by Nina Rudd
One day in 1964, my mother came home from work and announced that she had found a pet for the family. My father, little sister, and I eyed her speculatively.
My sister asked what kind of dog it was. My mother said it was a poodle named Pepe (pronounced Peppy). I couldn’t believe she wanted a poodle — especially one with such a foo-foo name. But she had made up her mind. “Actually, I’m doing a co-worker a favor”, she said. “The man who owns Pepe says he hates to be alone and needs children to play with him”.
Pepe arrived the next night, his short tail bobbing happily. I remained aloof, thinking poodles should have stayed in France. My sister played with him until bedtime, and he begged for more attention. I ignored him.
He was a prolific digger, so our backyard fence wouldn’t hold him. We tied him; he pulled out of his collar. We drove stakes into the ground; he dug them up. We put a harness on him, staked the ground and tied him to the laundry pole; he was still waiting for me at the front door at the end of the day, smiling happily.
Every day, he asked me with his eyes to play with him or take him somewhere. At night, he would wait until I fell asleep, leave his bed by the wall heater, sneak down the hall and hop onto the end of my bed.
One night, while everyone was sleeping, I was in a half dream state. My throat hurt, my eyes stung, and some animal was whining in my ear. I opened my eyes and saw fog in my room. I wondered who left the window open. Pepe whined and nibbled on my pajama sleeve. Then I woke up and realized that it wasn’t fog in my room — it was smoke.
I couldn’t breathe standing up, so I got down on the floor and crawled beneath the smoke. Pepe followed my every move, his curly-haired belly dragging on the ground. If I hadn’t been so scared, I would have laughed.
We finally arrived in the kitchen, where the smoke was very thick. I coughed heavily, but went forward. Pepe went with me. We crawled to the stove. I covered my face with my pajama top and stood up to see that my mother had left a frying pan, with grease still in it, on a burner that was still on.
I turned off the burner and crawled to open the back door. Smoke billowed into the backyard. Pepe ran out, but returned to follow me as I crawled back to wake my family. They had their doors shut, and hadn’t smelled the smoke. We aired out the house, then gathered in the kitchen to thank Pepe. He saved our lives and earned my respect forever. To this day, I have never seen a finer example of unconditional love than a poodle named Pepe.