A wide shot of the Andes Mountains with a snow covered Mt. Ausangate in the center. The 2020 team of eleven are hiking in the foreground on a beautiful day.

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Reflections of Autumn – A Celebration
13 Sep
2020
By Randy Pierce
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Autumn: 1/3/2012 – 9/5/2020

Autumn, a black and tan lab in the grass next to an empty harness.

“Notice that Autumn is more the  season of the soul than of nature” -Friedrich Nietzsche

Autumn burst into the world with the individuality and distinction she would carry her entire, remarkable life. January 3, 2012 brought  the announcement of the first litter of puppies for the guide dog program. All of their names would begin with the letter “A.” Autumn’ stood out prominently with her rare black & tan markings. Her initial name “Azure’ was changed to Autumn by her puppy raiser, Joan Morehouse. Always high energy and sassy, Autumn also was a joyous and loving puppy eager and curious which would serve her well.

Puppy Autumn sits near her crate wearing a miniature harness Puppy Autumn lies proudly with two of her litter mates

Her training through the Guiding Eyes program brought her to readiness for the home training program with Chrissie Vetrano. The two of them arrived to Nashua on March 16, 2014 in a joyous meeting which would partner Randy and Autumn for their remarkable lives together.

Autumn Arrival Day Video

Many might have chosen to focus on the big paws Autumn had to fill in following Quinn as Randy’s guide. Autumn launched herself with wild abandon into her own version of work, play and devotion to the bond so essential to every guide team. She was instantly a “Daddy’s girl” using every charm in her respectable arsenal to fill home and hearts with love and joy. Always wanting to be in contact with me, this particularly included climbing on top of me if ever I dared venture to the ground. Autumn sits on Randy's lap while he sits indian style and meditatesResting her face against mine in the sweetest of snuggles was just one of the  untypical ways she delivered loving devotion.Of course, all snuggle moments would be interrupted for a chance to visit the toy closet and break out a squeaking toy. The louder the better for my voracious squeaker and she would prance around in raucous celebration with each retrieval before reluctantly delivering it back for another throw and retrieval.

Autumn rests atop Randy as they sit by a staircase, they are both facing the camera and Randy wears a broad smile

She was incredibly obedient and attentive when a treat was on the line and otherwise her independent mind was similarly a powerful force. Intelligent and curious, she sought distractions of her choosing all too readily and would problem solve her way to appreciate the things which made her happy. One ‘boring’ moment working me in a line became a lot more interesting to her when a puppy in training entered the back of the line. Stubbornly turning to face the puppy, Autumn even attempted to guide me by walking backwards so she could continue watching the puppy!

Autumn's head rests on Randy's knee with her soulful brown eyes looking into the camera

She was excellent at walking backwards, more so than any ever dog I’ve ever known. This was helpful when an errant car decided to speed out of a driveway one morning without looking as Autumn and I had just walked behind the vehicle. She pushed me out and backwards to get me out of harm’s way, exactly as the training intends but when you are saved from serious injury the overwhelming appreciation and admiration is far deeper than just the respect for the training.

Randy, Tracy and Autumn laughing on a summit peak. Tracy wears a bright pink top and Autumn is caught with her pink tongue out in the middle of licking her own nose.

A happy family photo with Autumn, Randy, and Tracy.

I introduced Autumn to her first mountain very early in our working career with some trepidation which she quickly quelled by performing amazingly. Our first hike  changed our working relationship and inspired a love for the mountains within her. There was never a time, after that first moment, she did not want to visit the trails and hike. Though I would not take her nearly as often, the enthusiasm would burst from her any time she was in sight of the woods and she would become vocal, barely restraining her excitement, when we approached the mountains.

She was equally at home around people and loved our visits to schools and the chance to meet with students. Tens of thousands of students had the chance to witness her adoring gentle hug for me after a presentation.

Randy and Autumn pose on a grassy Island with water and puffy white clouds all around

On top of Staffa Island, Scotland

Those presentations and our adventure travels took her across the country multiple times and even into several other countries from her travels to Niagara Falls and then England and Scotland for a remarkable vacation. That intense curiosity ensured a love of those travel opportunities and like so many labs her willingness to work every time I pulled out the harness is the gift of a lifetime for which I will always marvel. It is why I was saddened but willing to accept when she began to suggest she might like to retire in her eighth year. That’s within the range but I had secretly hoped she might always want to work with me.

As the challenging year of 2020 stretched along, we had explored with our veterinarian just  as a precaution. Even the trainers from Guiding Eyes made a visit, finding nothing out of the ordinary. Autumn was happy, energetic and willing to work at times but not all the time; perfectly reasonable for a dog at her age.

