Dogs can be Naughty

Dogs can be naughty. I have one dog in particular, George, who vacillates between extremely well-behaved and extremely naughty. When he’s good, he’s very, very good, but when he’s bad, he is so naughty that I want to hang him by his little feet and shake him.

He is the absolute best sit-and-wait dog. My other two dogs eat special dog food and eat it in the kitchen, their little bowls side by side. George, in full Dr. Jekyll mode, waits patiently in the dining room, sitting and waiting until they are done so he can go and lick their empty bowls. He waits until I tell him it is okay for him to go in and erase any possible molecules remaining from their breakfast. He stays sitting there even if I leave the room. He also is the first to run to his kennel when I call out, “Dogs! Kennels!” because we are leaving to go somewhere. When he is being Dr. Jekyll, he is an extremely well-behaved dog.

But George has another side, a more precocious side, his Dr. Hyde side, a side that is quite devilish. Since he has become an adult dog, he is much less inclined to do things like open the closet and remove the box of brand new loafers from Germany that cost over a hundred dollars and chew them up (he did this as a puppy), or open the bathroom door and eat an entire roll of toilet paper (also done as a puppy). Yet in spite of the fact that he is less inclined to do such things, it doesn’t mean they don’t happen.

A couple of weeks ago Milla and I decided to take the dogs with us while we ran to Costco. Along the way, we realized we were starving and stopped and picked up some sandwiches from a Mediterranean restaurant. They were oh, so delicious. George and Oliver and Betsy stood salivating in the back seat. We gave them several nibbles each because it just didn’t seem fair to eat in front of them without at least sharing some small morsels.

We didn’t finish eating our sandwiches before we got to Costco so we simply wrapped them up and put them into the glove box. We had also gotten a side of hummus, and we put this into the console between the seats. We did this so that there would be sandwiches for us to finish when we returned from our quick jaunt into the store. We dutifully removed the trash bin I keep in the back seat, as we always do when we leave George in the car because he has been known to chew it even when it is empty, and opened the windows so air would flow (luckily the summer has been extremely mild here and it was cool enough to leave the canines in the car). Off we toddled into the Costco to get a few supplies for our impending trip to a lovely lake in Washington.

We returned to catch George in the act of doing this:

20160827-IMG_854420160827-IMG_8542These are the doors to the glove box (removed after repair). One opens up. The other opens down. George managed to open them both and eat the sandwiches inside. He also had done this:

20160827-IMG_8543This was the console lid. He had attempted to open the console but was not successful. The hummus was still there, but George had certainly done a number on the car. We were leaving in the morning to go visit a lake in the woods. George ensured we got to go on this trip with the inside of the car looking like it had been attacked by a much bigger dog than George is. He knew immediately that he was in trouble. The moment Milla stood by the cracked window and said, “Oh. My. God.” George jumped into the back seat and then over the back seat into the way back. Luckily the retractable tonneau cover was retracted. As a puppy, George had chewed our prior car’s tonneau cover, making it impossible to retract. I learned after that to make sure the cover was fully retracted before leaving him in the car. Up and over the seat he went, landing with a thud.

We spent the next two and a half weeks driving around with our shredded glove box and console cover. Once we got home from the lake, I spent some time online finding new parts on eBay. I found a brand new console cover for $60, and used glove box doors for $75. The glove box doors arrived a couple of days ago. They were actually two full top and bottom glove boxes, I just took the doors off of them to reuse. They had obviously been part of a car that had been sitting out and getting dirty because they were absolutely filthy. Today, the console cover arrived. I unpacked it and immediately went to work figuring out how to install everything myself. It was my hope that I could figure it all out so I wouldn’t have to shell out even more money to pay someone to install them. Luckily, I was able to do this and now our car looks like its old self again. In the end, those sandwiches cost us $135, dang dog!

Here is the car post installation. I’m grateful I was able to do it myself. Thanks, George, for keeping me on my toes and my skills sharp. And now we know, no more sandwiches in the glove box or hummus in the console, at least not with George around!

20160827-IMG_854020160827-IMG_8541

Advertisements

Winged Gods and Goddesses

I published a story on Huffington Post. It can be found here.

Winged Gods and Goddesses
Little girls and horses. I think part of why girls fall in love with horses is to have someone big on their side, someone on whom they can fly. I fell in love with horses before I had a logical brain, then they just lodged there, between the myelin bulges. Later when I actually acquired a horse, they were my escape from a reality that was less than. Horses were my winged gods and goddesses, flying on four legs. I was naive, silly, and fearful, but with a horse I could forget all that and imagine anything. And I did.

Before a real horse actually came to live with me…click here to continue reading.

Still Missing Ava

A friend has a dog who is sick. She apologized for feeling her dog was her child. Oh, don’t apologize! I know how you feel. I sent her a few of the posts I have written over the years about my dogs. The one below made me weep. I wrote it in July 2012. I would have to amend the end to add that now Ava is gone too, and silly Oliver and floppy George live with us today. This is how life goes with them, I suppose. They offer us some of the greatest love, and heart wrenching grief when they’re gone.

In honor of Autumn, and Ava, and all the dogs I have loved…

In Honor of Autumn, Dogs I Have Loved
Seven years ago today, I lost my first child. I chose Autumn the day she was born from a litter of twelve. For the next 11 years and 11 months, she was by my side through travels across country, marriage and divorce, and the birth of a new human baby. In honor and remembrance of our lives together, I am posting a piece of the book I wrote about her.  I miss my dear friend, my love.

The day Autumn died, I woke up and did not immediately know this would be the day. She was lying in the living room, half on the hardwood floors and halfway on the rug. She barely looked up to acknowledge my entering the room, a sure sign something was off, but she had been listless for days because of the unusual heat.

The night before, she had been so hot. So hot that after I removed her from the tiles on the bathroom floor and placed her in a cold bath, the place where her tummy had been touching the floor remained warm for hours. Literally hours. A sick and dreadful feeling filled my stomach when I walked into that bathroom so long after putting her in that bath and could feel the warmth in the floor where she had been.

The heat of those summer days finished her off, I have no doubt of it. She could not withstand the hundred degree temperatures. The last few days before she died, I would come home and find her inert with exhaustion. She would not move. Her stomach would feel like an iron. I would then run a bath of cool water and lay her in it. This perked her up because she needed that cooling off. I don’t know whether her body was incapable of regulating its temperature anymore. The diabetes did so much else to her body; I could see it killing her thermometer too.

That morning, she was lying there and I didn’t immediately register how badly she was doing. I began to get ready for work, roused Milla out of bed, was busily doing my thing, when I made a horrific discovery.

Neon green ooze had leaked of Autumn. It looked like she had peed and was lying in it, but it was not yellow. The color was not anything I had seen from a living thing before, the color of a summer lime popsicle. My entire body went cold upon seeing that ooze. I carefully cleaned it up and moved Autumn into the kitchen. She was more listless than ever. She could barely stand. My throat was tight. It was beginning to dawn that she would not reach her twelfth birthday.

What was that, the desire for her to reach another birthday? All along while dealing with this wretched disease, I had wanted her to reach another birthday. After her initial diabetic episode, I was not sure she would ever reach her eleventh birthday. Then it was Christmas. Then I began to think maybe she would just keep living through a few birthdays, just looking like a skeleton.

I realize now she was gradually worsening, but having her there with me every day I did not notice the decline. Up until three weeks before her death she still liked chasing things. She couldn’t see while she was chasing things, so we had to accommodate, but she still liked doing it. She even seemed to enjoy looking for the ball or stick or toy she could not see.

That’s the trouble with living with a degenerative disease; you don’t notice the degeneration because you’re so busy managing it. And when the good days completely outweigh the bad, which Autumn’s did, it is easy to forget that the one you’re taking care of is on her way out of this world.

And for some reason I had arbitrarily decided that Autumn had to make it to August 16 and her twelfth birthday. It was like that day could save her somehow, even though I knew in my gut it was not true.

While lying in the kitchen, more neon green ooze came out and she just laid in it. It was this that made it clear to me that Autumn was finally really dying. I gave her an insulin shot. I tried to feed her, but she would not eat. She would not even eat wet food. More dread. More tightening in the throat and drying in the mouth.

I knew.

I debated taking her to work with me, initially deciding against it. Then as I bustled about, fitting into the routine that made forgetting easier for the moment, I realized that if I did not take her to work with me I would not see her this last day and I could not do that.

