My Crush on Oliver Burkeman

It’s sad but true. I have a crush on a celebrity. Well, not really a celebrity, but someone slightly famous. Well, maybe not famous. I don’t know what to call him. I would not have a crush on him or even know who he is if he had not published a book and I had not fallen in love with the book and then gone and read everything he ever wrote or watched all videos of him speaking about his book. So he is somewhat celebrated and somewhat famous, but not like a rock star or A-list actor or something. He’s an author and investigative journalist and he’s simply dreamy and his writing is the perfect balance of intelligence and wit. His name is Oliver Burkeman.

I met him once. He gave a reading at Powell’s. I had basically seen the entire thing due to my internet stalking of him, but I didn’t care. I got to see him up close and personal. He looked exactly like his photos and videos, handsome and balding. I don’t have a special bald fetish, I just think he’s too adorable for words. His ridiculously perfect sense of humor doesn’t hurt. (An example of this: in his book he discusses buying a giant pubic louse from a museum. He says, I guess now is as good as any time to bring up my pubic louse. I about died laughing.)

I also sent him an email. I have never, ever sent anyone like him any sort of fan mail before. He actually responded personally a day later. I still have it. I know. Sad, huh? Anyway, in my personal email he said to mention myself at the upcoming reading, so I did. He remembered, signed my book politely, and was done. I had waited to be last in line just in case he fell madly in love with me immediately upon sight and wanted to go on a date. Never mind that he has a girlfriend. I’m a lunatic. Or at least I have a lunatic imagination.

These days I am left to swoon over his Guardian posts. (Did I mention he is a reporter for the Guardian?) I’ll have to wait until he writes another book to go to another reading to see him again. What a thing to look forward to.

Autumn — Chapter 12

Read Autumn — Chapter 11

Summers in the West Linn house were extremely pleasant. The enormous cherry tree in the front yard kept the house nearly fully shaded. There were windows covering two entire walls in the living room, and a full corner of our bedroom. A large picture window opened onto the dining room. In warm months, we opened all these windows, allowing a gentle breeze to move throughout the rooms. In combination with the shade of the cherry tree, the effect was comfortable and gratifying.

Because of the grandfather clause allowing livestock on the property, we owned two ducks and had brought my old, childhood, bay pony named Lady to the house from my parent’s. Swaybacked and ancient, she kept the grass behind the house mowed and blackberry vines in check. I set up a hammock between two trees in the backyard, and would lie between them with a book while Milla roamed the yard with the dogs and Lady.

I was lying in this hammock the afternoon of Autumn’s bladder scope, waiting for the call from the vet telling us to come and bring her home and, I hoped, some diagnosis.

Finally, at about three in the afternoon, the specialist’s office called to say Autumn was ready to go home. The receptionist informed me that the specialist would call me to discuss the case.

I gathered up my book and hefted myself out of the hammock, pulled Milla from the sandbox, wiping sand from her hands and knees, and headed through the house and out to the car. The specialist’s office was in another Portland suburb, about twenty minutes from our house.

When I arrived at the specialist’s office, Autumn was woozy, but none the worse for wear from her experience. The office told me the specialist would call me later with the results. Seriously? Dang, this was taking a long time.

On the drive home, my mobile phone rang. I plugged in my corded headphones and answered. It was the specialist.

“Your dog’s bladder looked like world war three,” she told me soberly. “I’ve never seen anything like it. The inside of her bladder wall was a mess. I cleaned some off some of the loose tissue, so she should not have any further bleeding.”

She went on to say that there wasn’t a lot of information out there about why this happened. The doctor didn’t know the exact cause of Autumn’s troubles. She said in cases like this, it was believed that stress brought it on. Antibiotics would not help, and actually could make it worse, so she wanted me to stop giving Autumn antibiotics. The good news was that there was no evidence of cancer, and no indication that anything was going on that would kill her. The bad news was there wasn’t much more that she could tell me, and there was not a lot that could be done.

I thanked her and hung up the phone, then called Dr. Fletcher and left him a message, and called Debbie and Bjorn. I was so relieved that the diagnosis wasn’t death.

Over the next several years, Autumn had several other similar such bleeding bladder episodes, and they all occurred when she was stressed, even when the stress was good. One such incident occurred when I took Milla and the dogs for a weekend at the beach. We rented an oceanfront motel cabin with a hot tub in the room.

Autumn adored the beach. She would run herself ragged, chase sea birds, and gambol and play in the edge of the ocean. Most of the places we liked to visit along the Oregon coast were located at the mouths of creeks or streams emptying into the sea. Autumn would race back and forth through these waterways, soaking herself and anyone nearby.

In spite of the fact that Autumn loved the beach, her bladder issue came back with full force while we were there. Luckily the motel room was covered in synthetic wood flooring, making it easy to clean her accidents, but I could not take her anywhere in the car, and liberally covered the seats with towels before heading home in case she leaked blood or urine. I gave Autumn one of the painkillers prescribed by the vet because the episodes were painful, and simply waited for it to pass.

A couple of years after Autumn was scoped, and after many bleeding bladder episodes, I was visiting my mom’s house. My mom is something of a magazine addict, and keeps dozens of them around the house and in the bathroom at any given time.

While there, I picked up a Lady’s Home Journal and thumbed through it when one of the headlines caught my eye. It said something like “Bladder Problems Nearly Ended my Life,” or some such thing so dramatic. I read through the article and became increasingly excited.

The author of the article had experienced what seemed to be bladder infection after bladder infection. The infections were extremely painful, and grew worse, not better, with antibiotics. She often leaked blood. Nothing helped, and as time wore on, she lost her job and was in nearly constant pain. After years of struggle and torment, a doctor scoped her bladder and saw that the inside was shredded, exactly as the vet had described Autumn’s. It was only after all of this that the woman was diagnosed with a condition called interstitial cystitis, often called IC.

Finally, I too had a name for Autumn’s condition.

The article said that there was no cure for IC. In some cases in humans surgery could remove some of the damage to the bladder wall, but these surgeries were rare, and I knew in Autumn’s case we could probably never afford it, even if it were possible. It also stated that the best way to maintain the condition was through diet. Certain foods were triggers that could make the condition worse. And, as I had already determined from trial and error, stress was one of the biggest culprits in causing an episode.

The article referenced a website for humans suffering from IC. Later that evening after I returned home, I found the site and read everything there, and then searched further, thrilled to have found something that matched Autumn’s situation exactly. I also discovered what I had been figuring out by accident: bland foods were best, as was minimizing stress.

I called Dr. Fletcher and told him what I found and how. He knew of IC because he said it was common in cats. He had recently read a journal article about it, and reiterated that diet was the best means of maintenance. He also pointed out that studies showed that the binders in commercially prepared foods were one of the worst things for Autumn to eat, and suggested I look at natural foods to help with her disorder.

After reading everything I could get my hands on about IC and talking to Dr. Fletcher, I began purchasing 10 pound tubes of ground turkey and 20 pound bags of rice and cooking Autumn’s dinner every night. We had experimented with this diet before in an effort to calm Poppy’s skin problems, but it had not helped. However, I was willing to try it if it would help Autumn to feel better. Everything I read about IC said the episodes were very painful. I could only imagine how this felt for an animal who could not describe for me how she was feeling.

Of all the discoveries I made when Autumn was ill, the revelation that her bladder issue had a name and diagnosis was the most gratifying. Finally I had a name for the condition. Finally I had a list of triggers that made it worse. Finally, though nominal, I had some sense of how to manage it. I could actually make a difference and help her live more comfortably. This made all our lives more manageable in the long run. It wasn’t a perfect situation, but now I understood Autumn’s issues and was able to control things for the most part, which was a huge relief.

Read Autumn — Chapter 13

Autumn — Chapter 11

Read Autumn — Chapter 10

Autumn was seven years old when she began having bladder infections. Always fanatically clean and unwilling to wet inside, she began peeing uncontrollably wherever she happened to be standing when the urge overcame her. We had purchased a dog door insert for the sliding glass door to the backyard, so none of the animals ever had to wait to go potty. Autumn couldn’t even make it to the door. She would get up from wherever she was lying and head for the pet door, then stop and squat, trying to urinate. There would be a dribble, and nothing more. I could see the fur on her back end quivering as she strained to urinate, feeling the pressure, but getting no result.

I took her to the vet’s office near our duplex. Unlike Dr. Fletcher, when this vet would examine Autumn, a technician would take her from me in the lobby and do something with her in the back room. Autumn never liked this. She would pull towards me on her leash as she was led away. The doctors were kind though, and always explained things thoroughly to me.

The vet ran a culture on Autumn’s urine and prescribed antibiotics. She would get somewhat better on the antibiotics, but then the infection would recur as soon as the course ran. I would take her back to the vet, get another culture, get more antibiotics. This went on for several months.

Finally, frustrated, I told the doctor we needed to do something more drastic. The vet decided that we should give Autumn some very powerful antibiotics and work to kill the bacteria once and for all. After the course had run, she seemed better, and did well for several months.

There was a great deal of stress going on in Autumn’s life at this time. Actually, there was a great deal of stress in all of our lives. I had begun my first term in law school, Bjorn was completing his final year of his engineering program, and we got another dog:  a Jack Russell terrier we named Poppy.

Bjorn had always wanted a Jack Russell. I saw this dog advertised somewhere and chose her for his birthday. She was living in a small cage in a man’s nearly empty apartment in Gresham. Another dog was in a cage next to Poppy’s. There were urine stains under the cages because he left them there to do their business. It seemed he left them there all the time. If I could have, I would have taken both of the dogs, just to get them away from the man.

The entire time Poppy lived with us, she suffered severe skin infections. She would get fungal infections in her ears that required oozy medications. After she scratched herself bloody, I had the vet run allergy tests, and it turned out she was allergic to about ten different things, several grasses among them. We lived in the Willamette Valley, the grass capital of the world. Not a great place for a dog allergic to several varieties of grasses. Considering all the problems she had, I wondered if the man who sold her to us had bred her in some inbred puppy mill or something. We had not requested her papers, although he offered to get them for us for an additional price. Since we planned to spay Poppy and keep her as a pet, her papers were meaningless, but I wondered later if we could have seen the issues coming if we had known her breeding.

When I got Molly, Autumn was not pleased. She saw the acquisition as a betrayal and competed constantly for my attention. When Poppy came along, however, Autumn enjoyed her new friend. The two of them ganged up on Molly and had a grand time doing it. Molly seemed to suffer more stress over the transition than Autumn did. However, being Molly, she didn’t act out, but spent more time under the bed.

While this was going on, we moved from the duplex to that lovely little farmhouse on two acres in the middle of the suburb.

Autumn loved it. We fenced in about a half an acre in an attempt to provide the dogs with a large place to play and also to attempt to keep Autumn from running off.

All of the dogs seemed to really enjoy this new arrangement. We would let them out in the yard and they would wander around sniffing the bases of the trees, marking each other’s urine, and chasing squirrels.

In spite of the fabulous new digs, Autumn managed to get out and disappear for a couple of hours every week. Ever since she was a puppy living near the field in Tennessee, if she had the chance to go wandering, she would take it. Most of the places we lived had fences so secure that her escapes were not much of an issue. She would return from her adventure and bark at the door to be let in.

Escape was easier at the house in West Linn. Autumn would take off, often for a couple of hours, then back she would be at the door, barking to be let in. We diligently searched the fence for signs of escape, and repaired any areas that looked like possibilities, yet she managed to get out again. Of course.

For a while Autumn did quite well. There were no bladder infections and she seemed happy. Then Poppy starting causing trouble, urinating on the furniture and getting into things and chewing. I almost wondered if Poppy was ruined for potty training because she had been left to pee in the same kennel where she slept for the first nine months of her life.

One evening, Bjorn was in the kitchen cooking, and I was playing with Milla on the floor in the living room. Autumn and Molly were lying on the floor next to me when Poppy jumped up on our nubbly, brown love seat, squatted, and peed. I screeched and jumped up, grabbed her, and tossed her out the back door. The other dogs sniffed the spot, then Molly slunk off and hid, while Autumn looked at me quizzically. Luckily, the love seat was new and came with a cleaning warranty, so we were able to have the urine taken care of, but this was the sort of thing Poppy would do.

Unfortunately, there was no way to lock up just Poppy and leave the other dogs with a way to get out to go potty, so all three had to stay on the porch when we were away to keep Poppy from destroying the house in our absence.

Autumn hated this. After locking them on the back porch, Autumn would bark and bark, venting her frustration. Once she thought I was gone, she would settle down, but soon after the dogs had to start staying on the back porch, Autumn got another bladder infection.

I did not realize it at the time, but I know now that the stress of staying on the porch when she had previously had the run of the house contributed to her getting another infection. And as in the past, it took several courses and a final strong dose of antibiotics to get rid of the infection.

I will never forget the moment one sunny afternoon a few months after she had been off the antibiotics when I let Autumn out to go potty in the front yard, and she peed a stream of deep red blood, contrasting brightly with her fluffy blonde pantaloons. I learned the true meaning of my own blood running cold. I felt my face blanch, and it was as if the world stood still for a brief moment as I questioned whether this was really happening.

I went over and sought to examine the place on the ground where Autumn had peed. The spot was a mix of scrubby grass and hard packed earth. I could not see anything. I called Autumn to me. She seemed to be fine except for the desperate urge to urinate. She continued trying, although nothing came out. Whenever she managed a little, there were chunks of bloody tissue in it. It was gross and terrifying. I thought for sure my little dog was dying.

Heart pounding and choking back sobs, I called the vet. She said to bring Autumn in right away. I grabbed a towel and covered the front seat with it so if she bled again, none would get on the upholstery. I gathered the baby, diaper bag, my purse, and the dog, and we loaded into our compact, green car.

Driving to the vet’s office, I tried to hold back tears, little hiccuping sobs kept escaping my mouth. What if Autumn had cancer? What if she was going to die? Milla sat in the back seat, her eyes wide. She knew something was not right.

We arrived at the vet’s office. The technician wanted to try and get a sample of the bloody urine, so we led Autumn around out front in the strip of grass between the parking lot and the road, hoping she would try to pee. She made several attempts, to no avail. We were ready to give up when she urinated, and some small bloody chunks came out as well.

After the technician took Autumn into the back examination room, the doctor came out to discuss what steps would be taken.

