Read Autumn — Chapter 7
Life moved on. We settled into our routines; I would drive to Eugene five days a week, while Dan drove into Corvallis. I was further along in school and was able to take fewer classes, so I took a part-time job in the evenings at a video store. I was also a member of the university equestrian team, and would travel to horse shows in California every few weeks. Dan was a sports official, so depending which sport was going during whatever season we were in, he would often be out officiating games. Autumn spent most of her time with me, although occasionally I left her home as well.
Basically, as a newly married couple, the two of us were not spending a whole lot of time together. We also experienced tension living with Dan’s parents. Dan often felt conflicted between my expectations for the marriage, and the expectations of his parents. I often felt like his parents treated him like a child even though he was a grown and married man. Dan, stuck in the middle, would often just leave the house and not return until late.
After nearly two years and many tense arguments, I finally realized that we needed to find our own place to live. I was graduating, and we decided it would be easier for us if we lived in Corvallis near OSU where Dan went to school. He was studying engineering and living near the university would give Dan easier access to study groups and the library.
Since I was the more particular of the two of us, I searched for an apartment we could afford that wasn’t too close to the parties and college nightlife. Neither of us were into that and Dan needed somewhere he could study. We also required a yard or patio so Autumn could go out.
We finally located a place not too far from campus and moved there in late spring of 1996. When we announced to Dan’s parents that we were moving, I think they were as relieved as we were. They wanted to do some more work on their basement, and convert the apartment area into a rec room for themselves. Overall, it was the best move for everyone. Dan and I had started marriage counseling and the counselor also supported the move.
The new apartment was located near some hills and a park. Every morning I would rise and go for a run, winding up through the hills, taking Autumn with me. I also took her swimming in a number of creeks nearby when the weather was tolerable. The running helped her to maintain the muscle development when she wasn’t able to swim. As long as she was exercising, she did not have any soreness in her back end.
Rain was heavy one morning as I set out on my run, my sneakers slapping the wet pavement, spraying my socks and legs. Autumn had never minded the rain, but on this particular morning, she was hesitant and lagging behind. Wanting to finish the run quickly and get out of the weather, I pulled her along. Finally, she just stopped, causing me to nearly trip and fall. I turned to look at her thinking maybe she needed to go potty, but she just stood there, drenched and looking forlorn.
“Autumn, what is going on?” I asked, shouting over the loud water falling around us. She just stood there, sides heaving, as if the effort of it all was too much to bear in the downpour.
“Okay. If you want to go back, let’s go back,” I said, realizing that the run was over and turned back toward the apartment. She followed me easily once she knew we were headed home.
The following day after pulling on my running clothes and shoes, I headed outside to run. It was still raining. I tried anyway to take Autumn with me, but she would not budge beyond our front patio. I took her inside and she curled up under the covers with Dan who was still slumbering. Oh well. I figured when the rain abated, I would take her with me again.
But something had changed in her. She never wanted to go running with me again. I don’t know if it was the weather, or if her hips bothered her or what. She had not been acting sore, but for the rest of her life, I could take her for walks, but I was never able to take her for a run with me again.
Shortly after moving into our new apartment, I started working full time at Oregon State University in Corvallis. Dan had another year to complete at the university, and Autumn had to be left home every day by herself. I would eat lunch at the apartment, but I worried she might be lonely all day, although she never developed any of the habits dogs often exhibit when they are unhappy at being left by themselves. In spite of the fact that she seemed to be tolerating the time by herself just fine, I began to think that maybe we should get another dog. It wasn’t that one I day I decided absolutely that we would do so. It was more a vague sense that if the right dog came along, getting one would be helpful.
Even before I considered adding a dog to our family, I was always one to troll the humane society or other shelters. I liked visiting the homeless pets, petting them, giving them treats. I had been donating money to the humane society for years and fully supported animal adoption. I considered myself an ideal owner; any animal that lived with me would be a full member of the family, receive top of the line care, and lots of love.
One Sunday in December 1996, I drove up to Salem to visit the humane society there. It was the biggest animal shelter in our part of the state, and I loved the idea of browsing through all the animals. I was not sure what kind of a dog I wanted, but I knew I did not want a brand new puppy, and also that I wanted a female.
As I entered the lobby at the humane society, I could see through a window in the door into the kennels where the dogs were housed. I waited my turn, then checked in at the desk in the main lobby. They explained their procedures – if I was interested in a dog I should note the number on the kennel, then return to the front desk where they would set me up in a room to meet the animal.
I entered the kennel. The door and walls between the kennel and the lobby must have been built well because while the lobby had been fairly quiet, the kennels were bedlam. The floors and walls were cement, which caused the barks to echo and flow around my ears and head. There were rows and rows of kennels, and all of them were filled with dogs. Each kennel was surrounded on three sides by grey brick walls with a chain link gate in the front.
