Auggie (1998-2009)

GETTING AUGGIE (written in August, 2000)

I wish that I could state that throughout my entire life I’ve felt a continuing, dominating passion for dogs. After all, that would make sense of the deep, boundless love I now have for my first dog, Auggie, who came to me in 1998 as a gentle, patient 8-week old pup. But I’ve grown late into total dog devotion.

Baby Auggie, 1998.

Memory suggests that as a child I was more moderate in my dog longings. Yes, I was fond of them. Yes, I went door-to-door in our Montreal community begging the neighbours to let me walk their family pets. Yes, I wanted one or more canine companions of my own. But I wanted them when I grew up, rather than NOW. In fact, it seems that when I was asked about age 12 what I hoped for my future, I wished for life on a farm with lots of dogs and cats. (My young friends had more practical ambitions: I remember Lesley stating her desire to marry a man with lots of money.)

It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that my dog desires deepened. Then, I was working more than full-time in a highly demanding management job in telecommunications, on the fast track for bigger and better responsibilities and achievements. And yet, I had fantasies of quitting that job, getting a dog, getting a car, and setting out to see North America. (To think that I didn’t even then know about John Steinbeck’s book about his own with-dog peregrinations, Travels With Charley!) I now believe that mostly I wanted a life immersed in healthy pursuit of my own creative ambitions, a life with devoted and daring sidekicks, a life open to adventure. At the time, the life I lived didn’t measure up.

And so I longed for a dog the way that a speed-loving sixteen-year-old yearns for a first car. Voraciously. Without reserve. With research. I checked out all the various dog ‘models’, imagining myself the proud owner of first one kind and then another. Having developed into an allergic kind of person, I knew I must choose a non-shedding variety. And so I mused. Would my furry friend be an insouciant, charming blonde, a wheaten? Perhaps I’d opt for a schnauzer and finally break the second-generation curse. I flirted with the idea of a Portuguese water dog, my neighbourhood’s latest preferred non-shedder. Or I might decide for the noble intelligence of a poodle – and since I wanted a large dog, a standard (or in French, “caniche royal”, a royal duck dog). The specifics seemed almost secondary: I knew that getting ‘my’ dog was only a matter of timing. Of time.

Time passed. I did in fact quit my job. And I did develop my own creative work, my visual arts practice, specifically. For that, I took up some specialized training, earning a diploma at the Ontario College of Art and then commuting to Montreal to do my Master of Fine Arts. Neither was a pooch-friendly pursuit. So my dog dreams remained unfulfilled, again pushed forward into a future when circumstances would allow.

Finally, in 1998, D-day (yes, Dog-day!) approached. But just a sec: would I get my dog or would I get into the Banff Centre for Fine Arts’ writing program on creative non-fiction? I knew I couldn’t have a puppy and work in residence in Alberta for some weeks. I tossed the dice, applied to the program to let fate decide. But Banff’s selection of participants was delayed. And then delayed again. I got to the point that I didn’t want to delay any longer. I wanted to make the choice. I resolved to find ‘my’ dog.

About six months earlier I’d finally settled on getting a standard poodle. I’d gotten over my reservations about the breed: yes, the hyper-groomed stereotype had put me off. In fact, research confirmed that the breed is everything I desire: energetic outdoors, quiet indoors; not a barker, not a shedder, not a quitter; good with individuals of all ages and species. (And of course I could have my dog clipped however I wished.) A friend of my mother’s had found a standard poodle her family adored through a breeder nearby. I called to discover that she had a litter of puppies ready to go in two weeks, with just one not spoken for. Obviously ‘my’ dog.

In July 1998, I took home that a beloved, high maintenance standard poodle, Tudorose Augustus Vaughan Dog, “Auggie”. We lived very happily together for almost 11 years, until it was time for him to leave this world. 

One of my favourite images of Auggie, taken on a very happy holiday in Nova Scotia in 2007. Auggie going with his usual insouciance into the light.