“There are several possible prognoses,” she said. “It could be cancer, but this is unlikely, given the overall symptoms. It could be that she ingested some rat poison. Rat poison causes animals to bleed out. Is there any chance Autumn got into some rat poison?” she asked me.

Anything was possible. Autumn escaped all the time. She also ate anything and everything. I had tried to teach her “Leave it” when it came to food, but this had only ever worked when I was standing right above her, forcing her to leave something alone. She would sit with her head up at an angle, her eyes cast down at whatever food item I was forbidding, a gleam in her eye, licking her chops, hoping against hope I would give in and let her have it.

“Well, we will run the test for that and if she did ingest rat poison, we can take steps to alleviate any harm if we have caught it in time.”

“Okay,” I answered, unsure and worried. There was more. I could tell. The doctor had that anticipatory look about her.

“The other big possibility, and this really matches her history, is Cushing’s disease.”

Cushing’s disease? I had never heard of it. The main symptoms were increased water consumption (check), increased urination (check), accidents in previously fastidious dogs (check), increased appetite (well, Autumn was always hungry, or so it seemed), stealing food (same as hungry), a bloated tummy (check), a dull coat (not so much), and exercise intolerance, lethargy, general or hind-leg weakness (check, check, check).

I was dumbfounded. This described my dog nearly exactly, and actually illustrated parts of her that had been showing up for years, but I had overlooked. She was only a few years old when she began to refuse running with me. Could that have been the beginning of Cushing’s and I did not know it? The vet told me there were other symptoms that also showed up, but these were often the most obvious features. She said it is usually either the increased water intake and urination, or the coat changes which prompt an owner to have their dog examined by a veterinarian, because Cushing’s dogs don’t suddenly become dramatically ill. It is also much more difficult to ignore a dog that is peeing on everything, eating trash, and losing its hair.

The bad news was that Cushing’s was notoriously difficult to diagnose because there were many false negatives. In addition, the medication to treat it was prohibitively expensive. She told me we would rule out everything else first, then look at doing the primary test for Cushing’s. She also thought Autumn should have a scope of her bladder to see what was causing the bleeding.

“How much would that cost?” I queried.

“About 750 dollars,” she responded.

Oh my holy Christ! 750 dollars! There was no way we could afford that, but it seemed necessary to rule out bladder cancer and to try and figure out what was going on in there, because Cushing’s wouldn’t cause bladder bleeding, even if it did seem like all the symptoms fit my dog.

After much hand-wringing and consternation, Bjorn and I conversed and decided we would approach our friends Debbie and Robert for a loan.

I met Debbie when I began working at Oregon State. Poker-faced with a constant smile reminiscent of the Cheshire cat, Debbie worked as a graduate assistant at the university. I worked as a general office assistant. She and I hit it off nearly immediately. We shared the same ridiculous sense of humor, and could entertain one another for hours repeating the lines of simpletons in movies or pretending to dance the river dance. Bjorn and Robert would shake their heads in consternation as the two of us spent hours on the phone laughing until our sides hurt and tears ran down our faces at basically nothing at all. Most of what we found hilarious would cause most people to wonder whether we should be incarcerated in a mental institution.

Debbie and I also shared an interest in politics.  We could spend hours discussing whatever was happening politically in the world.  Debbie was the first person I called the morning the twin towers burned.  We sobbed together, realizing the world would never be the same again.

Because Debbie became my very best friend in the entire world and she shared her life with Robert, Robert became a friend as well, and later my de facto father. I never knew my biological father, and was certainly never close to my step-father. In a sense, I had no father figure really, certainly no one had ever filled those shoes for me, so after the birth of Milla, Robert stepped in and took the job.

While I was pregnant, I decided Debbie was the person I wanted there with me as my support. Robert drove most of the time, and on the night before Milla’s birth, when we called them at 3 in the morning to let them know her arrival was imminent, Robert drove. The birthing center where Milla was born provided birthing “suites,” much like hotel rooms. Robert plunked himself down on a couch to wait for Debbie. Debbie took care of me, and Robert managed Bjorn and kept him company.

In the end, both of them were present at Milla’s birth, and forever after, she was Robert’s heart. He loved that child like she was his own. For the rest of his life, whenever he had the opportunity, Robert would tell the story of Milla’s birth and how, after the doctor plopped her up on my belly, he could see her tiny, quivering cleft chin. He then turned his head slightly and saw an identical chin, only slightly bigger, quivering on me.

Robert loved telling that story, and he utterly adored my daughter. Robert also cared for me in his own way, fighting with me when he thought I was being “dumber than a bag of hammers” (his words), or I thought he was being a “stubborn pain in the ass” (mine).

The two also thoroughly understood my love of Autumn and Molly. Debbie has a human child, and Debbie and Robert lived with the previously mentioned cat named Misty whom they loved completely. They cared for our dogs while we were in the hospital after Milla’s birth. They also welcomed our dogs whenever we visited their house. And they knew I would not have considered having Autumn euthanized for the medical issues she was experiencing unless it were the only option.

Between the two of them, Bjorn and I found emotional support often lacking in our own parents. We would have done anything for them, and in this time of need, they provided us with a loan so Autumn could have the tests deemed necessary by the veterinarian. We paid them back a few months later after Bjorn graduated and received a signing bonus at his new job, but if we hadn’t gotten that loan, I’m not sure what we would have done.

And so the tests were begun. After all the blood work and examination on the day she peed blood, nothing was found or conclusive. Rat poison was ruled out, and surprisingly, so was a bladder infection. There wasn’t any bladder infection bacteria in her urine, once they were able to obtain a sample. They also tested for diabetes mellitus, but that was negative as well. Also, based on the blood tests, cancer was unlikely, but the vet wanted to wait for the results of the scope to rule it out completely.

The vet’s office helped us to schedule the bladder scope at the specialist’s office. They also scheduled the Cushing’s disease test, which required that Autumn fast for twelve hours, then come in and leave a blood sample. She had to stay at the vet’s office all day for the Cushing’s test because first the doctor would inject her with a substance called dexamethasone, which was a synthetic steroid. She would then take blood samples four and eight hours later. In a normal dog, the body would recognize the steroid and suppress cortisol. Cushing’s dogs would not suppress the cortisol because their feedback loop was messed up.

After making all the schedules, I gathered Autumn into the car with the baby. She had stopped urinating blood because the doctor had given her something to relax the muscle walls in her bladder. The vet had also dosed her up on antibiotics, as she had the last time Autumn had a bladder infection, even though there had been no signs of that type of bacteria. The heavy antibiotic doses had worked in the past, so she figured we should do it again.

I called Debbie and Robert, and described everything we had experienced so far, all the tests, all the speculation. Then I called Dr. Fletcher and discussed what was happening with him. He asked me to keep him posted and let him know if we came up with a diagnosis.

I wasn’t as scared as I had been before because everything described to me so far could be managed, but I could hardly wait for the bladder scope that was scheduled for the following week. I was hopeful it would provide some clarity into what was going on.

Read Autumn — Chapter 12

Autumn — Chapter 10

Read Autumn — Chapter 9

The spring Milla was born, we decided to move to Portland. Living in Corvallis had worn thin for me. It was too small and too far from the activities we enjoyed. I liked bigger cities and had mainly stayed in Corvallis because first Dan, then Bjorn attended university there. Bjorn had grown up in a suburb of Portland, and during a visit shortly after Milla’s birth, we realized we could move.

I remember clearly the moment it occurred to me that we could leave Corvallis and live somewhere else. We were driving along in the car in Portland near Bjorn’s childhood home. I was a passenger in the back seat next to the baby (because I was always a passenger in the back seat next to the baby), and as we slid past orchards and neighborhoods, the idea we could actually leave where we were and go somewhere else popped into my head, and I said to Bjorn, “Let’s move. Let’s move up here now.”

Milla wasn’t even yet a month old, but I wanted a change, wanted out of Corvallis with its memories and limitations. Bjorn had one year left towards his engineering degree, and I was planning to apply to law school. We held a garage sale, packed a moving van, and headed north. Autumn was six years old.

We started out renting a room in Bjorn’s dad’s house, but this proved unsatisfactory nearly immediately. I had learned the hard way what living with family can do to a relationship, and within a month we had rented our own apartment on the third floor of a complex that had been, only months before, a filbert orchard. There were still filbert orchards across from our apartment, and we taught the dogs to run out the door, down three flights of stairs, and out across the median to the trees to do their business.

In spite of the fact the apartment was rather small, near Christmas the year we moved in, my brother Derek asked if he could stay with us for a short time while he looked for a place to live.  He had been living with our parents in Jefferson, a town about sixty miles south of Portland.

For years, Derek had struggled with drug addiction.  He would go to treatment, move out on his own and get a job, then for various reasons end up back living with our parents and near the people who always helped him get into trouble.  This cycle had run through about four times at this point.

At the time Derek wanted to live with us, he had been back to our parent’s, and we all believed that if he could just get away from the area, he would have a better chance at success in beating his addictions.

Bjorn and I discussed whether to allow Derek to stay with us.  Bjorn actually didn’t have any problems with it, but I was worried if we allowed him to stay, we would have a difficult time getting him to leave.  Unless he did something awful, I didn’t want to have to call the police simply to get him to move on.

We finally decided that we would allow him to stay, but with certain limitations.  Namely he had to get a job and he could not stay with us longer than two weeks.  We also did not want his girlfriend to live there.  Neither of us I liked her very  much, but we did not tell Derek this.  Even if we had loved her, we simply did not have the room.

Derek moved in. We let him sleep on the couch and keep his belongings in Milla’s room because she slept with us in our bed.  Nearly immediately, he was able to secure a job during the swing shift, so we didn’t see him very much except in the late morning before he left for work.  One afternoon when he did not have to work, I took him over to the management office to help him fill out an application for an apartment of his own.

For Christmas, I invited my parents and my sister and her family to our house for Christmas.  The apartment was tiny, but I had decided after Milla’s birth that we were not going to do the usual holiday run-around anymore.  On Christmases past, we would drive to my parent’s, then Bjorn’s dad’s, then his mom’s family, and often to my sister’s, or some other version of it.  No one ever came our way.  I did not want my baby to spend her holidays driving all over the place.

We pulled out the leaves to the table and made room for everyone. The kitchen was not large, but it served its purpose, helping us to serve dinner to eleven.  Once the family was satiated, we all opened gifts, our families left for home, and I straightened up the mess.

For years I had gone to the movies on Christmas day, me and many others.  Apparently Hollywood figured out this trick because movies started opening on Christmas, which was great since we saw a lot of movies and frequently needed new choices.  During movies, I would breastfeed Milla and she would fall asleep in my arms.  Derek was with us so we all bundled up and headed out to the car and off to see a show.

Three hours later when we arrived home, things were not in order.  We had only opened gifts for my family and one another, but there were still many gifts left for Bjorn’s family and for our friends.  The wrappings to most of these gifts were now spread throughout the house.  Little pieces of ribbon, bows, wet wrapping paper, and tags lay everywhere, in the living room, across the rug in the dining room, down the hall, and in both bedrooms. The cork stopper to a jar of nuts was half shredded, bits of cork speckling the carpet.  Pieces of candy cane were littered everywhere, the chunks obviously sucked on because they were coagulated in their plastic wrap.  A thorough mess.

Normally if we had arrived to a scene like this, Autumn would be standing happily in the middle of it, tongue out with some incriminating evidence on her muzzle, and Molly would be hiding, but both dogs just stood there, looking at us.

“What in the world is going on?” I asked them sternly, knowing of course there would be no response.  “Did you eat our gifts?”

Looking further, we discovered several food items in the hall and in our bedroom.  It did not look like much was eaten, but they had certainly seemed to have had a party opening all the presents and spreading them all over the place.

“What in the world were you thinking?” I hollered?  “Why did you do this?  Do you really think I want to clean up a mess like this on Christmas?”  They ignored me.  Neither of them seemed in any way concerned, which for Molly was completely strange.

I began picking up the pieces and pulling the presents together to rewrap.  Bjorn and Derek took the dogs out on our patio to keep them from getting into anything else.

It wasn’t until years later, after Derek had been to rehab a couple of more times, and long after Bjorn and I were no longer a couple, that I learned the real truth of what happened that night.

Apparently my brother had hidden in his backpack a rather large, brownie-sized cake of hashish.  When the four of us returned home to the mini Christmas disaster that night, Derek quickly realized what was up.  His bag was askew, the pocket in the front of the bag where the hashish had been stashed wide open.  The hashish had been wrapped in aluminum foil with a sticker on the front that read Acapulco Gold!  This foil was lying smashed and spitty in a pile on the cream-colored carpet, the Acapulco Gold! label torn in half.

Derek immediately pulled Bjorn aside and told him he thought the dogs had eaten his hashish.  The two of them dragged the dogs to the patio to confirm their suspicions.  Apparently what I failed to notice was that our dogs’ pupils were the size of platters and rimmed in red.  The reason neither dog had reacted in any way to my tirade was that they were both completely stoned.

When I heard the story, so long into the future, I laughed, recalling the picture of both dogs baked and confused.  I can only imagine how it must have been from their perspective, discovering Christmas goodies while they were high on hashish.

Yet Derek and Bjorn were right that I would have blown a gasket if I had known at the time. Even later, the implications were not lost on me.  Derek had kept drugs in our apartment, and had done so with our small daughter there.  She was mobile by then, crawling about and getting into things.  He assured me the stuff had been zipped up tight in his bag, and that Milla would never have been able to find them, but his concealment had not been enough to keep our dogs from making their discovery.  They were very lucky they didn’t get sick.

Ultimately, Derek fulfilled his end of the bargain.  He moved into his own apartment in the complex and got a job.  His story then continued on its own trajectory.

Meanwhile, Bjorn and I were both ready to move less than a year later.  The apartment was so tiny and located in a suburb that seemed designed to stop all drivers at every traffic signal, which drove me crazy. It was also too far from the university where Bjorn attended classes and the law school where I planned to attend classes a year later. I wanted more than an apartment. I wanted a yard where the dogs and baby could play. I wanted space, and not to be able to hear our neighbors arguing.  Bjorn, nearly 6’7″ in height, wanted room to stretch his legs without banging them on another wall. And so, less than a year after moving north to Portland, we moved again into a high-ceilinged duplex with a rambling yard. An ancient oak shaded half the yard and kept our home cool.