What we didn’t realize until Friday, September 4, 2020 was that she had been experiencing a Hemangiosarcoma on her spleen. This was a slow hemorrhage into her abdomen with no discernible results save a little lower energy at times, especially after working at anything for a bit of time. On that Friday night the tumor reached a severe point and like a light switch the impact on our sweet girl was dramatic. She did not suffer pain but a severe lethargy and weakness. September 5 would be a long and difficult day for all of us as we learned that our shining beacon of joy was in the most dire of situations. We were blessed with just a few private hours at home with her to say goodbye, to give her all the love and spoiling we could manage. A little tug of war at her urging, a little squeaky bone, a pound of New York Sirloin and oh the snuggles.

One thing many never knew about Autumn is what we affectionately dubbed the Nurse Autumn role. If ever I was in pain physically or emotionally, she would immediately react. She came to me and would do her best to nurture me. In the worst of my challenges she would press herself more tightly to me and lay her head over my neck or head to soothe me. At times she would predictively realize a migraine was coming and start to alert me and encourage me to get rest, ideally with her on my lap of course. In our final time together, I was grieving so much even as we hoped to just fill her final hours with love. I had laid on my back hoping she would choose her patented approach of crawling onto my chest for a deep hugging snuggle. She had declined, feeling weary and having stitches on her abdomen from an earlier procedure. Autumn lies atop Randy as he snuggles his face into her neck. This is their final farewell snuggleWe had chosen to just lay beside her giving her loving strokes of her soft fur. As our time grew ever shorter she stood on her unsteady legs and used her nose to push me from my side over to my back. Surprised, I complied and then  I realized she was tending me once again. She was climbing to lay on my chest, rest her head on my shoulder, face to face one final time. We laid there for 15 minutes with my adoring, loving girl giving to me what I had hoped for so desperately and I think, needed.

We said farewell that night, she went to sleep so peacefully and gently as we stroked her. Tracy and I each telling her what a good girl she was. Each of us pouring out words of our love to her, thanking her for the love and joy she gave to us. Our great girl took her last breath but she has not left us. She is a part of us. That is what great companions do, they change you. They are a part of you and you go forth always with them within you. Autumn will always be a part of the joy and love in my world, my sweet girl.

6 responses to “Reflections of Autumn – A Celebration”

  1. Pat says:

    Such an incredible share by an incredible team. My heart goes to you and appreciate your wonderful tribute. It is always such a loss and do agree they are always with us

  2. Vicki Orkin says:

    Through the tears because I relate to the love of our special dogs. You voiced it so beautifully. I just found out about your loss of sweet Autumn. I am so sorry. She will join the others locked in your heart forever. The love they share with us is such a gift. Every time I have to say goodbye to a dog I have shared my life with and loved unconditionally , I say the pain is too great, I can’t go through a loss again, but I have always ended up with another dog because how could I go on without that joy and love? The pain of loss is horrible but all the other days of happiness and shared love over rule it.
    My thoughts are with you and Tracy.

  3. Vicki Orkin says:

    Through the tears because I relate to the love of our special dogs. You voiced it so beautifully. I just found out about your loss of sweet Autumn. I am so sorry. She will join the others locked in your heart forever. The love they share with us is such a gift. Every time I have to say goodbye to a dog I have shared my life with and loved unconditionally , I say the pain is too great, I can’t go through a loss again, but I have always ended up with another dog because how could I go on without that joy and love? The pain of loss is horrible but all the other days of happiness and shared love over rule it.
    My thoughts are with you and Tracy.

  4. Paula Ravaioli says:

    Randy and Tracy – I am so very very sorry to hear about your sudden loss of precious Autumn. What a beautiful girl she was with her unique markings. She was a lucky dog the day you and Tracy brought her into your home and God bless her that she gave you so many wonderful years full of her love and companionship and service. The love you have with your guide dogs is beautiful to see and I have always felt so good knowing Autumn, The Mighty Quinn, Ostend and your friend Modi were with you. They are all healthy and happy playing with each other now. I hope the two of you are doing okay.

  5. Paula Ravaioli says:

    Randy and Tracy – I am so very very sorry to hear about your sudden loss of precious Autumn. What a beautiful girl she was with her unique markings. She was a lucky dog the day you and Tracy brought her into your home and God bless her that she gave you so many wonderful years full of her love and companionship and service. The love you have with your guide dogs is beautiful to see and I have always felt so good knowing Autumn, The Mighty Quinn, Ostend and your friend Modi were with you. They are all healthy and happy playing with each other now. I hope the two of you are doing okay.

  6. Randy says:

    Thank you for the comments, it has been a little over three weeks and I’ve slowly reading comments online. Grief is often the measure of love and I was both dearly loved by this sweet girl and deeply loved her as well. We brought her paw-print home last night and as I traced my fingers along the grooves, feeling the subtle markings of those pads and prints I touched so many times, I struggled. This morning Tracy and I sat in the meditation room with her again as we have the ashes of all my beloved dogs there and we listened to a song we think of as her song. She remains with us and a part of us which is a tremendous comfort. As Paula suggested, I take more comfort in knowing Modi, Ostend and Quinn are still very much a part of me and in that knowledge I am asured Autumn’s place is a long lasting legacy.

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