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‘I apologise in advance…’ The story of one man and his dog

You’re about to read an article written about a dog. It may seem a little silly and a bit odd to write about my dog, but keep reading and hopefully by the end of it you may understand why I’ve done it. If not, I’m sure there will be some nice pictures of him to look at.

me and pep

Scooby-Doo and Shaggy, Tintin and Snowy, Turner and Hooch.. Need I say more? Paul O’Grady and Buster maybe?

I have lived with dogs since birth and I couldn’t imagine my life without one. My earliest memories are of the two dogs my family had when I was little and those dogs helped me in discovering my adventurous side. From the first small adventures I took myself on when I was just a young boy, all the way up to my present day trips, I have always had a trusty companion with me, and the most recent bugger I have to call a companion is Pep (Pepper).

Many years we lost the last of the two dogs I had grown up with, a wonderful little Jack Russell named Fly. This was the first time in my life that I had been without a dog and it was a terrible, empty feeling. Something was missing.

After roughly six months we decided to look for another dog; the silence and the loneliness of the house had grown too much and we needed to fill that void. We did the usual of looking around the RSPCA centres but we couldn’t quite find what we were after until we contacted a rescue shelter not so far away in the country town of Tring in Hertfordshire. What we liked about this rescue centre was the way you were introduced to the dogs. Unlike the RSPCA, you don’t just walk around the kennels until you see a pretty dog that you may or may not like to take home. This shelter required reams of paperwork to be completed before you got anywhere near meeting a dog; What do you do for a living? Where do you live? What breed are you after? Why do you want the dog? What will you be using the dog for? – among other questions were asked and once we had filled out the paperwork, we sat outside in a courtyard and the staff began to bring out the dogs that matched the profile on the paperwork.

The gateway opened and out came an enormous beautiful male German Shepherd named Simba. We allowed him to approach us, as you would any dog you meet for the first time, then we took him for a short walk up the road and back to get acquainted. He was then taken back to the kennels and for a reason I can’t remember we didn’t decide to take him home. A few more came and went through the gate, until a gorgeous black Belgian Shepherd called Jersey came through. Initially very sheepish, she soon opened up and became very confident with us. We clicked, and the decision was made to put her on the yes list. Jersey came home with us the following week. We went to the shelter with the intention of only getting one dog, but we proceeded to see the last couple of dogs they had on their list…

The next dog that we met was a funny looking Collie named Pepper.

He came through the gate and I muttered something about how it was a shame he was a bit ugly because he seemed very sweet. All the previous dogs we had seen had approached us fairly nonchalantly and calmly, however as soon as Pepper set his eyes on me he went absolutely mental. He pulled the handler all the way across the courtyard and, as if we had been reunited after a long time apart (you know how dogs are), he leapt up and into my arms and it was love at first sight – for him anyway.

So after only looking for one dog, we ended up taking two home, one that my mum picked and one that picked me. From that moment Pepper never left my side and went anywhere I did, whether I liked it or not.

The truth is though I could’t have had a better companion.

I can’t think of a single person who, when first introducing them to him, I haven’t said ‘I apologise in advance – he’s a bit ugly but you’ll love him when you get to know him.’ It was true through, he wasn’t the best looking creature in the world, but I absolutely loved him dearly. It still remains a mystery as to what breed exactly he was. His paperwork says he was a collie-cross, but crossed with what I don’t know. I always assumed that he is crossed with a Whippet due to his stance and body shape. He was roughly the same shape as a Whippet but with a collie head. It was a bizarre mix but he had certainly got the best of both, he had the intelligence and stamina of a Collie with the speed of a Whippet. On top of that he had the most incredible blue eyes.

However I still think he looked like a fox mixed with a cat.

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So our journey began..

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be having adventures with just the company of a dog, apart for the time I wanted to be an astronaut, but we all know about Laika the Soviet space dog, so I suppose even that was possible.

