On May 14, 2015, Southern California welcomed a petite fluffy furry Aspin dog all the way from the Philippines. But Pepper’s incredible tale began long before that.

Wagging Dog Rescues Pepper

In the city of Lipa in the province of Batangas, about 50 miles south of Manila, a lady rescuer noticed a sick, starving, neglected dog clinging to life by the side of the road. For almost a year while she was building her animal sanctuary, when everyone else averted their gaze as they hurried past the forlorn creature, this rescuer brought food and water for the unwanted pup. He was owned by an indigent family who couldn’t provide for him, instead leaving him to roam the streets to fend for himself – the fate of so many animals in impoverished countries. He would sit near the street food vendors waiting for scraps, afflicted with severe mange that caused him to lose all of his beautiful fur. He was a forgotten, skeletal soul wandering the area like the ghost of the dog he should have been. One day the lady sent a letter to the Barangay (local administrative division) informing them that she was picking up this dog for abandonment and negligence by the owners. It was one of the luckiest days of Pepper’s young life.

Pepper’s rescuer brought him back to a veterinary clinic in Manila where his mange and other health issues were treated and his fur began to grow back. After his time at the clinic, sweet shy Pepper moved to his rescuer’s new sanctuary in his old neighborhood of Lipa, home to 200 cats and a few other fortunate dogs.

We learned of Peppy in early 2015 when we partnered with the lady rescuer and her colleagues once again in an international rescue collaboration. With the help of these advocates on the other side of the globe, WDR had previously been able to bring two Pinoy pups to Southern California where they found amazing forever families. We were eager to be part of a similar miracle once again, and thanks to the willingness of two compassionate, skilled foster families, our second trans-globe rescue for Pepper and his traveling companion Spotty came to fruition that May.

Just prior to his departure and after further diagnostics, we learned that Pepper appeared to be in kidney failure. After discussing this devastating news with his planned foster family, we determined to keep our promise to this guy and give him the best that we could when he got here. Our foster families never cease to amaze me, even after all these years of rescue. They give and give and give some more, and when things look most dire, they give ten times as much. People sometimes wonder how we do so much, spend so much, for the care of our Wagging Dogs. To that I can only say – how can we do anything less, be anything less, when the rest of the village is so much more?

The original plan for Pep was to do all that we could for him and then begin searching for the special family who would give a forever home to this special dog, knowing his kidneys were failing and one day in the coming years his body would no longer be able to sustain him. The second luckiest day for Pepper came when his foster family realized they couldn’t part with him. In the words of his beloved mom, “Although it took us a month to merely lay a single finger on him as he was so fearful, it took him no time at all to wiggle his way deep into our heart and soul. All of us in the house — human and canine — seemed to enjoy his extremely gentle demeanor and peaceful Buddha-like presence, so we invited him to join our pack and family permanently.” Aware of what lay ahead for this dog and his incredible people, WDR asked to remain his ‘rescue godparent’. Pepper became a permanent WDR foster dog, living with his forever family with medical care provided by the rescue.

In addition to all of this good fortune for this once forgotten dog, he happened to land in the care of people whose greatest focus is on the dog’s total well-being of body, mind and spirit, encompassing not just love and safety but also the best nutrition and whole-body nurturing through the timeless holistic healing system of Ayurveda. Over the past two years with his SoCal family, I watched this very shy, sick dog who couldn’t be touched blossom into a shimmering, vibrant embodiment of happiness and health. It was hard to believe he was even the same animal because the dog before me was so confident, outgoing, and plump 😉 with the most luxurious fur coat of anyone anywhere. I would look into his eyes and see laughter dancing where once I only saw pain and fear lurking. I think his personality change was the most striking, as I witnessed this little man approach strangers in a bustling and noisy public setting, soliciting attention where once he would have taken refuge behind the known comfort of his mom’s legs. I had this moment of clarity, seeing the dog Pepper was born to be but couldn’t quite attain before. He had truly found his groove in the universe and it radiated from every fiber of his furry body and appreciative soul. His folks said he never demanded a thing and remained endlessly grateful. All he wanted was to be near you, to enjoy some good food or a walk in the park, and to share his calming presence with those around him.

