Ryan Davidson gives back by playing with Pepper the puppy.

Sometimes it’s as easy as watching the 7-month-old Australian shepherd play fetch with herself. Pepper grabs the stick, drops it, pushes it away with her nose and hunts for it.

Pepper is blind.

The puppy lives with Davidson, who is working on her doctorate in clinical psychology at the University of Arizona. Davidson, 24, fosters Pepper through Amazing Aussies Lethal White Rescue of Arizona. Pepper was adopted at the end of November and will move in with her permanent family this week.

The program puts dogs like Pepper in foster homes while they wait for their forever family. Many of these pooches have vision and hearing defects caused by double-merle breeding. Merle, the mottled color pattern in most Australian shepherds, comes from a dominant gene that can cause a white coat and other abnormalities when two merle dogs are bred.

“They can still live perfectly happy lives,” Davidson says. “In the past, people would put them down because they didn’t think they could have quality lives or be good pets. It’s important to teach people that these dogs are just like every other dog. You just have to communicate a little bit more.”

Davidson introduced Pepper to her two other dogs in September. Even juggling school, work and three dogs, her routine hasn’t changed much. Pepper fit into the pack right away.

When Davidson tosses the ball in the backyard for the other dogs, Pepper chases after them. When she spends evenings doing homework, Pepper snuggles at her feet.

“Nothing fazes her,” Davidson says. “I’ve taken her to tailgates on campus, to parties at friends. I’ve taken her anywhere and everywhere. She’s never met a dog or a cat she doesn’t like. She’s really responsive to other dogs.”

Davidson taught her good habits. The puppy doesn’t get table scraps, and Davidson keeps her off most furniture. Right now, they’re working on sitting and staying.

When Pepper moves, Davidson plans on fostering another dog.

“Knowing that each dog that I can help, that’s one dog that’s not on the streets or being put down,” Davidson says. “It’s making a difference in one dog’s life. ... It means one less dog is suffering.”

Writing about Tucson's heart and soul — its people, its kindness, its faith — for #ThisIsTucson.