Read Autumn — Chapter 5 here.
The fall after we returned to the west coast, I attended the University of Oregon in Eugene. Four days a week, I drove south 45 miles to campus. Autumn would lie in the passenger’s seat, her forearm over the console and across my elbow. There were some lectures where it simply was not possible to take her with me, and for those Autumn would wait for me in the car. For the smaller classes, Autumn would attend, lying under the desk at my feet. She was so well-behaved, many people were not even aware she was there.
As was often the case if the weather was dry and the grassy fields were not too muddy, as I walked along with Autumn on her leash, I would find sticks for Autumn to fetch. I would toss the stick, Autumn would chase it and bring it back to me, and so it went.
One afternoon while doing this, I tossed the stick and was waiting for Autumn to return to me when I noticed another student taking off his belt and wrapping it around his dog’s neck. The dog had no collar or leash. Autumn ran back to me with her stick and as she did so, an officer walked up to me to give me a ticket.
“You are going to give me a ticket for letting my dog chase a stick, when she is wearing a collar and leash, is properly licensed, and comes when called, yet that guy over there doesn’t even have a collar on his dog and you aren’t going to give one to him?” I asked incredulously. “You must be kidding!”
He wasn’t. He handed me the ticket and walked off. I must have looked an easy target, or at least a responsible one who would probably show up in court and pay the damn thing. I did go to the court date and did pay the ticket, but I let the judge know exactly what happened and he reduced the fine. Going to court for such an infraction required that one license their dog. Giving me a ticket ensured the officer had won half the battle, and Mr. Belt Collar likely wouldn’t have shown up. I was easy revenue, at least for that first infraction. I never threw the stick for Autumn anywhere near campus again unless I made sure there weren’t any officers lurking about with nothing better to do than extort money from a reliable income source.
About a month after her first birthday, Autumn took the AKC Canine Good Citizen Test. I did not know anything about the test before I signed up for it. Somehow, I had heard about a dog carnival at a park in our town. The carnival was to have booths selling dog paraphernalia, dog games, agility, and other dog-related activities. In those days, I always sought out anything dog. Autumn loved playing games and I thought she would really like agility because she was light and built well for it, plus she was extremely well behaved.
The day of the carnival was cloudy, and although rain seemed likely, it did not seem imminent. The two of us headed over to the park in my green Mazda. Autumn wore an orange scarf around her neck and sat in the front seat, as she always did when there was only one of us in the car with her. I had purchased a harness that I clipped to the seatbelt so if we got into an accident, she would not go flying through the windshield. As we drove up, she looked around at all the dogs, ears attentive, her tongue hanging out the side of her mouth.
Autumn stayed close to my heel as we walked through the various booths and activities. I bought her a new yellow scarf with pink polka dots on it. After meandering about for a half an hour or so, the two of us headed over to the agility course.
Agility is one of the few dog competitions in the United States where the breed of the dog does not matter. It is comprised of a series of obstacles such as tunnels, fences for jumping, teeter-totters, and other events requiring agility in the dog.
As we worked the course, Autumn wore what I considered her doggy happy face. With her mouth slightly open, her tongue out, and eyes bright, she looked like she was smiling. She would look at me, then walk up a ramp to a bridge five feet off the ground. She would look at me, then walk across the bridge. She would look at me then enter a tunnel. Throughout the activities, I would point to something and Autumn would follow. She loved this!
After the agility, we wandered around the carnival some more, when we came upon a table and fenced area. A sign at the table indicated that this was the place for dogs to try and pass the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen test. Oh, what was this? It sounded fun.
I asked one of the ladies sitting at the table what it was. She told me that the Canine Good Citizen test is designed to reward dogs who have good manners at home and in the community. The Canine Good Citizen test is comprised of ten “tests” that the dog and handler must complete in order to receive certification that the dog is a good citizen. In order to receive a certificate, Autumn would have to complete all ten tests. Would I like to try?
Well, of course! I paid the small entry fee for Autumn and we waited our turn. We looked over the requirements as we stood off to the side until our names were called.
The first test required the dog to allow a friendly stranger to approach it and speak to the handler in a natural, everyday situation. The second test required the dog to allow a friendly stranger to touch it while it is out with its handler. The third test required the dog to welcome being groomed and examined. It also required the dog to permit someone, such as a veterinarian, groomer or friend of the owner, to do so.