I wandered up and down the aisles, looking into the kennels. There were so many dogs to choose from. There were lots of brand new puppies, and most of them had signs on their cages indicating they were already adopted. Some of the dogs stood patiently at the gates, others stayed on their blanket at the back, others jumped and pawed at the chain link, barking and hollering. Because it was a Sunday, there were many potential doggie parents milling about looking for dogs.
I stopped at a few cages. Every dog seemed sweet. I read later that the society handled them to ensure they were well socialized before adopting them out. I wandered up and down the aisles, occasionally stopping to pet one and say hello. One dog in particular caught my eye. She was about the same size as Autumn, but mostly black, almost like Autumn’s photo negative. Where Autumn was brown, this dog was black. Where Autumn’s points and eyebrows were dark brown, this dog’s were beige. She sat quietly in front of the fence. I went over and started to pet her. She looked at the floor, but leaned into the fence of the kennel so I could pet her ears. She was extremely thin, so thin I could count all of her ribs and see her hip bones.
This dog had curved front paws. There was no obvious bend like an L. Rather, her paws simply curved like the bottom of a U. Later when Autumn contracted diabetes and her body began to gradually starve, her paws began to curve too and I learned that curved paws were caused by muscle degeneration due to starvation. However, that day in the humane society I did not know that the reason this dog’s paws were curved was because she had been starving. The sign on her kennel read QUEENIE. Her breed was listed as a Doberman mix. I did not believe her to be a Doberman. Her colors might have been vaguely reminiscent, but nothing else about her resembled that breed.
I pet her for a bit, then moved on to look around some more. I would wander up and down the aisles then return to the kennel with Queenie. Other visitors would stop at various kennels, but no one else stopped at Queenie’s. I kept going back. She would look up at me, then look at the floor, then look back up at me. I decided to take her number to the front desk for a visit.
I was allowed to take Queenie out into a back yard to walk her around and to spend time visiting to see whether she would be a good match in our home. She was thoroughly unobtrusive and mild. She sat next to me and walked quietly beside me as we strolled through the yard. I asked her if she wanted to live with me. She just looked at me, then looked away, then looked back again at me. The way she would shyly glance up, then look away, then up again won my heart. I decided right then that this was the dog I wanted to take home.
The workers at the humane society told me that Queenie had been found wandering the streets of Salem three weeks prior. The day I chose her, she was extremely thin. I could count each of her ribs and she had those curved paws I did not know signified atrophied muscles from malnourishment. If she was in this shape after three weeks, I can only imagine how thin she had been upon arrival.
Prior to that day, Autumn had lived with us as our child. She slept in our bed. She ate the best dog food. She received top of the line vet care. She was a priority in our lives. I cannot imagine an animal more loved and cared for. Yet the humane society in Salem would not let me adopt Queenie because the house we lived in was rented and did not have a fence. Also even if our house had met the required standards, Dan and Autumn would have had to come in to meet her before we could take her home. Even though I had owned another dog and cared for her in that house for over a year, the people there determined it was not good enough. No wonder so many animals can’t find homes. If someone like me could not adopt a dog, I did not see how anyone could.
I hugged Queenie and left the facility completely dejected. I wanted her. I knew she would fit well with our little family. I had to find a way to bring her home.
Knowing the criteria that had kept me from adopting Queenie, I set out to find a friend who would “kidnap” her for me. I had no qualms about the fraud I intended to perpetrate. The shelter she was at was not a no-kill shelter. I could not bear the thought that someone might never adopt her and she would be euthanized. She was such a gentle, sweet creature.
I ran through a list of possible co-conspirators, and at first I came up blank. My first thought was Dan, but I had listed him on the application form. If there were any way to cross reference our names, he would be found. His name was quite unusual.
I considered my friends Lily and Janae, but they were both students and there was no way they could adopt. Both of them lived in dorms.
While I was mulling it over, fortuitously, my phone rang. It was my uncle, John. My mother had been the oldest of five brothers and a sister. John was four years her junior and while he shared common facial features, the similarities stopped there. Where my mom was short and petite, my uncle was tall and broad-shouldered. He used to be a body-builder and it showed. John also had been injured in an accident and had lost an eye. Because of this he always wore mirrored, aviator sun-glasses. When my sister and I were little, we loved looking at John’s one glass eye. He would tell us stories about taking it out and scaring people with it. Simultaneously titillated and terrified, we would scream, then beg for him to tell us more. I think he loved delighting us with his tales.
John had recently moved nearby and was calling me to ask me something about my mom. I answered his question, then told him about Queenie, and that I was looking for someone who could go in and adopt her for me.
