Read Autumn — Chapter 6
In November 1994 my parents called me and asked for my help getting a dog for my brother Derek. For years he had pined for a Rottweiler. Every chance he got, he would go to breeders or shelters to look at Rottweilers and swore he would get one of his own someday.
Derek’s birthday is November 7. For his 15th birthday our parents decided they would buy Derek his own dog as a combination birthday and Christmas gift. This was before the internet had taken hold for such purchases, and even after it became more ubiquitous, my parents never really used it anyway.
To make their purchase, my parents relied primarily on the classified ads in the newspaper. There was a pet section in the classifieds. It was usually two or three columns long. Breeders would advertise puppies for sale. Over several weeks, my parents contacted several breeders, and through this process, they ultimately chose a puppy who would be ready to go home right at Christmastime. The breeder was located in Portland, an hour north of my parent’s house. They asked if Dan and I would drive up and get the dog and bring him home the day after Christmas. Of course we agreed.
The night we drove to get the puppy was rainy and dark. Visibility was difficult. We were following the directions the breeder had given my mom, and as is often the case when one gets information third-hand, the directions were not easy to follow. Combined with the terrible weather, we had difficulty locating the house where the breeder lived. Finally we called my mom who gave us the number for the breeder. We contacted him and he directed us to his house, two blocks from the street we had been circling for twenty minutes.
The breeder’s house was a simple 1950s ranch, with low eaves and small windows. The home was cheery and clean however, and festively decorated for the holidays. The puppies were kept in their own bedroom, but were running loose when we arrived.
As soon as we stepped in out of the rain, we were mauled by a wriggling black mass of six puppies. They wiggled and writhed and jumped all over our feet. Dan and I squatted to pet them. One puppy in particular was desperate for our attention. His fur was shiny, thick, and black. He had orange eyebrows, and an orange throat and belly. His tail had been docked, and he wagged his stump as he clambered over his siblings and into my lap so he could lick my face. I held him against me, smelling his sweet puppy breath. The breeder stood off to one side smiling.
“That’s your dog,” he stated, matter-of-factly, hands on his hips. The man was slightly balding with a comb-over, his short-sleeved, oxford shirt tucked into his trousers. “it is like he knew you were coming to get him tonight or something.” He grinned at us as he said this.
The dog did indeed seem particularly excited by our visit. The others were playful, but within minutes of our arrival, they dispersed to cause mischief elsewhere in the house. Our puppy, or rather, Derek’s puppy, hung close, trying to lick our faces and sniff our shoes. We always thought Autumn’s paws were large, but she turned out to be a mid-sized model. In comparison, this puppy’s paws were enormous. There would be no mistake that this dog would be massive.
The breeder spent several minutes showing us his papers and introducing us to his mother and father, both of whom were on site. He came from a long line of German dogs. His grandparents were all still in Germany. We could see from the papers that he did not have any inbreeding, which I thought was unusual for a purebred. Many of the thoroughbred horses I knew had at least some crossing with cousins. Years after this I adopted a greyhound who had several cousins who showed up in the lines of both her parents.
The puppy’s bloodlines mattered little to me; I knew he would be neutered eventually. But I also knew Derek cared, and actually so did my parents. His breeding was a primary factor in my parent’s choice of this dog over other Rottweilers they looked at.
A half an hour later we were back on the road, the lumbering fur ball asleep on my lap. Our visit had worn him out. Before we left, the breeder had spent a few more minutes describing his diet and medical history. He had noted all this information on a sheet he attached to his registration papers.
For this trip, we opted to leave Autumn at my parent’s house. We did not want her to overwhelm the puppy on the long drive home. We called my parents to let them know we were on our way. The plan was that our dad would take Derek into town shortly before our arrival, then return a short time later to the best gift he had ever received.
As is often the case, because we were not searching for our destination, the ride home seemed shorter than the drive up. As we wound up my parent’s mile-long driveway, the puppy sat up and yawned, then stretched. He was so cute.