I worried about the office, whether anyone would care that I dragged in my skeleton dog. I worried about her needing to go potty. I finally decided to bring a towel and tell anyone who cared that this child of mine, my first baby I picked out the day she was born, was dying and if that person was heartless enough to tell me to take her away I would tell them to go to hell, but no one did. No one said a word. If I hadn’t had clients, I would not have gone, but I’ve figured out working on my own that I am the only backup, the biggest drawback to self-employment.  The clients who came to see me that day were extremely sympathetic.  One woman who came in shared a similar story of losing her own beloved pet.

I still have the bowl Autumn drank from the day she died. I cannot bear to put it back in the office kitchen. The day I returned to the office after she died I bawled when I saw that bowl. I had heard people speak of feeling “raw” and I now know what they meant. I felt absolutely exposed those first days after she was gone, like nothing was protecting me. Vulnerable. Words I had heard and sort of experienced, but not like this. No, this was worse.

Watching someone gradually die is the epitome of the expression a blessing and a curse. You are blessed with having your loved one there with you, but you are cursed with their disease. One minute you are wishing they would just finally go, the next minute you are thrashing yourself for the thought, the guilt a cloak you wear constantly. When they finally go, those moments creep up on you, those moments when you had ardently wished the afflicted would die, and you curse yourself, wondering whether your wishes contributed to their demise, knowing intellectually this is not possible, then reasoning emotionally that perhaps the dying one felt your anger and this brought their death sooner. Guilt:  a horrible, ugly poison.

I know guilt is not one of the traditional stages of grieving, but they ought to add it to the list for those of us who have lived with someone who has a degenerative illness. It has to be there for all of us. I cannot imagine anyone being a one-hundred percent perfect nurse to a degenerative patient, and those moments when you are not perfect come back to haunt you. Maybe only a little bit, but they are there. I like to think I’m an emotionally healthy person. I’ve managed to talk myself out of those moments, but they came up nonetheless and they can be brutal during the first days after the loved one dies. Like little bits of acid spray on the raw wound of grief.

Mostly though, I remember Autumn with tenderness and affection. Her body was so decrepit in the end, such a mess. A few months after her death, I watched a video I took of her two weeks before that day and her body was an emaciated skeleton. So sad. I took the video that morning because I thought that was her last day, rather than the day she actually died.

Throughout her life Autumn followed me wherever I would go, no matter how trivial or short the trip. Going into the kitchen for a glass of water?  There was Autumn, at my side. Going for a short visit to the toilet?  Autumn would rise from wherever she had been lying, follow me in, sighing heavily as she laid down next to me, then rising again thirty seconds later to follow me back to wherever I had been.

On that last day, when work was over, I picked Milla up from school and we headed south out of town for Dr. Fletcher’s in Albany. Debbie and Robert maintained a phone link, planning to be there for me in the end. I called Dr. Fletcher as well, to let him know we were on our way.

It was a warm day, hot and yellow. Autumn lay on the front seat, curled up. I kept petting her and sobbing. During those moments I kept thinking to myself that in an hour and a half, she would not be there anymore, that I would drive home without her, that I would never see her again. Ever. The finality was like a cement brick to the head. I could barely drive through my tears.

When Autumn was little and she rode in the car with me, she would lay her head across my forearm as I held the gear shift. As we drove, I placed my arm on the seat next to her and she rested her head there, our last moment a microcosm of our life together, our last hour.

The sun was still fairly high when we arrived at Dr. Fletcher’s near 6:00 that evening. The air outside the car was hot, so I left Autumn in the air-conditioning while I went inside to let Dr. Fletcher know that we had arrived. Debbie and Robert had already arrived and were waiting for us.

It’s odd. Since that evening, I’ve had many moments of extreme stress where my body felt like it could barely handle taking another step, but my mind knew it had to and forced it to keep going, but that night I had not experienced anything like that in my life before, and it felt overwhelming, that forcing myself to go when I did not want to.

I returned to the car and carefully lifted Autumn from the seat. I held her close and walked over to a grassy spot next to the parking lot. She was so light, barely fur and bones. I held her closely in my lap. She did not lift her head or try to walk around as she had the many times she’d been there before. I just held her, and pet her, and told her how much I loved her. Milla crouched at my side, her hand on Autumn’s neck. Autumn had been a part of her life since birth. Debbie and Robert stood next to us, and Robert snapped a couple of photos.

Dr. Fletcher held a large syringe filled with pink liquid as he walked from his office and across the lot to us. He did not say anything, he just walked up and put the needle in her forearm, then whispered to me to talk to her.

She died almost immediately. I pictured her spirit fleeing that prison of a body, flying off into the ether, she left so fast.

Earlier that year, my mom had to put her dog to sleep. It took him several minutes to die. Autumn died so quickly, it just seemed like an escape. I truly imagined her flying away.

Dr. Fletcher helped me to place her body in the wooden box I had brought to bury her in. It’s a strange experience, carrying a box with you to hold the body of someone who is alive when you start out, but whom you know will be dead, so you carry a place to put them when it’s over.

I buried her in Debbie’s back yard. I wanted her in a place I knew I could come to for as long as I lived. I wrapped her in a special blanket and covered her with a shirt of mine. She looked curled up, like she was sleeping. I have seen a dead human once; that person did not look asleep to me, but very dead. Autumn was not like this. I know it sounds almost trite, but she just looked peaceful, resting. Useful words to describe how it is.

It took a long time to dig the hole, longer than I expected, plus it was hot and the ground was really hard. I had to pick with a pickaxe, then dig with a shovel, then pick again. It was after dark by the time the digging was complete.

Before I lowered the box into the hole, I opened it, and pet and kissed Autumn goodbye, even though she was not really there. I knew once she went into the ground, I would never, ever see her body again. Months later I would imagine losing control and going there, digging up the grave, and opening the box, just so that the last time I saw her wouldn’t have to be.

I found a perfect chunk of stone to place at the head of her grave. I surrounded it with bricks. A couple of weeks later, I came back and planted flowers all over the spot, a floral island in Debbie and Robert’s weedy back landscape.

When I visited the grave the following spring ten months later, the yard was full of wild and brown grass and weeds. Yet Autumn’s grave was covered with green, a grass that was a foot taller than the rest of the grass in the yard. It was a soft, green rhombus, Autumn’s little bed in the middle of the field.

Autumn was the first major death in my life that I actually remembered.  My grandma died when I was two, and apparently I missed her, but obviously a death at that age is nothing like death as an adult, or even as an older child.  The only other death I have experienced since Autumn is Robert’s, which broke my heart.  He died five years after she did, nearly to the day, of complications due to kidney failure.

Having now experienced the death of a close human, I can honestly say that Autumn’s loss was no less for me, and in many ways even more.  I grieved her closely for years.  Eight months after she died, I wrote in my journal that I was still mourning:

I ask myself why this grief can return so fresh eight months after her death. Then I realize that if she had been human, no one would begrudge my feeling this way, and I’m questioning the depth of my feelings because she was a dog.

I sat on the floor last evening near the couch and thought of Autumn and realized again that she will never be here. Ever. I hate the finality of that. I hate missing her so much. I hate the way it makes my heart hurt. I hate that I’m not allowed to feel this much pain because she is a dog and not a human. I loved her so much. I loved her more than any human until Milla was born. She was my first child. Of course I grieve. And I should not question that it has been eight months, or that she was a dog.

The idea for a book about her life tickled my brain shortly after she left me, and so I wrote down my memories of her death and illness while the pain was still fresh so I would not forget.  Then I had to put the book aside.  I could not write about her as a puppy without crying so profusely that I could not continue. Every so often I would remember something and take a note:  Don’t forget this about her! the note would read, whether it was the way she hopped up and down when I toweled her dry after a bath, or how she liked to hunt beetles. Autumn, killer of domestic bugs.

Autumn’s death was the first in a series of life events that nearly brought me to my knees, metaphorically speaking. Sad but true, the timing of her death in relation to everything else was actually fortuitous. Things went rather south with Bjorn once he entered a new relationship, and we suffered a rather protracted court battle for the better part of a year. During that time, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Bjorn’s new partner filed a bar complaint against me that lasted nearly a year. The area of law I practice changed drastically and my earnings plummeted to zero. Rather than lose the lovely little house into which I had poured so much of my energy, I sold it shortly before the economy crashed.

I am not so sure I could have managed Autumn’s illness while handling so many difficulties of my own. Yet perhaps I underestimate myself. It is amazing what one can endure when one has to, simply by placing one foot in front of the other, from one day to the next. Perhaps too, in living with her various degenerative ailments, I acquired the discipline necessary to meet further challenges.

