In Memory of Molly and Autumn

When we were first married, I decided to buy Scott what every guy wants for Valentine’s Day, and no, I’m not talking about skimpy maid lingerie.  I bought him a puppy.

I remember driving through the outskirts of Augusta, Georgia in the rain, searching for adoptable puppies and eventually finding the animal shelter I called from work earlier that day.  As soon as I walked in, I was greeted by the strong odor of dank dog kennels and the barks of their canine inhabitants.  Each one seemed to be yelping from the get-go, “Pick me! Pick me!” and it was hard to resist rescuing them all.  But the pet deposit on our apartment could never cover that kind of damage, so I narrowed my search down to a small litter by the entrance.

“They’re Catahulas,” the woman working there informed me when I stooped in front of their kennel, “just eight weeks old.”

“Cata-what?” I asked, never hearing of the breed she mentioned.

“Catahula Leopard dogs,” she rephrased.  “Good hunting and herding dogs.”

I peered through the chain link, never hunting or herding a day in my life, and fixed my gaze on the runt of the pack, curled up in the corner of the kennel.  Her chin was resting on her paws, but her marble-colored eyes returned my gaze.  She was the funniest-looking dog I’d ever seen, a patchwork of tan, grey, black, and white, full of spots, and with ears sticking straight up like two antennae, investigating the stranger that just walked through the door.

Kneeling in front of the cage, I reached my hand in to pet the puppies.  A few of them clamored for my attention, clawing on top of each other, licking and nipping my fingers.  The one in the corner, though, stood slowly, yawned, and cautiously came over to see what all the fuss was about.  When I scratched behind her pointy ear, she tilted her head toward me, took a few whiffs and then planted several warm, wet kisses in the palm of my hand.

A half-hour later, she was on my lap driving toward home.

Scott loved her instantly.  He named her Molly – my childhood nickname – and faithfully took her to the dog park on his days off.  He bought her ice cream cones on muggy summer evenings.  And he let her sleep on his chest every night.  He loved that dog, and she loved him.

This Valentine’s Day, Molly would have been fifteen years old.  Sadly, a few days after Christmas we had to make the devastating decision to put her to sleep.  Scott and I went to the animal clinic together that day, and with tears falling from our faces and soaking her coarse, spotted fur, Molly fell asleep in Scott’s arms one last time.

A month later, we repeated the same painful process with our cat, Autumn.

Autumn was a wedding gift from my mom who knew I loved cats as much as I loved short, red-headed hockey players from Wisconsin.  A few days before our wedding, Scott went with my mom to the local SPCA to see the cat she’d previously picked out for me.  But as soon as he saw the precocious, affectionate kitten she’d chosen, Scott somehow convinced my mom to adopt another quieter, more withdrawn tabby cat instead.  Autumn, as we came to call her, needed a home, he advocated, and she’d get the perfect one with us.

We rescued several more stray dogs while we were still newlyweds, finding homes for some and keeping others, and up until now I never really considered the future ramifications of adopting a handful of pets at the beginning of our marriage.  But the recent loss of Molly and Autumn underscores the painfully obvious — the bare spot on the back of the couch, the empty dishes, the dangling leash.  Some mornings I wake up fearing we’ll lose our two remaining dogs, Rascal and Murphy, soon, too.

But our daughters have handled the disruption in our furry brood remarkably well, accepting it with an appropriate measure of grief without belaboring the loss.  Lilla woke up one morning recently, convinced Molly and Autumn are together in heaven, content and pain-free.  She had a dream about them the night before.

Curious, I asked my youngest daughter, “What were they doing in your dream?”

“Oh, just running around, making some children in heaven as happy as they did here,” she said matter-of-factly, offering a comforting perspective to a grieving pet owner still overwhelmed by the loss.

After receiving the cremated ashes from the veterinarian a few days later, the girls suggested we put both hand-carved wooden boxes in the middle of our living room, on top of the fireplace mantle as a reminder of the central part Molly and Autumn played in our lives.  Though a bit morbid at first, I now think it’s the perfect place for them.  After all, they’ve been with us from the beginning, and they’re a great testimony to the doggedness of this family.

Together we survived the greenhorn years of marriage.  We withstood the frequent, cross-country moves.  And we braved the births of three babies.  For fifteen years, we’ve endured the daily, sometimes difficult, routine of living in this small zoo we call a home, and Molly and Autumn did it all with loyalty, love, and courage, up until their very last breath.

And as much as I miss them, as much as I wish they were still here with us, their memory inspires me to do the same.

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