cheesy it was. Monty Hall, of course, was the original host and also a famous Winnipegger. There are few, we cling to every one; be thankful I didn't name my next dog after Burton Cummings or this guy (whatever his name is). Thus before even getting a new postal code, I decided that my next dog would be called Monty, a great bridge between my former home and new one (by way of a syndicated gameshow).
With my eventual "Monty", I definitely won a prize. He is the Kate Moss of Canines™, a photogenic mutt that preens for the camera and is always happy & smiling. The most gentle soul on the planet, he is a real life teddy bear. Where Reggie never retrieved his ball after that initial encounter, Monty always does...and even shares his treats, placing them on or near me as though he is saying "what's mine is yours". Parents never admit to having a favorite child (in my instance, they had no choice) but I'm sure they all secretly do. Come on! There is always one that is less bratty and/or always eats their vegetables without hiding them around the house and/or doesn't smell of cheese. Monty is definitely the most special of my pets, probably because he's the one that needs ME the most. Everyone needs to feel wanted. This was especially important after moving to a new town in a new province where I didn't know a soul. Pepper and Reggie were very independent. Monty is a baby always at my ankles and curled up on my lap. There was even one time when I was napping on the couch and he laid down to sleep on my face leaving me choking on white fur. In retrospect, this may have been attempted murder for not filling his Kong but I digress. Monty completed the circle in teaching me about being selfless.
That is my own three dog life so far and if that's all I get, it will have been perfect. There is much to be said about the positive influence a canine companion can bring. Most importantly, making me realize that cats are the inferior species.