I loved that duplex. Too bad there were drug dealers in the park next to it. We could hear shouts and shots and all sorts of unmentionables there, at all hours of the day and night, which frightened me somewhat, considering the blonde, curly sprite living with us. The dogs also barked at all hours, warning off interlopers, causing us all to jump as we studied and played.

Finally, after witnessing a police officer throw a half naked woman and several baggies filled with white powder across the hood of his patrol car, cuffing her and tossing her carelessly into his backseat, we decided that it might be best to move on yet again.  During the years Bjorn and I were together, we had a knack for moving into places that suited one need and not another.

Our next choice was the perfect little farmhouse. Charming and comfortable, the house was yellow with white trim, and sat on two acres in the middle of one of Oregon’s wealthiest suburbs. The acreage was grandfathered, allowing us to keep livestock, so we fenced it and brought home my old childhood pony, as well as some ducks. We could have stayed there forever. Unfortunately, the little house was a rental and the manager a son who was waiting with bated breath for his mother to pass so he could develop the property, which he did not long after we moved out. There was a five-story cherry tree in the front yard, which was promptly chopped down, along with the house, in his zealous desire to destroy the land and fill his greedy hands with cash.

Our next place was our first purchase and horribly ill-suited for us, too far from town, and too much suburban sameness, block after block. In purchasing this house, Bjorn and I took the advice of a well-meaning, but misguided friend who assisted us in making the purchase. It was only years later after Bjorn and I broke up that I finally bought a house that was suitable to me. We learn with age that which we will no longer tolerate.

However, at the time we chose the duplex, we were a long way from buying our own home. Bjorn was in his last year of school and I was in my first of law school. We both worked and studied and parented our child. The duplex was spacious and shared only a small wall with our quiet neighbors. Built in the sixties, it had sloping, vaulted ceilings and two bathrooms. After the dinky, third-floor walk-up, this was paradise!

During our move from the apartment to the duplex, I saw a sign over the mailboxes at the apartment complex advertising a free cat. According to the sign, the cat liked children and other pets.

Milla and I headed over to visit the prospective cat. The apartment was on the third floor. The people who owned the cat ran a daycare service out of their home. The lady of the house wanted to find the cat a new home because her husband would not allow the cat to come into the house, and he had therefore been living on the balcony for his entire short life. She had gotten him from the humane society when he was a kitten. Except for a few visits with the daycare children where he was dressed in doll clothes and pushed around in a stroller, he had spent eleven months living on a 3 by 6 balcony with one other cat. His name was Friday and we fell in love with him on the spot.

For the rest of his life, Friday adored us. I swear he was grateful to his bones we had released him from the prison of that godforsaken balcony and the daycare children dressing him up in baby clothes.

Autumn had never been a big cat chaser. There had been cats living at the apartment complex in Tennessee and in every neighborhood we had lived in since. She and Molly were both nonplussed by the newest member of the family. After some initial sniffing, the three all ignored one another.

I suppose after Milla, as far as the dogs were concerned, any new family members were acceptable. The two of them had both settled into life with a tiny person running around. First she was a lump they could sniff and mostly ignore, but then she began moving about and carrying food with her, and suddenly she was a much more interesting prospect.

They also relished her diapers. Their’s was a disgusting and foul habit, this desire to eat diapers. No matter what steps we took to keep used diapers away from them, they would somehow manage to get into them and eat them. This would be followed by yellowish turds filled with chewed up plastic and diaper innards.

We had purchased for Milla’s room a widget called a Diaper Genie. The thing had a weird hole in its top through which one placed a used diaper. The diaper would slide through a convoluted plastic contraption and into the bowels of the Genie. A door on the front of the Genie allowed access into the bag which held the diapers. Its point was to ensure that the smell of the diapers did not escape into the room where the Genie was placed.

Both our dogs could open that Diaper Genie and get the diapers out. We would come home from wherever we had been to discover diaper shreds, baby shit, and pieces of soiled diaper spread from one end of Milla’s room to the other. Molly, of course, would be hiding in our bedroom under the bed because, in spite of her biological urge to eat diapers, she knew that our discovery of them would result in lots of hollering and hand-wringing, and this terrified her half to death. Autumn would sit among the diapers, her tongue lolling, breath smelling foul and wrong, wondering where she could find some more.

We attempted to avoid this problem by placing the Diaper Genie into the closet in Milla’s room. To no avail. Autumn was always a clever getter into things, and she would simply open the closet and proceed to dismantle the Genie in there instead.

Finally, I went and purchased an industrial strength, outdoor garbage can, the kind with a lid and bungee cords for closing. We put the Diaper Genie in this, put the whole contraption in the closet and, as long as we remembered to keep Milla’s bedroom door shut, the closet door shut, and the lid on the industrial garbage can securely fastened, we could avoid diaper catastrophes. It was also imperative that we remove the filled bag from the diaper genie to the outdoor garbage can once it was full. On a couple of occasions Bjorn left the full bag on the floor in the bedroom, which may as well have been a giant, flashing invitation to the dogs to come in and have a diaper smorgasbord at their pleasure. It only took a couple of misses on this one for Bjorn never to make that mistake again.

Milla celebrated her first birthday at the duplex.  I invited our family and our closest friends to a little garden party.  I baked a cake that looked like a caterpillar and covered it with fondant.  I sat up half the night stringing together green and yellow, construction paper, daisy chains, which I hung all over the kitchen and living room.  Clearly, Autumn’s birthday parties were just a warmup.

Within weeks of her first birthday, Milla walked across the living room.  She had been cruising for a while, walking everywhere as long as her hands held a couch, the wall, or some other support.  Then one afternoon while holding a marbly green, plastic ball, she took off and walked twelve steps across the room.  It was as if the ball were her support.

Once she began walking, she kept going, and only became faster.  Up to this point, the dogs were interested in her usually only when she sat in her high chair.  Both Milla and the dogs had discovered that the high chair could be quite fun.  Milla would toss whatever food item she happened to be consuming, and then laugh hysterically as the dogs pounced on it like starving lunatics.  Occasionally this would cause arguments between the dogs, which only made Milla laugh more.  First lessons in cause and effect.

During her crawling phase, when things became a little too silent, I would often discover her on all fours, both hands in the dog water dish.  She was also quite fond of making dog food soup, mixing together whatever food stuffs were left in the dogs’ dish with their water.  I kept the dishes on a place mat in the kitchen, and after these escapades, the floor around and under the mat would usually be a watery mess.  Autumn especially loved eating the soupy mixture, and would wait to one side while Milla mixed it for her, then dive in as soon as the baby crawled off to explore elsewhere.

When Milla began to walk, she also began to carry different food items with her.  I usually put her in her high chair to eat, but sometimes, especially if I was busy trying to study or straighten the house, I would pour some cereal in a little dish for her to carry around, or give her a cracker.

One night I sat at the kitchen table studying.  Milla had finished her dinner, but was wandering around with a sandwich in her hand.  Molly was hiding under the dining room table, doing her best to remain as unobtrusive as possible.  Autumn, of course, was following Milla, trying to get the sandwich she held in her hand.  Milla kept telling her “No!” and holding the sandwich up, trying to keep it out of Autumn’s reach.

Finally, frustrated at her inability to get the food, Autumn jumped up and tried to grab the sandwich, snapping at it, shoving Milla backward into the cupboard.  Autumn tried again to snatch the sandwich, but she got Milla’s cheek instead, high up, underneath her eye.

Milla cried out in pain.  I jumped up and raced over to her, shouting, “Autumn!”  Autumn ducked and backed up as I gathered Milla into my arms, sobbing.  Bjorn raced into the kitchen, screaming “Autumn” in a loud and ferocious voice.  He grabbed her by the ruff of her neck and threw her across the room.

“I could kill that dog!” he shouted.

“Leave her alone,” I screamed.  Milla wailed.  “She was trying to get the sandwich.  It was an accident.”

“I don’t care if it was a fucking accident,” Bjorn raged.  “She bit my daughter in the face!”

“It wasn’t on purpose.  She just wanted the sandwich,” I answered.  Milla hugged me and sobbed in my arms.  I grabbed a washcloth and set her on the counter to investigate the damage.

“Go get some antiseptic cream,” I instructed Bjorn, hoping that a project would separate him from his anger.  He stalked out of the room to go search for the medicine.

I wet the washcloth and gently rinsed Milla’s face.  She had suffered a small scratch under her right eye.  Thank goodness the bite was on her cheek and not her eye.

I looked around to see where Autumn was at.  She was cowering in the corner near the glass back door.

“Autumn, it’s okay,” I cooed to her.  “I know it was an accident.”  She was trembling.  I opened the back door and let her out.  From wherever she had been hiding, Molly came running and scooted out past me as well.  Neither dog was comfortable with yelling and violence.

Milla calmed down.  I swabbed some ointment on her small wound and then took her into the bedroom to nurse.  She was none the worse for wear, but Bjorn was still quite angry, and never forgave Autumn for this bite.  For days he told anyone who would listen that he should have killed my dog.  Eventually his anger wore down, but I made took extra care with Milla and food to ensure nothing like this event ever happened again.

Read Autumn — Chapter 11

Autumn — Chapter 9

Read Autumn — Chapter 8

Despite the fact that Dan and I had spent almost two years in couples counseling, the combination of marrying young and living with family had taken its toll on our marriage. As is often the case, there was also a strain between my desire to start a family and Dan’s desire to wait. As his final year at the university wound down, we decided our marriage was over.

We had moved from the apartment to a tiny little house with a small yard, a minuscule garden, and a park nearby for the dogs to run and play. Dan moved out of this little house and back into his parent’s, but would visit with Autumn every so often. He had been offered a job in California, and I think he knew that after he left, he might not see her again.

I remained in Corvallis with Autumn after Dan moved away. Over the next year, I dated a few different men, and eventually met another man named Bjorn. Without intending to quite so soon, our relationship became much more serious than we intended when I discovered I was pregnant. While I was concerned about an impending pregnancy with a man I had only known a few short months, I was also delighted. I had wanted a baby with Dan, but he had not wanted to start a family while he was still in college. Bjorn had two years left before graduation, but when I informed him I was pregnant, he was as excited as I was.

How does one explain circumstances about which one is certain to be judged by a segment of the population? I wasn’t as circumspect as I could have been. I certainly could have made choices that to some would have seemed wiser. Yet I have no regrets; once the seed of my child was planted, I would not have changed a thing that could have arrived at a different result. I knew three months into the pregnancy that I would have ended the relationship with Bjorn sooner rather than later – we were completely incompatible in many ways. But after my baby was born, and even before when she was a minuscule mass of cells clinging to the inside of my body, there was no way I could imagine my life without her.

The months I was pregnant were emotional, both up and down. In retrospect, I realized I was mourning the loss of my marriage and the friendship I had carried for over seven years, while I was simultaneously intoxicated with the joy of expecting a new baby. It was a paradoxical place.

Prior to my pregnancy and after Autumn had decided she was no longer interested in going for runs with me, I would take Molly running or roller-blading, then take both dogs to the park near my house to run and play. When the weather was warm, I would take Autumn swimming. She was extremely healthy. After having spent several years swimming in the summers, she no longer displayed any signs of hip dysplasia. She was quite active, and though not as lithe as Molly, she was definitely athletic and capable. After I became pregnant, I stayed active, walking both dogs, roller-blading and running with Molly for as long as the pregnancy would allow, and riding horses well into my sixth month. The dogs enjoyed the exercise. As the year wore down from fall to winter, we all settled in, expectant and waiting for the enormous change due in spring.

Both of the dogs were big shedders. In spite of the fact that I vacuumed at least every three days, there were always puffles of fur in the corners, under the furniture, and in my bedding. I would joke that I could collect this fur and make a pillow out of it, there was so much.

Bjorn and I had moved into an apartment together. The little house I lived in first with Dan, then by myself was simply too small for our family. As the time grew nearer for our baby to arrive, I began nesting in earnest, cleaning and vacuuming. As my due date loomed, I became nearly frantic with the desire to move about, wishing I could run or ride my bike as I had before the pregnancy.

I awakened the first morning of May and wanted to get out of the house, in spite of the fact that I had expanded beyond any notion of comfort. I had heard that walking could help bring on labor so I was headed out. I grabbed my purse, keys, and the dogs and jumped into the car, Bjorn trailing. The local kennel club was sponsoring a pet day fair. At the fair, hawkers sold kerchiefs, dog toys, leashes, and other assorted canine goods. We wandered for a couple of hours, until my hips could no longer tolerate my weight and the heat. It was a warm day for early spring.

We spent the rest of the day out and about, doing our best to encourage baby’s arrival. It must have worked, because shortly before midnight, my contractions began and increased. At 12:24 p.m. on May 2, 1999, Milla Elina was born.

The two of us had arranged with my best friend Debbie and her husband Robert to take care of our dogs while I was in the hospital having the baby. They were parents to a kitty named Misty and completely understood the relationship I had with my dogs – as far as we all were concerned, the dogs were surrogate children and could not be left to fend for themselves for two or three days.

In spite of the love I felt for Autumn and Molly, I was unprepared for the tsunami level of emotion I felt toward my infant daughter. It was all consuming. I suppose this connection is nature’s way of ensuring the survival of the species. I was in such love, such infatuation, such complete adoration for my child, I could not understand why everyone wasn’t having babies. I walked around for weeks staring at everyone thinking, “You were someone’s baby! Someone loved you like this!” Only later as the hormones wore off did I understand intellectually that some people never feel like I did, but I could never understand it in my heart. I loved my child with my whole body, mind, and spirit.

When I came home from the hospital after giving birth to Milla, Autumn kept trying to get up in my lap, to get near me, but I was afraid she would hurt the baby. I had sworn before giving birth that I would not become one of those people whose dogs disappeared into the background, forgotten and forlorn, but during the first few days home, I did just that. Once we were used to having the baby around and had settled into a routine, I shifted back and Autumn became part of my attention circle again, but I’m sure the first couple of weeks were very hard for her. I imagine in some ways this is how it is for older children when a new baby is born, especially when they are very close together in age. There were fifteen months between my sister and me, and when Milla was fifteen months old, I could not fathom bringing home another infant. She was still very much a baby. People do it, but it must be hard.

