We’ve just adopted a puppy named Autumn. We’ve talked about a second dog for many years, first for Lucky Dog, then for Luke. If you’d asked us a month ago, we both would have rejected a puppy. There are too many adult dogs deserving of a loving home. However, Autumn has all the right stuff. We know her biological mother, Summer, a sweet natured dachshund or long-haired chihuahua mix. We know her midwife, Julie, who saved Autumn during a difficult birth (on Merri’s mom’s birthday, the first one following Irene’s death). We know Autumn’s siblings: gorgeous blue-eyed white fur-ball, Winter, and the boy, Spring(er). (A fourth puppy died soon after birth. Each of the 3 survivors is already almost as big as mom — how did she survive.) We know Autumn’s foster mom, Susan, a woman of limitless love for puppies, who has fostered 45 dogs. (I like to think she miscounted and Autumn is #47.) We don’t know Autumn’s dad, other than that he lived in Clovis and had to be bigger than Summer.
Dogs and humans are made for each other; we complete each other. My apologies to cat lovers, but it just isn’t the same — our shared history is longer and our co-evolution more deeply entwined. So, of course, many of us love dogs. Each of us knows our dog is the best of its species. And puppies have the added allure of being small and cute.
Autumn isn’t my first puppy. When I was younger than I can remember — 4? — my parents surprised me with a dog one birthday or Christmas. I remember he was in the detached laundry room in the sideyard of our Kahala Avenue home in Honolulu. (The yard with the fig tree that attracted bees, one of which I stepped on and my mother treated the sting with cough syrup.) I named my first dog Hi-lo as such because of the way he wagged his tale. Hi-lo was a gorgeous black collie. Mom loved him very much. When he vanished years later, she wouldn’t go see a dead dog someone had found, preferring to imagine he was alive and well in a new home. (Mom’s beloved dachshunds died of broken hearts after I was born.)
When I was about 12 years old, not long after Hi-lo vanished, a pet shop opened in our neighborhood shopping center. (We lived on Timberbranch Parkway and the center was Fairlington Plaza. I think a florist or bike shop occupies that space more than 40 years later.) The phrase “puppy mill” hadn’t yet been coined, as far as I know, but this store was surely dependent on cranking out the puppies because it carried only one kind of dog: Saint Bernards. I loved the already sizeable fluff balls. I’m sure my Mom liked their bearlike fur. I wasn’t spoiled, but I was indulged, and I wonder sometimes how much my parents spent on things for me. I still have one of the velvet paintings and the world time clock, among others.
I named our new puppy Barnabus Sebastian Bernard, in part after Barnabus Collins, as played by Jonathan Frid in the original Dark Shadows, my favorite soap opera at the time. (I also watched the Galloping Gourmet and Steve Allen.) My recollection of house-training Barnabus involves locking him in a utility room covered with newspaper (the floor of the room, not the dog). I’m sure my folks did more than that, but that’s my recollection. I loved Barnabus as a child loves, which is not the deep abiding love someone in his 50s is capable of. He was more my toy than my friend, but perhaps that’s the fate of many pets. Ultimately, Baranbus may have been more my Dad’s dog. Dad drove Baranbus for burgers at a drive-thru. (Here, I must mention the special relationship Barnabus had with my friend, Dave Stilwell. Barnabus wanted to kill Dave, very much like Lucky Dog felt about Donavon.) Barnabus was with us through our time on Allison St and on to Pine Street, outliving my Dad. Eventually, he proved too much for my Mom to handle and she gave him to someone with a farm. (Yeah, I know it sounds made-up, but even if my Mom would lie to me, she loved life too much for what you’re assuming.)
Cut to floating hourglasses, cuckoo clocks, and pages of a calendar blowing away and we are here, now, in the present. Cesar Milan is a rockstar to some. We have dog psychologists and we brush our dogs’ teeth. We spend as much on our dogs as my parents did on my indulgences. (Perhaps even in the equivalent in ’60s currency.) Merri and I have had cats and two adult dogs. I know we’ll do fine. We’re smart, we have Internet access, and we have Luke, the best role model one could hope for. Autumn will stir the pot, in a good way, and fit in nicely with the pack.
an ongoing album of photos of Autumn