We had to put our dog of 12 years down last month. It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do, without question.

Hard and sad. That's mostly what it was. Plain, ol' sad.

Pepper was a miniature schnauzer. We got her from a breeder in Fort Atkinson; picked her out of a litter because she seemed the most active and had the brightest eyes. She caught our attention, met our gaze, looked like a winner. So our extremely excited family of five had a new addition. It was 1999.

In her 12 years, Pepper was absolutely nothing special to anyone outside of the five members of our family. In the whole history of dogs, she wouldn't have been a pawprint in the corner of a page. She was an unremarkable dog. But to me, my wife, and our three kids, she was the very best dog of all time.

She did everything a dog should -- she protected us, welcomed us home, played when we wanted to play, rested when we wanted to rest, listened (mostly), gave us love, made sure no squirrels or birds got in the house, and provided us with a wealth of laughter, all of it welcome.

She didn't necessarily love other people, or other dogs. But she tolerated them. My sense was she was always worried they were going to do something to us. She barked a lot. Was under foot a bit too much sometimes. And she never learned to drop a toy. To paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld: "You know how to fetch the ball; but you don't know how to play fetch with the ball."

She was sorta out of shape, sorta lazy, sorta scruffy. No, Pepper wasn't perfect; but she was perfect for us. Man, we loved that dog. And, the feeling was mutual, which made it all the better.

When we were told that she had a host of health issues, both actual and potential, the course of action was clear. We said our goodbyes, cried our way through a box of Kleenex, and let her go. We took her home, and my wife and I went out in the darkness, in a light rain, and dug a hole, and gently lay her down, covered her up, and put a big, cool, impressive-looking rock on top of the spot.

We miss her terribly, still. I still look for her around every corner, still want to call her to go for a walk, still look at her empty bowl -- my wife made it, ceramic, with Pepper's name on the side -- and can hear the jangle of her collar against the side of it.

I said that day I never wanted to get another dog, ever. Just didn't want to go through it all again. Too much pain; too much sadness. (Here's exactly what I said: "Never. As in N-E-V-E-R.")

That lasted about a week (maybe less), at which point talks began. A week after that, a search started. And a week after that, we zeroed in on a new puppy. A schnauzer, like Pepper. And, at the same time, a schnauzer that will be completely unlike Pepper.

Memories of Pepper are forever a part of us. But, if you allow it, there is always room for new love, and space for new memories.

More on the new pup soon. . . .


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