Two months before Autumn died, I adopted an older greyhound. Her name was Edna, and surprisingly, she was a source of comfort in the months after Autumn’s death. She came to us having spent the bulk of her life in a kennel on racetracks. She had raced eight times and failed miserably at it, whereupon she was turned into a breeding dog. Edna had no idea how to traverse stairs or eat anything but kibble in a bowl. Teaching her these things and watching her make new discoveries was an utter delight. She brought us joy during those sorrowful days after Autumn’s death.

In April 2009 Molly suffered a severe seizure. The seizure was horrible. When I woke to her twisted body writhing on the floor, her eyes rolling in two different directions, feces and urine everywhere, I thought for sure she was dead. But she did not die. Three hours later, to the surprise of everyone who had seen her, especially the vet, Molly was 95% better. And she stayed better. The vet warned me that more seizures were to come, that she likely had a brain tumor and would continue to seize until one of them killed her, but that never happened. She never had another seizure.

Then four months later, Molly seemed to deteriorate before our eyes. She fell down the stairs to my then-boyfriend’s basement. She had been having difficulty with stability on slippery floors for some time and those stairs were covered in linoleum. She stopped wanting to eat. We thought maybe hard kibble was bothering her so we bought wet food for her. Molly gobbled that up like a starving beast and we thought things would improve, only the next day she did not want to eat wet food either. We fed her some by hand and she ate that, but the next day she wanted even less. Two days later when we took her outside to go to the bathroom, she slipped and fell going up the back porch steps, and the next day when she went out to go to the bathroom, she urinated, then lay in it.  Clearly something was dreadfully wrong. My dear, sweet, fastidious dog would never go anywhere near her urine if she could help it. We bathed her and I made an appointment with our vet.

Molly died the next morning. The vet said she had a large tumor in her spleen that had burst and her belly was full of blood. She said we could operate to remove the tumor, but Molly would likely not survive any surgery — there would have been no benefit in trying to save her life. She was fourteen years old.  Her body was old and worn out. Trying to keep her alive would have been selfish and cruel.

I am so blessed this creature was a part of my life for almost twelve years. She was always there, quietly in the background. Molly loved a lot of people. She was always so excited to see my mom or my good friends. She loved my boyfriend and enjoyed his company, following him around the house for a snack or to have her rear end scratched. She took a bit of time to warm up to a person, almost like she was sizing them up to determine whether they were worth her friendship. Yet once she decided she liked you, she always liked you and would remember someone after months or even years of an absence.

Upon hearing of her death, a close friend of mine said to me, “She was such a good friend and such a polite and gentle dog. What a blessing to have had her for so long – she loved you all dearly.”  These words were simply true. I am grateful Molly came to us. In her quiet way she was a fixture in my life for over a decade. Of the hundreds of dogs I could have chosen from the humane society that cold, winter day, I am so thankful I chose her.

In winter of 2009 I moved to New York. I had been telling Milla for months that after school let out for the summer, I would get her a small dog of her own. During the school year, we would prowl shelters and pet stores, seeing what was out there, looking for a new friend.

One afternoon in April, we stopped in a dog store after going out to a movie. While there, a small, impish, white maltipoo greeted me with enthusiasm and delight. She climbed up on the railing to the display area, hanging over the bars begging me to pet her.  She was utterly charming.

The store owners brought the little dog into a fenced area in the middle of the store so we could play with her. Milla and I sat and enjoyed her company for a half an hour before she wore herself out and settled in for a nap. As we rose to leave, I reached over the bars and lay my hand on her side. Something traveled between us in that moment. I felt her entire body relax beneath my fingers. She sighed and stretched her legs. I fell in love.

After we left I could not get the little dog out of my head. She was ridiculously expensive and I had determined we would be adopting a shelter dog. However, I kept thinking of her and early the next morning, which was Easter, I decided that I would call the pet store. If they were open, I would offer them less than half their asking price for her, the same price I would pay to adopt a dog in New York. If they accepted, I would go and get her. I called the store, they were open, and they accepted my price immediately.  Milla and I rode the subway north to Washington Heights and brought her home with us. I named her Ava.

I was already in love with this delightful creature. There are some just dog things, such as the way they trot in front of you with their ears back, heading where you’re heading, that I adore in this dog of mine. I love how wherever I go in the house she follows me, like Autumn did. It was one of the hardest things to lose when she died.

Ava also has her own unique quirks that I specially love about her. She sits on my feet. If I am in a place and standing and talking or sitting and talking to someone else, she perches on my foot. She will do this when I am saying goodbye to Milla as she leaves the house to go do something and I am staying home. Ava sits there on my foot, as if to say I am staying here with herYou go have fun. We will be here when you get back. Then as I move into the house to do whatever, she follows me. She likes to sit on the corner of my bed look out the window or watch me while I’m sitting at my desk. She hovers with her paws over the edge of the bed frame, her head rested on them, looking at me.

Ava makes distinct faces all her own. The most common is what I call her happy face, her mouth slightly open, tongue out, eyes bright, often one ear cocked. She’ll turn her head slightly as if to ask Do you want to play? In these moments I stop what I’m doing and play with her. In the morning, when she wakes up, she has the most incredible bed head. Her eyes are all sleepy, her hairs all akimbo. She’ll crawl to the top of the bed, as if the effort is more than she can bear, then sigh and relax as we snuggle and pet her.

Later, wild dog comes out, chasing bears and fozzies, rattling them mightily from side to side until they are dead. Sometimes she brings them to us and requests that we throw them. We do, because watching her little sheep butt run away to get them is one of life’s greatest joys. She does not like these stuffed creatures to see anything. Within a half an hour of getting a new stuffed toy she removes its eyes. Perhaps she does not want it to see her remove all its innards piece by piece. More likely she loves that the pieces are hard and fun to chew.

After Ava has a bath she runs through the house like she’s on fire, ears back, bolting from room to room. What is that, dogs running after baths? I understand their desire to rub themselves dry on the floor, but the running around after, I wonder why.  Almost every dog I have ever owned has gone running after getting a bath. However, none of them have run like Ava does. The others have all just gone for their run to dive into their rubs. This one just runs like a bat out of hell from room to room, then comes and stares at me with the happy face, tongue lolling out, eyes bright. Then off she goes again to make another round.  It’s hilarious.

Ava isn’t thrilled with the bath itself. She is actually one of the more obnoxious dogs I have had to bathe. It’s a good thing she is small and easy to hold down because she really hates it and tries to escape. Yet she is intrigued by the bathtub, or rather, people showering or bathing. When Milla takes a shower, it is a guarantee that Ava will be in the bathroom standing on the edge of the tub, peeking around the shower curtain, her little sheep butt wagging its mini tail. When either of us bathe, she comes and stands and looks in. Maybe she is curious why we would want to do something so hideously awful. Or perhaps she just wants our company. Maybe it’s a little of both.

Ava truly loves to snuggle. She is thrilled at her ability to jump on the bed. She could not always do it by herself, but she grew and figured it out, and now seems to take great pleasure in both jumping on and jumping off. I can jump on the bed!  I can jump off the bed!  See?  I launch myself many feet past the bed!  Aren’t I skilled?

She will jump on the bed if I am lying there and come and lie across my neck and sigh. She’s my little doggie stole. She’ll snuggle there a while and get kisses from me, and strokes and rubs. She knows I do not like her to lick me. She does not even try anymore.  My ex-boyfriend lets her kiss him — I think it’s gross — but Ava knows he doesn’t mind so she licks him all over. The only time she licks me is when I get out of the shower. She will come in and lick the water off of my feet  until I dry them.

This dog makes me happy. That’s the simple fact of it. She came along when I was very sad. There were so many reasons, many of them huge, for my sadness. One the biggest was grief over the loss of the dogs who had lived with me. I would have dreams about them, dreams they were still alive or still lived with me. Vivid dreams. Then this little dog came to live with me and I suddenly felt the desire to laugh again. I laugh every day living with her. She’s a happy, wonderful little spirit. Frankly, I’m completely smitten.

Years and years ago, I may not have even been out of my teens, I read The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. I don’t remember much of it at all. I read it because it was a bestseller, and I don’t even recall its premise beyond the title.

However, I remember one thing vividly. Peck argued that humans can never really love a dog, or any other animal, because to love as he defined it requires reciprocation in kind. My feelings in response to his position are unchanged: I wholeheartedly disagree.  Life is full of different kinds of love. Some loves are equally reciprocal, usually with the person we choose as a mate, but also with certain friends or even family members. By Peck’s definition, I could not truly love an infant or a small child or someone who does not love me back in the same way and with the same articulation.