There was a time before rescue when I had mixed feelings concerning importing animals from other states and countries, knowing just how many unwanted dogs were dying at the local shelter where I volunteered. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around bringing these other animals to a place clearly overwhelmed with its own unwanted pets, where ‘euthanasia’ was used as a form of population control instead of the original definition of the word. As with so many other facets of my life, rescue evolved me into a more enlightened human being. I realized that a life is a life, no matter where it originates, and when people are willing to help you save those lives, you can only say yes please and thank you, let’s do this. After moving to San Diego, where I was closer to Mexico than my home town of Los Angeles, I realized that a state or international border is nothing more than a wavy line in the sand and ultimately amounts to nothing because WE ARE ONE. Collaborating in international life saving efforts is a special form of rescue, a unique form of expansion and education, and one of global unity and shared compassion and love. Not only do we make lifelong friends around the world, sharing a tiny grain of the extreme trials and tribulations of those in places less fortunate than our own, but we’re also able to help spread awareness for those other states and countries trying to cope with so much hardship. We tend to live in a bit of a bubble in southern California, as hard as SoCal rescue can be. And without knowledge of our worldwide plight, there is no hope for the future.

Picture of Pepper and his Forever Foster Family

In the wake of Pepper’s passing, I know his devoted family has been left with a planet-sized hole in their hearts and home. Even though he was a petite 30 pounder, he left an enormous impression on not only his family but also everyone else he met. You know how they say rescue dogs are always grateful? That was Pep too 🙂 I remember his mom telling me that, even though he was a big fan of food (as most starving street dogs are), he would always take a second before chowing down to give his mom thanks for the meal before him.

Pepper left this world on Tuesday morning, just shy of two years in SoCal. He hadn’t been feeling well for the previous couple weeks, and blood tests showed his kidney values off the charts. On the morning of March 28, 2017, his mom and dad held a special meditation with him cradled in their loving arms. They told him of his rescue and reminded him of all the people around the world who loved him so very much. They reminded him of his amazing transformation from fearful feral street mongrel to beloved forever family member, and how he helped so many other foster dogs complete their own transformations in the blessed comfort of the foster home provided by himself and his people. Peppy’s parents told him it was okay to finish the rest of his journey now, that he would be deeply missed but forever held close to their hearts and souls until they could be together again. Peaceful and settled, unlike the restlessness and discomfort of his recent days, Pepper heard their message and less than two hours later, he was gone.

Gone but never forgotten, his pawprints on our hearts forever.

We would like to give so many thanks to all those who made this special life possible.

To the lady who stood out from the crowd, who boldly looked where no others dared, who refused to avert her gaze and hurry past … who cared enough to do something. Thank you Nancy for sharing your big heart and endless compassion with the world around you, and for sending a piece of your gifts to those of us on the other side of the planet. Thank you for saving Pepper’s life.

*If you’d like to learn more about the plight of the orphaned animals in far off Philippines, please check out CARA Welfare Philippines and donate if you can to help those less fortunate than yourself. One American dollar goes MUCH farther in PI than it does here.

To the lady who created this international relationship, Rebekah. Well, she who has had such a profound impact on my life and that of my family, thank you will never seem enough. But thanks, lady, for saving the six Aspins who came to SoCal, for spreading awareness of the world through your eyes, for helping those around you to be more compassionate people on this earth.

To Tanya and Doc Mace and the others at the Cara clinic, thank you for your gifts of knowledge and medicine to help this beautiful soul set paw on the right track towards health and furry happiness, and ultimately on the road to his forever future with his forever family.

And of course, to that family. To those amazing, exceptionally gifted, incredibly special, compassionate people, Amanda and Rene of Sama Dog, who gave and gave and then gave some more. Thank you eternally for always saying yes to these lost souls, for not turning your back when the road becomes difficult to see. Thank you for giving so much of yourselves to not only your foster and forever dogs but also your friends and fellow rescuers who learn so much just by being near you. Thank you for your willingness to share your wisdom and experiences with us, helping us to evolve into more enlightened human beings.

*To learn more about how you can better connect with and provide for your beloved furry family members through teachings inspired by the wisdom of Ayurveda, please check out Sama Dog and discover an even more amazing relationship with your animal companions.

Pepper and Mom

And to the Pep, the deepest thanks of all. Just look at all you accomplished, little man! You united people from one side of this planet to the other. You gifted us with new friends and new rescue family, taught us so much about the simpler things in life that we humans tend to forget in our haste to reach the future. You showed us that anything is possible no matter what your beginnings, and that you don’t have to let your past overshadow your present and afflict your future. If only we all could be less human and more dog, the world would be a more divine place.

Run free and forever, sweet Pepper from PI. What a tale you told, from rags to riches, with more airline miles under your furry belt and more wisdom behind those rich brown orbs than most people see in a lifetime.

Pepper Smile