This week in our spotlight series, Pepper and Ellen! We met Pepper and Ellen for the first time at the Brooklyn museum and this power couple rock! We feel honored Pepper and Ellen are our brand ambassadors and we had so much meeting them in person.
Who are you and your dog where do you live?
My name is Ellen (@ellen_phant), and my pronouns are she/they. Ever since I can remember I’ve had many passions, including photography and animals, so I always knew my dog would have their own instagram account :)
I adopted Pepper with my husband Ryan on October 23, 2021 from Korean K9 Rescue. KK9R saved Pepper & his fur family in South Korea, where the adoption rate is extremely low, resulting in homeless dogs being euthanized or sold to the meat trade. I’m so grateful to KK9R and their local South Korean organizations for the work they do to rehabilitate these rescues from truly horrific circumstances, and then flying them to NYC to find loving forever homes. Pepper found his with us in Carroll Gardens, a small old Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn full of brownstones and mom & pop shops, and is walking distance to the water. When the weather is nice, we love trekking over to Prospect Park to meet up with our furry friends.
Even though we’ve had Pepper for less than a year, he has changed our life so much that it feels as though he was always a part of it - or at least meant to be! Ryan works in business and I’m an actor and personal trainer (with a personal vendetta against d1et culture).
Pepper came into our lives nearly a year after we got married at my parent’s house in 2020. After the harshest part of the pandemic was over, we were able to move back to Brooklyn and settle into married life. Then we were finally in a place to adopt a fur baby, and when we saw Pepper’s photo on the KK9R instagram, we dropped everything to apply!
It’s still a bit surreal knowing that it worked out the way it did - looking back on how far we’ve come with training and how much trust has grown between ALL of us is incredible. It’s corny, but Pepper saved us too.
What are your favorite dog friendly local spots?
Do or Dive (bar in Bedstuy)
Planted (vegan cafe in Carroll Gardens)
Yours Truly (coffee shop in Nolita)
Other Half Brewing (brewery in Redhook + Williamsburg)
Borris & Horton (cafe & event space in Alphabet City)
Smorgasburg (street food fair in Prospect Park)
Pilot (boat-turned-restaurant in Brooklyn Bridge Park)
Pig Beach (BBQ joint in Gowanus)
Tavola Italian Market (market & coffee shop in Cobble Hill)
Little L’s Pet Bakery & Boutique (Boerum Hill)
Gone to the Dogs (pet shop & event space in Park Slope)
What is the most happiest part of having a dog?
The best part of having a dog is getting to witness them love the life you give them. Watching Pepper succeed in situations where he used to be reactive is also so rewarding to watch after our hard work & training. As someone with a history of mental health struggles, I found it wonderfully empowering and humbling all at once to be able to guide this lil pup through life. I realized, he was doing the same for me.
After much thought, research, and discussions with friends, family, and our community, I decided to train Pepper to be my Psychiatric Service Animal. This is definitely not a path for every dog, let alone rescues, so I’m extraordinarily grateful for the privilege of getting to have my pet also be my service animal.
What does a happy and sustainable life for you and your dog mean?
Living sustainably is something I’ve been trying my hardest to do ever since being really affected by an Environmental Science class I took in high school. When we adopted Pepper, my desire to become more earth-conscious only grew - from the things we bought for him, to the activities & places we took him. This also includes being sure to donate anything we no longer need or use to local rescues & animal non-profits.
My favorite part of being a dog parent in the city is the amount of walking we get to do. Walking is not only good for you physically and mentally, but it’s also the most sustainable way to get around! I’m very grateful to be able to get from point A to point B with my own two feet, as I know many folks who have lost, or never had, aspects of their mobility. But I believe getting outside, however you’re able, and simply enjoying nature will influence how you treat the earth & environment around you - especially when you have a fur baby! Something else we love to do is go shopping together, and supporting small, local dog-friendly businesses is always our preference. By giving our $ to independently-owned brands, we know exactly where it’s going!
What is the most challenging part of having a dog?
Advocating for Pepper is probably one of the hardest things of having a dog in the city, but I’ll do it every time. No matter how inconvenient, no matter how awkward.
When Pepper first came home with us, he was extremely fear-reactive to almost everything foreign to him…which was a lot. Ryan and I would get overwhelmed when it seemed like no progress was happening. A simple walk down the block would take half an hour. It was disheartening, because one day we’d move a step forward, only to move back 5 steps the next day. We faced a very non-linear struggle in the beginning, and if it weren’t for Beat at 3 for 3 Dog Training, we would have failed ourselves & Pepper miserably.
Since Pepper was clearly dealing with signs of PTSD, he was a more difficult rescue in the beginning. But we kept working, and kept advocating, and kept working, and kept advocating - and even when it seemed like nothing was helping, Beat assured us that with daily practice things would get better. And boy oh boy have they!
It was months before we saw a true change in Pepper, but once we did, we ran with it. We started expanding our walks to take him more places, going on different adventures and introducing him to new experiences. Slowly and steadily, our progress became more and more linear (though I never expect it to stay that way).
Pepper’s service animal status also comes with its own set of challenges, mostly from the outside world…the main one being clueless people & dog owners. Our brightly colored “SERVICE DOG” leash tag has been ignored so many times - the most stressful place this has happened is while we’re riding the Subway. It’s a bit shocking how many people will reach for Pepper without even acknowledging my presence, but I remind those folks of it very firmly every time.
I may not always advocate in the best way, but every time I do, I get better at it, and I think as long as you’re doing your best, your dog can sense that.
How do you see yourself with you and your dog within 5 years?
It’s always been difficult for me to look too far into the future (because anxiety), but I think the thing I’m looking forward to most in my life with Pepper is all the exploring we’ll do together. That doesn’t necessarily mean going far from home either! One of my goals for us is to start volunteering at different hospitals, nursing homes, and places where they could use a lil love from a four-legged friend. We also #alwaysbetraining, and I’m saving up for Pepper to get a Canine Good Citizen (CGC) certification in the future.
Bottom line, who knows where we will be, or what we’ll be doing, but no matter where, no matter what, I have immense gratitude that Ryan, Pepper and I will have each other!
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