On the photography beat with my dog Pepper, straining at the leash

On the photography beat with my dog Pepper, straining at the leash


I may need to get my dog a press badge.

I’ve taken Pepper with me on a few assignments during the past couple of weeks. To be sure, these were simple photo assignments, ones in which I needed only to snap pictures of places – an old mill in Sanford, for example, as well as a playground that needs repairing and a commercial space that could become one of those marijuana dispensaries.

Just thought I would clarify, in case you thought Pepper was joining me as I covered select board meetings somewhere.

Shawn P. Sullivan

Shawn P. Sullivan

I often take Pepper for drives. Like all dogs, she enjoys sticking her head out the window and feeling the wind in her face. As I reach for my car keys and her leash, I always say, “Come on, Chewie. Time for a spin in the Millennium Falcon.” That makes me Han Solo, of course, and that’s part of the fun.

Taking Pepper on photo assignments is a new thing, though – part of an effort to keep her company and help her have some fun during the weekdays. Pepper used to visit our neighbors in the afternoon while Valerie and I worked, but these days she tends to stay home more.

Pepper Sullivan

Pepper Sullivan

Most times, she stays in the car when I take these pictures for the Coast Star. She hops into the driver’s seat, stands on her hind legs with her front paws on the window, and watches me as I get my shot. With the picture of that playground, though, I brought her with me.

Tricky, that was. Pepper likes to dart about, zigging and zagging with her nose to the ground, taking in the scents of other dogs and who knows what else. She always strains at the end of her leash, tugging my arm in her direction. That’s what made taking photos of the playground tricky.

So this is all to add a little bit of excitement to Pepper’s day – to give her a break from the tedium of lounging in the big chair in our living room while I write my articles in my home office. But these occasional photo assignments with Pepper are for me too. I want to spend the time with her.

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Pepper turns 12 in a couple of days, you see. She is becoming an old girl. Schnauzers are deceptive in that they maintain a certain youthful appearance and vigor through much of their lives – until they don’t. I find myself watching Pepper for signs that she is indeed getting older.

She seems to be losing her hearing a bit. Used to be, she would hear a single leaf blow against our brick house, and she would launch into a barking fit in a valiant defense of our property. Now, though, she only hears the pizza guy after he knocks on our door, as opposed to when he pulls into our driveway with the music playing on his radio.

My friend Gary visited the other day. Pepper did not hear him knock or enter our home. She only knew we had a guest in our house when he actually appeared before her eyes in our living room. And then, yes, that’s when she started barking.

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Pepper is whiter and grayer, but she still looks like a puppy, sort of – or like a Muppet, if she is late for a trip to the groomer. We only notice just how white she has become when we see old pictures of her and are startled to see that her coat used to be so many shades darker.

Her energy is still abundant, thank God. She gets excited and runs and hops around when she sees us reaching for her leash to take her out. And when we bring her back in, she trots into the living room, turns, sits and waits for us to give her a treat. She does this in the same exact spot on the rug every single time.

It feels like yesterday that Valerie, our daughter, Madeline, and I visited a local farm to pick out one of the puppies in a recently born litter. The proud parents, Banjo and Taffy, had brought about seven or eight puppies into the world. I looked at all of them, as they crawled all over one another, and spotted a sable-furred one. She stood out, as all her brothers and sisters were the same color, black and gray.

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I held that little sable-furred puppy, and she looked into my eyes. I felt an immediate tug at my heart. Her eyes looked precisely like the ones Molly, our Cairn terrier, had. Molly died three years earlier.

Valerie and I had made a deal with Maddie. We told her she could pick the puppy we would take home. I handed this sable-furred puppy to Maddie and really hoped she would like her just as much as I did.

She did. We brought the puppy home and named her Pepper.

Pepper, our indispensable puppy-at-heart.

My friend.

My coworker.

Shawn P. Sullivan is an award-winning columnist and is a reporter for the York County Coast Star. He can be reached at [email protected].

This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: For the love of dogs: On the photography beat with my sidekick Pepper