What a limiting view of human capacity. I absolutely loved my dog. It did not matter that her adoration of me was different. My love for her was there, and it still is. Autumn was a gift and I will love her forever. She helped to teach me selflessness. She brought me joy. She increased my humanity. For this and so much more, I will be forever grateful.

Autumn — Chapter 16

Read Autumn — Chapter 15

I awoke one morning in early July 2005 and rose to give Autumn her shot. I called out her name, but she did not come. She was not at my bedside, and she was not anywhere in my room. She would usually get up to greet me and get her shot and food, because food was her favorite part of the day. I looked everywhere and was getting kind of frantic looking for her. Had she somehow gotten out again and I didn’t know it? I checked both doors, then headed towards the dog door to look out at the run. It was then that I saw she was lying in a heap of blankets on the back porch. I stood looking at her, my fist to my mouth, whispering, “Oh no, oh no, oh no. Not this. Not now. Oh, baby.” Funny, I had always pictured discovering her and running to her side, but I could not move.

“Autumn?” I queried. She remained still. Her ear stood on end. The light was the low, not quite sunny light of early morning in mid-summer. She was in a shadow. I stood back and could not move towards her. I was afraid she had died.

“Autumn,” I said. “Baby?”

I finally stepped forward and thought perhaps her ear had moved. Once I was within a couple of feet of her prostrate form, I could see that she was vibrating ever so slightly. I could see her breaths coming slowly, raggedly.

I knelt at her side and carefully touched her head. She was warm. Too warm. Her body vibrated, humming all over, like electricity was turned on inside her skin. Her eyes were glassy, staring at nothing. I was dry.

“Oh, baby. My baby.” I held her and stroked her, thoughts running through my head. What should I do? Who should I call?

I went into the kitchen, picked up the phone, and dialed Bjorn’s number at work. He answered and I could not speak. I could not emit a squeak. My voice would not come. I could not tell him what was wrong. Tears clouded my vision. The words were stuck.

He kept asking what was wrong. I finally managed to say, “It’s not Milla.” I meant that nothing was wrong with Milla.

He got the message because he said, “I know.”

I sobbed and finally told him that it was Autumn. After he told me this was probably for the best, I realized I had chosen the wrong person to call. Why him? Why on earth did I call him? I think on some level I wanted the closeness we never really had, wanted him to care about my grief and pain. During this crisis, I had a moment of absolute clarity when I realized that he would never be that person for me, ever.

I briefly told him what was going on, then got off the phone as fast as I could. I left a message at Dr. Fletcher’s office. Then I wondered, who do I call? I can’t call my mom; she won’t be a comfort either. I couldn’t call her.

Debbie. I realized then that Debbie was who I should have called all along. When I heard her answer the phone, I did not have to say anything. She knew it was me and she knew why I was calling her. There is a reason she is my best friend.

She asked for specifics. I told her how Autumn was. I told her I thought she would have to be put to sleep. I told her that I did not have any way to avoid my workday and would have to take her to Dr. Fletcher’s that evening because I could not get out of my work commitments. In spite of the fact I adored Dr. Horner, Ken was my friend, and I wanted him to be the one to put Autumn to sleep when the time came.

Debbie told me to keep her posted and stated that she and Robert would be there for me. She told me to let her know when I was coming down and when they needed to meet me there.

I was so grateful for her kindness and her calm. She put me at ease. As I spoke to her, I had filled Autumn’s syringe with insulin and given her a shot. I had given her some food. After the shot, she lifted her head and actually looked at me. Apparently the insulin had some effect, and quickly, because she was noticeably perkier than she had been.

It turned out to be a false alarm. Autumn gradually improved throughout the day and by the time afternoon rolled around and I could drive her down to the vet’s, Autumn had perked up significantly and was back to where she had been before the coma episode of that morning.

Dr. Fletcher patted her and gave her some string cheese. He always carried a can of the stuff to help keep pets happy in his office. Autumn gobbled at it.

“She’s not ready yet,” Dr. Fletcher said to me, patting her. I could see that. As prostrate as she had been that morning, she was back to her old self now.

We caught up on our news. Dr. Fletcher told me again that I should go to vet school, that I could have both law and veterinary degrees. We laughed together for a few more minutes before we turned to go.

“You’ve got some time,” he stated. “Not a lot, but some. Maybe a couple of weeks.”

Oh, I thought. Only a couple of weeks? I hoped with all my heart she would hold on just a little longer.

Autumn — Chapter 14

Read Autumn — Chapter 13

I remember the color of the light in the room the night Autumn first tried to jump on my bed and failed, golden yellow, soft, and warm. It was late and we were getting ready for bed. I was already in bed, reading. Autumn usually came and asked if she could lie at the foot of the bed. In the middle of the night, she did not ask, just jumped up on the bed, curling up at our feet, or coming to the head where even in sleep I would lift the covers for her to clamber to the bottom near my feet. But in the evenings, she pretended to ask before coming up.

That night, Milla was snuggled next to me in the warm down comforter. I was sitting upright, my book propped on my knees. Autumn came over and made an attempt to jump on the bed. She could not make it. She tried again. Foiled again. Finally I arose and put her on the bed. Must be her hips, I thought, and thought nothing more of it.

Over the next several days, she appeared to gradually deteriorate before our eyes. As October closed and November opened, she lost weight and strength. She seemed also to have another bladder infection and drank water excessively.

With interstitial cystitis, Autumn always drank more than the other dogs. I thought this was what was going on, that she was having an exceptionally bad bout of interstitial cystitis, and it was causing her to lose weight, but I thought she should still go to the vet. Again. I made the necessary appointment and three weeks after her first failed attempt to jump on the bed, I took her in to see the doctor.

She had lost seventeen pounds. I could tell the vet was very worried. He wanted to run a number of tests, but thought cancer might be the cause. He could see no other major possibility for the dramatic decline in weight. There was the possibility of diabetes mellitus, he suggested, but I thought this unlikely because she had tested negative for it before. Cushing’s also, but this had also been negative. He offered to run a battery of blood tests to start. If the results from the first set of tests were negative, he would run a second set. Then a third. We would continue testing until we figured out what was happening.

I handed Autumn’s leash to the doctor so he could take her back to the lab. She was not happy and leaned her head towards me, pulling the leash away from the doctor. I pet her head and kissed her and told her everything would be fine. She kept pulling towards me as the doctor led her away. How many times in her life had I watched her disappear behind a door in a veterinarian’s office? How many times did watching the scene cause my heart to constrict and tears of anguish to form behind my eyes? It did not matter how often I had experienced this, my heart always ached as she was led away from me.

I sat in the sterile waiting room of the doctor’s office, staring at the mismatched tiles beneath my shoes. I liked this doctor. He was not Dr. Fletcher, but no one could be him to me. Yet this doctor was kind and honest, and he explained things to me as if I had a brain. The biggest problem with the clinic was that it was in a town about fifteen miles from our home, so trips there were a bit out of the way.

In the waiting area was a giant cage with three kittens in it. Milla was thrilled with these kittens and played with them as we waited. A fat, orange, office cat came through and asked to be petted. It was not very friendly though, and scratched if you rubbed it too long, so Milla left it in favor of the kittens.

Milla ran through the lobby, her blonde curls bouncing, babbling and telling me about the babies. One of the kittens was a light grey color, its fur almost bluish. “See the blue kitty?” she asked me, pointing to it.

“That kitty is blue!” I responded, reaching out to give her a hug. She let me snuggle her for only a moment before running off to the other side of the counter, searching again for the scratching cat.

A half hour later, the door through which the doctor had taken Autumn swung open and the doctor stepped through. His diagnosis was quick:  Autumn had diabetes mellitus.

Diabetes mellitus, also known as impaired glucose homeostasis, is a group of metabolic disorders with one common manifestation:  hyperglycemia. Chronic hyperglycemia causes damage to the eyes, kidneys, nerves, heart and blood vessels. It is a horrible disease and because of the manner in which it keeps the patient from absorbing food, causes gradual starvation. It results from defects in insulin secretion, or action, or both.

The disease was first identified in the ancient world as a disease associated with “sweet urine” and excessive muscle loss. The elevated levels of blood glucose cause the glucose to build up in the urine. Blood glucose levels are normally controlled by insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, which lowers the blood glucose level. When the blood glucose elevates (for example, after eating food), insulin is released from the pancreas to normalize the glucose level. In patients with diabetes, the absence or insufficient production of insulin causes hyperglycemia. Basically, diabetics have too many sugars in their blood and no way to filter them out. It is a chronic medical condition, meaning that although it can be controlled, it lasts a lifetime. And Autumn had it. Little did I realize how much this diagnosis would drastically change our lives.