Our very first outing was more of a bonding session (not that it needed to be after our first encounter). As soon as I walked in from school  I couldn’t wait to get changed into my ‘muddy clothes’ and get outside. I took him around the enormous Rothschild estate where Waddesdon Manor sits, as it was more or less outside my front door at the time. I wasn’t sure how he would act initially once being taken off the lead, but with a ball in hand I decided to risk it. It quickly transpired that there was no need for a lead at all as he stuck to my heel perfectly without one. So we continued our bonding session over a few more hours of walking through the woodlands and fields playing with the ball and trying to tire him out, which was something that only recently due to his age, I had only started to get a hold of. I knew from this very first time out together, that he would indeed be the perfect partner for years of explorations to come. In fact, knowing this, he was encouraging me to get out and about even more than I had done previously.

I made sure that, for as long as I was with him, he would remain fit and would become very well trained. So day after day I would be out in the fields and eventually got to the point where he would follow commands using nothing but hand signals and a whistle, something that stayed well tuned for years. I unfortunately misplaced my whistle but the signals still worked a charm when he wanted them to.

Not too long after I had Pepper something happened that terrified me but later made me laugh. I was out walking with mum on the Waddesdon Estate when Pepper had crossed what is usually a very quiet road. I had taught him to lay down at the side of the road until I gave him a command to cross when it was clear, he would do this when he was both at my side and at a distance. This time however he had crossed to the other side, which was OK because as usual, the road was empty. Suddenly a car began approaching and I gave Pepper the command to lay down and stay where he was on the other side of the road, however this time he decided to ignore me and try to join me. As he was half way across the road the car slammed its brakes on but a little too late. It collided with Pepper, causing him to roll a few feet up the road. What makes me laugh though was his reaction. As if completely unaware, he just got back up and continued to run over to me, with little to no realisation whatsoever. My heart was racing as I quickly grabbed hold of him and started to check him over and to my relief he showed absolutely no sign of injury or distress and he just trotted off to start playing again.

That really summed this dog up perfectly, almost completely blasé to most things and more than happy to just carry on regardless. Much like myself actually.

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Another thing to mention about my dog’s strange behaviour is how he greets people. Most dogs just get excited to meet new people and some aren’t bothered either way. Pepper however appears to be excited at first, but often winds up hurting them, my male friends in particular. During the last few of years of school, my friends and I would spend almost most lunch breaks at my house drinking tea and, more than often, making pancakes. Upon entering I would release both dogs from the kitchen to meet everybody before they were then summoned to the garden for half an hour or so. Jersey (renamed Jess), would usually just wander in and back out again. Pepper, however, would usually go completely mental and for one friend especially, he would cause harm. He didn’t usually have a habit of jumping up at people but when he saw Dan (Flapjack making, photograph taking Dan who appears in many of my articles) he would jump up and seemingly on purpose land a fairly hard ‘punch’ to his walnuts. As soon as Dan was almost reeling on the floor in pain, Pepper would then saunter off back into the kitchen and out to the garden. Job done.

By now we have all seen the videos of the ‘guilty dogs,’ the ones that have trashed houses or eaten food they shouldn’t have whilst the owners are away. To many, facial expressions showing emotion and moods are still something quite human but seen in other animals such as apes for example. Of course there are the usual snarls and teeth baring you get with almost ever animal, but that’s more of a defence/offence instead of emotion. It’s amusing to see these facial expressions in these guilty dogs and one of the most expressive dogs I have ever seen is my own. I remember getting home from work one day to discover the kitchen rubbish bin had been torn apart and spread across the floor, and sat in the middle of it all was Pepper with the guiltiest face I have ever seen.

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You haven’t just come here to hear random things about my dog, especially on a page that is supposed to be about exploring the wilderness. Over the past 10 years we have been on many adventures. The Wye Valley and Mount Snowdon especially.