We could hear Autumn barking as we exited our car. I knew this bark — it said I know your car and you’re my mom and I want you!
Holding the puppy close to my chest, we dodged raindrops and raced into the house. Shedding water left and right, we burst through the door, pulling our wet coats from our heads, plopping the puppy to the floor. Autumn shut up long enough to give the puppy a sniff before she dashed over to me, shoving her nose into my crotch and wriggling and woofing in delight at my return.
Dogs. No matter where we have been or for how long, they are always so happy to see us. This must be one of the top reasons people love having them around. Where else do we get such complete adoration on all levels, simply for being ourselves?
The puppy was sniffing around, looking like he wanted to pee. I recognized the circling and sniffing. It could also have been that this was a new place, with lots of new smells, but rather than take a chance, I scooped him up and headed back out onto the porch to see if he would go. Autumn followed. She lowered her head and ducked into the rain, squatted, peed, and jumped back under cover. The puppy watched her, and then followed to squat and pee in the same spot.
One advantage to a mile-long driveway is that those at the top of the driveway can see visitors coming several minutes before they arrive, should they choose to look. In this manner we saw the headlights to my dad’s truck and were able to settle in the house with the lights low in order not to give anything away. The plan was to just let the puppy roam, and see how long it took Derek to notice him.
We hovered in the living room. Autumn lay at my feet. The puppy had lain on the floor near a window and was snuffling in the carpet.
The back door slammed, and my brother called out, “Hello?”
“We are in here,” I said. Autumn stood, barked once, and went to greet Derek before returning to my side.
Derek walked into the living room, my dad close behind. He stood there for a minute, then his eyes grew large.
“Oh,” was all he said, before he walked over and kneeled by the puppy, pulling him up into his lap. The puppy licked at his chin. Derek, always averse to spit or other bodily fluids, leaned his head back to avoid the tongue washing. My parents smiled like schoolchildren who had successfully pulled a prank.
Only a few times in my life since he has grown have I seen my brother cry, but he had tears in his eyes as he sat and held his gargantuan puppy.
Derek named his dog Kaine after another Kaine in his ancestry. Within months he weighed over 100 pounds. Like his forebears, he loved herding cattle and rambling around our parent’s farm. Like Ferdinand the bull, Kaine would lumber down into their fields, then lie down and watch the world, his nose twitching, occasionally chomping at a fly as it buzzed overhead.
He was extremely smart, and learned quickly. One of the rules in my parent’s house was that dogs were not allowed on the furniture. Autumn was occasionally allowed to get up on the couch, and periodically attempted to thwart my parent’s rule.
One afternoon while we were visiting, Derek was in his bedroom. I sat in the living room with the dogs, and Autumn jumped up next to me on the couch. Kaine immediately ran into Derek’s room and woofed.
“What do you want?” Derek asked him. Kaine woofed again, then turned and bustled out of the room before returning to woof yet again. It seemed to Derek that Kaine wanted him to follow. He stood and Kaine turned to walk out of the room, looking back to ensure Derek was behind him. Kaine entered the living room, trotted over to Autumn, turned to Derek and woofed. Autumn was on the couch, and this was against the rules! Derek and I laughed and laughed. I asked Autumn to get off the couch and lie on the floor. This seemed to satisfy Kaine. He circled and lay down in the corner, sighing. All was well with the world again.
Derek was fifteen years old when Kaine came to live with him. Within a few years, Derek moved in and out of my parent’s house several times. He was never able to move anywhere that allowed a dog of Kaine’s size, or there would be silly breed restrictions that forbade tenants keeping Rottweilers. For this reason, he lived his life at my parent’s house.
In addition, the summer of his seventeenth year, Derek began a decade-long struggle with drug addiction, a horrible, life-siphoning disease. When he was using, he didn’t care about anyone or anything, and could be cruel. Kaine sensed this and avoided him during those times. When Derek was clean, Kaine was his loyal follower.