“I could do it. If you pay me the adoption fee, I’ll make up some story and go in and get her for you.” John was actually the perfect choice. He felt the same way about dogs as I did. Sadly, he had recently lost his own little blue shepherd after she was hit by a car. He would be happy to help me adopt Queenie.
Elated, I relayed all the details that had derailed my own adoption, including the lack of fence, renting, and that I would have had to bring Autumn back in to visit. I was never concerned about that requirement, I was simply suffering from a bad case of instant gratification, and I had no desire to drive the thirty-five miles one-way to Corvallis, then back to Salem the following day if I could help it.
“I’ve got it,” he told me. “I will go there right now and try to get her for you.” I was so pleased! Perhaps Queenie would be coming home with me after all.
I drove home to Corvallis, keeping the phone nearby for the rest of the afternoon. I waited and waited for him to call me. I took Autumn for a walk and cleaned the house. Dan arrived home from class and I told him what was going on. He was skeptical, but figured it would all work out. We were scheduled to eat dinner at his parent’s that evening, and late in the afternoon, we drove over there
During the drive, John called to inform me that he had Queenie and wanted to know where we should meet. I gave him directions to a park near Dan’s parent’s house. I had thought it best if Autumn met Queenie at a neutral location so neither dog would feel threatened, Autumn by the interloper, and Queenie by the top dog who had been in place long before her arrival. We did not want to do anything to further traumatize Molly, or to unnecessarily upset Autumn.
After I hung up the phone, I clapped my hands in joy. Queenie was ours!
When John arrived at the park, I climbed out of the car with Autumn. John handed me Queenie’s leash and Dan held Autumn. We let Autumn go because we knew she would come if we called her. The two dogs sniffed one another all over. Then Queenie laid down, snuffling her nose in the grass while Autumn ran off to find a stick.
“That was uneventful,” I said to Dan, smiling.
“It’s a good thing,” he informed me. “What would we have done if they hadn’t liked each other?”
“I knew they would be fine when I met Queenie,” I told him. “She has a very unassuming personality. They might not be the best of friends, but they are neither one the sort to fight.”
The story my uncle had told the humane society in order to secure the adoption was convoluted and long. He had gone back and visited Queenie, then came back and asked to fill out an adoption application. During the meeting, he told them he owned his own house with a fenced yard. He said he had a motherless little boy who wanted a dog. As expected, he was informed that he could not take the dog until the little boy had visited. He countered with the creation of a sob story whereby the two had owned a dog since before his boy was born, that this dog had recently died, and that after the death of his mother, the loss of the dog was devastating. His little boy was desperately sad and missed this dog more than anything. Queenie looked like that dog and he wanted to surprise his little boy.
“I even cried a little,” he told us.
They couldn’t resist his tears. Thankfully, the humane society people did not question why a motherless child was not with his father and accepted his story, allowing John to make the adoption. There was something comical about this enormous man crying just so he could adopt Queenie for me.
The month was January and the air frigid, plus John needed to get home for the evening. I thanked him profusely and gave him a hug. I also reimbursed him for the cost of the adoption. Since the two dogs were so nonplussed by one another, we called the dogs and helped them into our car, then headed over to Dan’s parent’s house as John drove off.
That evening as we sat at the dinner table, Queenie lay under the table near my feet. Murphee had been as disinterested in her as Autumn. Both of these two were more concerned with waiting to see if any of us inadvertently dropped some food from the table as we ate our dinner.
As we sat there, Dan’s mom stated that Queenie did not look like a Queenie.
“You should change her name,” she informed me.
“No kidding,” I agreed. “Queenie is a pointy name. This dog isn’t pointy, she’s sweet. I knew the second I saw that sign that if I adopted her, that name would go. It doesn’t suit her at all.”
“I think you should call her Molly,” said Dan’s mom.
“That name certainly seems to fit her,” I agreed again. “She really does look like a sweet Molly girl.
“Molly,” I said to her. “Do you want to be called Molly?” she just lay there sniffing the air, noticing the food for the first time.
As part of the agreement to adopt, I had to pay the humane society a rather large fee. It was claimed that most of the fee was to pay for a certificate to spay Molly. The humane society where she was adopted was in Marion County. Before our adoption fell through, I had been assured that I could use the certificate at a vet in Benton, the county where I lived.
A few days after Molly came home, I scheduled an appointment with Dr. Fletcher to have her spayed. However, his receptionist informed me that unfortunately, the certificates for spaying were not good in our county. Even though I loved Dr. Fletcher, I thought I should at least get to use the certificates, so I called around to some other vets and was given the same story, the certificates could not be used. Because I was not going to get to use the certificate anyway, I scheduled the appointment with Dr. Fletcher. He decided he would honor the certificate even though he would not be reimbursed for the work by the humane society. Basically he would be performing the operation for nothing.