LETTING AUGGIE GO (February, 2009)

My beloved Auggie left this world on Tuesday, February 17, 2008, eased on his way at home through the gentle care of veterinarian Dr. Allan Gilmour and his technician Ruthie. Lying on his favourite bed in my home office, Auggie had a gentle and peaceful death: first a sedative that helped him feel sleepy and happy, followed about 10 minutes later by an intravenous overdose of anaesthetic that simply put him to sleep forever. I was right with him the whole time, holding his head and stroking him, telling him how much I loved him, what a good dog he was, and how I much I hoped he had a safe and speedy passage into whatever great adventure was awaiting him next.

At about 9:30 a.m. Montreal time, Auggie had a gentle release from this life, and from the body had become too frail to contain his generous and abundant spirit.

In his last days, Auggie had been losing his appetite and his physical strength. He was barely able to get himself up from lying down, walking was a challenge, and the stairs up to our second floor flat were impossible. Even more seriously to those of us who know and love him, he had lost much of his joy in life: he no longer seemed happy in the world. Finally, during the last few days he seemed to have a little physical discomfort in his belly, a result (likely) of fluid accumulation as his organs began to break down as his body failed. A perpetually health-challenged dog, Auggie coped with Addison’s disease, hypothyroidism, kidney failure, high blood pressure, and most recently blindness, as his HBP caused retinal hemorrhages and detachments. The many skilled and caring medical experts of ‘team Auggie’ helped keep him going over the years, and particularly since the fall’s acute challenges with vision loss and soaring blood pressure readings. While we were able to control specific problems with medication, herbs, acupuncture, specially prepared foods and lots of TLC, Auggie’s body finally wore out, although, thankfully, he was not in pain.

After his passing, his remains were collected by two sensitive workers from Pet Friends, who consoled me the best they could, then gently wrapped my furry boy in a fleece blanket, laid him on a stretcher, and carried him down to their waiting van. I was able to pat him goodbye one last time before they drove him to the crematorium in a wooded estate on the Ottawa River. His ashes will come back to me in an urn before the end of the week.

To the absolute end and beyond, Auggie was treated with the dignity, love, and respect that I believe we owe all creatures, especially those dependent on us. I am so grateful that — scorchingly painful though it is to be without him — I had the right as well as the responsibility to ensure he left this life still feeling his own capabilities and self-identity.

All through his life, Auggie knew himself to be deeply loved by me and his many friends across Canada, the US, and even further afield. When I spread word of the sad necessity of his imminent euthanasia and asked for thoughts and prayers through the time of his passing, messages and gestures of love and support poured in. Our friends gave me strength, which I know in turn helped Auggie know that he could leave us and that we, that I, would be alright without him.

The many messages reminded me that Auggie’s and my almost 11 years of steadfast love and an ever-deepening bond was extraordinary and magical, especially at this time of world upheaval and strife — a lovely antidote to my feeling that our time together had been much too short.

Friends reminded me of many episodes of Auggie’s self-confident thrill in social adventures and the company of those he loved: reverting to puppy-ish jumping up on an extra-special neighbour who had known him since he was a baby; claiming the best couch for himself when visiting friends (who generously allowed him up on their furniture); warmly greeting one of our studio mates one early morning — and then going for the true prize, her croissant; sauntering through the wilds of the conservation areas around Toronto; traveling from coast to coast, Vancouver Island to northeastern Nova Scotia, and drinking from both oceans … and more. Friends  remembered him for me in his vigor and strength, and saw the great gift of himself that he gave me and any one else who would receive it, and I am very grateful.

Remembering Auggie’s and my many, many happy walks through Toronto’s Cedarvale Ravine, I donated a tree to this favourite site, where it continues to thrive.

Auggie’s commemorative tree in October 2016, five years after planting. I chose a red oak, stalwart, beautiful, long lived.