Bjorn and I decided that Milla would sleep with us. We bought a pillow with a curve in it and placed her between us on the queen bed. Those first nights were difficult, mainly because little Milla kept getting dog hair in her nose, making it hard for her to breathe. In spite of all my cleaning, there were still dog hairs in the bed, and they would stick to Milla’s little nostrils, causing her to sneeze and cry. I had thought we could manage allowing the dogs to sleep on the floor next to the bed, but that first night they kept trying to get on the bed and get near me. Bjorn would yell and shove them hard onto the floor.

It pains me now to know that I did not do more to stop him. I felt so exhausted and physically worn out. It breaks my heart that I let him treat both of my dogs that way and especially Autumn. I can only imagine what it must have been like for her. She had lived with me her entire life, nearly six years, and this man who had arrived less than a year previously yelled at her and often hit her and at first I stood by and let it happen, too spent to do anything about it. And here was this new baby, taking all my attention, and causing her more grief. It’s not something I can really reconcile in my mind; I wish I had done more for her, prepared better, done something different, but I did not. Thinking of it still gives me a hard spot in the pit of my stomach.

After the first night, I decided to thoroughly clean and vacuum the bedroom. There was so much dog hair, even though I vacuumed nearly daily. It was in the crevices along the wall, behind the bed, in the covers, under the sheets. I took the bed apart completely, unmoored it from its frame, and vacuumed everything from the mattresses, to the carpets, to the window sills. I washed the sheets and bedding, and dusted all the floorboards.

Once the bed was rebuilt, remade, and the room completely hair free, I put up two baby gates in the hall between the bedroom door and the rest of the house. The dogs hovered around the outside gate, wanting in, whining and moaning. I have a photograph from that time, of the two dogs lying out there with pained expressions on their faces, wishing and hoping that they could come back to bed with me.

Keeping the dogs out of the bed made sleeping much easier for the humans, and much more difficult for the dogs. Autumn had never been ostracized before. It was terrible for her. She began to act seriously depressed. I was so involved with the baby, I did not have the energy to give to her, and her heart was broken. She kept trying to get close to me and I kept pushing her away because I did not want her to hurt Milla.

I would sit on the couch trying to nurse (something that was not going well) and Autumn would attempt to jump up next to me. I would halfheartedly tell her to get down, then Bjorn would yell at her. I eventually succumbed and allowed Autumn to lie next to me on the couch while Milla suckled. She curled into a little ball and snuggled as close as she could get. What kind of person had I turned into that I let this happen? My only pathetic excuse was new parenthood and all the that goes with it.

We did eventually get into the groove of parenting. Milla grew and after only a couple of months, the dogs were allowed back in the bedroom and back in our bed. It made for crowded sleeping, but everyone was more content.

Read Autumn — Chapter 10

Autumn — Chapter 8

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

Autumn — Chapter 7

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

Autumn — Chapter 6

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 and 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 towards 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 CGC test and never pass, 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, colorful 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 says 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.

Read Autumn — Chapter 7 here

Autumn — Chapter 4

Read Autumn — Chapter 3

After a year, Dan and I were ready to go home. We were still homesick, and also the school I was going to was extremely expensive and not all the programs were as good as had been advertised when I applied. Dan had finally met the requirements for residency to obtain in-state tuition at the University of Tennessee, but we were both tired of the differences, and missed Oregon and our families. We wanted neighbors who would not look at us as if we were aliens. We longed for our friends.

Though we had not told our families, the two of us had gone to a justice of the peace in December and gotten married. The main reason we did this was because Dan could not qualify for financial aid based on his parent’s income and assets, yet they could not afford to pay for his university studies. After the marriage, we announced to the family that we were engaged and that we would be getting married the following summer. No one seemed surprised. Only Dan’s grandma seemed pensive at the scheme, believing we were still too young for marriage. We ignored her portentous concern, especially since the deed had already been done.

When Dan’s parents called to tell us they would allow us to live in their basement apartment for no rent if we stayed in Oregon after the wedding, we did not even think about it, agreeing immediately. I would attend the University of Oregon in Eugene, Dan would go to Oregon State in Corvallis, and we would live in Albany with his parents.

In retrospect, the decision to live with Dan’s parents probably sealed the fate of our marriage, but at the time, it seemed like the perfect solution. Living with Dan’s parents would not matter to financial aid since we were married, and paying no rent would allow us to go to school without having to work full-time. Considering I had worked full-time for my first two years of college, this part was especially appealing.

Once school let out for the summer, we set about selling all the furniture we had acquired during our year on the east coast, and boxing and shipping our belongings back to Oregon. This part was easy. Our biggest concern about the move was the drive back home in a car without air conditioning. We were leaving in late June, driving across the bottom half of the United States, and it was going to be hot. We also wanted to bring as much with us as we could manage to save on shipping costs.

Once we figured out how we were going to pack the car, the only room left for Autumn was at our feet in the passenger’s seat. This wasn’t going to be fun for either the passenger or the dog, but we were so happy to be heading home, we did not care. When we were ready to go, we got up at dawn and drove away, stopping only for breakfast since all our cookware was gone.

We drove straight for 25 hours into Albuquerque, New Mexico. Dan drove all of it.  He was so eager to get home he flew, breaking speed laws in five states. By the time we hit New Mexico, we were all exhausted and the heat was overwhelming. We arrived at noon and decided our best plan for the remainder of the trip was to sleep during the day and drive at night. We crossed Arizona in the dark, then drove north through Nevada during the early part of the day. The temperatures were staggering, near 120 degrees Fahrenheit, yet we had no complaints, gratified that the warmth was dry heat. After the dripping east coast humidity, we were fine with arid wind blowing in our faces.

Autumn managed the trip well. She was used to riding in the car, and since it was so warm, content to curl like a caterpillar, nose to tail on the floorboards. I was the passenger for most of the trip, propping my legs on the dash or in the edge of the yawning window.

When we finally arrived back in Oregon, we were exhausted, but happy. After the tawny deserts, Oregon was lush and verdant in early June. Driving north on I-5, the mountains were corpulent and green. Trite but true, there is no place like home.

Dan’s parents lived in a stucco, Pepto Bismol pink bungalow. Squat and square, from the outside the house didn’t look very big, but was actually quite spacious. They had renovated part of the basement and rented it out to some of Dan’s friends. This space was to be our new home. We would have our own entrance at the back if we chose to use it, or we could go through the house. We would share the upstairs kitchen.

Dan’s parents had a dog of their own, a black and white Border Collie named Murphee. To call Murphee neurotic would be an understatement. Typical of her breed, she wanted to herd all the time. She would skulk around, head parallel to the ground, a tennis ball gripped in her jaws. If she saw a human, she would drop the ball, then stop and stare intensely at it, her brown eyes occasionally flicking up to see whether the human was going to make a move to take the ball and throw it.

Autumn had not turned out to be the enormous beast we all predicted based on Maude and her paws. At just under a year old, she was only about twenty-five pounds. By the time she was six months old, it was clear to us that she was Cody’s daughter and not Jasper’s. Having spent many hours in the presence of the two potential fathers, we had witnessed Cody’s mannerisms in Autumn since she was quite small. Her trot especially was identical to his, their gaits like a Standardbred, front legs straight out in front as they moved. Cody was a very small Border Collie. I found it amazing he had managed to impregnate Maude, but such are the miracles of the animal kingdom.

Murphee, two years older than Autumn, was not much bigger, although she was much more filled out and thicker. Autumn was as tall as she would ever be, but still looked like a lanky dog teenager, with long narrow legs and a slim body. The two were destined to be nearly the same size, although Murphee was always heftier. Autumn’s fur was much softer than Murphee’s. Murphee’s hair was wiry and course. I often called Autumn “bunny ears” because of the blissful softness of the fur on her ears. All her life, rubbing those ears would bring me comfort.

We settled into the basement apartment. The space was open like a loft, only it was mostly underground. There were windows at the tops of the walls on both the east and west sides of the house, so we always had outdoor light. We set up the space like rooms, our bedroom at one end, an office in the middle, and the living room at the other end.

During Autumn’s entire life we had kept pet rats. She was used to them and was careful around them, having been bitten in the nose by our rat Shasta when she was only three months old. Sometimes if we were lounging on the bed or couch and holding a rat, Autumn would want to play with it or sniff it, but mostly she just left them alone.

Murphee, however, was entranced with our rats to the point of obsession. She would stare at the rats like they were tennis balls or sheep. If they were out when she was nearby, she would nose them roughly. I was certain that given chance, she would have eaten one of the rats. Because of this, we left the door to our apartment and the rest of the basement closed. Dan’s parents also used the other portion of the basement for laundry, and I wanted to maintain some semblance of privacy.

We kept the rats in a cage on top of a dresser in the “office” portion of our apartment. The dresser was one I had purchased used as an 11-year-old and refinished. One afternoon, I returned from my day at school to discover that Murphee, in her efforts to get to the rats, had scratched deep gouges all along the top of the dresser.

I was furious. Murphee was not supposed to be in our apartment, and she sure as hell wasn’t supposed to ruin my dresser.

After this, whenever Murphee would come down to whine at the door because she wanted to get to our rats, I would say, “Murphee, get out of here!” in a sharp voice. She would whine and claw until I either chased her away or took her back upstairs.

“Murphee, leave!” I would shout.

Over time, Autumn learned that “Murphee, leave!” meant that I did not want Murphee downstairs. She would growl a warning at the door. Because her growl sounded so fierce, we started saying the phrase when Autumn was terrorizing one of her stuffed animals. “Get Murphee!” we would growl, “Murphee, go away!” Autumn would shake the stuffed thing to death, growling like a crazed fiend, spittle splattering everything in her mock fury.

Over the years, even long after we had moved away from Murphee and the basement, saying the words, “Murphee, go away!” would turn Autumn into a crazy frenzy. I taught her a hand signal to go with the words. I would hold my arm down to my side and shake my hand really hard up and down, saying the phrase. Autumn learned that when I did this, she was to act like a crazy dog. When I stopped, she would stop abruptly. My thinking was that if anyone ever grabbed me around the body and arms, I could still make the hand signal so Autumn would act nuts, hopefully scaring the attacker away.

A few years later, I called into a radio program where the hosts gave out prizes for doing silly pet tricks on the air. “Murphee,” I hissed. “Go away!” Autumn snarled and shook. I stopped the movement. Autumn went silent. I made the movement again and she turned into a raving lunatic. I stopped and so did she. We won a DVD for our efforts.

Sometimes Murphee’s neurotic herding had unintended consequences. Dan was close friends with the two guys, Steve and Brian, who had rented the apartment from his parents for two years before we moved into it. They were a typical group of guys who had known one another since childhood. They liked hanging out and drinking beers, playing sports, and telling each other dirty jokes.

For Steve’s birthday the summer after we moved into the apartment, we decided to get him a crass, pornographic toy in addition to his real gift. After searching the local triple X store, we settled on a plastic labia. It barely resembled its intended design. The thing was baby mouse pink, with brown painted on the plastic to look like hair. There were also several nylon hairs that had been added for effect and a tube of plastic in the middle. It was hard to believe whoever designed the thing ever intended it to be anything except a joke.

We wrapped the toy in wrapping paper and gave it to Steve at his party, which was being held at our house. Dan’s parents had a fine backyard for entertaining, and we often invited Steve and Brian over for events like this one.

Steve opened the gag gift and reacted as we expected he would, with laughter and revulsion. The thing was perfectly hideous. The guys began tossing it back and forth between themselves. Murphee, as was the case anytime anything was thrown that she might catch, started tracking the thing in her Border Collie way, head low, one foot slightly in front of the other, never once taking her eyes from her prey.

Laughing hysterically, we threw it for her to fetch. She ran it down, retrieved it, then dropped it at Steve’s feet, staring at it rapturously. Over and over, we played this game, laughing until our sides hurt and tears ran down our faces.

In the house, we heard Dan’s parents come home. Murphee picked up the thing and ran into the house. We waited to see what would happen. A couple of minutes later, Dan’s mom and dad walked onto the back porch.

“We walked into the house,” Dan’s mom informed us, “And Murphee brought us this wonderful gift.”

She held the thing up for us all to see. “Can anyone explain why our dog is carrying around a plastic vagina?”

Read Autumn — Chapter 5

Autumn — Chapter 3

Read Autumn — Chapter 2

Our lives were extremely busy.  Dan had his job and was waiting to attend school until he had lived in the state for a year so he could pay in-state tuition at the University of Tennessee in Johnson City.  Dan worked the day shift, which began at 6 a.m.  His workplace was about 45 minutes from our apartment.  He car pooled for most of that distance, but we had to drive to meet his car pool at a location twenty minutes from where we lived.  We owned only one car, so Dan’s work hours meant that I had to get up and drive him to meet his ride.

Every morning in the pre-dawn, before it was even light, Dan would rouse me from bed when he had to leave. Without changing out of my pajamas, I would pick up Autumn and carry her to the car where I would fall immediately asleep. Once we arrived at the vacant, eerie parking lot in the middle of nowhere – and it really was in the middle of nowhere, a parking lot plopped in the middle of some farmer’s field – Dan would kiss us goodbye and leave us to get into the car of one of his coworkers.

I would clamber into the driver’s seat, Autumn on my lap, her head across my arm as I held the stick shift. When we returned home, I would climb into bed and Autumn would nestle under my arm, burrowing under the warm covers. It was the only time she wanted to sleep in the bed, preferring the floor under the couch for the main part of her sleep.  Autumn began what became a lifelong habit when she snuggled together with me in the bed. She would lie with her head across my neck.  Her fur was so soft, it was like wearing a warm fur stole. Two hours after returning from dropping Dan at his ride, I would rise for classes and Autumn would stay in bed until we were ready to leave.

I loved life at this time.  I was so naive and confident.  I thought I had everything all figured out.  I spent my twenties believing I knew it all; that I was invincible.  Oh, I knew there were facts of which I was not aware, other countries and places to discover.  But I thought I was pretty on top of things when it came to fearlessness, strength, and inner knowledge.  How little I knew, how much pain I had to experience to figure out just how clueless I really was, but that was years away.

In spite of my sophomoric confidence, I did know that I would love my child when I had one, but this did not stop me from loving Autumn with every bit as much devotion.  Watching her and experiencing her was pure glee.  My heart would fill up, and I would feel my chest tighten loving her.  When I had my human child, I truly experienced parental selflessness when, days after her birth, I realized my ego had to go and she had to become my center.  Until I had Milla though, Autumn was my child. Everything she did brought me delight.  I adored her.