Years after all of this, I came to believe that the medical problems Autumn experienced arose from problems with her adrenal glands.  At the time Autumn was alive, no one really knew what caused interstitial cystitis, but I’ve learned that recent research shows a link to adrenal malfunction. All along the doctors thought she had Cushing’s disease, although she never tested positive for it. And diabetes is one of the symptoms of a long-term Cushing’s dog. Considering Cushing’s is an adrenal malfunction and Autumn’s diseases were all manifestations of adrenal malfunction, I think it’s a safe assumption that this gland did not work properly for her, or else hers was covered in tumors, causing it to keep from doing its job.

The doctor started Autumn on low doses of insulin twice daily. He also wanted us to change her food to a prescription version for diabetics.

“What about her IC?” I queried?

“IC won’t kill her,” he answered. “Diabetes can and will. You will want to do everything you can to lengthen her life span and make her as comfortable as possible during that time. If she eats the wrong food, she could get really sick because she her body cannot filter out the sugars. This can cause all kinds of problems, from blindness to heart failure.”

I got it. Autumn would have to eat what she had to in order to survive the diabetes, IC be damned.

At first, it was somewhat of a struggle to settle into the routine of taking care of a diabetic dog. It took several trips to the vet to get her insulin levels right. We had started her on one type of dog food that she would not eat, probably because it tasted like sawdust, and kind of looked like it too. None of the dogs would eat it. I tried a couple of other brands before I found something she would eat. All of these dog foods were prescription foods and exorbitantly expensive. It was frustrating to buy a bag of dog food that cost nearly one-hundred dollars for a twenty pound bag, only to have every canine in our house turn its nose up at it.

I also had to concern myself with the ingredients of whatever dog food because certain of them would trigger IC episodes. Even though diabetes trumped IC in determining what would land on Autumn’s plate, that didn’t mean I would choose the worst of them and end up causing her unnecessary pain.

It was a struggle to figure out how to manage the diabetes. Because she would not eat most of the foods I would buy, Autumn would either tear down the house getting into trash or escape and go eat someone else’s. This led to several diabetic episodes where Autumn would escape, then wander home, glassy-eyed and practically catatonic.

At the time of her diagnosis, we were living in the country suburb where all the houses looked exactly the same. Shortly after purchasing the house, we installed landscaping and whatnot for the side and back yards. While doing this, we decided to add a sprinkler system to the entire property. Then we fenced a special side yard just for the dogs. Ever since we owned Poppy we had used dog doors to allow the dogs to go out to relieve themselves. These had proved to be a godsend when Autumn starting having bladder troubles. If there was a chance she could make it outside, she certainly tried.

In the new house, we installed dog doors into the garage and out to the doggy yard. This yard ran the entire length of the house, and was fenced on two sides by cedar plank fencing five feet tall. We then installed chain link fencing between the dog yard and our back yard. We placed river rock up the length of one side of the yard, and grass on the other, with paver bricks between the two and along the base of all the fences. The bricks under the fences were fixed into place with cement. Our thinking was that this would prevent Autumn from being able to dig out and under the fence. We thought the cedar planks, placed side by side, would prevent her from squeezing out. Same with the chain link. Basically, this fence was a dog fortress from which we believed she would never escape.

We were wrong. First, Autumn removed the boards from the cedar plank fencing. We nailed it back up and then nailed boards along the base on the outside. She then removed a corner of the chain link fence. This blew our minds. Her teeth in front were all broken in half from ripping off boards and fencing. Once we repaired that hole, she started in on the brick pavers under the fences.

This was the last straw. After Autumn tore a hole in the pavers and cedar fencing, escaping into the neighborhood and getting into someone’s trash, then coming home stoned on blood sugar, I had had enough. I immediately got into my car, drove to the pet store, and bought an underground electric fence, the kind with collars that shocked the dog if it went near it.

For years I had resisted these kinds of containment systems. I thought they were cruel, shocking the poor dog in the neck, but this was ridiculous. A shock was less traumatic than being smashed by a car.

We installed our fence and sent the dogs out into the yard. We set the range on the wire to two feet. This meant that four feet out from the fence, the collar would start beeping. As the dogs moved closer to the wire, the beeping became louder and faster, more insistent. Then, at two feet out from the wire, the collar gave them a shock.

It worked. It worked so amazingly well, I wished I had installed it years earlier. After two or three shocks, all the dogs stopped going near the fence the second they heard the beeps. Autumn would go to the faster beeps, but then she would stop. She was no dummy.

I no longer thought the fences were cruel. It kept my dog contained and out of the way of cars and other dangers lurking about in the big, bad world. It also kept her from getting out and into food that would cause her to get sicker.

All of the other dogs gradually figured out where the line of the fence was at and never even waited for the beep. They stayed away. When I bought a new house less than a year later, I installed the fence in the dog run area there, and it worked then too, to the point that neither of the other dogs needed to wear the shock collar when they went outside.

It was never this way with Autumn. If she did not wear that collar, she escaped, no exceptions. But she did respect the collar and would not risk shocking herself to get out of the yard ever again.

One major plus to managing the fence situation was that I was able to stabilize Autumn’s insulin injections. Once her blood sugar stopped fluctuating because her food intake was controlled, it was easier to figure out where it needed to be and to maintain its levels.

One rainy Sunday afternoon several months after her diagnosis, but before we installed the underground fence, Autumn escaped and got into something, causing a diabetic episode. These episodes scared me. Autumn would return from wherever she had run off to, listless, her eyes staring off into space. I called it her sugar coma.

It was bound to happen that Autumn would get into something on a day when the vet was not open. She didn’t schedule her medical issues around the hours our vet was working. The result was that I ended up driving her into Portland to a corporate vet’s office in a national pet store chain. I had resisted these offices because I fundamentally disagreed with many of their policies. They tried to sell nearly everyone “prevention plans,” claiming the services cost less with the plan, but they charged more for those services in the first place, and seemed only to ensure the corporation would line its pockets on a regular basis, especially since as a large buyer, it most likely got discounts on many of the products. I also knew from my few vet friends that the wages paid to vets were low and the hours unstable. Overall, as is typical in many such conglomerates, profit drove its motives above all else, and I didn’t like that.

That said, the nice thing about such offices is that they are open many more hours than most smaller establishments. The vet we had been going to was open on Saturday, but not on Sunday. If we needed care on Sunday, they directed us to the emergency vet clinics in downtown Portland or downtown Salem, as they had when we thought Autumn’s stomach was twisted. It was one thing to pay an exorbitant price for such a visit at 3 in the morning, it was quite another in the middle of the day on a Sunday.

I dragged Autumn in to have her hooked up to an IV and get her blood sugars stabilized. After running all the tests, the clinic didn’t even bother trying to sell me their plan. They knew they would make way more money on me just based on Autumn’s many problems.

Yet I loved the doctor. His name was Dr. Horner and he was the closest thing to Dr. Fletcher I had found yet. Because I had read so much medical literature, and spent many hours discussing these issues with Dr. Fletcher, I was well versed in a lot of what was going on with Autumn metabolically. Dr. Horner seemed to sense this, and discussed her case with me at a precise, technical level. He was also extremely kind, and gentle with my dog. Over the years I have taken many animals to see Dr. Horner, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a rat, or a dog, or a lizard, he is always compassionate in his handling of animals.

While I had a good working relationship with the vet we had been using, his office was fifteen miles southwest of our house, towards Salem in a town called Woodburn. Not much later, I moved to Portland, and the new house was even further from the doctor in Woodburn. Once we moved, it was easy to slip into using Dr. Horner as our primary vet rather than the office that was so far away.

Read Autumn — Chapter 15

In Honor of Autumn, Dogs I Have Loved

Seven years ago today, I lost my first child. I chose Autumn the day she was born from a litter of twelve. For the next 11 years and 11 months, she was by my side through travels across country, marriage and divorce, and the birth of a new human baby. In honor and remembrance of our lives together, I am posting a piece of the book I wrote about her.  I miss my dear friend, my love.

The day Autumn died, I woke up and did not immediately know this would be the day. She was lying in the living room, half on the hardwood floors and halfway on the rug. She barely looked up to acknowledge my entering the room, a sure sign something was off, but she had been listless for days because of the unusual heat.