You may have read my piece on our Mount Snowdon trip already, so I won’t go into the details as such, but one thing worth noting is how well Pepper really did. At the time of climbing he was about 7 years old, I’d owned him since he was 18 months, so he wasn’t exactly unfit, but his performance made me seriously proud. From the word go he didn’t stop or slow down until we reached the summit and set up camp. I read in an article just this year in the telegraph (article linked below) about a man who had used GPS to measure how far his dog walked in comparison to himself. The end results showed that his dog walked twice as far as he did, on the same journey, which was roughly a circular route. In the case of Mount Snowdon, being a completely different terrain would of course alter the results if we were to do the same experiment, however I would bet money that it wouldn’t be much lower than twice the distance. For a 3500ft mountain, that to me is impressive. Combine the distance with the weather conditions; fierce winds, deep snow and freezing temperatures. That’s one tough cookie. The most worrying moment occurred when we had finally set the tent up and notice that Pepper was curled up on the snow falling asleep. I dumped all of my warm, dry clothes from my rucksack into the middle of the tent, wrapped him up  in them and spent the whole night with him curled into me asleep. I’ll add here that he had actually warmed up in about 10 minutes but does also seem to have a need to be in contact with somebody when he sleeps. This may link to a fear of the dark I suspect he has, but that’s an entirely different story.

I haven’t had a proper trek through the Wye Valley as such just yet, just a couple of day trips in the area walking down the river and around the Forest of Dean. I would recommend visiting the area if you haven’t done so already as the scenery is stunning. It had always been somewhere on my places to visit, so one Tuesday morning when I had the day off work I decided to pack a bag for the day and take the dog for a little spot of exploration. I found a lovely quiet place to leave the car and took off down towards the river. There were a couple tour boats cruising up and down occasionally, flanked by canoes and kayaks, but it was otherwise relatively quiet. I sat on the bank for a while in the sun throwing sticks further and further across the river for Pep to fetch. He’s a mean swimmer when he’s in the mood for it and was almost making the whole width of the river until it got to the point where the tour boats were appearing to be waiting for him to move out the way and the canoeists were paddling around him watching in awe as this Otter looking, fox-cat-dog swam between them. We then took a stroll up the valley into the woods, exploring off the track as much as we could until I found a spectacular viewpoint.

The viewpoint is a cliff edge that protrudes from the valley towards the river with a sheer drop all around. I thought it was best to secure Pep to a tree further back for safety. As soon as I got out onto the ledge however he started whining and barking at me so I only managed to get a couple of pictures before having to return back. As soon as I reached him he started jumping up and acting as if I’d left him for hours. Sometimes needy just isn’t the word. Being the type of person I am, I made the executive decision that the only way for the both of us to get to the bottom of the valley and back to the river would be to climb down the very steep slope instead of using a footpath. It was a case of having to slide from one tree to another to another, something that Pep grew quite fond of fairly quickly. He would wait at one tree for me to reach the next, then slide down to me and so on. We both dropped down into the middle of a footpath at the bottom right in front of a family who were out for a quiet stroll only to be disturbed by a man and his dog falling from the trees, caked in mud and landing at their feet. I dusted us both off and we crossed in front of the family and continued off the edge from the other side of the path and down to the river with no more than just a nod and a ‘good morning’.

So at this stage, I’m not too sure if you would have found the reason why I’ve written about my dog, but this is just an introduction if anything. He’ll pop up throughout my trips around I’m sure and there will be some more stories to tell. I may come across a bit horrible about him at times, but all I can say is that this dog is my little hairy buddy, who may be charmingly ugly and rather peculiar but they do say dogs are like their owners. Look at this face, how can you not love it? Am I glad that he picked me? More than ever.

(update from 02/05/2019)

Since writing this article sadly my beautiful dog is only with us in spirit and memories. I had to say a very tearful goodbye to him in November 2018.

Editing my articles is usually fine by me, but reading through the above piece about Pep and having to change some of it from present to past tense was very difficult. This article just seems like a load rambling on about stuff and doesn’t really touch on how much I loved this little guy and how much he touched and mended my soul an uncountable amount of times. He changed my life for better and will always hold an incredibly large place in my heart and memories.

I feel I must say that he really wasn’t as ugly as I kept saying. He was a beautiful dog with a beautiful, gentle and faithful soul and I really did love him.

 

 

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http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/12083059/Dogs-cover-twice-the-distance-as-their-walkers.html

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