by Patty Bridgeman SVS Writer
Rock Falls residents are used to seeing a slightly gray-haired man on a bright yellow motorcycle with a red-haired, hundred-pound dog sitting next to him. One wonders, what is their story?
Meet Steve Clark of Rock Falls and his dog Pepper. Their story began when his grandson came home from college and brought a friend who stayed. Kyle Young, also of Rock Falls, was far away from home when he really needed a friend. Starved and roaming the streets of Clearwater, Florida, Pepper attached himself to this young man and Kyle was unable to resist taking him in. One wonders who rescued who?
After college, Kyle returned home bringing Pepper with him and was befriended by Kyle’s entire family, including Grandpa Steve. And together they continued a great partnership. As life would have it, however, Kyle gradually became busier with work, so Pepper was spending more time alone. It was discovered that once his master left for work, Pepper would do nothing but sit and stare out of the window until Kyle returned. Kyle wondered, “Was Pepper afraid that he would be abandoned again?” Kyle’s Grandpa Steve wondered the same thing.
Grandpa Steve would often take Pepper during the day. “We’d go to the park so he could run. He enjoyed meeting people, but he always loved to travel,” says Steve. “He prefers to sit in the front, and he’ll go anywhere.” When Steve retired, Pepper came to live with him. “I had a lot more time and I wanted to spend it with Pepper,” Steve says. “so it seemed like a good idea for all of us.” With a smile in his voice, Kyle agrees, “Now, Grandpa often comes over with Pepper to hang out. It’s great to see them have so much fun together.” Again, one may wonder, who rescued who? Steve is not the stereotype of a grandfather. He loves to travel but on a motorcycle. “I’ve been riding bikes all my life,” says Steve. “I decided that since Pepper loved to travel too, I’d look for a motorcycle with a side car, so Pepper could go with me.” He ended up with a Gold Wing motorcycle and a side car equipped with air conditioning, heat, water to drink, and a cover in case it rains. Pepper definitely travels in luxury. “We’ve been riding together for four years,” boasts Steve. “One year we rode to San Francisco, toured the west coast for 3 ½ weeks, and returned home only to leave a month later to ride to New York, Maine and Boston. Pepper has had his paws in both oceans and the Mississippi River.” “We’ll be going down the interstate, and folks are taking pictures of us, smiling and waving,” Steve explains. “And where ever we park, whether at a campground, hotel or gas station, we’re surrounded by crowds of people; the young and old, from all walks of life, they come. It’s like the atmosphere changes when they see Pepper. People who were scowling start to laugh. They want to meet Pepper, to give him a hug and to share their own stories with me.” “They say that when you get older in life you start to become invisible,” Steve said thoughtfully. “That may be true. People might see me but they know I’m really just the apparatus to get Pepper where he wants to go. They focus on Pepper, who brings a smile to everyone’s face.” Moved by the positive impact Pepper has had on everyone who meets him, and at the encouragement of others, including this writer, his owner has decided that they will begin classes in therapy dog training. Once certified, Pepper and his owner will be able to bring even more hope and healing to those in need. At a time when so many of us may focus on differences, these two have found a way, perhaps by accident, to help people find things in common. A Chow/Sheppard mix, Pepper is now 8 or 9 years old and becoming a local celebrity. What else is in his future? Certainly more travel. Steve has even created a Facebook page so folks can follow and submit photos of them if they’re seen on the highway. Follow them on Facebook @ pepperandthesidecar.