The fourth test would demonstrate that the handler was in control of the dog. The dog’s position during this test could leave no doubt that the dog was attentive to the handler and responding to the handler’s movements and changes of direction.
The fifth test showed that the dog would move about politely in pedestrian traffic and remain under control in public places. The sixth test demonstrated that the dog had training, would respond to the handler’s commands to sit and down, and would remain in the place commanded by the handler. Test seven required the dog to come when called by the handler.
The eighth test showed that the dog would behave politely around other dogs. Test nine demonstrated that the dog was at all times confident when faced with common distracting situations such as joggers or something being rolled by on a dolly.
The final test required the dog to be left with a trusted person, and that it would maintain training and good manners when it was left. The owner would then leave the dog’s sight for three minutes, and the dog was supposed to remain calm and behave.
After quickly skimming through the list of requirements, I was confident that Autumn could complete all of them. This would be fun!
After waiting for several minutes, it was our turn to begin. The evaluator explained the rules of the test, which included the rule that the dog could not relieve itself during the exam. Funny rule, I thought.
We began the exercises. Each time, Autumn passed. The only test I thought we might have trouble with was number ten, the final exercise. I was not sure whether Autumn would remain quiet after I asked her to lie down and then went to hide behind a tree for three minutes. During the test, I peeked around the tree to see what she was doing. Autumn was lying still, her head alert, looking toward where I had walked. She did not get up, and she did not make a peep. After three minutes had expired, the evaluator came and got me from behind the tree.
“Your dog passed,” he said. “Congratulations.” He smiled as he handed Autumn’s leash to me, leading me over to retrieve our certificate.
“Thank you,” I answered him.
“You know, your dog, she is completely devoted to you,” the evaluator said, looking down at Autumn as he spoke.
“Really?” I asked. I always thought Autumn loved me too, but it was pleasing to hear it from someone else. “How can you tell?”
“Watch her,” he answered. “Every other step she takes she is looking at you to see where you are, what you want her to do. You can always tell a well-trained dog and one that completely loves its owner when it keeps checking in with its owner like that.”
I beamed. I knew Autumn was my best friend, my dog child. I loved her as much as she loved me, and it showed.
Years later when the internet was much more ubiquitous than it was at the time Autumn took the CGC test, I looked it up and discovered that some dogs train for years to pass the test and never pass, and that it is a real honor and achievement to receive the Canine Good Citizen certificate. My little dog had passed it on her first try.
Not only was Autumn good at the tests required by the Canine Good Citizen test, she had managed to learn a lot of tricks. I have read arguments by people that humans should not force dogs to perform tricks, that it undermines their dogness or something.
Yet such assertions ignore certain aspects of canine character, namely that some dogs like Autumn truly seem to enjoy performing these feats of skill. There was no force involved. Most of the tricks she learned because we were goofing around and she figured out that certain actions resulted in a reaction from me, which she sought. Many times Autumn would come to me and perform a trick when there was no food around. Usually she just wanted my attention, and it worked: she got it.
Autumn performed all the usual manner of dog tricks, such as shaking or giving five. She would shake with her right paw and give five with her left. She also sat up on command, balancing on her haunches, her paws curled on her chest. Sitting up was one activity she absolutely came up with on her own. I never held her and taught her sit up, she just started doing it when she wanted something.
Autumn’s best activity by far was playing dead. I would pull out my finger pistol, aim it at her, fire, and cry, “Bang!” Autumn would slump over on her side like a dead dog. Sometimes she would lift her head and look at me with one eye. I’d cock the gun and shoot again. Her head would fall with a thump and she would lie there until I told her to get up.
Mornings before I left for school, I would spend a couple of hours studying at my desk. Most of the time, Autumn would come and lie at my feet, dozing until I packed up and left for school. As was her habit her entire life, if I left my desk for even a moment to use the bathroom or to get a glass of water, she would follow me, no matter how brief the interruption. I would stand and head into the bathroom or kitchen. Autumn would pull herself to her feet, follow me into whatever room, and lie down beside me sighing heavily, her tags clanking on the floor. A minute later when I headed back to my desk she would rise again and follow, lying again at my feet. This is how she behaved most of the time.
Other times, she woke up ready to play, and she would make every effort engage my attention. Usually this meant digging through her basket to locate the toy of her choice, then dropping it in my lap or on my feet. I would kick the toy or toss it, trying to focus on my work, but this only encouraged her to try harder. She would bring the toy back and drop it again and again until I either ignored her or stopped working to play for real.
