Autumn Grace, a Life in Three Acts

Our dog, Autumn, had a magnificent snore. She weighed just 22 pounds, yet she created a sonic environment that demanded comment – variations on “I could never sleep with that noise,” and memorably, from a co-worker during a teleconference: “Is construction happening? I hear a jackhammer. Please shut your window.”

Act I

Born July 10, 2006, registered “Glen’s Charissa,” Autumn was a breeding dam at an Arkansas puppy mill. She lived in a cage, unloved except for her capacity to generate profit. She was saved at four years old by Paws and Claws Rescue, and fostered by Judy Walters. Judy wrote that what she loved most about dogs was no matter how terrible their lives had been, they always woke up optimistic that today was going to be a good day. Autumn embodied that outlook.

When Charissa arrived in NY via PETSLLC transport in September 2010, she was our second Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Amidst dozens of dogs who’d made the long journey north, she emerged from the truck with a tentative wag and settled immediately into 10 year-old Sarah’s arms. They watched Brady Bunch DVDs in the backseat as we drove home.

We rechristened her Autumn Grace because she arrived in the fall, and because she exhibited a calm, patient grace. Sure it’s on the nose, but we named our other dog Frodo because he was short and had hairy feet; that’s how dogs should be named.

Act II

In many ways, four year-old Autumn didn’t know how to be a dog – she’d wet her bedding and spend most of the time hiding behind furniture. Her younger housemate Frodo was instantly smitten, and adopted her as his own pet. He guarded her when she slept, and usually knew where she was, inside and out. I’d ask, “Where’s Autumn,” and he’d take me to her.

Frodo was trained on the Invisible Fence, but we didn’t want to put a collar on Autumn, afraid to inflict additional trauma. When Frodo had to go out, he’d roust Autumn and push her toward the door too; he’d nose her away from the edges of the yard, a better, gentler enforcer than any zappy collar. Gradually, she learned to come along for walks (Frodo hated to go without her, although his pace was more exuberant than she could maintain) and she started emerging from her hiding places to play. He even groomed her, in a fashion – he’d lick her entire face until the hair was plastered down; she didn’t look happy, but she didn’t move away, either.

Then Frodo died suddenly, too young, in 2016.


We used to joke that Autumn was more Frodo’s pet than ours. I actually thought she’d follow him over the bridge shortly – she’d always seemed more frail – but after he died, she decided to become ours. She took his place on the bed for evening massage, although she never slept with us like he would (she preferred hard, preferably cold, sleeping surfaces.) She began to stay close, keeping us within sight, and appeared to enjoy the proximity – she’d sit and grin, eyes sparkling.

Autumn discovered her bark in later years. For a long time, we never heard a peep from her (Frodo did enough barking for both of them.) Then one day we heard it: a single, forceful “ARF,” delivered with her entire body, eyes bulging to reinforce the message. It was more a scold than a bark, and it was usually to remind us that we’d missed some element of her schedule – medicine, food, morning walk, evening tribute. (A note about tribute: Autumn’s after-dinner, after-medicine, pre-bedtime snack, expected when I’d sit in my recliner in the living room – even if I didn’t want to, she’d make me go sit anyway. Four bites of freeze dried beef liver, four bites of freeze dried chicken breast, and four half-calorie training treat chasers. If I left the room and returned, she’d try for another round.) In discovering her voice, Autumn trained us well.

Over the years, Autumn had one health scare after another; I don’t think we had a year without an emergency vet consultation. Pancreatitis. Congestive heart disease. Pneumonia. She wore a diaper for incontinence and took antacid pills to help her stools. Her most alarming condition was what seemed like sleep apnea – she’d stop breathing, then bolt awake and scamper around, trying to restart her breath. It happened several times each day and night, and became more frequent as she grew older. I came to love her snore because it meant she was alive and resting peacefully.

Finally, a host of medical issues around her 13th birthday – a tooth infection followed by what seemed like a stroke and temporary partial paralysis – suggested the need for mercy. She saw the vet twice within three weeks, and he gently suggested we let her go peacefully. She’d been on daily heart medication for more than two years already, and her breathing was increasingly labored. He said, “I’m surprised she’s doing as well as she is.” I figure she just didn’t want to miss any meals.

In general, during most of the past few years she was happier than ever. Sure, we had to cut her meat in tiny pieces and give her a few different options, but her appetite remained enthusiastic. Still, she was sleeping more, and her apnea episodes were becoming more frequent and alarming; we decided to ease her passage instead of letting her struggle to a possibly agonizing finish. We set a date that would allow enough time to enjoy all of her favorite foods and activities; as the weeks passed we alternated between hoping she’d live forever and fearing we’d waited too long.

For all of the trouble, she gave us back so much more. Like Judy said, Autumn always expected each day would be fantastic, and that attitude was contagious. We didn’t want to say goodbye.


Urban Dictionary has the following entry for “Charissa”: A Greek name meaning “grace.” A sweet, graceful, and quiet girl. She isn’t very outgoing, but is still fun. She is beautiful in a unique way. Very loyal and trustworthy. A great listener and an amazing friend!

Our Autumn Charissa was all of that, and the gentlest dog I’ve ever known. She wasn’t particularly smart, although she had an unerring internal timer for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack times. She was blind in one eye and often seemed mostly deaf too, but she came scampering when the peanut butter jar opened. Dog heaven better have peanut butter, or I expect she’ll be coming back.

She loved the cold – an Arkansas dog who’d lie on the sidewalk in subzero temperatures, and endure the worst of summer as close to the air conditioner as she could get. She loved belly rubs, and if nobody was petting her, she’d roll on the floor and pet herself until someone got the hint.

Autumn was high maintenance, to be sure. Caesar Milan would be appalled at how we’ve catered to her. But she filled our hearts, and she made us laugh. As thunderous as her snore was, that’s what I’ll miss the most.

We love you, Gracie.

Autumn (Charissa) Grace, 2006-2019