Every couple of days Autumn would go out to run and play in the creek down the hill, regardless of the weather.  This meant that she was often muddy or wet when she came into the house. If only her paws were wet, she would stand at the door and wait while we wiped her feet.

“Towel,” I would say to her, picking it up when she arrived at the door, begging to be let in.  She would stand and lift each paw until all four were dried and wiped of mud.

If she was a real mess, I would carry her in the towel to the bathroom for a bath. Autumn loved baths, and would jump in, waiting for the warm water.  Sometimes she even snuck past the shower curtain and jumped in while we were showering.

When she was done with her bath, she would shake off in the tub with the curtain closed, then jump out onto the mat to wait for her toweling off.  As I rubbed her fur all over, scrubbing her face and behind her ears, she would wiggle, hopping her back end up and down and side to side, shoving her butt into the towel for a good scratching.  After she dried, the hairs on her rear became fluffy, white pantaloons.

I had been taking French and Political Science from a wonderful professor from Rome named Dr. Riviello.  He had a lilting and appealing accent, and taught with brilliant clarity and depth.

Dr. Riviello loved Autumn.  He too had a dog he considered his child, a Dachshund named Baci.  The two of us would talk endlessly about our wonderful dogs.  He was the only professor who allowed Autumn free roam of his classroom.  She would lie quietly under my desk as I worked.  Together we commiserated over our love for our dogs.

During first semester, Dr. Riviello invited me to apply to an honor’s program in political science. There would be an intensive history course studying the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich, beginning with Hitler’s birth. The course would culminate with a study during May term in spring at the University of Munich. We would attend seminars in english three times a week with leaders in various aspects of political science. Our lectures would be in the late afternoon, allowing us to explore the city and surrounding areas during the day. We were also to take day trips into various places such as Berchtesgaden in the Alps, and Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a Bavarian village where Christmas is experienced all year round.

I applied to the program and was accepted. I was exhilarated at the thought of returning to Germany. I had lived in Hamburg for a short time in 1990. This time I would be staying in Munich. While I was excited to be going, I did not want to leave my little dog. I knew she would not understand. The two of us spent every waking minute together. When she wasn’t with me, she was with Dan. While I was in Europe, Autumn would have to stay alone while he worked. My stomach turned at the thought of her anxiety and fear at being left alone for long periods for the first time in her life.

To help acclimate Autumn to the change that would be coming, I started leaving her at home periodically. At first, she was a wreck. She chewed up several of my shoes and stuffed animals. I scolded her, but the scolds were half-hearted.

After several weeks, Autumn seemed to adjust to staying by herself. Our neighbors never complained about barking or whining, so we assumed she was okay.

In the days leading up to my departure, I left piles of clothing and traveling items around, organized according to my own system. Autumn would root through the clothes, then roll on them. I would chase her off, scolding. Moments later, she would be back in another pile, knocking it aside and mashing the carefully folded clothes.

Like a mother leaving her children, I filled my wallet with photos of Autumn before departure. I wanted to bring her image to mind at a moment’s notice. I also thought that at eight months of age, she would likely change dramatically in the time that I was gone. I was right about that. When I left she still looked like a puppy. When I arrived home she looked like a lanky pre-teen dog.

The day finally arrived for me to leave to go to Germany. We took Autumn to the airport with us. I held her the entire way, trying not to cry. I was excited to be going, but I was going to miss my baby. At the airport I kissed her goodbye and flew across the ocean.

Upon landing, I immediately called to check in and to let Dan know we had arrived safely. He told me Autumn had been sniffing all over the apartment, and that he was sure she was looking for me. She only finally settled down when he went to bed.

I asked him to put the phone to Autumn’s ear so I could say hello to her.

“Hello, Autumn,” I spoke into the phone. “Brown, Brown? How are you puppy? Are you okay? Mommy loves you.”

Dan came back on the phone. He said Autumn had cocked her head to the side, looked quizzically at the phone, then jumped down and started sniffing at the back door. Apparently the sound of my voice was confusing to her, so we decided that I would not talk to her like that again.

Professor Riviello also missed his dog Baci. I took Autumn’s photo everywhere I went and showed it to anyone who would look. My professor would show his as well, and the conversation among many of the other students would turn again and again to our perceived bizarre behavior. Some of the students on the trip had never been outside of the small town where the college was located. It seemed to me that they had a pretty narrow perception of acceptable behavior. They certainly considered our dog nostalgia as completely eccentric. They just did not understand. We both thought leaving our dogs was worse than leaving our partners; yet our partners could speak to us on the phone and knew where we were. Our dogs did not.

The weeks passed quickly. The lectures were fascinating, and I was having an amazing time. Too soon, however, the term was over and we were headed back home. Dan knew when I would be arriving. I told him to be sure and bring Autumn.

“Of course,” he said. “You know I wouldn’t leave her home for this!” I knew it, but I just missed my dog so much, I did not want to wait one second longer than necessary to see her.

Even though these were the days before major airport security when loved ones could meet their travelers at the gate, Dan had to wait outside because of Autumn. I raced through the airport, through customs and baggage before heading out into the warm spring afternoon.

Dan was parked at the curb, waiting with a lanky puppy on a leash. She had grown since I had seen her last. She looked like a teenage dog, and less like a little puppy.

I kneeled and called out, “Autumn!” She turned and looked at me, then squatted on the sidewalk and urinated. Oh, my little baby. We knew in that moment that my leaving had most definitely had had an impact on her. She must have thought I would never return, yet here I was.

She ran to me and jumped on my lap as I knelt next to her. She licked my face and arms and chest, her entire body writhing with her tail. Her mommy was home!

Read Autumn — Chapter 4

Autumn — Chapter 2

Read Autumn — Chapter 1

Autumn ran. She would start at one end of the field near our apartment and run to the other end of the field, turn around, and run back. Down to the creek! Through the water! Under the fence! Across the field! Back through the fence! It was like she was a study in the personification of prepositional phrases.

I could stand and watch her run like that for over an hour. I checked out a video camera from my college and videotaped her running. We made copies and sent them home to our families.

“Did you like the movies?” I would ask, hopeful. “Isn’t Autumn adorable?”

“Well,” came the invariable response, “It would be nice if there was more of you two in them and less of the dog.” But why would they want that? She was our baby.

Every day I would let Autumn out to play in the fields behind our house. She would go and play in the creek or chase cows. The cows didn’t really run. They would stand in a herd, heads down, looking at the dog playing in their midst, snorting and weaving their lumbering heads back and forth.

After she had played a while I would call out, “Brown Brown!” the nickname I pulled from nowhere and a term of endearment I used for her the rest of her life. I could lean out over the deck railing and see her in the field below.

“Brown Brown!” I would call. “Autumn!” Autumn would stop whatever she was doing and race up the hill, around the apartment building, up the stairs, and across the deck to me, tongue lolling and panting in happiness.

Life with our puppy was like most people’s lives with puppies. Autumn had a penchant for chewing, particularly our favorite shoes. Probably because we wore them more frequently and they smelled more like us, she gravitated to the shoes we wore most often. Several shoes were destroyed in the cause of raising our puppy to a dog.

We owned one of those fake-wood finish particle board entertainment centers. It lived in the living room and housed our television, VCR, movies, photos, books, and some small knick-knacks. One of the items on the shelf was a small, fuzzy bear with a shiny, green ribbon around its neck that I had purchased in a gift shop somewhere along our drive from Oregon. It sat on the bottom shelf under the television in front of a row of books.

Autumn loved it. She wanted this bear more than any other forbidden item in our home. I would come into the room and discover Autumn, a brown lump between her jaws.

“Autumn!” I would bark, making my voice deep as our dog training book recommended for scolding. “Drop that!”

Autumn would slink down, dropping the bear onto the carpet. She would look to the left and right, avoiding my fierce gaze.

This went on for several weeks. One afternoon, I was lying on the carpet with Autumn, holding her on my belly and snuggling her. I looked over at the bear. Autumn loved sucking on that bear, and I loved her so much, I decided she could have it. I reached out and removed the bear from the shelf, placing it on the ground in front of her nose.

“Here, baby,” I said while setting the bear down. “You can have it.”

At first, Autumn just looked at me. She had been told over and over that the bear was not hers, yet here I was offering it up. Finally, after some coaxing, she took the bear and started sucking on it. As was her usual m.o., after she sucked on it long enough to loosen the fabric, she tore a hole in it and ripped out its guts, leaving puffles of stuffing all over the apartment. Such was the fate of stuffed animals in our household.

For the holidays, we made an appointment and took Autumn in to JC Penney for a family photo. Dan and I dressed in our Christmas clothes and looked like complete dorks. Autumn looked flashy in her Christmas ribbon and bell. The photo I have from that day is of her in a Christmas box, the two of us grinning behind her as if we’d just opened a gift to find a lanky puppy inside. Her tongue is lolling and her eyes are shining. She looks so pleased to be alive.

Autumn traveled with me wherever I went. When classes began in the fall, I took her to school with me. Some professors did not mind the puppy who laid at my feet during lectures. There was a main campus with a central courtyard, and across the street from the main campus there was a long row of buildings that housed the English and Political Science departments, the rooms I frequented most. Generally, the professors in the buildings away from the central campus were the most willing to allow a dog to attend classes.

One afternoon when it was still hot, I left Autumn in the car with the windows rolled halfway down. I had a meeting with a professor in the political science department. Five minutes into my meeting, I heard shouting in the hall and a woof. Uh oh!

I ran into the hall to see a couple of women chasing Autumn down the hall away from me.

“Autumn!” I called to her. She skidded to a stop and turned towards my voice, then she gamboled towards me, her paws slipping on the linoleum. The two students almost ran into her and each other.

“Your dog crawled through the window,” said one of the women.

“It’s not safe,” the other scolded. “You should have left her tied up at home.” Was she nuts? I would never leave my dog “tied up at home.”

“She came in to find me,” I explained. “Next time I will bring her with me or close the windows further.” I was rather surprised that Autumn had escaped. The windows were only open about five inches, but apparently that was enough for my little dog to wriggle through.

“You better,” said the woman. “She could get killed on the highway.” I blanched at the thought and cuddled Autumn close to my chest. I would do anything to protect my puppy.

Not long after that, I was walking Autumn with me on her leash. I had been reading the Barbara Woodhouse book No Bad Dogs and working with chain training Autumn. She was a quick learner and had taken to leash training easily. She seemed to enjoy walking beside me, and would look up at me every few steps as we sauntered along.

By this time, Dan and I were both experiencing fairly extreme culture shock, as well as homesickness. We had been in Bristol about four months, and were constantly amazed how different it was from our home state.  I think part of the problem was our assumption that because the town was in the United States, it would be pretty much the same as where we had grown up, in Oregon.  This presumption was an error on our part.  I had lived in other countries, but moving to those places, I had expected radical differences.  Dan and I had not considered that living in our new town would be almost like moving to another country entirely.  The food, the politics, the religion, the dialect, and more were all quite unlike what we were used to.  It was a completely different culture.

One of our biggest adjustments to Bristol was the cigarette smoking. Tobacco was still a thriving cash crop in Virginia and Tennessee. Smoking was allowed in grocery stores. The non-smoking section in restaurants often comprised only three or four tables, usually in a place with no ventilation, making the fact of the section being non-smoking something of a joke.

There was also a major difference in how local people treated their animals. Sure, there were people in the part of Oregon we were from who tied their dogs out, but it was the exception rather than the rule. In Bristol and the towns near it, we saw dogs tied outside homes everywhere. During that winter, there was a cold spell where temperatures dropped below zero degrees Fahrenheit, and all of the local newscasters urged people to bring their animals in for a couple of nights because of the cold.  It simply was not the norm to do so.  In our apartment complex, the other tenants were shocked and surprised that we kept Autumn in the house with us, and told us as much. We also had a pet rat, which was nearly unheard of.

Another major difference between Bristol, and indeed the whole east coast it seemed, was the rain. In Oregon, we would get occasional downpours, but for the most part, it drizzled most of the year. In contrast, the rain on the east coast would arrive suddenly and fill every available space with running, rushing, swirling water. The drainage systems were different as well, with fewer ditches and runoffs for the water. The result was that when it rained, there would often be small floods. The creek down the hill from our apartment was especially inclined to overflow its banks during these rainstorms.

Across the parking lot from our apartment, there were three mobile homes that the owner of the property also rented out. One of them kept a doghouse about twenty feet from his door, down the hill in the field towards the creek. There were two dogs tied to the doghouse – a frighteningly skinny hound and one of her older puppies. She had given birth in the summer when we first moved in. Gradually all the other puppies had been sold off or given away. The landlord had told us the dogs were supposedly some fancy hunting breed, but you could not tell by looking at them, at least if their care was any indication. They were both sacks of bones and covered in fleas and dirt. The soil in the area was a reddish clay that turned almost sandy when it was dry. Flecks of it filled their fur, giving them both a reddish tinge.

One night in late fall, it began raining like crazy. Huge, splattery drops came down by the bucketful, drenching everything within seconds. We could see the dogs standing in the rapidly rising water. The puppy especially was having a tough time because the water rose nearly to his neck.

Dan and I ran through the dark, first to the apartments, then from one mobile home to another asking who owned the dogs. Everyone said they did not know, but thought they belonged to the mobile home closest to the animals. We banged on the flimsy door. No one answered. We could hear a television over the pounding rain and the lights were on, so we banged again, both of us soaked to the bone. Finally, a man came to the door, eyeing us suspiciously. He was wearing a tattered flannel shirt and dirty, baggy pants. His hair stuck up all over his head, his chin covered in sparse hairs. His cheek was filled with tobacco, with some brown spittle clinging to the hairs at the edge of his mouth.

“Are those your dogs?” I shouted over the deafening rain, pointing to the two sodden creatures down the hill.

“Yeah, so?” he sneered at me.

“That puppy, he’s going to drown,” I turned and pointed at the dog. “See? The water is already up to his neck. And it’s really cold.”

“That water ain’t agoin’ a hurt it,” the man snarled at me, slamming the door in my face. I looked at Dan.  Now what? The dog was tied to a leash only maybe three feet long. There was no way he could survive if the water rose even a couple of more inches.