Two days later I took Molly in to be spayed. She held her head low, afraid of the vet’s office, but went along willingly. That was Molly. There were many situations where she was afraid, but she would trust me and go along if I was there. She was like this her entire life.
A couple of hours after dropping Molly off, I received a phone call from Dr. Fletcher’s office letting me know her surgery was complete. When I arrived at the office, Dr. Fletcher came out to talk to me. It turned out that when he opened Molly’s abdomen, she had already been spayed. He sewed her back up and called me to come and bring her home. He said because the humane society told me she needed to be spayed, it had not occurred to him to question it before performing the surgery.
As I stated before, prior to this I made all of my charitable donations to the humane society. I wanted to help the organization so it could help animals. However, after my experience trying to adopt Molly, after the experience with the spaying certificate I was told would work and then did not, and finally the fact they hadn’t even realized she was already spayed and making her undergo an unnecessary procedure, I stopped donating to them. It has been my unfortunate experience, then and since, that there are many people who work in the animal adoption industry who seem to have the attitude that they are the only people good enough to care for animals. I absolutely understand and support taking steps to keep animals out of bad homes or laboratories. Yet when organizations that claim their purposes are to serve animals, to keep them from being euthanized, and to find them decent homes, they should not make it impossible for a good owner to adopt a pet. Unfortunately, because of the holier than thou attitude at some facilities, this is exactly what happens.
When she first came to live with us, Molly was skittish, but she loved me and trusted me right away. From the beginning Molly knew certain words and was terrified of them. Her entire life if I said “vacuum” she would go and hide. In the early days, she was genuinely frightened. In later years she would go and sit on the back porch or in the closet when the vacuum came out. She could not stand the thing. She also knew cuss words and would go and hide even if they were spoken in a sentence full of other words. For instance, I could say I’m going to go and dump the damn garbage and she would go hide. It was like a parlor trick, her knowledge of naughty words. I often wondered what happened to her in her early days to instill such a fear.
Molly loved sleeping on the bed, but years after this, once I owned three dogs and a cat, and had a child, we decided that the bed was too crowded so the dogs were relegated to beds on the floor. Every so often, Molly would slip quietly onto the bed and lie there as still as possible hoping I would not boot her to the floor. Most times I let her stay; she was not obtrusive.
Dr. Fletcher, examined Molly’s teeth very closely the month I brought her home and told me he was 95% certain she was just under two and a half years old. This would have put her birth around September 1994. A lot could happen in that time and I will never know what. In addition to her fear of cuss words and vacuums, she was terrified of loud men, arguments of any kind, and she knew sit, stay, and come. It was obvious she had lived with someone, but who knows what her life was like exactly. She did not like being in trouble, and her perception of trouble had a higher threshold than most of us.
During Autumn’s last years, Autumn would get into the trash and try to eat things she wasn’t allowed to because of her illness. I would come home to Autumn wagging her tail and Molly sitting in the corner hiding. Simply based on Molly’s body language, I knew Autumn had done something naughty. I know some animal behaviorists would say that Molly was reacting to my reaction, that she had no way to know Autumn had done something wrong, but this explanation does not satisfy. Molly would be reacting to Autumn’s behavior before I even knew what had happened, so there was no way for me to react to it. Molly just knew, garbage spread around meant I would be irritated.
Molly was also extremely fastidious. She would hold potty for hours and hours rather than go in the house. A few years after she came to live with us, we lived in a 1930′s farmhouse with a full basement. There was no door on that basement so we put a gate at the top of the stairs. The top of the stairs opened onto an enclosed back porch. When we were gone, we would leave the dogs on this back porch.
One day I came home to discover Molly on the top stair to the basement. “How did you get over the gate?” I asked her. She wagged her tail. I went down into the basement to discover Molly had gone potty in the farthest corner of the basement. Rather than potty on the back porch Molly had jumped over the gate landing on stairs and gone down and as far away as possible to do it. That’s how she was.
Autumn was not thrilled by the interloper, especially considering I had been her person for the four years comprising her entire life. However, she grudgingly accepted Molly into the pack once she determined she was not going anywhere. For the rest of their lives the two basically ignored each other. Later when we adopted Poppy, Autumn and Poppy became good friends, and later after that, Autumn and Edna seemed to like one another as well. But Autumn and Molly never did. They acted like the other did not exist. About once a year they would get into a nasty quarrel and one or the other of the two would end up with a bloody bite. I may have found Autumn a companion in Molly so that she would not be lonely during the day, but my objective in finding her a friend failed wholeheartedly.
Read Autumn — Chapter 9