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…



If you were a person in Mack’s life, you knew that you were going to get hugs. Lots of hugs. From big bear hugs to hand hugs,* Mack hugged not only her own family members and her closest friends, but also her teammates, her coaches, her teachers and even some people she was just getting to know. She hugged you for pictures, she would sneak up on you to hug you, and there was no escape from her strong grip if she decided you needed one of her famous Big Mack squeezes. Mack was not a big talker, and she was never verbally effusive with her emotions. Instead, she chose to love people by physically embracing them. Mack was full of love and delight for the people who were special to her. But Mack’s hugs were more about her wish to make those she hugged feel unconditionally loved and accepted than they were about showing her own affection.

Mack’s hugs became legendary, especially among all of her various adopted moms. At the memorial service, one of those special women (Sonya, a basketball mom and good friend) told me that she always looked forward to getting settled in at the basketball games, because she knew that even if she had just seen her the night before, Mack would run up the bleachers and give her a huge hug as if she had not seen her in months. Another adopted mom (Ellen, who was the mother of one of Mack’s oldest friends) wrote to me about how much she loved those hugs, referring to Mack as “the human Great Dane who thought she was a lap puppy.”

Mack was, indeed, a bit like a big happy puppy dog. So many photographs of her with friends reveal her inner marshmallow. She loved people hard, and she hugged them harder. Sometimes she hugged me so hard, she squeezed the air right out of my lungs. If I had a bad day, a bear hug from my Mack could make all of my worries melt away. Often, she would wrap her long arms around my shoulders, pull my head onto her chest, rest her chin on the top of my head (always looking for an opportunity to acknowledge our significant height difference), pat my back and say, “momma knows, momma knows.” She was being goofy and ridiculous, but she was also showing love and tenderness in her own unique way.

God, I just loved those hugs. I cannot imagine how I will get through the rest of my life without them; and I would sell my soul to the devil for just one more.

 hug 3    hug 2hug 4    hug 5    hug 6 hug 7    hug 8

*Mack invented hand hugs sometime in high school and, I think, during a softball season. Basically, a hand hug is when two people press their palms together and wrap their own thumbs around the other person’s hand. It was just one of many silly rituals that Mack created to bond with teammates, be close with friends without being TOO gushy and gooey, and to give people around her an excuse to smile, laugh, and to be close to one another.

I Miss My Macko

I weep for you every day;

My eyes with grief are swollen.

I yearn to change the heavy truth upon me that has fallen.

Some say time can ease my pain;

Some say time will bring me peace.

My heartbreak belies the promise, though, of any such release.

Your joyful soul to me endeared you;

Much good humor and laughter you shared.

And I am a better person, because for you I cared.

Cherished memories of your good life;

Keep pace with my sense of loss so deep.

Our time in life may be past, but your spirit forever I keep.