Without even discussing it, Dan and I ran and untied the dogs. We could not see taking them into our house. The apartment was so small and the dogs so filthy and wet, they would probably have ruined the carpet, and we could not afford to be evicted. Instead we took them up the hill to a small shed that was built on stilts about three feet above the ground. We tied them to one of the stilts under the building.

I stayed with the dogs while Dan ran back to the house to get them some food. The puppy was shivering so hard, I was afraid he was going to have some kind of an attack or something. He was pure black, bone skinny and his fur covered in mud, but he had kind, brown eyes and looked up at me as if to thank me for getting him out of the mass of running water.

Dan returned with two heaping bowls of food. The dogs gulped the food down so fast, we were worried it would make them sick, but after the bowls were empty, they just wagged their tails and came towards us, cowering and wriggling, rolling over to show their bellies. We pet them and rubbed their ears, pleased the dogs were okay.

When we got back into the house, we called Jeannie and told her about the dogs. She lived with three other women, all of them dog lovers.

“We are going to come and get them,” she told us. “I don’t care if they arrest us. That man should be shot for animal abuse.”

“He probably won’t even notice they are gone,” I told her. “We never see him have anything to do with them. And the mom dog is so thin, you could put your fingers between her ribs.”

The next morning, the dogs were not there. Jeannie told me that she and her roommates had come and taken them both away. Sadly, the puppy later died. He had a case of canine leukemia and was too far gone to save. The mom dog, though, grew to be fat and happy. The girls had her spayed and found her a new home.

The man in the trailer never said a word to us. He did not ask if we knew what happened to the dogs, and didn’t get any other dogs while were living there.

Read Autumn — Chapter 3

Autumn — Chapter 1

July 19, 2005
As I write, Autumn is lying on the floor beside the desk in my office. She is dying. Her body is shutting down. We have an appointment with the vet this evening. I keep thinking it will be like the last few times I thought she was done, but she is so much more DONE now.

It reminds me of getting ready to give birth. I would feel the Braxton Hicks contractions, and they would hurt, but they were nothing like the real thing. Autumn has had some bad moments, moments that made me drive her down to Dr. Fletcher, only to have us sent home – thank God, a reprieve – but this is it, the real thing. Her life will be over; mine will start something different. I am looking forward to some of the differences, but I would take all the bad just to have her in my life, have her the way she’s been until recently.

She barks too much. She gets into trash and takes food she shouldn’t. But she’s also my shadow and my friend. She loves me with a devotion I do not deserve. All of her life, she has followed me wherever I go. She is my guardian angel. She will be gone too soon.

Chapter 1

Pigs danced in sequins and cowboy hats, corpulent tubes in clothing, their mistress equally as lovely, with cowgirl boots and a twang.  As our send off to college, we were watching pigs dancing.  Was this for real?

I wanted to go to school in the south.  Yes, there would be writing and riding, my two very favorite things, but the real allure was that the school was in the southern hemisphere.  What the hell was I thinking?

My boyfriend wasn’t coming for writing, riding, or the south. He was following me.  What the hell was he thinking?

As part of our goodbye, his parents planned a party and invited all of our closest friends and family. They insinuated that they had planned an incredible surprise.  Dan and I were certain it was air-conditioning for our car. We were crossing the country in July and the car had none. This seemed like the perfect gift to us.

We were wrong. As we sat in the cool midday sun watching the pigs crossing mini bridges wearing mini skirts and fringe, Dan and I eyed one another, despairing that we had not purchased the air conditioner ourselves.  The pigs had certainly been a surprise, just not what we expected.

The following day, the car loaded with everything that had not already been shipped, we waved goodbye to our family and prayed to one another that the drive would not roast us alive.  But really, we were not worried. We were excited about the upcoming journey, and I was all the more so because I knew, deep in my bones, that I would get a dog. I saw her sitting in the front seat of my car, going everywhere with me. I felt her presence there on the seat beside me. I had no doubt that she would exist. Driving across country, I brought it up several times that my top priority upon arrival would be finding a dog.

“Don’t you think we should think about jobs and things first?” Dan would ask.

“We can look for jobs with a dog, or we can look for both at the same time,” I replied, undeterred. “Plus I will have the work study job at the barn already, so I can look for a dog while you look for work.” Dan did not look convinced, but did not argue with me.

Once we reached Bristol, the town that lay on the border of Virginia and Tennessee, finding a dog remained my top priority. Dan had not yet experienced my enthusiasm. I think he really did not want to get a dog and thought having one would be a hassle.

I was adamant though, and I told anyone who would listen that I was going to get a dog. This proved to be a fruitful tactic. Jeannie, one of my new coworkers at the horse stable, had a roommate with a pregnant dog. She offered me one of the puppies when they were born. She warned me though, that the puppies were likely to be very large dogs, as Maude, the mother, was a beast.

“She is half mastiff,” she informed me, pushing the broom up the aisle. “Half lab, half mastiff, we think,” she added.

“I don’t care if it’s a big dog,” I told Jeannie, helping her to scoop the sweepings into a dust pan. Dan, at the stable with me to help out until he found gainful employment, only shook his head.

“We can at least look!” I exclaimed to him.

I told Jeanne that I wanted to investigate the so-called beast, but that I would likely take a puppy anyway.

The apartment we lived in was not large, by any stretch of the imagination. I marvel now, that we had managed to locate and rent an apartment across country in those pre-internet days. I had somehow figured out the name of the local paper and subscribed, then located the apartment through the classified ads. Over several telephone calls with the landlord, we rented it, sight unseen.

Considering how we procured the apartment, it really wasn’t as awful as it could have been, but it wasn’t that great either. It was out of town about five miles, lying nearly on the border of Virginia and Tennessee. We were on the Tennessee side of the line, but could actually throw gravel into Virginia, we were that close to the state border.

The owner and landlord had turned an old shop into eight apartments, four on each end of the building, two on top and two on the bottom. He did not have much imagination in using the space, and each apartment was designed like a single-wide mobile home. Our apartment was on the second floor. We climbed stairs to a wide deck we shared with our neighbors and entered through a sliding glass door that opened into the dining room and kitchen on the left, and living room on the right. A narrow hall ran the length of the apartment up the right side of the building, with a bathroom and bedroom opening to the left of the hallway. Our bedroom was at the end of the hall, its width that of the apartment. The walls were covered in mobile home wallboard, the fake wood kind with brown stripes. The place was carpeted in pure 1970s gold shag. I could not complain, however; there was a washer and dryer in the bathroom.

The landlord’s own actual mobile home sat up near the street. Our apartments and the parking lot next to them were in the field behind his trailer. Beyond our building were pastures full of cows and deciduous trees. A bubbling brook ran through the field next to the fence separating our field from the cow pasture. While the apartment was rather small, there was a lot of space outside, which reduced my concern about the size of whatever dog we obtained.

Dan continued to advise me to wait, and continued to insist that we should get a smaller dog. Through the phone and thousands of miles away, our parents counseled us against getting a puppy, and they certainly felt we should not get a big dog. They had heard us complain all too frequently of our diminutive and ratty apartment.

I ignored them. I cannot say what single-minded determination drove me on. I did not care if my new dog turned out to be an elephant. I wanted a dog and my new friend had puppies coming. It wasn’t rocket science.

I wonder now at my intensity. Was Autumn’s spirit out there, forcing me to make the choice? Did she want me to choose her after her birth? I don’t know. I had wanted a dog in Oregon, but for some reason, the move across country gave me the encouragement to make sure it happened.

We also were not one-hundred percent certain the dog in question would be huge, in spite of Maude’s size. There were two potential fathers in the litter. One was a German shepherd mix named Jasper. The other was a border collie named Cody. Both of these dogs were smaller than Maude. Genetics worked in both directions.

When I went to work at the barn the morning of August 16, 1993, Jeannie looked like the cat who swallowed a mouse. One look and I knew – the puppies were born. Dan still had not found a job and was helping me at the barn. We all worked impatiently to finish, then drove quickly to Jeannie’s house.

It was already hot when we pulled up the winding, dusty driveway late that morning. Jeannie’s house was also out from town, near the end of a gravel drive. A rambling, green, two story house with pointy gables, it was surrounded on three sides by a wide, wraparound porch.

On the porch, away from the front door, Maude was stretched on her side, twelve puppies in various states covered her body. Some were suckling. Some were sleeping. Some were crawling over the others. Some just lay there like lumps letting the others romp all over them. None had eyes. None had ears. Every dog color was represented. They were utterly adorable. I had no idea how I was going to choose.

What finally helped me choose was the moon. One wee puppy had a white, crescent on the back of her neck right behind her ears – a moon. It was about three inches long and a perfect arc. The rest of her body was a creamy golden brown. She had white tips on her paws and a funny, white hourglass on her chest, but the tiny moon stood out, a beacon ensuring I would choose her.

On our drive home after making our choice, I asked Dan, “What should we name her?”

“I have no idea. Mooney?” he answered.

I laughed. “Should we give her a human-type name like Edith, or a doggish name like Spot?”

“I don’t know. It depends on the name,” Dan said.

I thought for a minute. “She is such lovely autumn colors. Maybe we should call her Autumn,” I mused. “All that beige, with brown, and some white. She is colored like the end of summer, with the moon shining over all of it.”

“Maybe we could call her Summer?”

“Summer,” I said. Then, “Autumn.” Autumn seemed to flow from the tongue.

“I like Autumn,” Dan told me.

“Me too. I think that is what we should name her.”

Over the next few days, we made some other suggestions, but Autumn stuck. The name seemed to suit her. After we spent some time visiting her and calling her Autumn, no other name fit.

Two days after the puppies were born, Jeannie called to tell me her roommate’s father had cut off the puppies’ tails. We were both furious. These were mutt dogs, why cut off their tails? I went immediately to see and discovered that, thank heaven, Autumn’s tail had been spared. The guy had only cut the tails of half the puppies. One had bled to death as a result. What an idiot. Unfortunately, Jeannie’s dog was one of the dogs chosen for a docking. He now sported a stubby, black lump.

How different some things in my life would have been if Autumn’s tail had been cut. I would still have some Christmas tree ornaments she wagged off the tree, and several beverages whacked from low-lying tables would not have had to be cleaned up. But those mishaps were small compared to having a dog who showed her emotion so readily with her tail.

Over the next few weeks, Dan and I went to visit Autumn every day we could. We would sit with Jeannie and her roommates and watch television or movies in the evenings and hold Autumn in our laps.

At first, her eyes and ears were sealed shut. She held her four legs out stiffly, her claws splayed until we settled her next to the warmth of our bodies. She would fall asleep in our laps until we rose to leave.

A little over a week after she was born, we could see tiny slits in her eyelids, shiny brown eyes peaking through. Not long after that, it was obvious she could hear us. When we would make noises she would turn and look at us. The girls had moved Maude into their basement and off the porch to escape the ravaging humidity and heat, and to keep the puppies dry during the near daily rainstorms. Pretty soon the puppies were waddling around in the makeshift pen in the corner.

When Autumn was five weeks old, Jeannie called to tell me it was time to take her home. I had not been expecting to do so until she was eight weeks old. But apparently Maude, tired of feeding eleven babies, had stopped allowing them to nurse. They had been eating puppy food for over a week. They were rambunctious and growing, and the girls wanted them out of their house.

I was thrilled, and Dan had come around as well. All those visits to see our baby had warmed his heart, although I think the size of her paws had him nervous. She looked like her paws were going to be huge, which meant she would probably be large as well. We still weren’t sure if she was Jasper’s or Cody’s, although it was obvious from the puppies’ colors and various sizes that both fathers had impregnated Maude.

The two of us had gone shopping and bought Autumn a new, grey collar and matching leash, dog dishes, and toys. Like parents waiting to give birth, we were ready to bring our new baby home.

When we arrived to pick Autumn up from Jeannie’s house, she asked, “Are you sure you want Autumn? Because if you don’t, we have lots of puppies looking for new homes.”

I stared at her, incredulous. Why wouldn’t we want her? Was she kidding? We had gone and visited her nearly every day. I had held her for hours, even before she had ears that could hear or eyes that could see. “What makes you think we would want another dog?”

“My roommates want you to take another dog because Autumn is the friendliest of all the puppies. You know that she is the first to come running whenever anyone goes into the basement,” she informed me, smiling. “And she most loves cuddling and petting.”

It was true. Autumn loved people and had no reservations about visiting anyone who was nearby. I read later that the younger a dog is exposed to humans, the more socialized and happy the dog will later be. I believe that all that hugging, cuddling, and petting I did when Autumn was little made her the friendly, sweet puppy who came running ahead of the pack.

Jeannie knew there wasn’t a chance we would leave Autumn in favor of another puppy. She smiled as we gathered Autumn in our arms for the ride home.

Dan drove. I rode in the passenger seat, my little baby on my lap. She had on her huge collar. She put her paws on the edge of the door and looking out the window. I snuggled and cuddled her, thrilled she was finally with me.

First thing upon arriving home Autumn had her first bath. She was covered in fleas. The fleas were so dense it was like she had a second, dark, wiggling skin. I had to lather her up about three times to kill all of them. She also had a little pot belly, so I was sure she had worms. I had purchased dewormer ahead of time, knowing that with all those fleas, tapeworms were a guarantee.

We had planned that Autumn would stay in the bathroom for her first night. We were worried about potty on the rug. I bundled together some towels and blankets and made her a bed. I brought in a ticking alarm clock because I had read that the ticking reminds puppies of their mother’s heartbeats. We snuggled and kissed her, placed her on the floor, and closed the door.

She began immediately to howl and yelp. Loudly. We climbed into bed and waited for her to calm down.

She didn’t. The howls only grew in intensity.

Dan, finally employed, had to get up at four in the morning for his job. He was never going to get any sleep with this noise, plus I was worried about the neighbors.

“What are we going to do?” he moaned, trying to cover his head with a pillow.

I could not stand it. I could not let my baby be so sad. I clambered out of bed and went down the hall to let Autumn out of the bathroom.

“If you give in,” Dan informed me, “She will never learn.”

“If I don’t give in, neither of us will sleep,” I retorted. I snuggled Autumn a bit, then tried again to leave her and go to bed. I did not even make it down the hall to my bedroom before the bedlam began again.

I decided to erect some walls at either end of the hall and place newspapers all over the hall floor. I looked around for something that would work as a barrier and finally settled on cardboard boxes.

“What are you doing?” Dan hollered from the bedroom.

