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 5

Read Autumn — Chapter 4

Autumn shared her birthday with anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley, August 16. I found it remarkable that decades after the man’s death, the date was still so publicly memorialized. Ah, the cult of celebrity. While many lamented the day, we were going to celebrate.

In hindsight, I realize that some of the way I cared for my dog was a little over the top, but I loved her. I did not have any children. To both Dan and me, Autumn was our child.  I had many friends with dogs, our parents had dogs, and having a party meant we could invite the dogs, but also see our friends and family. After a year across the country we welcomed this opportunity.

Just as with any birthday party, I sent out invitations to the party to be held in the park near our house. I purchased gifts and wrapped them  I bought food, made Autumn a dog food cake, and bought a human cake as well. I also got several balloons. We had celebrated Dan’s birthday when Autumn was five months old. At that celebration, Autumn was thrilled with balloons. She would pounce on them and pop them with her nose. I don’t know how she did it; balloons frighten me, especially near my face.

The day of the party was sun-kissed and warm. The park where the party was to be held was six blocks from our house.  I loaded the cakes, food, party favors, and gifts into a wagon and lumbered down to the park to reserve a table. Because of the season, tables were a rare commodity, and one had to arrive early to get one. Autumn was excited by the presents. She kept sniffing in the wagon and trying to remove the packages. I made her wait, pulling her from the toys and asking her to heel.

In spite of the fact that the purported reason for the party was Autumn’s birthday, nearly all the guests we invited showed up to see us, many without their dogs. Both sets of parents, Dan’s grandma, and a half dozen friends arrived to celebrate Autumn’s birth.  I played Frisbee with my friends while Dan and his played a mini version of softball.  Autumn ran back and forth between both activities, alternately chasing the softball, the Frisbee, or other dogs. Murphee hovered at our feet, willing us to throw balls for her.

When the time came to open gifts, Autumn tore into them. She loved presents. She had discovered at Christmastime that presents meant treats and toys. In fact, for every Christmas for the rest of her life we had to be careful about what gifts were placed under the tree. Even if they weren’t hers, if they contained something she liked, she would root around and find them, tearing off the wrapping to see what was inside. My heart swelled watching her; she was so dear to me and obviously enjoyed her presents.

None of the other dogs were really interested in the cake. They weren’t much interested in Autumn or one another either. Like toddlers at a first birthday party, they were in it for themselves. All the dogs were given treats, and all were allowed to share in the cake, so they went home happy.

I celebrated birthdays for Autumn for the first few years of her life, then we got Molly, and later Milla was born, but for the time, they were a fun way to get together with friends and enjoy our canine friends.

That fall, Autumn started limping after long days at the park or after I took her running with me. It got to be that my runs were take the dog out for a drag rather than taking the dog out for a run. After some months like this, we decided to take Autumn to the vet to find out what was going on.

Since we had arrived back in Oregon, I had taken Autumn to a veterinarian’s office near our house. I had a lot in common with the veterinarian there. His name was Dr. Ken Fletcher, and over time, we became friends.

I adore Dr. Fletcher. After him (who wanted me to go to vet school, and still does in spite of having chosen to go to law school), no other vet could compare. Dr. Ken treated me like a partner in my pet’s care. He told me honestly what I could do myself and what I should let the vet do. He told me how much things cost the vet and what was just junk profit. Basically, he gave me credit for having a brain and for being able to do some things on my own as a collaborator in my pets’ health care. He was not a director who acted as if I could not possibly understand the intricate undertaking of a shot or even more complex aspects of veterinary medicine. He was my partner, and he treated me as someone capable of managing my pets’ health.

When Autumn started having hip problems, Dr. Ken referred me to a specialist in Eugene named Dr. Barclay Slocum. Dr. Slocum was considered the top hip dysplasia doctor in the United States. He had developed the technique used to replace failing hips in dogs, and had performed the surgery on hundreds, if not thousands of dogs.

Dan and I made the drive south to meet Dr. Slocum and to look at Autumn’s hips. Dr. Fletcher had explained to us that if Autumn did indeed have hip dysplasia, the cost would run into the thousands of dollars. We were apprehensive because we knew if she did have the problem, we would not be able to afford to fix it, and we doubted our parents would lend us the money.