The result of this was that ultimately, Kaine adopted my mom as his person. Although he had been purchased as Derek’s, a piece of paper is meaningless to a dog. He decided who was his person, and although Derek was near the top, along with me and my dad, my mom was his choice. She was the person he would follow from room to room, if only for even a few moments. At some point, Kaine decided that this meant my dad could not hug my mother. He would bark furiously and shove his head between the two of them. They would laugh and separate, but unfortunately, this seemed only to reinforce the behavior.
Kaine also never seemed to understand that he was bigger than a miniature pony. Derek held him in his lap when he was a puppy, and when he grew up, he still wanted to sit on one of us. If we sat down where he could reach us, he would come over and climb in our lap, whether or not he was invited.
Kaine’s biggest shortcoming was his tongue. It was a constant battle to keep him from licking our faces, our hands, our legs if we were wearing skirts or shorts. His licking drove Derek to distraction. He absolutely hated spit of any kind, and would shout “Stop licking!” at Kaine when his tongue dared slip past his lips onto Derek’s skin, which happened all the time. Kaine was almost pathologically incapable of stopping, in spite of Derek’s ire. After a scolding, Kaine would turn his head to the floor, but his eyes would stay on Derek, as if to say, “Ooh, I’m so sorry, but I can’t help it. Now can I lick you again?”
At about age 8, Kaine began to show signs he was unwell. He would be struck still by debilitating fatigue and weakness in his back and legs, lying in a lethargy for hours. Frightened by this behavior, my mom took him to Dr. Fletcher for tests. It turned out that Kaine had Addison’s disease, a serious health complication whereby a dog does not produce enough cortisol. Interestingly enough, it was the exact opposite condition of Cushing’s, the disease I believe Autumn suffered, although she never tested positive for it.
Addison’s is treatable through periodic cortisone tablets. Kaine was prescribed cortisone to take when he began displaying Addison’s symptoms. However, as with any steroid, the cortisone could cause side-effects, including long-term problems, so the drug had to be given sparingly. Near the end of his life, Kaine was taking his medication daily. Without it, he would quickly relapse into dreadful lethargy and pain. He would whimper if made to move, and he would not eat.
In February 2005, Kaine gave up eating and lay in a corner. Nothing could coax him to take food or to move. For two weeks, he worsened, showing interest in nothing, least of all the will to live. My mom did not want to believe that he was dying. I know her heart was broken; she loved Kaine like her own child.
Finally though, on President’s Day, my mom called me and asked if I would contact Dr. Fletcher and ask him to come to the house. I spoke to him and he arranged to meet me there that evening.
The night was cold and clear, diaphanous clouds floated high in the sky. I could see an exact half moon through the gauzy altocumulus formations. Kaine lay on a blanket in a darkened room in the basement of the house my parents were building. His sides heaved, and he did not look up as we entered. My mom was so upset, she could barely speak. Dr. Fletcher spoke quietly to Kaine, feeling his glands, running his hands along his prostrate form.
“He’s done,” he informed us. “It’s time for him to go.”
My mom just stood there, tears on her cheeks. She could not bear to lose her friend. She asked me to stay with him. Dr. Fletcher opened his small toolbox and pulled out a syringe, filling it with a clear, pink liquid. Kaine’s breathing was irregular and ragged.
“Talk to him,” he whispered to me. “Tell him it’s okay. Tell him you love him and that he can leave now.” Dr. Fletcher administered the shot.
I leaned over Kaine and held his large, head in my hand, kissing his face and whispering to him as Dr. Fletcher had instructed. Milla sat next to me, kneeling.
“It’s okay, boy,” I said. “We love you. We will miss you.”
Gradually, over the next several minutes, Kaine’s breathing evened out and slowed. It was not obvious when he stopped. His breaths became slower and shallower until they could not be detected. Every few moments, Dr. Fletcher would check his forearm for a pulse. Eventually, he said, “He’s gone.” My mother turned wordlessly and headed upstairs.
Read Autumn — Chapter 8