I took Simon out to Los Osos on a Monday. His weight had dropped. He had stopped eating his dry food. The back legs were collapsing almost daily. Not good signs for a dog who had only recently turned ten.
But I wasn’t too worried. Dr. Knighton knew his stuff. Simon had been in good shape up until now. This was probably something about his hips or his aging gums. Put him on some medication, change his diet, and everything would be fine. I dropped Simon off and headed into work.
Dr. Knighton called on Tuesday with the grim news. Simon had acute leukemia. Unless we decided on chemotherapy, the dog had precious little time left. A few days, perhaps a week. When I first heard the news, I felt like someone had hit me in the stomach with a large baseball bat.
On Wednesday morning, I drove back to Los Osos and picked up Simon. He was thin and moved gingerly, but otherwise there was little outward sign of his illness. Dr. Knighton showed me X-rays and talked about white blood cells pushing red blood cells. “Keep him quiet,” he advised. “Let him rest.”
They brought Simon out and he seemed happy to see me. We took the long way back to Nipomo, detouring out to Spooner’s Cove in Montana de Oro.
I laid out a blanket on the beach and we sat there for a better part of an hour, taking in the birds, and the waves, and the solitary figure sweeping the sand with his metal detector. That was the first time I cried this week. It hasn’t been the last.
Friday comes. Sitting in my office at home, I can glance over my shoulder and see Simon stretched out on our guest bed. I say his name and he responds with a single thump of his tail. We decided against the chemo — at best, Simon would only get another six months. So now we wait.
This isn’t one of those Jack Nicholson “Bucket List” situations where we try to cram a lot of adventure into our remaining time together. In truth, Simon is very fragile and needs to avoid any kind of excitement. We have to keep it simple.
So instead I discover the singular joy of bringing Simon out on the front lawn and letting him roll around in the grass. The other dogs whimper in protest as I feed Simon turkey and roast beef. He can have all the food he wants.
At night, I wrap my arms around my dog on the bed in the guest room, listening to his heavy, uncertain breathing, talking to him as if somehow he can understand.
I struggle to hold it together, trying to maintain the focus on keeping Simon comfortable. Inside, I rage. I am helpless. There is no medicine, no doctor, no amount of money that can save this dog, a dog who should easily have another three or four years. He slips further away from me with each passing day and there’s nothing I can do.
So here it is Saturday. Simon is out in the back yard, calmly lying near the bushes, eyeing the mischievous birds on the deck he can no longer chase. Looking at him through the window, I see the same old Simon in his familiar pose.
Yet during the night, he stood up on the bed to shift around and suddenly collapsed into my arms. I could see the confusion in his eyes. How much about what is happening can a dog really understand?
If you have animals in your life, you sense what this week has been like. If you don’t, then, well, there’s really nothing I can say to make you understand
My heart tells me that we’ll get to Sunday. After that, I’m not as confident. The journey is almost over. One final trip to Los Osos is all that remains.
Our journey with Simon began nearly ten years ago when I snatched him from Animal Services right before he was to be euthanized. I’m not sure who rescued whom that day, but Simon has been a great dog, offering unconditional love over the years. Maybe this week I’m just trying to pay him back a little when he needs it the most.
Simon cheated death once. It won’t happen twice. Sadly, this is a dog I can’t make stay. As hard as I try.
SLO City News (June 2008)