The Season of Autumn

She’s seventeen years old. If she were my daughter, she might be in the middle of adolescent angst. Perhaps she would be yelling at me, “I hate you, Mom!” and breaking my heart.

Autumn in her full coatShe is definitely going to break my heart. She’s my eldest dog, and at seventeen, she is already five years past the average life span of a Chow Chow. She is supposedly a Chow mix. Her snout’s a bit long, and her tail doesn’t curl, but she’s always had that cuddly teddy-bear look, especially when she was a pup. Her exact breed doesn’t matter–seventeen is still old for a dog of her size. She’s in good health at the moment, but heartbreak is looming.

I remember the day I brought her home. A friend begged me to help this puppy, owned by a neighbor of hers who didn’t want the dog after all. When I met her, the first thing I noticed was her hair. It was long–not just dense and thick, but inches long, flowing silkily. I had had a German Shepherd mix once. Shepherds are my favorite breed, but I do not like grooming, and their thick hair requires regular brushing. Since losing my shepherd, I have purposed to have only short-haired dogs.

She rolled on her back, month open, tongue lolling, joyfully enjoying the tummy rub I gave her. Then she bounced up, tail wagging, eyes shining. She loved, and she deserved a home with love. How could I refuse?

But that hair! Essentially brindled, it was dark brown and deep gold, with some lighter browns too. She looked to me like the piles of leaves that litter my property each fall. So I named her Autumn.

She doesn’t look like that now, however. I indeed failed to groom her adequately, as I knew I would, though the job became much harder in recent years. So several years ago, I began getting her shaved around June. This removed the mats and tangles, and let me promise again that next year I wouldn’t let it get like that.

Two years ago, Autumn had some health problems. She had thyroid issues, and began daily medication. She also developed something called Old Dog Vestibular Disease, which affected her balance, causing her to tilt her head, stagger like a drunk, and, on occasion, even fall. Because of that, I had her shaved at the vet’s office. The shave was less uniform, perhaps, but when they are removing all the hair, who cares?

So you would think they would have warned me.

The summer heat warmed, then eased, leading to the crisp days of her namesake, but Autumn’s hair, which should have been mostly grown in by then, was absent. This can happen to dogs with thyroid conditions, but it is rare enough that the vet didn’t think about it when I ordered the shave, and I was not prepared for an unclad dog.

Actually, it might have been better if it had totally failed to grow back. Instead, the hair has come in, well, oddly.

The hair on her feet grew back completely. This part, which I would most like to be naked, is now fully able to absorb all the mud and water of winter as usual. Autumn's furry slipper feetEach foot, however, has grown back the same amount, with a precise line around the top. As a result, it looks like she was deliberately shaved except for her feet, like some weird, corrupt Poodle. I feel embarrassed, thinking people must wonder why I would do that to her. Sometimes, when she runs around the house, she seems to me like a naked old man in fat, furry slippers.

You can see the feet and the overall shave from a distance. Get close, however, and the oddities multiply, for there is more hair. Tufts line the back of her thighs like the armor on a Stegosaurus lines its spine. Spikes of hair encircle her front elbows. There’s a bit on her tail: a tuft on the end and some random patches along its length. On the sides of her head, tufts appear here and there, calling to mind the chaotic Einstein look. A few months ago, she began getting a patch of hair about the size of a hand on the top of her back, near the rump. None of this hair is the color of fall, but the light grey of her body.

A closer look still shows that she isn’t really naked. She is more like a shorn sheep. Her undercoat grew back, a thick, dense grey covering that saves her from freezing in winter. Look even closer, and you will see that she does have her long, dark hair all over her back. It’s just that there are maybe a dozen strands each square inch instead of several hundred.

Autumn in 2012People do think I had her groomed like that. Yet they find it cute. I don’t quite understand that–who would inflict that look on any dog? And no one can even guess at a breed now; sometimes, not even the species. She got loose once, and one woman who saw her wasn’t even sure she was a dog. I’m not sure what wild animal she would bring to mind.

She does inspire a lot of laughter. She’s recovered fully from her Old Dog Vestibular Disease, but she still keeps her legs splayed out when she stands–and when she runs. She gallops into the house with an odd gait, those furry slippers flying all over. She runs and jumps like she is still a puppy.

The vet increased her thyroid medication a little, but it hasn’t helped (except for that patch of hair on her rump). I would like to see her gorgeous coat once again–and this time, I won’t shave her down!

Because she is seventeen, and she will break my heart.

______________________

Autumn made it to the incredible age of 18½, leaving this world on June 27, 2014.  Her odd story continued.  My other dog accidentally scratched her, and where she was scratched, the hair started to grow in.  Soon, it spread—back, neck, legs.  This occurred about a year before her death, and she died fully covered with her long hair.  No, I never shaved her again.   

I originally wrote this when Autumn was 16.  I’m grateful for all the years I had with her, and that my heartbreak did not come as soon as I expected.

Download a PDF file of this story by right-clicking here and selecting “Save target as.”

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

dk March 4, 2014 at 11:26 PM

Autumn is a great dog. I know she will bring heartache, that comes with the territory. You have written a wonderful tribute to her. Love you both!

Reply

Leave a Comment