Dr. Slocum’s clinic was slick and professional. There was a room with a glass window where we could watch as they anesthetized our dog and took the x-rays of her pelvis. Autumn had to be asleep because they would lay her on her back and press her pelvis open, which would be difficult and painful if she were awake.

An unassuming man with careful bedside manner, Dr. Slocum spent some time with us explaining what would happen that day, as well as what would follow. During our conversation, an assistant came and took Autumn away. She was apprehensive, turning to look back at Dan and me as she was led into the other room. Tears welled behind my eyes. She looked so vulnerable and frightened.

Watching as the technicians worked on Autumn while she was anesthetized was heartbreaking. She lay on her back, her head tilted, her tongue pulled out to one side with a tube protruding from her mouth and throat. My chest tightened in apprehension; she was so still, and with her tongue out, she looked dead. Dan decided to wait in the other room, unable to bear watching, but I could not leave her. I held my fist to my lips, watching as she lay there, prostrate. She looked dead. It killed me.

The tests revealed that Autumn did indeed have hip dysplasia. Not only did she have the disorder, she had one of the most severe cases the doctor had seen. He explained that the hip sockets were supposed to be round so they would hold the head of the femur at the joint. Autumn’s were flat. Every step she took, her femur rotated back and forth across the flat plain of her pelvic bone.

Dr. Slocum displayed Autumn’s x-rays for us to see. The image looked like a Rorschach blot. As the doctor pointed out to us what the hips were supposed to look like, it was obvious that Autumn’s were a mess.

The cost to perform the surgery was several thousands of dollars. In addition, recovery would take nearly a year, as first one hip had to be replaced, then recovery, then the second hip.

We waited for Autumn to wake up from her anesthesia. She cried and yipped, kicking her feet. Both of us pet her and held her even though the technician had assured us that such behavior was normal when anesthesia was wearing off. It still scared me; she sounded in pain. Once she was up and awake again, at least somewhat, the technicians took her vital signs and pronounced her ready to go. Leaving the clinic and driving north to home, Dan and I were heartbroken. We knew it would be difficult to come up with the money, not while we were both full-time students, and working minimally. We were also really worried about the intensity of the surgery and the recovery time. Autumn would essentially be out of commission for a year. I held her in my lap and stroked the fur on her head. I loved this dog.

Once we arrived home, I made an appointment with Dr. Fletcher to go over the results. A week later, Dan and I met with him to discuss what to do.

“You know,” Dr. Fletcher informed me, as we sat with him in his office, stroking Autumn’s bunny soft ears as he spoke, “There is research out now that suggests that sometimes the best thing to do with dogs like Autumn is to wait and see.”

I raised my eyebrows at him and looked at Dan. This seemed to be an odd approach.

“I know it sounds strange, but you won’t lose anything by waiting. Her hips are what they are and the bones are not going to change shape for the worse. Basically you strengthen Autumn’s muscles by taking her swimming,” he said. “There isn’t any impact and over time, the stronger muscles keep the head of the bone in place where the socket can’t.”

It was worth a try. We couldn’t afford the surgery, and even if our parents were to lend us the money, the surgery would have meant Autumn would have to stay in a kennel for months, and then allowed gradual exercise for a year. I could not see putting her through that.

In the end we decided to try Dr. Fletcher’s approach, not only because of the cost of the surgery, but also because of the length of recovery, and we could change our minds if her situation worsened. Primarily it came down to the impact it would have on her quality of life during the prime of her youth. We just couldn’t do that to her.

I began walking Autumn down to the park near our house where a medium-sized creek ran into the swift Willamette River. Up the creek a half mile or so, there were several swimming holes that were ideal for taking a dog. They were off the main path where people liked to congregate, and Autumn loved the water, probably more than anything other than eating. She would jump in any puddle, any pool, any lake, any river. Basically if it was wet, she wanted to be in it. Since the diagnosis came in the middle of the summer, the timing couldn’t have been better.

Nearly every day I took Autumn out to swim. At first, she tired pretty quickly, but as she became fitter, she could swim for a couple of hours without tiring. She would chase any stick, no matter where we threw it, and retrieve it. We would toss colored balls or frisbees into the water and tell her which one to get. Always smart and attuned to our body language, she quickly figured out which was the green ball or the red frisbee, and would swim out to wherever to bring them back to us.

