Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Very Very Good Boy

Before we thought about growing our family with kids we thought about growing our family with dogs. When Matt and Sharon got married Sharon already had a Basset Hound named Penny (who was less than pleased when she was unceremoniously dumped from her warm spot in Sharon's bed out to a kennel in the spare room.) We thought it only fair to Penny, then, to get her a friend. Since Sharon likes big dogs, and Matt likes big dogs, we figured "why not get the absolute biggest dog you can get?" So Matt did some research on English Mastiffs and, wouldn't you know, Mastiffs are well known for being very gentle, loving, low energy dogs. In fact, they're often described as "rugs with legs." That sounded like our kind of lifestyle! Of course, what we chose not to note at the time were dire warnings about the drool, snoring, gas, and just what it feels like to get whacked in the knees with a tail the size of a garden hose.

We got married in September, and we found a breeder who had just birthed a litter of Mastiffs in August. When we went to the breeder's home there was an outdoor kennel full of Mastiff puppies. The mom and dad Mastiff both seemed very friendly (and huge!) so we felt good about the puppies. We got in the kennel and played with many of them, but back in the back of the dog house was a particularly shy little boy puppy. He was bigger than his litter-mates, but he was clearly only interested in hanging out in his house and not being subjected to the craziness of all the commotion. We decided on the shy little guy and named him Augustus. Since "Augustus" is a pretty big mouthful we went with "Auggie" for short.
As you can see, Auggie was an adorable puppy (although all puppies are adorable.) It took him a while that first night to decide that he was okay coming to our house. He cried most of the way home and he wasn't too fond of Penny at first. But he soon determined that we weren't out to torture him and that Penny was acceptable as a "big" sister. (We are forever grateful to Penny for teaching Auggie the finer points of house training. Auggie was quick to house train mostly because he kept a keen eye on what Penny was up to. He soon learned what was acceptable to do in the house and what wasn't.) In those early days Auggie spent a lot of time in our laps. It didn't take long for us to learn that wasn't a feasible long-term option. (Note the drool on Sharon's pant leg in the second pic. That drooling habit started very young. Little did we know.)

Auggie entered his "rebellious teenage years" with an unfortunate habit of chewing. Matt got very adept with spackle and a putty knife as we attempted to repair the damage that a very large, very destructive dog could do. Auggie particularly liked chewing on the walls, but he also took a liking to base boards, large chunks of wood, or really anything that sat still long enough to get chewed on. He grew up faster than he grew out, and for quite some time had a fairly gangly appearance. But he was also developing into an extremely sweet dog who, despite the chewing, only seemed to want to please.

Auggie was good with strangers but a little shy. Whenever we'd take him to the park for a walk he would hesitate whenever he met someone new. Which was a problem because as soon as anyone saw Auggie they immediately wanted to throw their arms around his neck and hug him (particularly little kids.) But after a few moments Auggie would determine that whomever the new person was couldn't be all bad and he could probably tolerate some love and attention. This same pattern was seen whenever we had a house guest. Auggie would initially be somewhat hesitant to engage with the new friend. But, by the time it was time for them to leave, Auggie would be attached to the hip of the guest (sometimes even closer than that, sorry Cath.)

Auggie hated leaving home. When we'd go for a walk he wanted to go back home. When we went to the dog park instead of playing with other dogs or exploring he'd stay right next to us and whine about being there. We took Auggie and Penny to a state park one Spring and every time we'd walk past the car Auggie would try to climb in so we could go home. Auggie knew when we were at the dog boarding facility because as soon as he walked in the door he would try and bolt back out to freedom (try getting a 165 lb dog to go somewhere he doesn't want to go.) Of course everybody at the dog boarders loved Auggie because, once he was there, he'd make the most of it and play and interact like all the other dogs. But there was no question he would rather be home, cuddled up next to Penny (yes, Auggie and Penny like to spoon.)

Auggie was a quirky dog. He liked to chase rabbits and squirrels. He drank from the bottom of the water bowl and ate from the bottom of the dog bowl, meaning he made a huge mess when he did either. It was not uncommon to see 18" strands of drool hanging from the corner of his mouth. And he'd shake his head, shooting that drool all over the room. More than once we found dried drool over 8' high on the wall. Every once in a while he'd walk up behind you when you were sitting in a chair and lick the top of your head. He knew two tricks: sit and shake. He'd perform these two tricks any time you looked at him because, he figured, you must want him to. He LOVED going over to Aunt Karmas and Uncle Les, as well as Matt's Mom and Dad (to see Oscar and Molly.) He did NOT like driving through a drive-through. We don't think he trusted anybody he could only see half of. While he was never too crazy about baths, he would tolerate them and never put up a fuss. He definitely enjoyed being brushed, however, and would let you brush him for half an hour without tiring.

He was a people-pleaser and anything you asked him to do (that he could understand, he wasn't what you'd call a sharp dog) he would do. He loved peanut butter and yogurt and ice cubes (if he heard or smelled any of the three in the kitchen he'd come running.) He was scared of big dogs (Auggie always figured he was just a big-boned Basset Hound like Penny.) He loved little kids and would let them hang on him and pull his ears. He'd talk to you if you'd talk to him, and he could always hear when Matt was on the other end of a phone call. (He'd start to whine as soon as he heard Matt's voice on the other end.) He shed so much you could stuff 20 pillows with his hair. Having Auggie step on your foot was a singularly painful experience. He'd let us dress him up in ridiculous Halloween costumes (a cow, a ghost) and never complain. For dignity's sake we won't post those pictures.

All in all, Auggie was and is a very, very good boy. So you can imagine how sad we were to learn that he had developed bone cancer and that it is now time to say goodbye to the ol' Augger Dogger. Probably very few dogs in this world have been as loved as he, so in that sense you have to say that he's had as good of a life as any dog could hope. Nevertheless, we're heart-broken. Before we thought about growing our family with kids we thought about growing it with dogs. And Auggie will always be our first, sweet (very big) boy.