I thought I was a responsible pet owner. Auggie Doggie caused me to rethink this almost daily.
Camping with Auggie in the 1990s
Camping with Auggie in the 1990s. Photo Courtesy of Pegi Webster
At eight weeks old, I plucked Auggie Doggie out of a litter of six baby Springer Spaniels, a fat, wiggly little liver-and-white colored sausage. It took him no time to claim our two small children and the house as his own, and in short order, it was as if we’d always had him with us. He jumped into the bathtub with the kids, and they covered him with bubbles until his ears curled around his face like a grandma fresh from the beauty parlor.
Time passed, the kids and Auggie grew as expected, and our new life in Nevada stretched to include chickens, ducks, a perpetually annoyed goose, and a couple of horses. A large backyard extended everyone’s horizons, and it was around that time that Auggie let us in on his superpower.
Auggie could get into or out of almost any situation without being seen. He came and went from our yard as he pleased, and no type of fence caused him any pause. When I’d go to the back door and call, and he didn’t appear, I was sure he’d been dognapped, hit by a car, or run away forever. It was stressful going through this multiple times a day.
After a bit, I’d look out a window, and here Auggie would come, nose in the air, little nubby tail poking out behind him. But he would refuse to acknowledge me in any way until he was back safely in the yard. He would then come around the corner of the house or barn and act as if had I wanted him, this was the first he’d heard of it.
He’d wiggle his stumpy body with excitement, so happy that he and I’d been reunited. Where had I been all day? Try as hard as we could, we could not find where he’d escaped or crawled back in. It was a new fence, no fresh holes, no open gates.
He used this power to get in and out of the chicken yard. Again, not a clue how. The yard fence was firmly tacked at the bottom and was too high for him to jump. Nothing to climb on, unless one of the chickens let him stand on her shoulders. (Do chickens have shoulders?) We’d only know he’d been in the chicken yard because he’d show up in the middle of the lawn, looking smug, and gently spit out an egg. He’d eyeball the egg, judging the distance, and then throw himself down on his back on top of it and squirm and wiggle, all four big fluffy feathered feet in the air, until it cracked. He’d quickly jump up, gobble the egg, shell and all, and finish with a polite burp.
We called it the egg dance.
The dance was followed by the time it took me to remove the semi-hardened goo from his back so he could come back in the house.
Auggie knew, beyond a doubt, that he was not supposed to leave the backyard. I know he knew because we discussed it at length every time he returned.
When we’d come home from an outing, as soon as we’d pull into the driveway, Auggie materialized from who knew where and walked directly in front of the car, head and eyes down. He believed we couldn't see him if he didn’t look at us.
Not only could he get free of any confinement, but he was also invisible when he did it.
He'd wait patiently while we got out of the car and then throw himself into his over-the-top greeting, wiggling, whining, and so happy that we’d finally returned. He’d missed us! He’d been so lonely in the backyard all by himself!
How he knew to time his homecoming with ours was another mystery.
In those days, our unpaved street had little auto traffic. On warm summer mornings or cool evenings, a neighbor or two and I would ride out on our horses and wander the foothills of the high desert, taking as much time as we could steal. Heaven.
Auggie would beg to come along, big brown liquid eyes pleading as he watched me saddling my horse.
“No. You stay.” If only.
He’d follow me to the gate, a dejected ball of dusty curls, unbearably sad.
Sternly. “You stay! I mean it!”
Auggie was not invited on these outings, hard as it is to imagine, because he was just so awful. He’d bully us and take over, first in the lead just barely a step ahead and then herding us from the rear, cutting loose to tear through neighbors’ yards and run through sprinklers.
He’d charge at other pets peacefully going about their own business in their yards and then veer away at the last second, tongue lolling out with glee. This would cause my neighbors to become unreasonably angry with me.
“He’s just kidding!” I’d wave and call out sheepishly, memorizing which house it was so I could bring by some muffins, maybe.
He’d jump into random water troughs, and this was the worst. After swimming around a bit, he’d fling himself out and scare at least one of the other horses I was with. (My horses were used to him.) And then he’d throw himself down in the dirt at the already frightened horse’s feet and roll around until he was just a muddy stringy blob, resembling not so much a dog as a breaded veal cutlet.
He tried this trick in an elderly neighbor’s yard, knocking over a birdbath, tipping over the base and bowl, and then rolling in the spilled water. She was just coming out of her front door when last I saw her, as we cantered away. (Yes, of course, I went back later…)
It was just embarrassing. So no, Auggie was not invited, as if he cared.
Off we’d trot, dog-free. I’d look back every so often, reassured that Auggie had stayed where he was told.
Only after we were at least a block away and far enough that he knew I’d not turn around and take him home, would I notice a patch of sagebrush moving just so slightly behind us.
I’d stop and look. Nope, nothing. Ride on.
Look again. A different bush, across the road this time, shaking. All else still.
Ride on a bit more. Then, once again, a bush rattling like mad on the opposite side of the road, and Auggie burst from behind it, scattering dried sage like fireworks; so HAPPY to see us!
All I could think of was the old cartoon where the dog uses a bush for cover, and you can see only his tippy toes under the bush, the sounds of a piano tinkling in the background.
Auggie collected things. In the winter, he’d gather baseball-sized snowballs attached to his long fur and swing them about like bells around the bottom of a Christmas dress.
On our trail rides in summer, he liked to dive into the bushes and come out wearing a small twist of sagebrush, rakishly stuck near his tail end. It would sway behind him as he trotted away, like a barbed wire grass skirt. I believe he thought this made him invisible from the rear flank.
Once, a couple out walking stopped in front of us.
“Oh, come here, doggie, I’ll get those nasty sticks off you,” the gentleman said.
Auggie stood quietly and then turned and dove right back into the underbrush. He returned with another sagebrush branch stuck to his butt.
“He likes it,” I said. “But thanks anyway.”
When Auggie left our yard for the final time, it was, as we always hope, peaceful and bittersweet. Sixteen years of sneaking around backyards and stealing eggs is a long time. He would not be sneaking back in.
I like to think that, earlier this summer, Auggie jumped out from behind a cloud or ethereal sagebrush bush and surprised his dad with that same look in his eyes. “Hey! Here I am! I've missed you!”
And I like to picture my husband’s smile when he saw all the furry good boys and girls we’d loved throughout the years, standing right behind Auggie, waiting for their turn to get a scratch behind the ears.