“I’m trying to make a place for her to sleep,” I informed him, cutting into the boxes and attempting to tape wide sections to the wallboard. The tape would not stick. Damn.

I then used push pins to attach the cardboard to the walls. This worked to keep the walls up. However, the pen I created did not make Autumn any happier. As soon as I placed her on the newspapers, she sat down and howled and yelled, louder this time.

I headed back into the bedroom to wait and see if she would quiet down. Amid the screeching, we heard some rustling coming from the hallway.

“What is she doing?” Dan asked me.

“I’m not sure, but I don’t want to go out there because she will see me and it will be worse.”

We waited. After a few minutes, there were some rustlings again, and then I heard Autumn immediately outside our bedroom door. I opened it to see our puppy, the cardboard walls felled behind her, waiting to be picked up.

In spite of the fact that I did not want poop or pee on the rug, this wasn’t working. I brought her into our room and into our bed.

Dan and I settled down into the covers with Autumn between us. She was so small, I was afraid she might fall and hurt herself. I turned off the light.

Within minutes, she started whining and then yelping.

“Seriously?” I asked her. “You don’t want to sleep with us either? What do you want?” Sighing heavily, I sat up, holding Autumn close. This seemed to be the only way to keep her from crying. After a time, I laid back down with her between us. She yowled for a few minutes, shuffling around in the darkness. I then heard her jump off the bed, but she wasn’t barking. The silence continued unabated and we fell asleep.

The following morning, I discovered her slumbering beneath our bed. There was a piddle on the rug. I ran Autumn to the patio and down the stairs. When she squatted again, I shouted, “Good dog!” Autumn regarded me as if I were a fool then sniffed the place she had peed.

We repeated a shortened version the next night. I tried the bathroom, but Autumn yowled before I even closed the door. I skipped the failed hall kennel and took her to our room. We started on the bed, and she barked until she jumped off and crawled underneath. It seemed that under the bed was where she wanted to be.

Over the next few days, whenever she slept, she went under the bed or under the couch in the living room. We had purchased some drops to place on newspapers that mimic the smell of urine so puppies will pee on them. This worked about two-thirds of the time. During the day especially, we could see that she was going to pee because she would sniff the floor and circle. We would either toss her on the newspapers or outside, whichever was closer. Sometimes she peed in response to our hollering when we saw her circling.

The floor in that apartment though, especially the hallway, was getting peed on. The carpet was smelly anyway, and the pee covered in various chemicals wasn’t an improvement. I finally broke down and bought a small carpet cleaner. It wasn’t much help, but it covered the chemical pee smell.

Autumn was so tiny. I have pictures of her standing on the edge of an upholstered chair, looking down at the floor that must have seemed so far away. I would put her in the laundry basket on the dryer when I was doing laundry. She would sit in a pile of clean clothes and watch me work. She was too small to jump out, and seem disinclined to do so anyway. Her paws were enormous in comparison to how little she was, so we were certain she was going to be a very large dog, but I didn’t care and neither did Dan; we were in complete love with her. She had won our hearts. Forever after she came to live with us, I described her as my first child, this little dog we plucked from a litter of twelve on the day she was born.

Read Autumn — Chapter 2

I’m in Love!

I’ve fallen in love. Truly, madly, deeply. I have no time to blog when I’m spending all my time with my new sweetheart. I am constantly stealing moments, here, there, and everywhere, trying to fit my love into my life. Who is it, this mad infatuation of mine? Who dares to take time away from home, hearth, job, and children? Who has so magically caught my attention, filling my every waking moment with thoughts, mulling and thinking, calling me away at a moment’s notice, and I follow, completely smitten? It is, it is, it is…a book. A story. A wonderful tale. I shouldn’t even start them, these love affairs. They are so all-consuming. I can’t focus on anything else. And this book, this author, he blows my mind with his attention to detail, his observation, his weaving to and fro. He’s a master, a true master. Sadly, he makes me question my own abilities as an artist. I contemplate the time it must have taken to weave a tale such as this. It’s utterly and fully brilliant. A work of genius. Pure mastery. I’m not capable of artistry such as this.

In any case, suffice to say I’m in love, and as long as this affair is going on, I likely will not be writing much here.

Book Reviews

I can say without equivocation that if I ever published a book, I would avoid like the plague reading reviews by readers on Amazon.  Good God almighty some people are nasty! I just finished reading a book that was actually quite good.  The plot contained elements that were highly unlikely to happen, but isn’t that the point sometimes, to read about what might happen, not what is? It’s just like going to the movies, often they are fantastical, but we want that for the escape.  In any case, I googled the book and the Amazon reviews came up and boy, were some of the readers harsh!  I especially love the ones who wrote reviews with terrible grammar and they were complaining that the author should have edited her book.  Pot call kettle black much?   And then of course the negative reviews complaining that the plot was so unlikely.  Well, gee.  If you want real life, write a memoir and read that.  I suppose it is par for the course, and especially in today’s age of Twitter and Facebook status updates, everyone is an expert, so it is to be expected. I know though, that such reviews of my own work would drive me batty.

Introduction to Brain Rules for Baby

This is an excerpt from Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina.  I have fallen in love with his book Brain Rules, and discovered the baby version on his website.  I wish the school system would read this and stop trying to stuff reading in five-year-olds like they are pate’ geese on the way to slaughter.

From the introduction.  See it here:

Scientists certainly don’t know everything about the brain. But what we do know gives us our best chance at raising smart, happy children. And it is relevant whether you just discovered you are pregnant, already have a toddler, or find yourself needing to raise grandchildren. So it will be my pleasure in this book to answer the big questions parents have asked me—and debunk their big myths, too. Here are some of my favorites:

Myth: Playing Mozart to your womb will improve your baby’s future math scores.

Truth: Your baby will simply remember Mozart after birth—along with many other things she hears, smells, and tastes in the womb. If you want her to do well in math in her later years, the greatest thing you can do is to teach her impulse control in her early years.

Myth: Exposing your infant or toddler to language DVDs will boost his vocabulary.

Truth: Some DVDs can actually reduce a toddler’s vocabulary. It is true that the number and variety of words you use when talking to your baby boost both his vocabulary and his IQ. But the words have to come from you—a real, live human being.

Myth: To boost their brain power, children need French lessons by age 3 and a room piled with “brain-friendly” toys and a library of educational DVDs.

Truth: The greatest pediatric brain-boosting technology in the world is probably a plain cardboard box, a fresh box of crayons, and two hours. The worst is probably your new flat-screen TV.

Myth: Telling your children they are smart will boost their confidence.

Truth: They’ll become less willing to work on challenging problems. If you want to get your baby into Harvard, praise her effort instead.

Myth: Children somehow find their own happiness.

Truth: The greatest predictor of happiness is having friends. How do you make and keep friends? By being good at deciphering nonverbal communication. Learning a musical instrument boosts this ability by 50 percent. Text messaging may destroy it.

Research like this is continually published in respected scientific journals. But unless you have a subscription to the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, this rich procession of findings may pass you by. This book is meant to let you know what scientists know—without having a Ph.D. to understand it.

Interview with the Author of The Cello Suites, Eric Siblin

Described as “part biography, part music history, and part literary mystery,” The Cello Suites weaves together three narratives:  the disappearance of Bach’s cello suites in the eighteenth century, Pablo Casals’s discovery and popularization of the music, and author Eric Siblin’s quest for the truth behind the suites today.  Mr. Siblin graciously agreed to an interview, and we spent over an hour discussing his book, the music, and the beauty of the cello.

LG:  I was fascinated by the Walter Joachim story.  That was one of my favorite parts of the book.  It was just timed so perfectly, and it seemed incredible to run into somebody with that kind of personal history.  I was really curious about how that acquaintance went, how long it lasted, and what it was like to run into someone with his background.
ES:    Walter seemed like the music fleshed out before my very eyes.  It was wonderful to stumble upon him.  When I heard about his story I was just amazed and spellbound that somebody living a few blocks from where I was living had such a profound connection to the music, and somebody who I was crossing paths with every week, but not knowing, had turned out to be such an embodiment of the music.  It was just delightful to get to know him.

Unfortunately it happened late in his life.  I think I met him in October and I think by Christmas he had passed away.  So I didn’t get that much time to hang out with Walter, but I would regularly bump into him on the streets, the main street that he lived on, Monkland Avenue, and I would walk with him either to the cafe and have lunch with him, or escort him (because he walked with a certain amount of frailty) back to his high-rise apartment, and started to do some interviews with him as well with a tape recorder, but had only gotten up I think to 1938 or something, when he passed away.  It was fairly short-lived my encounter with Walter, but it was really pivotal for the writing of the book because firstly, it just spurred me on and got me quite enthusiastic, and secondly, Walter urged me to take up the cello, so that also gave the idea of the book a shot in the arm.

LG:  Yes, the timing seemed really fortuitous.
ES:    Yeah, so it was wonderful timing and terrific to meet him at that stage.  It was perfect to meet him period.  He had a real joie de vivre, and he was a great raconteur who would regale me with stories of music history, his own life story, which was fascinating, and music gossip, cellist gossip.  It was great.  And he was right, by trying to pick up the cello, in a really rudimentary way, it was also gave me insight into the music and helped me, and helped the book get written, I think.  I never sat down at the outset and thought, okay, what solid ground do I have to cover in order to turn this into a book?  What activities can I do to make it readable?  It was really an organic process that stemmed from own genuine curiosity.

I was really trying to connect-the-dots that comprised the music, and often it was by happenstance.  The case with Walter, was one.  There were other times.  I was in Europe once doing other work and I would inevitably look around to see if there were other connections where I happened to be to the Cello Suites.  Sure enough, often something would pop up.

For example, I was in Brussels a few times, and I would not otherwise think of going to Brussels to research the Cello Suites, but I was there for other work reasons and I would look around, and Brussels produced a few different scenes that made their way into the book.  One, the first cellist I interviewed was living not far from Brussels in Belgium, Mischa Maisky, and I interviewed him.  Then it turned out when I was researching Cello Suite No. 6 and grappling with the sort of mystery of the five-stringed instrument in Cello Suite No. 6, I learned of this fellow Dmitry Badiarov, a Russian immigrant luthier who was building violoncello piccolos, and had strong opinions about Cello Suite No. 6.  In fact all the Cello Suites from his point of view were written for the violoncello piccolo.  So I got to go hear him play and interview him.  On another occasion I wandered into this store where I found a business card advertising a store called Prelude.  Following my nose I had to go there.  That was another serendipitous happening.

LG:  Did you ever have imagine walking into some unusual little store and finding the actual Cello Suites?
ES:    Oh, I suppose you could file that under fantasy.  I’m not sure that I ever expected it to happen, but kind of operating at the fantasy level, I think when I felt it most vividly was when I was in the little shop called Prelude.  I certainly didn’t set out to go to that shop with the idea of finding anything.  But I had that sort of magical feeling that you’re sort of stepping into your own fantasy in a way and your own book where a 13-year-old Pablo Casals stumbles upon the Gruetzmacher edition in Barcelona in a second-hand bookshop.  You know how that scene was so pivotal I think for Pablo Casals, for the history of the music, and in my case for imagining there was a story in the music.  Here I was at sort of the end of my journey, kind of walking into, literally, a prelude of my own imagination.  That was a really neat feeling.  I can’t say that I seriously expected to personally find the manuscript.  To do that, I think you would have to be rooting in castles and be very familiar with German history.

LG:  And with the war, so much got damaged.
ES:    Yeah.  People do look for Bach compositions and things do turn up fairly regularly, but I never seriously thought that I would be the one to unearth it, beyond daydreaming.  I did think that well, if somebody else found it while I was writing the book, that would have been interesting.

LG:  While doing the research you said that you were often there on other trips, so was the book a sideline project you were working on while you were living your regular life and doing your regular day job?
ES:    Yes, very much so.  For most of the time I was a freelance magazine writer and an independent documentary film maker, during that period.  It began when I was still writing for the daily newspaper The Montreal Gazette, but I quit that job while the book was being researched.  I had a day job throughout the process and was writing in my spare time.  [I’m glad the book took time to write] because there was such a learning curve for me that I think if someone said to me here is fifty-thousand dollars, write this book in one year, it wouldn’t have been a very good book. It certainly wouldn’t have been as developed as the book that got written, because I benefitted from having all this time.  The ideas had time to marinate in my head, and I had time to just stumble upon people like Walter and accident upon business cards that advertised a shop called Prelude and make sense of what was essentially a pretty complicated story if you factor in eighteenth-century Europe and history and the slow unification of Germany, and the militarization of Prussia, and the Spanish civil war, and the life of Bach.  There were a lot of dots to connect so I think it is good that I had a lot of time to do it.

LG:  And Dimitry Badiarov, the fellow who believes the suites were made for a 5 stringed instrument, did he play all of them for you?
ES:    No.  I heard he has a recording out that just came out recently, but I haven’t heard it.  No, he did not play them all.  He is in Holland.  He just feels that Suites 1- 5 were written for a 4-string violin piccolo, and the last suite was written for a 5 string violin piccolo.  Part of his argument is that nowhere in the Anna Magdalena manuscript is there a reference to a cello.  He could be right for all we know.  It is one of the reasons this music works so fabulously well on so many different instruments.  If you had only heard all the suites played on the lute, you would say, “Well, yes, this was a composition for the lute.”  You wouldn’t even think of the cello if you didn’t know any better.

LG:  I found especially interesting your description of taking cello lessons.  It gave me a little boost to me in my own playing because to me so much of the time it just sounds bloody awful, and I wonder why am I doing this?  But then I have moments where it sounds beautiful and I can feel it in my body, and I realize this is why I’m doing it. I was curious about your cello lessons, how much you learned, and how much you played, and why you stopped.
ES:    I am a firm believer in amateurs.  I think today society is kind of a almost instructing us to be spectators, not players or creators in life, and we get so taken up with the wizardry of virtuosos in all the arts that people don’t feel they can be good enough to play, or never develop the desire so I think picking up the instrument at any age, or any art form, is a terrific thing to do.  I play guitar so I don’t play any other instrument, so learning the cello as you mentioned, as you alluded to, is kind of a daunting thing after a certain age.

