Pepper: Example of man's best friend

Posted: Friday, June 20, 2003

On the WaterfrontBy Elton Engstrom

There is no question that dog is man's best friend, as has been attested through the ages. The number of experiences is innumerable. Who has not heard of the dog, who when his friend and master died, lingered at his side until he also weakened and died?

In recent times, since the wonder of DNA research has been explored, we know that your tiny, friendly pet is absolutely the same genetic creature as the wild, 100-pound wolf, who lives in the forest and sustains himself by eating the weak and timorous. At one time, this was uncertain and it was thought the dog may have been an offshoot of various ancestral lines of wolf, coyote or wild dog. The only present difference between wolves and dogs, beside their instinct and temperament, is that dogs can digest certain foods, such as vegetables, which wolves cannot.

At some campfire of ancient years, a group of Neanderthal or their close cousins, Cro-Magnon, who are our forbears, clutched a little ball of fur. They found a den of five or six squirming pups - the mother had been killed. They decided to put them by the fire. They may have laid a scrap of fur over them, and if the pups were old enough, they may have offered a piece of chewed meat, pressing it toward the eager teeth of the little, no longer wolves, but dogs.

So their progeny comes to the present.

My wife, Sally, has a farmhouse in Alabama. One day in the spring of the year, we came up the driveway and saw a blur of motion that looked like a small bear. As we approached, we saw it was a dog, with black fur hanging almost to the ground. It was very scared and didn't come near.

Since we needed to go away on a trip for the weekend, we left a dish of water and scraps of meat on the porch. When we returned, we tried to call her; she only weighed about 20 pounds. She was still scared, but after a day she came up, and she laid her head in my lap as I knelt before her.

Sally and I decided to bring Pepper back to Alaska. Since she had such a quantity of fine fur, in fact two coats, one an inner gray mat, and the other, an outer black guard fur, some said she might be a Tibetan terrier.

She likes it here in Alaska, because it is cool. Alabama was too hot for her. Sometimes, on the roads of America, dogs are just let out to fend for themselves - alone and scared.

She is very bright and is a delicate eater. She doesn't snap at food like my bulldog, Gustav. When I clip all the long fur off her in the spring, to make it pleasant for her to play and run, sometimes, by error, I take a nip with the scissors. She yelps, but doesn't run away, and allows me to continue. When I leave home, she is anxious to go with me, and when I return, she is joyous.

One recent study speculates that humans are as affected and conditioned by the presence of dogs, as the more common notion that the behavior of dogs is determined by man.

Heck, she isn't just a dog. She is man's best friend.

• Elton Engstrom is a lifelong Alaskan, retired fish-buyer, lawyer and legislator (1964-70) who lives in Juneau. He can be reached at 586-1655.

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