One scorching summer, in an effort to escape the heat vibrating off the cement and buildings in the city, I took Autumn along with my friends Debbie and Robert, and we drove out into the countryside.  As we wound out into the hills, the air became cooler and more tolerable.  We came upon a rocky stream, and pulled over to wet our feet.

Autumn jumped from the truck and scurried down the embankment straight into the water.  We followed more gingerly, seeking to protect our ankles and backsides from a fall down the gravely ridge.

The edge of the stream was covered in lumpy, grey river rocks.  Another fifteen feet in from the bank, trees hung low.  The water was runoff from the nearby Cascade mountains.  Even in late August, the water remained icy cool.  Logs littered the bank, evidence of winter storms and raging water, days when the stream was not nearly so docile.

I was wearing a bathing suit under my t-shirt and shorts, and quickly stripped down before wading midstream to my waist.  Debbie and Robert simply waded out in their clothes.  At its middle, the stream was about four feet deep, and fifteen feet across.

On days such as this, it was as if Autumn had been reincarnated from a fish.  She swam and swam, lapping and biting at stream bubbles, her legs churning under the water.  I would throw sticks for her, she would calculate where the stick would arrive as the water moved rapidly downstream, and meet the stick before it passed her.  On the few occasions the stick made it past before she reached it, she would swim faster, chasing it like a mad beaver determined to create a dam. Debbie and Robert laughed at Autumn and her water antics.  She was obviously having fun.

After tossing sticks for a bit, I sat down on one of the logs in a sunbeam to dry and warm my legs.  Autumn dragged herself out of the water and shook vigorously, sending droplets every which way.  She then bounded over to me and grasped a rock from the pile at my feet, picking it up and tossing it in my lap.

“Ow!” I exclaimed.  That hurt!  “I will throw rocks for you, but don’t hit me with them.”  I stood and chose a rock for Autumn to chase, locating one the size of a plum.  Autumn danced at my feet, barking.  Throw it! She seemed to say.

I tossed the stone into the river.  Autumn turned and hurled herself into the water, dove beneath the surface, then reappeared nearly immediately, a rock in her jaws.

Debbie, Robert, and I stared at one another.

“Do you think it is the same rock?” I asked.

“No,” Robert answered in his baritone, grumbly voice.  “She just found a rock.”

“But it looks like the same rock,” I stated, and Debbie nodded, agreeing with me.

“Let’s throw in another one and see if she gets it,” I said, already choosing a rock.  I looked at it closely to see whether we could identify it as the same rock, then threw it into the water.  Autumn had dropped the original rock at my feet and turned to race back into the water after the second one.  She plunged into the water, disappeared for a moment, then popped up a moment later, swam to shore and dropped the rock at my feet.  She didn’t even shake off the water, but stood dripping expectantly, waiting for another throw.

I examined the sopping stone at my feet.  There was no way I could tell if it was the same rock and told Debbie and Robert as much.

Robert pulled a pocket knife from one of the many pockets covering the overalls he wore, his default uniform regardless of the weather or occasion.

“We can use this to mark the rock, then we can tell if it is the same one,” he said as he picked up a rock and carved a long groove into pale grey surface.  He then dunked it in the water to see whether the mark was still visible.  It was.

Robert handed the rock to me and I threw it out into the water.  Autumn zoomed in after it.

Moments later she dropped the marked rock at my feet.  Amazing.

We played this game for a while, then I went out into the water with her.  I wanted to see what she looked like under the water as she retrieved.

Robert found and marked a rock, tossed it, and just as the rock pierced the surface of the water, I held my breath and went under.  I could see the rock as it slowed dramatically and settled onto the floor of the creek bed.  I also saw Autumn watching the rock as it landed.  She kept her eyes open underwater so she could pick the correct stone!  The dog loved water, there was no denying it.

In time, it became apparent that swimming was ideal for Autumn’s hip problems. Gradually she stopped having episodes of pain and limping. Over the years as she aged and developed other health issues, I was only able to take her swimming a couple of times a year, but she never experienced problems with her hips again. Dr. Fletcher still uses her story as an example to patients who come to him with dysplasia dogs as proof that surgery may not always be necessary.

Read Autumn — Chapter 6

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