Two of my best friends were animals. I have had plenty of people in my life who qualify as significant heroes and who have taught me important lessons or assisted me in significant ways. But two great examples of friendship to me were a little black cocker spaniel named Pepper and Trixie, a brown-and-white pinto.
I remember the day my Aunt Madge gave Pepper to my brother Max and me. He was a coal-black puppy, and we were thrilled to have him. We didn’t know a cocker spaniel’s tail was supposed to be clipped while it was small. So, as he grew, Pepper didn’t look like most cocker spaniels. He had a long, heavy tail and long ears which nearly touched the ground. He was seriously injured by an automobile but survived with a crushed shoulder that affected his mobility. He walked with just one of his front legs and was a funny little dog. My friends all made fun of him, but my brother and I loved him. He was our loyal, wonderful friend.
I was born in Randolph, a little town in the mountains of northern Utah. Some birth defects required that I have several major surgeries on my left leg during the early years of my life. I didn’t run and play as most other boys did. My father died when I was 22 months old, leaving Mom a young widow with four small children. As soon as we could, it was necessary that each of us find jobs which would provide assistance with our family’s needs.
I started my first job delivering papers for the Deseret News the year I turned 12, the same year I was ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood. I was very excited to be a deacon and to be able to attend priesthood meeting. Our mother loved the Church and was so pleased when her boys could be ordained to the priesthood.
There is quite a distance between homes in Randolph, which required a lot of effort to deliver only a few papers. Early every morning for several years, I rode Trixie to deliver the newspapers. She carried me many miles at a full gallop during all kinds of weather on my route. I always rode bareback so that the warmth of the horse’s body would help keep me warm. She was also one of my valued and trusted friends. Trixie was always willing and even excited to do her work.
On the second Sunday in July, just three weeks after I had received the Aaronic Priesthood, Trixie and I were rushing to complete my paper route so I could attend priesthood meeting. At a full gallop, she ran into some fencing wire which had been carelessly left on the ground. Her feet tangled, and she fell down with me. Newspapers were scattered all over. Yet Trixie stood by until the milkman found me some time later lying unconscious on the ground. I woke up 18 hours later in a hospital in Evanston, Wyoming, the closest hospital to our home. My leg had been badly broken, which forced me to use a wheelchair and crutches for the next six months. Trixie willingly continued her work during the next months with my younger brother on her back. He and she filled my responsibility to my newspaper customers without a single complaint from either.
One day, as I was walking on my crutches to the local grocery store, I was attacked by a large dog. It bit me on the legs and the arms and knocked me to the ground. I remember screaming for help. Suddenly, a little black shape came flying into the fight and began to help me. It was a savage battle between a crippled cocker spaniel and this much larger, ferocious animal. Pepper’s efforts gave me enough time to get one of my crutches and join in the battle. Together, Pepper and I were able to chase the dog away.
We were both hurt, Pepper much more than I. Soon, my brother arrived to help us. Pepper suffered from his injuries for a few weeks but overcame them and lived for several more years. Little Pepper saved me from potentially serious injury.
I have learned much from the example of a little black dog and a small pinto. Pepper didn’t require a single thing in return for his friendship. His love and loyalty were a freewill offering. As with many dogs, he was pleased just to be patted on the head occasionally and treated with some kindness. When he died, I hoped Heavenly Father would value his life as my brother and I did.
Trixie and Pepper worked alongside me, played with me, and accepted me regardless of my limitations. And if a dog and a horse can be such examples of friendship, what about our relations with our fellow human beings? Do we make others’ lives better because of our friendship with them? Do we offer friendship to those who are struggling or who have limitations?
I believe true friends not only make life more enjoyable, but they help each other become worthy of the greatest friendship of all. We learn from the scriptures that the Lord referred to righteous Abraham as His friend (see James 2:23). And in this dispensation He bestowed the title of “friend” on his Apostles (see D&C 84:63, 77; D&C 93:45).
Friendship is a wonderful gift. The more often we give it, the more often we receive it. I hope we are all grateful for quality friends. And may we all seek to be truly good friends—to bring out the best in each other and help each other live righteous lives. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear the Savior call us “friend” someday?