How Autumn Came and Went

I met Autumn when she was a puppy.

In 2005 I was working as a manager at a luxury boarding kennel, and I was at the front lobby working the desk on the day that she bounced through the door for the first time. Her big puppy feet pranced like a Clydesdale. Her big brown eyes were bright and animated. Her yellow Labrador coat was like soft velvet. She was delighted to see everyone, and we all fell in love with her.

Autumn would come for day care, and she grew quickly. She was smart, and always hungry, and she learned commands easily because she was food-motivated. Her family consisted of a father and mother, a daughter who was a sophomore in high school, a son who was deployed overseas in the military, and a little ten-pound doggie friend.

Her family had a plan for her. By the time the daughter would be old enough to go to college, Autumn would be several years old and fully trained. If the daughter lived in an apartment, Autumn would be there to be her protector and companion. It was a perfect plan.

Like many plans, things change.

About a year after they got her, the family dynamics changed. The father died at home suddenly.

Autumn started coming for day care more than usual. Sometimes at the end of the day, no one had come for her, and she spent the night at the kennel. Sometimes she spent several days and nights in a row.

Her family had fragmented and was trying to realign themselves. I remembered how, only a few years before, my then-husband decide to leave with little notice. One child was in college, one child was in high school, we were new to the area in a big house with a big mortgage and a car payment, and things fell apart. I was constantly in crisis mode.

Things came to a head for them one day when Autumn was eating from the little dog’s bowl. Like a lot of small dog owners, his owners left a bowl of kibble out. He approached the bowl, and Autumn growled and snapped at him.

She was banished to the garage. She still went to daycare, but her personality had changed over the months following the father’s death. She was food aggressive. She didn’t like other dogs. She was a fence fighter.

One day, the mother approached me with a plan. Would I keep Autumn until the daughter graduated from college? She would pay me a monthly stipend.

I agreed, knowing that I would have to keep Autumn away from little Daisy, and that she would have to learn to get along with Packett and Aureus. She already knew them from the kennel. She adopted a submissive posture with Aureus, and licked at his face and muzzle. She fought Packett the first time, and he fought back, and then it was settled that he wasn’t a threat.

It seemed settled.

*****

We moved out here to the woods in 2008. One day, some people were walking their 5 dogs, and some of the dogs ran through the woods up to the fence, barking and challenging my dogs. Autumn grabbed Daisy by the head and bit down, puncturing her left eye and cracking her skull. We went to the emergency vet in Savannah, who removed the damaged eye and stitched her up.

I contacted the woman who told me to have Autumn put down. I hate those words “put down”. My son and I talked, and he asked his employer, because by then he too was working at a boarding kennel, if Autumn could be fostered there. It was agreed that she could live there, but every time she went out on a trial, she would fight the other dogs. People would see her and think what a beautiful lab she was, and then would find out that she had issues beyond their expertise. Once she was only out on trial for 2 hours.

My son had finally gotten in a living situation where he was able to keep Autumn. They worked through her hostility toward other dogs, and learned how to introduce her properly, and how to reprimand and teach her.

Things changed again. He went through a series of living arrangements over the years, and finally entered a living arrangement where he thought it best not to take Autumn. Things were complicated for him, and I think it best not to discuss that here, because we all wanted what was best for all parties. Autumn came back to me in February of this year. By that time, Daisy and Aureus had passed away, and it was just me and Packett and a bunch of cats.

Autumn had been limping on her right front leg. We went to the vet, and the X-rays revealed osteosarcoma.

We went through trials of different medications to ease her discomfort. Some made her lose her appetite. I bought a variety of canned foods and treats to supplement her diet. I knew we were fighting a losing battle, but I was willing to fight as long as she could.

*****

It was time. She had stopped eating, and was going outside to be by herself to die, even though she could barely walk, and I had to blockade the door at night to keep her in. I made an appointment for Friday, August 24, 2018. The evening before, we sat outside. I took these last photos of her and by the time I finished, she was too weak to lift her head.

On that morning, at 4:15 am, a gigantic crashing noise filled the air. I went outside with the flashlight, because both of my outdoor lights were burned out. I couldn’t trust that the power company would come inside the fence with the dogs on the property, and I couldn’t take a chance that the dogs would get out. In the faint beam, I saw that the one tree that had been damaged by a hurricane in 2016 had fallen and taken out a section of fence. This complicated things in an extreme way. I had to go to work for a half-day before I took Autumn to the vet, and Packett could get out. Stray dogs could get in and kill the cats. The tree might be blocking the road.

I had to make a plan. At 5am I was at the road pulling pieces of tree out of the way. At 6am I sent an email and a text to the kennel owner telling him that I had to bring Packett for a few days because Autumn was dying.

At 6:15am I loaded Packett in the car to go to the kennel. Autumn barked for us as we drove away. From the kennel, I went to work, then hurried home at noon.

I burst through the door to see her lying on her side on her blanket and bed. I called out to her “Autumn, are you gone?!” Her eyes were receding, her dry tongue was hanging out, and she was barely breathing.

I gathered her up in the blanket. This was no small accomplishment, because even though she had lost weight, she was still about eighty pounds. Her body was limp, and we made it out the door and over to the fallen tree which blocked our path. We stopped there at the tree, me completely breathless and she completely limp, and I draped her body across my lap as I sat on the log catching my breath.

For a few moments it was like we were two old friends, sitting outside together, enjoying the late summer sunshine.

When I caught my breath, I gathered her again and made it out the gate when I had to stop once more. By this time, Sugar had arrived to help me get her onto the backseat. I sped away to the vet, calling them in the phone to say that we were on the way and that she was almost gone. They said they would have everything ready when we got there.

Once there, I parked off to the side and ran in to tell them we would be waiting in the car. I ran back to the car and sat in the back seat with her, cradling her head in my lap. When the vet came to the car, I held off the vein in her left front leg while the vet inserted the needle.

At 1:41pm she was gone.

Goodnight, Autumn. Rest easy. Your worries are over.

4 Responses to “How Autumn Came and Went”

  1. Audrey Bateson Says:

    So sorry Ruth🙁

    Liked by 1 person

  2. carolinagirl01 Says:

    I’m in tears. Autumn was so lucky to have such a loving, accepting family. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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