Sometime in the early 1980s my husband’s ex wife brought Pepper the cockapoo to live with us. Well, not exactly to live with us. Pepper was terminal. Ex-wife Jeanne didn’t have the grit to deal with this situation, so she solved it the way many exes do: she asked her former co-dog owner to take care of the problem. In truth, she left Pepper with us to die.
Jeanne and Pepper lived in West Los Angeles, Russ and I in the canyons between Los Angeles and the Mojave Desert. We were some 70 miles apart but vastly different in climate. Fleas loved West Los Angeles. Its near-the-beach dampness and mild temperatures provided a perfect Eden for them, especially given the availability of a hapless curly-haired host cockapoo.
Our canyon had a desert climate. In the 1980s fleas couldn’t tolerate our dryness and seasonal frosts. There were no fleas in our canyon then. Not so now, with many â€œnewâ€ homes with large, irrigated lawns.
When he arrived, Pepper’s eyes were milky, making him nearly blind. He was so feeble that he could barely navigate the steps into our house. Our two rambunctious dogs nearly flattened the poor guy when they raced to their dishes at feeding time. Pepper nosed a bit at his dish, then left it to Cody and Kipper, who were doggedly grateful. Sorry.
Pepper began to build up steam. As the fleas expired, his blood count must have soared. Oh, he was no Clark Kent of dogdom, but he essayed the occasional romp with Cody and Kipper. When they tore up and down the driveway he limped along behind, more or less happy, tail swishing tentatively.
Soon his eyes began to clear. He learned to bark again. His appetite increased, much to the disappointment of his compadres.
Around this time Russ and I purchased two acres in the for-real desert near a burg called Pinon Hills. We decided to explore our purchase by camping there for a weekend. Our new acquisition was filled with promise – there would be piped water within months, the road would be paved. But on the appointed weekend our homestead was indistinguishable from the miles of cactus, sage, sand and Joshua trees that stretched on all sides. We thought we camped on our property, but there was no way to be absolutely sure.
With coyotes and other native critters in mind, we brought along stout chains for our two dogs, but thought Pepper too infirm to leave our sides. We slept soundly in the bed of our truck, within reach of a zillion stars, comforted by the singing of those stout chains as our dog friends nosed about.
When we awoke, Cody and Kipper greeted us joyously, but there was no Pepper. Poor thing, we thought, must have dragged his tired bones off somewhere to be caught by a coyote. We felt guilty and sad. We agreed we’d never tell Jeanne.
Along about mid-afternoon, there was a swishing in the brush and in strode a cockapoo. Not Pepper, we thought. This dog was the Clark Kent of dogdom. His eyes shone, his coat was sleek; he strutted. He was bragging!
“Pepper?” we said, unbelieving.
“Most certainly,” he replied, “You were expecting maybe some kind of wimp dog?” Of course he didn’t actually say it. Cockapoos are gifted at body language.
After a moment, I ventured a guess. “Russ,” I asked, “Was Pepper ever neutered?”
“Matter of fact, no,” he replied.
“Pepper? What have you been doing?” Russ asked.
“What do you think?” said Pepper.
Pepper lasted long enough to see the road paved and the piped water come in. In fact, he enjoyed five more years with us. He was mildly upset that one of our first acts was to erect a chain link fence. He approved of the mobile home we put on the property. He gave Cody and Kipper the occasional run for their money.
But best of all, Pepper never divulged to Cody and Kipper the fact that they had been neutered.