From Puppies to Pep Dog

Mack LOVED animals. While growing up, she was the adoring zookeeper of our collection of pets, consisting over the years of an enormous Labrador/Rottweiler mix (Barley), three Pugs, (Hops, Napoleon and Josephine), a Pomeranian (Pepper), two cats (Whiskers and Keyhlar), an iguana (Junior), two Guinea pigs (Snowball and Cleopatra), a giant goldfish (Phyllis), a teddy bear hamster (Strawberry), and various newts, fish, frogs and turtles. Even though we also raised three litters of Pug puppies and five litters of kittens (the ridiculously adorable spawn of our evil and slutty little Keyhlar), the McDermott Menagerie was never enough for Mack. No matter how many pets we had at any given time, Mack wanted more. Over the years, she asked for a house-sized pony, bunnies, an ocelot, a lemur, a penguin, a red panda and, most recently from college, a hedgehog. Whenever Mack saw a cute animal picture or video on the Internet, she would start a campaign for the adoption of her very own version of the animal starring within it.

When Mack was in middle school, she heard that the Animal Protective League (APL) in Springfield was looking for families to foster litters of puppies. Basically, these foster puppy families take in the puppies, love them, socialize them and nurse them through spaying and neutering surgeries until they are socialized and well enough for adoption. Mack believed with the full measure of her animal-loving heart that this was the single best idea in the entire galaxy. She could not believe she didn’t think of the idea herself, and she instituted a quiet but relentless campaign to become a foster parent of puppies. For months she lobbied for the job, begging her father and me to co-sign the agreement with her. She made some pretty good arguments about how much love she could offer them, how much experience we already had with baby animals, and what an amazing contribution we could make in the lives of poor orphaned dogs. As usual, Mack’s strategy was simple: be dogged and relentless and cheerful all the while. Almost every day she found a way to put puppies into the conversation in creative and different ways and she always put on her sweet how-can-you-deny-me little face.

Finally, after months of torture, we relented. It was late February 2008, and at that time our household consisted of Kevin, me, Mack, Napoleon and Keyhlar. So what the hell, right? I mean we were down to just three humans and two pets at 709 S. Lincoln, so why not add a litter of puppies to bolster our numbers? Mack and I went to APL to fill out paperwork and then we anxiously awaited some puppies. In early March, the call came; puppies were coming and we could pick them up on Friday. That Friday morning, Mack went off to school anticipating the arrival of her fur babies. I have to admit, I was kind of excited, too. Later that morning, a woman from APL called me at work to say that the puppies had come in with Parvo; and since we had animals in our home, we would not be able to take them until they were treated. “Oh no,” I thought (or maybe I even sighed and said it out loud). “Mack is going to cry,” I thought (or, again, maybe I sighed and said that out loud, too). I told the woman that we were disappointed, but we would be available to take the puppies just as soon as they were better. There was a brief silence on the other end of the phone. Now I know that the woman was assessing the degree of my disappointment. “Well,” she said slowly. “Perhaps you would like to come take a young dog to keep until the puppies are ready?” Then there was silence on my end of the phone. Oh, these people are good. The APL woman told me that they had just received a six-month-old Pomeranian mix that was not adjusting well to the kennel. The APL woman then told me that because this was a young lap dog, she would be quickly adopted; and then we could get a litter of puppies.

Well, I could not disappoint Mack, now could I? It was not what we had bargained for, exactly. But, it was a young dog; and a single pup would certainly be easier than a litter, right? I agreed to pick up the Pomeranian, and I also determined to do it before picking up Mack from school. I could assess the pup before presenting it to her as the consolation prize for her puppies. When I arrived at APL, the woman said that I should come back to the kennel with her so that I could lift the scared little pup out of the kennel myself. Did I tell you that these people are good? Oh, my, these people are good.

I scooped up that little black puff of fur, she burrowed into my chest, and I fell in love. I took her to school to surprise Mack; and when Mack arrived at the car, she squealed. She did not even ask about the puppies, as she scooped up that little black puff of fur and fell in love. And that is how we came to have Pepper. That is also how Mack’s career as a foster mom for puppies ended. For once we decided to keep our new Pepper the Pomeranian, Kevin forced Mack to retire from the puppy foster program. Mack was disappointed, but she admitted that, in a way, she had won. She had wanted temporary puppies, but she had gotten a permanent dog.

Pepper cuddled her way into the hearts of the McDermott family. When we lost our old Pug Napoleon and then our cat Keyhlar in one year, we all loved Pepper all the more. In June 2012 when Kevin moved to St. Louis six months ahead of the family, Pepper was a steady companion for Mack and me. When Mack went to college that August, Pepper kept me from feeling too lonely. Pepper was always Mack’s first order of business when she came home for a visit, because the one thing she disliked about college was living without her last surviving pet. That little dog, the last of the McDermott Menagerie, now provides Mack’s devastated parents with constant cuddles, unconditional love, and a great deal of comfort.

Thank you for being the dogged, determined little imp that you were, Mack. Thank you for loving animals with a heart the size of the sun. And thank you for bringing Pep Dog into our family. I promise to love her enough for us both.

Baby Pepper and Kid Mack…

Pep2      Pep

Pepper lounging in a pile of laundry in Mack’s messy room in Springfield…

pep in mack mess

Cuddling with Pepper in St. Louis…

Pep3     Pep6


And now me with Pepper, alone…


2 thoughts on “From Puppies to Pep Dog

  1. Pingback: “I Love to Laugh” | Being Mack's Momma Bear

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