If I ignored her, she would then increase her efforts, bringing in the big gun: the rope. Autumn’s rope consisted of two thick cotton ropes, one red, one white, woven around one another and through a hard piece of red rubber. First, she would bring the rope to me as she had with the other objects, dropping it in my lap or at my feet. When this failed to elicit a response, she would pounce on the rope and shake it vigorously, whacking me in the shins with the piece of rubber.
“Ow!” I would holler. “Stop whacking me with the damn rope!”
Autumn would stop and pant, eyes bright and tail swinging. If she was feeling especially fresh, she would lower her front end, holding the rope and shaking it, growling.
“I’m going to pummel you again if you won’t play with me!” she seemed to say, brandishing the rope like a club, ready to bludgeon me again if I failed to join in her play. Unless I was under a serious deadline crunch, this usually worked. It was hard to resist someone so determined to have fun.
That fall I purchased a sewing machine. As my first project, I decided to sew Autumn a little coat. I purchased a red, green, and cream colored fabric. I lined it in red and trimmed it with green piping. Autumn looked smart in the coat, its colors complementary with her creamy tan fur.
I also sewed Autumn a Halloween costume. Using bright, color-filled fabric, I sewed a ruffled clown collar, and ruffles for each of her paws. I also made a ruffle to go on her tail, but every time she wagged, which was frequent, the ruffle went flying.
On Halloween, we dressed her in the costume, and I painted colorful circles on her fur with washable fur paint from the pet store. I encircled one eye in blue, the other in red. Dan dressed in a clown costume as well, and I dressed as a ringmaster, using my riding breeches, coat, and boots. We made quite the festive trio as we handed out goodies to trick-or-treaters.
The children loved Autumn. Always a fan of anyone who would play with her, Autumn wagged her tail and snuffled the visitors at our door as we handed out candy. The way she sniffed at their various Halloween bags, I think she hoped someone might offer her a treat.
Later that evening we all went over to Dan’s parent’s for a small party. We brought along our fur paint and covered Murphee in colorful circles as well. We may not have been frightening in the traditional sense, but I think some of the other guests thought we were pretty scary to go to such lengths in dressing up our dog.
Not all of my friends shared my canine enthusiasm. Elizabeth, a friend I had known for years, lived with her husband and son in Eugene, south of us by about forty-five minutes.
On occasion, Elizabeth would ask me to watch her four-year-old son. I would drive to their house, Autumn beside me on the seat. I spent one cloudy Sunday afternoon babysitting for Elizabeth while she and her husband went out for a few hours. They owned a beagle named Lucy. I always liked Lucy, but Elizabeth thought she had neurotic tendencies. I never saw these tendencies, but was assured they did exist.
I arrived for my babysitting and spent the afternoon playing with Elizabeth’s son and the two dogs. Later in the day it began to rain, and we spent the rest of our time together playing in the house. Near evening, Elizabeth and her husband arrived home. Her son had fallen asleep next to me on the couch where I sat watching a movie. The two dogs were sleeping on the floor until they arrived home, but once they came through the door, bedlam ensued as both dogs barked enthusiastic welcomes. I gathered my things, rounded up Autumn, and headed home.
A month later, Elizabeth called and asked if I could watch her son again. I checked my calendar and agreed, noting the details in my day planner.
Elizabeth paused for a moment, as if she wanted to say something, then said, “Would you please not bring Autumn with you?”
“Um,” I answered, “Okay. I won’t bring her in the house, but I want her with me, so I will keep her in the car. it is a long way away and I don’t like going that far alone.”
Elizabeth said that was fine, we said our goodbyes, and got off the phone. I didn’t say anything at the time, we had known each other for years and it wasn’t worth a disagreement, but the request irritated me. I didn’t so much mind not bringing Autumn in the house, but I was, after all, helping them out; allowing the dog to visit seemed a small concession for the assistance.
I knew though, that Elizabeth’s husband was picky about cleanliness, pickier even than I (Which is saying a lot because I’m pretty particular in that regard. It is one of the reasons my dog got baths every few days). It was only years later after their divorce that I understood some of the difficulties going on in their marriage, and I’m glad I didn’t make an issue out of it at the time.
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You go Lara. Write, just keep writing………… “Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.” Graham Greene Yup bill
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