I think the bowing in particular is a real challenge.  It was kind of like a combination for me of calligraphy, golf, and archery, none of which I know how to do, and so that was tough, but my left hand was okay because I play the guitar.  After getting over the trauma that there are no frets on the fingerboard, it wasn’t as bad as I might of feared.  There is something really quite special about finding your way to the correct note, real or imagined, just intuiting the intonation.  If you’ve never done it before and you’re used to frets, you would tend to think this is absurd, I don’t have a hope in hell of landing in the right spot, but you do, and it feels great.

Likewise, the great sort of rumbling and reverberations of this majestic instrument running through your whole body is a thing of great visceral pleasure, I think. So even though it doesn’t sound great at times, and you’re forced to play really Mickey Mouse material at the beginning, I think that the progress inevitably proceeds and it feels wonderful. That was my experience, and certainly when I got to the point where I could play some bonafide Bach ditties from this book called Bach for Cello, it’s great.  However watered down and basic those pieces are you still get a sense of Bach’s music in the phrasing.  The genius of Bach’s phrasing somehow comes out, and for me that was really exciting.

I didn’t stick with the instrument right to the end of the book, I think for reasons of time.  I realized that I wasn’t going to learn a Cello Suite very quickly, and I at some point quite spontaneously got the idea that I could try to tackle this on guitar.  I have just been a folk rock guitarist.  I never played classical guitar.  I took the cello notes and transposed them on the guitar.  It was kind of goofy.  I was playing essentially baselines on guitar, that mimicked the beginning of the first Cello Suites.  And then it didn’t take very long to learn that in fact there were bonafide arrangements of the Cello Suites for guitar, so I bought some guitar tablature, which I don’t read, I don’t have facility for reading for guitar.  I am used to doing what is called guitar tab, so slowly, measure by measure, in a real painstaking way, I was able to figure out the prelude of the first cello suite, so that sort of displaced the cello experience for me.  Also I didn’t own a cello, I was renting a cello, and paying for lessons, and doing a lot of things in life, so that is how my cello lessons came to a close.

LG:  How far did you get with them?  Did you move out of first position and were you doing vibrato?
ES:    No. I didn’t get beyond just those first few pieces in that book Bach for Cello.  Ultimately it was a feeling that I’m a respectable guitar player, but I was really a beginner at cello, so I decided to devote what time I had in life to playing an instrument I was fairly good at, so that is what put me off. If I were ever to get a cello somehow, I would love to pick it up occasionally.  I have actually dreamed about some of those Anna Magdalena notebook pieces.

I might get back to it someday in retirement.  It was a case of spreading myself too thin.  I don’t have that much time for music playing and I can do more with the guitar.  I’m more ambitious with the guitar and I learned a few other classical pieces on the guitar.  I still play popular music.  It wasn’t a total irreversible conversion.  After I wrote the book I found myself free to listen to all sorts of music which is what I do now, which includes Bach and the whole gamut of classical music.

Another thing I really liked about Bach was that if you try to get a sense of Bach, if you look at the people Bach was influenced by, and then Bach’s career, and his sons, and all the musicians Bach influenced, it is a pretty nifty way of getting a crash course in classical music.  Also I had the career of Casals and the cello repertoire to add to that, so it was a great way of getting up to speed with something that I think intimidates people.  How do I start with this colossal, sometimes intellectually intimidating, vast body of work, you know?  People don’t know where to start.  In my case I feel really fortunate that I had this really terrific, little spring board that I jumped on.  I was just so genuinely and intrigued about the real story.

LG:  The letter that Bach wrote to try and secure a position, and they are so obsequious, it grates against a modern mind. I thought it was funny too how he seemed to say, “This job doesn’t pay enough.”
ES:    We have to be forgiving in someways because there are certain conventions that were de riguer, that were practiced and expected in those days.  They are kind of unseemly.  In fact, when you read about the life of Bach, he wasn’t some kind of wimp who was cow-towing to whatever authority happened to be around.  He was kind of a rebellious type who really stood up for his own rights, particularly in the workplace, and his art.

He really knew the value of the currency that was used in those days.  Some people have called him a bit of a cheapskate, but on the other hand, when you have 20 children and you’ve got a really demanding job that includes the music in a substantial city like Leipzig, and running the music of a Lutheran boarding school and churches, on top of busily cranking out what is going to be the greatest output of music for all time, you’ve got a lot on your plate and you have to check the bills and see how much money is coming in.  He didn’t lead the sort of lackadaisical life of a sort of romantic and happily impoverished artist.  I think that helps explain part of his genius.  He wasn’t sitting around thinking what music is going to be popular or going to be considered a masterpiece.  He was really busy in the here and now. He must have really been living in the moment, I think, he was so busy.  It has a nice ending, his story.  Even though he wasn’t considered famous in his lifetime, and he has been rendered ultra famous by posterity, a man who had his nose to the grindstone and was just doing his best on a day to day basis ended up producing this music that had such everlasting allure.

Growing Up Strange

Perhaps part of why I have not become a pillar of the intellectual community, aside from the fact I’m not thick enough to serve as a pillar, is that while growing up, I did devour books, but I was mostly interested in stories, particularly stories about horses or animals.  As a teenager, I expanded my interest to include books where girls chased boys, but not much really.  I was only interested in those if there was something especially intriguing about the girl–like if she had a horse.

I especially loved horse/girl books where the girl was the underdog who wanted a horse and succeeded through grit and determination in getting one.  I wanted to be like those girls, and I was to the extent I succeeded in getting a 35 dollar Shetland pony.

Once I acquired the pony, I had big dreams for us.  We would win competitions and show everyone it did not matter if my steed was forty inches tall.  I imagined interviews with sportscasters.  I would ask questions then answer breathlessly, as if interrupted in an effort.

Actually, interviews of this sort also extended to my gymnastic prowess.  It mattered not that by twelve, I was nearly five foot eight.  In my mind I had achieved gold in gymnastic floor exercises. I would breathlessly answer these sportscasters as well.

So while I indeed spent my childhood buried in books, I can say without equivocation it was only towards the effort of avoiding other children and immersing myself in worlds far more desirable than my own.  If I happened across a great piece of literature, it was always the result of happenstance.  I had no illusions about reading my way to fame and fortune.

Ironically, if I think of it now as I seek to live so much in the moment, I absolutely did so as a child.  My parents’ chief concerns seemed to be to first ensure we did all of our chores, second that we did not bother them with sibling arguments, and finally that we entertained ourselves so they did not have to.  I was very good at the latter.

I did the chores grudgingly.  We were promised allowances that never materialized and performed jobs I still consider beyond the necessary scope for children.  The chores usually resulted in fights with my sister.  We argued prodigiously over whose turn it was to do what, then raced to be the first one done, if only to prove our superiority over one another.  The race to finish jobs served my primary purpose, which was to either read a book or ride my horse, and preferably both.  Melanie wanted to play with her friends.  I didn’t really have a lot of friends beyond the horses in my imagination, so rushing off to live in my head was my priority.

Before I got a horse I would pretend I had one.  i once cleared my closet, opened one side, and strung a rope across the opening to keep in my stick horse.  I shredded paper for her bedding.

She was lovely.  Her stick was yellow, her fur head white.  She had large, brown  button eyes with long, plastic lashes.  I called her Snowflake.

I spent the time creating this stable, enjoying every minute I did so, imagining the conversations I would have with my trainer over her care.  Again, I played both parts.  As myself, I explained very carefully what would be the best plan for my horse’s future.  My trainer would nod and take notes, her head cocked to one side as she leaned in the stable doorway, loose breeches puffed around her hips, a cap pulled low over her brow, alá Mickey Rooney.

Snowflake stayed in my closet for months.  I was attentive for about two days, feeding and brushing.  Over time I needed my room for other things and the stick horse was relegated to the corner again, her home prior to the stable.

Finally, when I was twelve, I acquired a real horse. Of course, this horse was only 40 inches tall and therefore a pony, but I did not care. She was mine and I loved her.  Her name was Rosie.  She was a bright, red chestnut with a thick, flaxen mane and tail.  But she was tiny.  I rode her anyway.  My best friend Jodi and I both rode ponies.  We made plans together to start our own pony farm as adults, no horses allowed.

Library Thieves

When I signed on to edit books for this small publishing company, the owner convinced me to buy Adobe Indesign.  Because the bundled software with 3 programs gave me way more bang for my buck, I bought that rather than just the individual program.  As part of this bundle, I got Photoshop C4, a program I had long been interested in.  Unfortunately, I have no experience with even the Elements program, so I was pretty useless when it came to trying even basic photo editing with the thing.  I’m like an infant with a space ship.  I went online to find instructions, but mostly ran into those useless advertising sites trying to get me to download “free” teasers that I could replace with a full instruction program if I wanted to pay for it.  Um. No.

I decided then that I would go to the library and look at their instruction manuals.  If I found one that was really good, I would go buy one somewhere.  Well, guess what?  Every single copy of every single instruction manual at the New York Public Library that I looked at was missing.  Some jackasses out there are ruining it for the rest of us.  Gee, thanks.  I called the library and discussed with a helper person.  He confirmed that this is indeed a problem.  He helped me do a more advanced search to sort and ensure certain books were available, but all of them had 15 or 20 holds on them.  I’m thinking maybe Amazon used might be the way to go.

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss

I’m not alone in saying that the books of Dr. Seuss were among my favorites as a child.  Unique and clever, they hold a spot in my heart because they contributed to the development of my lifelong delight with the english language.  When I started reading to Milla his stories became her favorites too.

I do not like green eggs and ham, I do not like them Sam I am.  I could recite the lines from Green Eggs and Ham in its entirety at age 2.  After Milla came along and I read it to her over and over and over, she too could recite the entire book.

I could not stand Thing One and Thing Two.  I wanted someone to slap them.  I was grateful when the Cat came along and cleaned up their mess and the goldfish was back safely in his bowl.

I adored Horton.  As a child I pondered whether we humans weren’t perhaps a speck in some giant’s universe or if tiny worlds existed, so minute we could blow them about like the dust that existed all around us.  I admired Horton’s insistence on protecting the Whos and his unwillingness to allow them to perish.

I began to understand about discrimination after reading of the Star Bellied Sneetches.  Mr. Geisel, a foe of fascism and racism, helped to teach small children what it means to dislike someone because of something superficial and meaningless.  He helped us understand just how silly and perverse discrimination is.

I could go on and on, through each of these stories that are so dear to my heart.  Thank you, Theodore Seuss Geisel.  There are those of us who are grateful you were born.

I Know What I Want

So I’m at work and I brought my puppy and he’s rooting around on the floor, spinning in circles, being completely silly.  He loves rubbing his tummy on the carpet like that.  He grunts and makes goofy noises.  I love him so much.

So I’m reading this book, well, listening to this book being read to me in my car.  I’m really enjoying it.  It’s John Irving and he’s always great.  Anyway, as is often the case with me and books I enjoy, I can see the movie as I would direct it.  How I would tell the story, who I would cast in the various parts, what part of the book I would keep because it’s rare to be able to include an entire book in a movie.  Often there are smaller side stories in books that work in books but don’t in movies because of the nature of reading versus viewing.  For instance I thought the first Harry Potter tried to include too much.  One book made into a movie where I think the movie did better than the book was Sideways.  When I read Sideways, it was as if the movie makers saw the book exactly as the author and as the reader, yet they left out some sensationalized side stories that almost seemed like they were written as over the top movie scenes.  The movie was better having left them out.  I digress.

Anyway, I’m reading this book and I can REALLY see the movie.  It’s a great book and I can feel the entire atmosphere of the thing.  Then at some point, I hear the name of a chapter and it is the name of a movie and I realize that this book has been made into a movie and I would not have conceptualized it as the movie maker did at all.  I hate the movie version.  The actors they chose for the leads.  Ick.  Wrong.  And as is often the case with movies turned into books, they took the most sensationalized parts and chopped them together with none of the connecting tissue from the book and just made this big mess.  I remember when I saw the movie that I did not like it and feeling like something was missing.  Now I know why.

I know movies are different than books, that they are their own creation and I don’t think they should be compared in many cases because they are what they are.  But I also don’t think you should try to pretend a movie is the book if it loses so much of what was originally there.  Like The Shipping News.  Puke.  God, I couldn’t even watch it.  They fucking butchered the book.  Why didn’t they just call it something else and leave the book alone?  Get an idea from a book, then go make your damn movie, but don’t pretend it’s the book when it’s not even in the ballpark.  I have read The Shipping News so many times.  It is easily my favorite book, and that is saying a lot because you can’t pin me down on a favorite ANYTHING.  Seriously.  This book, I know it inside out and backwards.  I know its characters.  I can SEE its characters.  When I heard the book was being made into a movie, I had to read the book again.  I could SEE that movie, see how I would shoot it, the angles, the light, all of it.  And NONE of the book made it into that movie except a few pitiful, over the top plot lines and the names of the characters and that was IT.  They didn’t even make the characters look like the characters in the book and the looks of the characters in the book are almost characters themselves.  HOW could they?  Ack.  Gags me.

So I’m reading this John Irving book now and hearing it and having to force out the characters and story as envisioned by the screenwriter and director (one and the same in this case) as I try to enjoy this book.  The story is actually quite fascinating.  I love it.  And now I have Jeff Bridges’s face looming in to take over one of the main characters when he’s not even CLOSE!  He doesn’t even inhabit the character of the character, let alone the looks.  Looks in a movie can be different from the looks of the character in a book if the actor can BECOME the character, but he didn’t.  Remember Sandra Oh and Virgina Madsen in Sideways?  In the book, Maya looked like Sandra Oh and Stephanie looked like Virginia Madsen, but they are switched in the movie and it doesn’t matter because the actors so inhabited the characters.  It just doesn’t detract in any way.  But in this book I’m reading now, Jeff Bridges is not the character he plays.  Maybe he never read the book.  Maybe he just read the screenplay that butchered the book.  Because as I conceptualize the character in the book, not only does he not characterize the character, he does not look like the character looks.  And Kim Bassinger…I won’t even go there.

Why would John Irving let this happen?  Why would Annie Proulx?  Maybe they don’t get a choice.  But John Irving and Annie Proulx are HUGE authors. They have to be able to maintain some control.  Why couldn’t the movie makers just say that the movie was “inspired” by the book and not pretend the movie is the book come to life when it’s not?

Well that’s enough of my film/literary snob rant for the day. What do I know?  I just know I can’t stand that movie and it is interrupting my enjoyment of this book.