The night before, she had been so hot. So hot that after I removed her from the tiles on the bathroom floor and placed her in a cold bath, the place where her tummy had been touching the floor remained warm for hours. Literally hours. A sick and dreadful feeling filled my stomach when I walked into that bathroom so long after putting her in that bath and could feel the warmth in the floor where she had been.

The heat of those summer days finished her off, I have no doubt of it. She could not withstand the hundred degree temperatures. The last few days before she died, I would come home and find her inert with exhaustion. She would not move. Her stomach would feel like an iron. I would then run a bath of cool water and lay her in it. This perked her up because she needed that cooling off. I don’t know whether her body was incapable of regulating its temperature anymore. The diabetes did so much else to her body; I could see it killing her thermometer too.

That morning, she was lying there and I didn’t immediately register how badly she was doing. I began to get ready for work, roused Milla out of bed, was busily doing my thing, when I made a horrific discovery.

Neon green ooze had leaked of Autumn. It looked like she had peed and was lying in it, but it was not yellow. The color was not anything I had seen from a living thing before, the color of a summer lime popsicle. My entire body went cold upon seeing that ooze. I carefully cleaned it up and moved Autumn into the kitchen. She was more listless than ever. She could barely stand. My throat was tight. It was beginning to dawn that she would not reach her twelfth birthday.

What was that, the desire for her to reach another birthday? All along while dealing with this wretched disease, I had wanted her to reach another birthday. After her initial diabetic episode, I was not sure she would ever reach her eleventh birthday. Then it was Christmas. Then I began to think maybe she would just keep living through a few birthdays, just looking like a skeleton.

I realize now she was gradually worsening, but having her there with me every day I did not notice the decline. Up until three weeks before her death she still liked chasing things. She couldn’t see while she was chasing things, so we had to accommodate, but she still liked doing it. She even seemed to enjoy looking for the ball or stick or toy she could not see.

That’s the trouble with living with a degenerative disease; you don’t notice the degeneration because you’re so busy managing it. And when the good days completely outweigh the bad, which Autumn’s did, it is easy to forget that the one you’re taking care of is on her way out of this world.

And for some reason I had arbitrarily decided that Autumn had to make it to August 16 and her twelfth birthday. It was like that day could save her somehow, even though I knew in my gut it was not true.

While lying in the kitchen, more neon green ooze came out and she just laid in it. It was this that made it clear to me that Autumn was finally really dying. I gave her an insulin shot. I tried to feed her, but she would not eat. She would not even eat wet food. More dread. More tightening in the throat and drying in the mouth.

I knew.

I debated taking her to work with me, initially deciding against it. Then as I bustled about, fitting into the routine that made forgetting easier for the moment, I realized that if I did not take her to work with me I would not see her this last day and I could not do that.

I worried about the office, whether anyone would care that I dragged in my skeleton dog. I worried about her needing to go potty. I finally decided to bring a towel and tell anyone who cared that this child of mine, my first baby I picked out the day she was born, was dying and if that person was heartless enough to tell me to take her away I would tell them to go to hell, but no one did. No one said a word. If I hadn’t had clients, I would not have gone, but I’ve figured out working on my own that I am the only backup, the biggest drawback to self-employment.  The clients who came to see me that day were extremely sympathetic.  One woman who came in shared a similar story of losing her own beloved pet.

I still have the bowl Autumn drank from the day she died. I cannot bear to put it back in the office kitchen. The day I returned to the office after she died I bawled when I saw that bowl. I had heard people speak of feeling “raw” and I now know what they meant. I felt absolutely exposed those first days after she was gone, like nothing was protecting me. Vulnerable. Words I had heard and sort of experienced, but not like this. No, this was worse.

Watching someone gradually die is the epitome of the expression a blessing and a curse. You are blessed with having your loved one there with you, but you are cursed with their disease. One minute you are wishing they would just finally go, the next minute you are thrashing yourself for the thought, the guilt a cloak you wear constantly. When they finally go, those moments creep up on you, those moments when you had ardently wished the afflicted would die, and you curse yourself, wondering whether your wishes contributed to their demise, knowing intellectually this is not possible, then reasoning emotionally that perhaps the dying one felt your anger and this brought their death sooner. Guilt:  a horrible, ugly poison.

I know guilt is not one of the traditional stages of grieving, but they ought to add it to the list for those of us who have lived with someone who has a degenerative illness. It has to be there for all of us. I cannot imagine anyone being a one-hundred percent perfect nurse to a degenerative patient, and those moments when you are not perfect come back to haunt you. Maybe only a little bit, but they are there. I like to think I’m an emotionally healthy person. I’ve managed to talk myself out of those moments, but they came up nonetheless and they can be brutal during the first days after the loved one dies. Like little bits of acid spray on the raw wound of grief.

Mostly though, I remember Autumn with tenderness and affection. Her body was so decrepit in the end, such a mess. A few months after her death, I watched a video I took of her two weeks before that day and her body was an emaciated skeleton. So sad. I took the video that morning because I thought that was her last day, rather than the day she actually died.

Throughout her life Autumn followed me wherever I would go, no matter how trivial or short the trip. Going into the kitchen for a glass of water?  There was Autumn, at my side. Going for a short visit to the toilet?  Autumn would rise from wherever she had been lying, follow me in, sighing heavily as she laid down next to me, then rising again thirty seconds later to follow me back to wherever I had been.

On that last day, when work was over, I picked Milla up from school and we headed south out of town for Dr. Fletcher’s in Albany. Debbie and Robert maintained a phone link, planning to be there for me in the end. I called Dr. Fletcher as well, to let him know we were on our way.

It was a warm day, hot and yellow. Autumn lay on the front seat, curled up. I kept petting her and sobbing. During those moments I kept thinking to myself that in an hour and a half, she would not be there anymore, that I would drive home without her, that I would never see her again. Ever. The finality was like a cement brick to the head. I could barely drive through my tears.

When Autumn was little and she rode in the car with me, she would lay her head across my forearm as I held the gear shift. As we drove, I placed my arm on the seat next to her and she rested her head there, our last moment a microcosm of our life together, our last hour.

The sun was still fairly high when we arrived at Dr. Fletcher’s near 6:00 that evening. The air outside the car was hot, so I left Autumn in the air-conditioning while I went inside to let Dr. Fletcher know that we had arrived. Debbie and Robert had already arrived and were waiting for us.

It’s odd. Since that evening, I’ve had many moments of extreme stress where my body felt like it could barely handle taking another step, but my mind knew it had to and forced it to keep going, but that night I had not experienced anything like that in my life before, and it felt overwhelming, that forcing myself to go when I did not want to.

I returned to the car and carefully lifted Autumn from the seat. I held her close and walked over to a grassy spot next to the parking lot. She was so light, barely fur and bones. I held her closely in my lap. She did not lift her head or try to walk around as she had the many times she’d been there before. I just held her, and pet her, and told her how much I loved her. Milla crouched at my side, her hand on Autumn’s neck. Autumn had been a part of her life since birth. Debbie and Robert stood next to us, and Robert snapped a couple of photos.

Dr. Fletcher held a large syringe filled with pink liquid as he walked from his office and across the lot to us. He did not say anything, he just walked up and put the needle in her forearm, then whispered to me to talk to her.

She died almost immediately. I pictured her spirit fleeing that prison of a body, flying off into the ether, she left so fast.

Earlier that year, my mom had to put her dog to sleep. It took him several minutes to die. Autumn died so quickly, it just seemed like an escape. I truly imagined her flying away.

Dr. Fletcher helped me to place her body in the wooden box I had brought to bury her in. It’s a strange experience, carrying a box with you to hold the body of someone who is alive when you start out, but whom you know will be dead, so you carry a place to put them when it’s over.

I buried her in Debbie’s back yard. I wanted her in a place I knew I could come to for as long as I lived. I wrapped her in a special blanket and covered her with a shirt of mine. She looked curled up, like she was sleeping. I have seen a dead human once; that person did not look asleep to me, but very dead. Autumn was not like this. I know it sounds almost trite, but she just looked peaceful, resting. Useful words to describe how it is.

It took a long time to dig the hole, longer than I expected, plus it was hot and the ground was really hard. I had to pick with a pickaxe, then dig with a shovel, then pick again. It was after dark by the time the digging was complete.

Before I lowered the box into the hole, I opened it, and pet and kissed Autumn goodbye, even though she was not really there. I knew once she went into the ground, I would never, ever see her body again. Months later I would imagine losing control and going there, digging up the grave, and opening the box, just so that the last time I saw her wouldn’t have to be.

