Pepper – by Justine Sahli

“She looks like a hyena.” I told the friend who had come with me to help me find a dog. “She is a one-person kind of dog. She’s perfect for you!” my friend responded.


It was 1992, and I had been to all the local animal shelters looking for an adult dog. I was thinking a black lab would be nice. I grew up with Saint Bernard’s and really a big dog. But, this dog liked different than anything I had ever seen; large, wolf-wild, grey and covered with black spots.

We had met several labs, one at a time, in the meet-and-greet yard, but each one zoomed past me without a sideways glance. Then the strange spotted dog was brought to us. She immediately came up to me and laid her head gently in the palm of my hand. She chose me. “Ok,” I agreed and soon we were heading to my Paradise cottage. “What shall I call her?”, I ask. “Pepper,” my friend replied, adding, “Your last name is Sahli so she’s ‘Pepper Sahl-ti’!” And so she was.

I learned she had been abused by her prior owned – who she’d run away from. For her first few weeks I started training her to trust me. Two weeks”” and one day after I’d adopted her, I awoke in the middle of the night from a night mare and rushed to see Pepper – who was giving birth to still-born pups. At her vet check two weeks earlier I/d been told she was having a “false pregnancy”, but there was nothing false about these deliveries! Her labor stopped so I called another vet and brought her in. I was later told they did a C-section, but that the puppy didn’t make it and if I wanted my dog back I had to pay $150! (much more in today’s money). If I didn’t pay today, they told me they were putting my dog down! In a panic, I called the shelter for help, explaining that I’d agreed to adopt one dog, not seven! I did not have the money for this surprise expense. I was eventually referred to PASH, who graciously (along with PAWS) paid the vet bill. I rushed to retrieve my dog, and she was clumsily set, semi-conscious, on the seat of my old sports-car. I was given no follow-up information.

Life with Pepper was getting off to a rocky start. She was indeed a one-person god, and went through postpartum depression, not leaving my side – ever- for six months!

She was as smart as they come, and learned commands in just a day. I had trained dolphins in 1970, as a college research project, so I taught my dog to obey dolphin hand signals.

She went with me everywhere, riding shotgun in the old sports-car. She was my protector. More than once, I’d be driving up the Skyway at night, Pepper snoozing on the seat next to me, when a strange man would pull his car alongside mine and keep staring at me as he drove beside me. I’d speed up or slow down, but if he didn’t leave me alone, I’d signal Pepper who would rise up and look over at the stalker. The shocked look on the man’s face was always followed by him leaving quickly.

When I discovered Table Mountain, Pepper was there. She guarded my first house purchase, she tried to herd my cats – for about five minutes. Then they called a truce. She screened the men I dated with her special canine wisdom. When we moved to the second house, I clocked her at 25 mph running back to the only safe house she’d ever known. When I got breast cancer in 2003, she was there. When I recovered and moved to the beach, she walked right into the waves and dog paddled. She was courageous and wise and loyal. And, we loved each other for 16 years. As they say, “the lion shall lay down with the lamb” and I know Pepper is resting peaceful with my Lord. If not for PASH stepping in when they did, those 16 years with Pepper would never have happened. Somehow, “Thank you” just doesn’t seem deep enough to express my gratitude.

Pepper J Sahli
Paradise, CA