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I love my job. When I was an unemployed pup, back when I could still see, my days were pretty much the same. Breakfast, quick trip to the yard, then I’d wait for the folks to get home from work. Sure, there was a little excitement from time to time. A squirrel might jump on the window sill, giving me a reason to bark. Or maybe Mom would leave a loaf of bread or some cookies on the kitchen counter. With a little maneuvering, the snack would be mine. Five minutes later, I’d be napping again. I liked my life, was perfectly happy lazing the day away.
But that was before I knew about The JOB.
I’d never thought about being a working dog. Especially when my health started going downhill. First I lost my appetite. Then I lost weight. Lots of weight. I could hear the anxiety in my folks’ voices as they petted me. For the first time ever, they could feel my ribs! (Hey, I’m a black Lab — we like to eat!)
Anyhow, the vet diagnosed diabetes, gave me special kibble, and gave Mom permission to jab me with a needle twice a day.
“Here’s your insulin,” she’d tell me in that happy voice that even a dog recognizes as fake.
But then she’d give me a low-carb treat, and after a few days I stopped feeling sick and was hungry again.
I wag my tail a lot. I always have. I’ve got an upbeat attitude, even when things aren’t going my way.
I wagged my tail when I got the insulin shots, and when Mom stuck me with another needle to test my blood sugar. When I started getting diabetes side effects — first cataracts and then glaucoma — I still thumped my tail. By then, my eyesight was getting pretty bad, so I was bumping into walls and doors . . . . But it could have been worse. So I wagged.
It did get worse. The glaucoma gave me a killer headache and destroyed my left eye. So the vet had to take it out. Worst thing about that? Wearing the dreaded cone for a couple of weeks. But I got to sleep on the bed with Mom and Dad, so that made up for a lot. Wag!
It wasn’t until surgery failed to save my other eye that the folks started to get it. I could have had a last-ditch operation with a small chance of saving the eye, and Mom, Dad, and my human sister Shelby were agonizing over what to do.
Once again, though, I was wagging — and at last, they noticed.
“Pepper is handling this way better than we are,” Mom said.
They decided to “wag their tails,” too. You know, the “water bowl half-full” thing.
‘The Poor Dog’
What a great message for kids, the folks said: When life gets RUFF, keep wagging your tail!
And after way too many people addressed me as “the poor dog” because of my blindness, I got another slogan: I’m not my disability; I’m ME!
Fast forward a few months. I’d lost both eyes but found a new purpose. As mascot of the Plattsburgh, N.Y., Lions Club, I go with my folks to schools, libraries, nursing homes, and other places. They talk about wagging, and I demonstrate.
I’ve got the most important job, because kids get bored listening to people talk — they don’t get bored when they can pet a dog.
So I lift my chin for stroking, roll on my back for tummy rubs, wag my tail . . . and wag my tail.
Never Give Up
And Mom reads the book she and Shelby wrote about a dogged blind dog who learns to see a new way — with her ears and nose. The kids laugh when they see the picture of me “accidentally” sitting on the cat. And they love the part where I turn the wrong way and end up in the closet instead of the living room.
In every single illustration, my tail is thumping.
“What does dogged mean?” Mom asks the kids after she closes the book. Even the littlest ones remember. “Never give up!” they yell. “And what do you do when life gets RUFF?” “Wag your tail!”
I still get “poor Pepper” when people meet me for the first time, but Mom quickly quashes that idea.
“This ‘poor pup,’” she’ll say, “has been petted by thousands of little hands over the past few years. She has an important job, and she loves every minute of it.”
Way to go, Mom!
Don’t get me wrong — I still enjoy plenty of couch time. Although I can’t see squirrels anymore, I have a lot of fun using my extra sensitive nose to “vacuum” the house for tasty tidbits. (Dad tends to overfill cereal bowls and spill popcorn while snacking.) But when I hear Mom take out my special Lions Club vest, I’m at the door, ready to drag her to the car.
Time to go to work! Wag, wag!
Pepper, now 13, lives with her family, including a Newfoundland named Pudding, in far northern New York state. Find her blog, Blind Pup Insights, at www.pressrepublican.com. Scroll down the homepage to find the link on the left-hand side.
Follow Pepper: Facebook/BlindPupProject, Twitter, @blindpupproject; and Instagram, @blindpupproject.
To buy Pepper’s book, Pepper Finds Her Way: A Blind Pup’s Tale, priced at $10 each, contact Suzanne Moore at: email@example.com. All book sales benefit the Plattsburgh Lions Club programs.