I found a perfect chunk of stone to place at the head of her grave. I surrounded it with bricks. A couple of weeks later, I came back and planted flowers all over the spot, a floral island in Debbie and Robert’s weedy back landscape.

When I visited the grave the following spring ten months later, the yard was full of wild and brown grass and weeds. Yet Autumn’s grave was covered with green, a grass that was a foot taller than the rest of the grass in the yard. It was a soft, green rhombus, Autumn’s little bed in the middle of the field.

Autumn was the first major death in my life that I actually remembered.  My grandma died when I was two, and apparently I missed her, but obviously a death at that age is nothing like death as an adult, or even as an older child.  The only other death I have experienced since Autumn is Robert’s, which broke my heart.  He died five years after she did, nearly to the day, of complications due to kidney failure.

Having now experienced the death of a close human, I can honestly say that Autumn’s loss was no less for me, and in many ways even more.  I grieved her closely for years.  Eight months after she died, I wrote in my journal that I was still mourning:

I ask myself why this grief can return so fresh eight months after her death. Then I realize that if she had been human, no one would begrudge my feeling this way, and I’m questioning the depth of my feelings because she was a dog.

I sat on the floor last evening near the couch and thought of Autumn and realized again that she will never be here. Ever. I hate the finality of that. I hate missing her so much. I hate the way it makes my heart hurt. I hate that I’m not allowed to feel this much pain because she is a dog and not a human. I loved her so much. I loved her more than any human until Milla was born. She was my first child. Of course I grieve. And I should not question that it has been eight months, or that she was a dog.

The idea for a book about her life tickled my brain shortly after she left me, and so I wrote down my memories of her death and illness while the pain was still fresh so I would not forget.  Then I had to put the book aside.  I could not write about her as a puppy without crying so profusely that I could not continue. Every so often I would remember something and take a note:  Don’t forget this about her! the note would read, whether it was the way she hopped up and down when I toweled her dry after a bath, or how she liked to hunt beetles. Autumn, killer of domestic bugs.

Autumn’s death was the first in a series of life events that nearly brought me to my knees, metaphorically speaking. Sad but true, the timing of her death in relation to everything else was actually fortuitous. Things went rather south with Bjorn once he entered a new relationship, and we suffered a rather protracted court battle for the better part of a year. During that time, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Bjorn’s new partner filed a bar complaint against me that lasted nearly a year. The area of law I practice changed drastically and my earnings plummeted to zero. Rather than lose the lovely little house into which I had poured so much of my energy, I sold it shortly before the economy crashed.

I am not so sure I could have managed Autumn’s illness while handling so many difficulties of my own. Yet perhaps I underestimate myself. It is amazing what one can endure when one has to, simply by placing one foot in front of the other, from one day to the next. Perhaps too, in living with her various degenerative ailments, I acquired the discipline necessary to meet further challenges.

Two months before Autumn died, I adopted an older greyhound. Her name was Edna, and surprisingly, she was a source of comfort in the months after Autumn’s death. She came to us having spent the bulk of her life in a kennel on racetracks. She had raced eight times and failed miserably at it, whereupon she was turned into a breeding dog. Edna had no idea how to traverse stairs or eat anything but kibble in a bowl. Teaching her these things and watching her make new discoveries was an utter delight. She brought us joy during those sorrowful days after Autumn’s death.

In April 2009 Molly suffered a severe seizure. The seizure was horrible. When I woke to her twisted body writhing on the floor, her eyes rolling in two different directions, feces and urine everywhere, I thought for sure she was dead. But she did not die. Three hours later, to the surprise of everyone who had seen her, especially the vet, Molly was 95% better. And she stayed better. The vet warned me that more seizures were to come, that she likely had a brain tumor and would continue to seize until one of them killed her, but that never happened. She never had another seizure.

Then four months later, Molly seemed to deteriorate before our eyes. She fell down the stairs to my then-boyfriend’s basement. She had been having difficulty with stability on slippery floors for some time and those stairs were covered in linoleum. She stopped wanting to eat. We thought maybe hard kibble was bothering her so we bought wet food for her. Molly gobbled that up like a starving beast and we thought things would improve, only the next day she did not want to eat wet food either. We fed her some by hand and she ate that, but the next day she wanted even less. Two days later when we took her outside to go to the bathroom, she slipped and fell going up the back porch steps, and the next day when she went out to go to the bathroom, she urinated, then lay in it.  Clearly something was dreadfully wrong. My dear, sweet, fastidious dog would never go anywhere near her urine if she could help it. We bathed her and I made an appointment with our vet.

Molly died the next morning. The vet said she had a large tumor in her spleen that had burst and her belly was full of blood. She said we could operate to remove the tumor, but Molly would likely not survive any surgery — there would have been no benefit in trying to save her life. She was fourteen years old.  Her body was old and worn out. Trying to keep her alive would have been selfish and cruel.

I am so blessed this creature was a part of my life for almost twelve years. She was always there, quietly in the background. Molly loved a lot of people. She was always so excited to see my mom or my good friends. She loved my boyfriend and enjoyed his company, following him around the house for a snack or to have her rear end scratched. She took a bit of time to warm up to a person, almost like she was sizing them up to determine whether they were worth her friendship. Yet once she decided she liked you, she always liked you and would remember someone after months or even years of an absence.

Upon hearing of her death, a close friend of mine said to me, “She was such a good friend and such a polite and gentle dog. What a blessing to have had her for so long – she loved you all dearly.”  These words were simply true. I am grateful Molly came to us. In her quiet way she was a fixture in my life for over a decade. Of the hundreds of dogs I could have chosen from the humane society that cold, winter day, I am so thankful I chose her.

In winter of 2009 I moved to New York. I had been telling Milla for months that after school let out for the summer, I would get her a small dog of her own. During the school year, we would prowl shelters and pet stores, seeing what was out there, looking for a new friend.

One afternoon in April, we stopped in a dog store after going out to a movie. While there, a small, impish, white maltipoo greeted me with enthusiasm and delight. She climbed up on the railing to the display area, hanging over the bars begging me to pet her.  She was utterly charming.

The store owners brought the little dog into a fenced area in the middle of the store so we could play with her. Milla and I sat and enjoyed her company for a half an hour before she wore herself out and settled in for a nap. As we rose to leave, I reached over the bars and lay my hand on her side. Something traveled between us in that moment. I felt her entire body relax beneath my fingers. She sighed and stretched her legs. I fell in love.

After we left I could not get the little dog out of my head. She was ridiculously expensive and I had determined we would be adopting a shelter dog. However, I kept thinking of her and early the next morning, which was Easter, I decided that I would call the pet store. If they were open, I would offer them less than half their asking price for her, the same price I would pay to adopt a dog in New York. If they accepted, I would go and get her. I called the store, they were open, and they accepted my price immediately.  Milla and I rode the subway north to Washington Heights and brought her home with us. I named her Ava.

I was already in love with this delightful creature. There are some just dog things, such as the way they trot in front of you with their ears back, heading where you’re heading, that I adore in this dog of mine. I love how wherever I go in the house she follows me, like Autumn did. It was one of the hardest things to lose when she died.

Ava also has her own unique quirks that I specially love about her. She sits on my feet. If I am in a place and standing and talking or sitting and talking to someone else, she perches on my foot. She will do this when I am saying goodbye to Milla as she leaves the house to go do something and I am staying home. Ava sits there on my foot, as if to say I am staying here with herYou go have fun. We will be here when you get back. Then as I move into the house to do whatever, she follows me. She likes to sit on the corner of my bed look out the window or watch me while I’m sitting at my desk. She hovers with her paws over the edge of the bed frame, her head rested on them, looking at me.

Ava makes distinct faces all her own. The most common is what I call her happy face, her mouth slightly open, tongue out, eyes bright, often one ear cocked. She’ll turn her head slightly as if to ask Do you want to play? In these moments I stop what I’m doing and play with her. In the morning, when she wakes up, she has the most incredible bed head. Her eyes are all sleepy, her hairs all akimbo. She’ll crawl to the top of the bed, as if the effort is more than she can bear, then sigh and relax as we snuggle and pet her.

Later, wild dog comes out, chasing bears and fozzies, rattling them mightily from side to side until they are dead. Sometimes she brings them to us and requests that we throw them. We do, because watching her little sheep butt run away to get them is one of life’s greatest joys. She does not like these stuffed creatures to see anything. Within a half an hour of getting a new stuffed toy she removes its eyes. Perhaps she does not want it to see her remove all its innards piece by piece. More likely she loves that the pieces are hard and fun to chew.

