A Requiem for Simba – Summer 2017
That first night at the house, in June 2006, still just a pup of seven months, Simba whined because I made him sleep on a dog bed on the floor. Initially there are lots of rules for dogs. No human food, no sitting on the furniture, no mud in the house. But they wear you down. Eventually the dog is taking up too much space on the couch and stealing donuts off the counter.
For years, it was often just the two of us. Hanging out, watching the game, going on a run, wintertime frisbee in the back yard. Maybe a trip to the dog park. I would walk the perimeter, meditating on some problem, while Simba bolted around the place daring others to chase. He would disappear for a time and then come tearing out of the woods to “check in” with me. Typical stuff. One moment, indecisive about wearing a harness on a walk, expressed by a growly, Chewbacca-like talk. The next, full on, tearing up the stairs or eating an ice cube or lighting up a UPS truck.
Simba had lost weight over the past several months, and developed an intermittent limp. Trips to the vet revealed he had cancer and needed to have his spleen removed. Much like our other dog Nala, who was diagnosed with cancer and had her spleen removed in August 2016!
We were stunned. Both dogs victims of what appeared to be the same illness. In each case, the prognosis was not good. A few months at most. However, Nala, under Tracy’s constant care, was still with us and we remained hopeful.
The recovery from surgery for Simba was rough. It was clear he had lost more weight, was very weak, and not interested in food or meds (we tried everything). The days blurred together, but after more calls and visits to the vet, we had him home and comfortable on a bed we made on the living room floor. We stayed near his side, lying on the floor next to him, and hoping things would turn around. In the back of my mind, though, I was sure we would lose him, even calling the kids so they could brace themselves.
But then, an epiphany. “Ice cream” Tracy said. Surely he would eat some and maybe we could sneak in some pain meds. It worked! Suddenly he started to rebound. We began tracking his meds and food closely. “Pain meds at 7AM, turkey sandwich at 8AM….a turkey sandwich?.” The kids came home and he was stepping up his game. Big pawing us, lining up for dinner, excitedly waiting for a raw bone. He even stole a chicken breast.
I warned myself not to become too optimistic. But as I prepared to leave for a short work trip out east, I was sure he was going to make a strong comeback. No need to worry. We would have this summer together. Plenty of nights sitting on the deck, sipping a whiskey, listening to the breeze and the crickets. Me and “bro”, as we often called him. One more summer.
I said my quick goodbyes at 4AM and left for the airport, knowing I would be home the very next night. By that evening, something was wrong. Tracy called. Simba's leg was swollen and he was in agony.
I talked with Tracy again the next morning. She’d stayed by his side all night, while he was frozen in pain. She made plans to bring him to the vet with the help of her aunt. I hoped an x-ray would reveal something we had not thought of. Maybe some type of leg injury that we could address.
Shortly after I got to the office, Tracy called again. “Come home now.”
It's so strange. These dogs offer absolute loyalty, friendship and honesty. Trusting us completely, and we them. But in the very end, we are left to make the hardest decision.
I made it back to Minneapolis several hours later and raced to the vet. He was still hanging in there, but his body was shutting down. After talking it over for some time, our decision was clear. Of course, we could not ask him to suffer any more. I said goodbye again, for the final time.
These days, Simba comes to mind as I wonder through the house and life. My mind plays tricks on me. I look for him at the window as I walk up the drive, or mistake a bark for his signature baritone. Then, I resign myself to knowing we’ll never hear him again, and I hope it was all enough.
So, this summer, on one of those warm breezy nights, step out on the deck or porch or front stoop, and raise a glass to your good friend, I know I will.