After Ava has a bath she runs through the house like she’s on fire, ears back, bolting from room to room. What is that, dogs running after baths? I understand their desire to rub themselves dry on the floor, but the running around after, I wonder why.  Almost every dog I have ever owned has gone running after getting a bath. However, none of them have run like Ava does. The others have all just gone for their run to dive into their rubs. This one just runs like a bat out of hell from room to room, then comes and stares at me with the happy face, tongue lolling out, eyes bright. Then off she goes again to make another round.  It’s hilarious.

Ava isn’t thrilled with the bath itself. She is actually one of the more obnoxious dogs I have had to bathe. It’s a good thing she is small and easy to hold down because she really hates it and tries to escape. Yet she is intrigued by the bathtub, or rather, people showering or bathing. When Milla takes a shower, it is a guarantee that Ava will be in the bathroom standing on the edge of the tub, peeking around the shower curtain, her little sheep butt wagging its mini tail. When either of us bathe, she comes and stands and looks in. Maybe she is curious why we would want to do something so hideously awful. Or perhaps she just wants our company. Maybe it’s a little of both.

Ava truly loves to snuggle. She is thrilled at her ability to jump on the bed. She could not always do it by herself, but she grew and figured it out, and now seems to take great pleasure in both jumping on and jumping off. I can jump on the bed!  I can jump off the bed!  See?  I launch myself many feet past the bed!  Aren’t I skilled?

She will jump on the bed if I am lying there and come and lie across my neck and sigh. She’s my little doggie stole. She’ll snuggle there a while and get kisses from me, and strokes and rubs. She knows I do not like her to lick me. She does not even try anymore.  My ex-boyfriend lets her kiss him — I think it’s gross — but Ava knows he doesn’t mind so she licks him all over. The only time she licks me is when I get out of the shower. She will come in and lick the water off of my feet  until I dry them.

This dog makes me happy. That’s the simple fact of it. She came along when I was very sad. There were so many reasons, many of them huge, for my sadness. One the biggest was grief over the loss of the dogs who had lived with me. I would have dreams about them, dreams they were still alive or still lived with me. Vivid dreams. Then this little dog came to live with me and I suddenly felt the desire to laugh again. I laugh every day living with her. She’s a happy, wonderful little spirit. Frankly, I’m completely smitten.

Years and years ago, I may not have even been out of my teens, I read The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. I don’t remember much of it at all. I read it because it was a bestseller, and I don’t even recall its premise beyond the title.

However, I remember one thing vividly. Peck argued that humans can never really love a dog, or any other animal, because to love as he defined it requires reciprocation in kind. My feelings in response to his position are unchanged: I wholeheartedly disagree.  Life is full of different kinds of love. Some loves are equally reciprocal, usually with the person we choose as a mate, but also with certain friends or even family members. By Peck’s definition, I could not truly love an infant or a small child or someone who does not love me back in the same way and with the same articulation.

What a limiting view of human capacity. I absolutely loved my dog. It did not matter that her adoration of me was different. My love for her was there, and it still is. Autumn was a gift and I will love her forever. She helped to teach me selflessness. She brought me joy. She increased my humanity. For this and so much more, I will be forever grateful.

Goodbye Lady

When I was about three years old, my mom took me to visit her sister, then age twelve.  Her sister had an originally named pony named Patches, an old pinto with large patches of brown and black covering her white body.  My aunt took me riding and I was hooked for life.  From the day of that first ride, I begged my mom for a horse.  Finally after listening to my ceaseless cajoling, she promised I could get a horse when I was twelve, never imagining for a moment her tiny child would remember the promise.  Ah, such simple logic.

From that moment I read, slept, breathed horses.  I took riding lessons when I could, went on trail rides at farms that rented horses, attended horse camps.  When my twelfth birthday came and went, I knew a horse was on the horizon, and not long after, the promise was fulfilled and Rosie came home to me.  She was too small for my long legs, but I adored her and she quickly became a part of the family.

Riding was fun and my sister started saying she wanted a horse too.  My parents relented and took a trip north of Salem to the horse auction.  They came home with a larger, seven-year-old pony mare.   She was a perfect bay, shiny and red, with black points and a rambunctiously thick mane and tail.  She was dainty and pretty, quite ladylike, and so we named her Lady.

I had outgrown Rosie by the time I got her and a year and a half later, my feet touched the ground.  It broke my heart, but I had to find a bigger horse.  This story continued for the next several years.  After I sold Rosie I bought a larger pony, sold her and bought a horse.  As time progressed I became rather horsily proficient and started doing some training work.  For one such job, I traded training work in exchange for stud service to Lady.  Eleven months later, Lady had her first and only baby, Prize.

We had many horses live with us during those years.  We experienced many different horse personalities, some pleasant, some obnoxious.  Lady always lived up to her name.  Where many of our other horses were difficult to catch, Lady would always come wait at the gate, eager for human contact.  She was a smart girl.  She seemed to know the capacity of the rider.  If the person was skilled, she was right in front of the leg, willing and capable.  If the rider was timid or really young, she responded in kind, taking gentle, gingerly steps and walking very slowly.  My mom was terrified of riding.  Her young sister had jokingly put her on a horse with much too much spunk for her abilities or willingness, scaring the daylights out her in the process.  But she rode Lady a few times, the only horse who made her feel safe.  My brother would ride Lady like a wild hellion up and down our mile-long driveway, his whoops filling the air as Lady’s feet clattered on the gravel.

Time progressed and I grew up and moved out.  I kept riding in various capacities, but when I left, my sister’s desire to ride left as well.  My brother only seemed to like riding because horses went fast.  Once he moved on to cars and motorbikes, horses lost any appeal.  My parent’s horse farm dwindled and eventually Lady and Prize were the only horses remaining.  After a few more years they sold Prize to some horsey acquaintances of mine.

For a few years, Lady did not get much attention, but she enjoyed hanging out with my parent’s cows.  They would band together to eat and block the wind.  Then my sister started having babies, I had a baby, Derek had a baby.  All these babies grew into small children who liked to ride the pony at Grandma’s house.  When Milla was two, we rented an old farmhouse in West Linn, Oregon.  It sat on two acres of land right in the suburbs with a grandfather clause allowing livestock.  We decided to have Lady come and live with us.  I was riding at a large hunter jumper barn and Milla had been begging to ride.  I did not feel confident putting her on a tall Thoroughbred, but Lady was just right.

Milla would go out the back door to spend time with Lady.  Lady would lower her head and allow Milla to put on her halter.  She would then lead her around the yard or out into the fenced paddock.  Milla used an old log to clamber onto Lady’s back so she could walk and trot the perimeter of the field.  Friends would bring their children over for a ride.  Our suburban neighbors were thrilled.  They would stop by the fence and offer Lady bits of carrots and apple.

We eventually bought a house and moved on from there, so Lady headed back to my parent’s farm.  My sister had four children and between them and Milla, Lady got pretty regular rides.  My sister bought a farm and Lady came to live there for a while until the place got too muddy, then back she went to the farm.

Lady was long in tooth and pretty swaybacked, her eyes cloudy with cataracts, but she would always come to our whistle, eager to see if we had any special treats in our pocket for her.  Last winter her weight dropped dramatically.  The year was bitterly cold, far below the average, and we worried Lady might not make it through the season.  My parents bought her a warmer blanket and started bringing her up to the house to eat her grain separately from the cows who were hoggy and pushed poor Lady to the back of the line.  Her weight improved and it seemed she would get to see another summer.

The last time I was in Oregon, in late December, I went to visit my parent’s farm.  Like an old fixture there stood Lady out in the pasture among the cows, grazing on the stubby grass.  She was so familiar, such a part of the landscape.  I pointed her out to Boyfriend, who had not been yet to my family’s farm.  “That’s Lady.  She’s got to be in her thirties by now.”  Little did I realize or even think to consider it would be the last time I saw her graying face.   My mom called this morning to let me know that Lady died on Martin Luther King’s birthday.  I had been driving the death truck across country on the day of her death, and my mom had not wanted to add further stress to our blisteringly stressful trip.  Apparently Lady was lying down in the pasture as if asleep.  My dad saw her and realized she was gone.  They buried her on the hill below the house in the place were as children we always rode.

Over the years, Lady patiently allowed little hands to braid her mane and tail, and stood untied while they brushed her, bathed her, and picked her feet.  She would carefully nibble treats from outstretched palms, making certain to leave fingers behind.  In her easy manner, she helped us learn how to care for horses.  She was a part of my life for so long, carrying three generations of our family on her back.  So many children rode, played with, and cared for Lady.  In turn, she cared for us.  I will miss her.