Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Fourteenth Year.

I can still vividly remember the first day I met him.

My wife and I - then young lovers - were spending one of those particularly romantic days together, when we were first courting. We had just moved in together and were out and about shopping for things to make our home "ours". It was an extremely carefree and gushy time so bare with me here. We saw everything through rose colored glasses. We couldn't stop kissing or smooching and I don't think we spent many moments not holding hands. It was young love writ large.

I don't think we had actually discussed the idea of "expanding" our little household, although it had come up casually in conversation in one form or another at different times. So full of limerance as we were, when the opportunity presented itself, it was an opportunity that was too cute to pass up.

We were in the shopping mall, armed with homeware purchases and grocery items, strolling towards the exit, when we heard him. It was unmistakable - a loud, high pitched "yap, yap, yapping" My then serioso looked at me with those eyes that said "Awwwww!"

The pet store was just ahead of us, a small store front that was a kind of 'blink-you'll-miss-it' affair. That was where the yapping was coming from. At the time, I was the more reluctant of the two of us. I mean, we had just moved in together and were still finding our feet with one another. But I couldn't resist her eyes. They were one of her most attractive features.

I was lead towards the the pet store and inside, it was a cramped space, occupied mostly by bird cages and fish tanks. I remember looking around for the cat and dog cages, thinking 'are we in the right place?' But the yapping started up once more and I knew, we couldn't be any place else.

So we find our way to the very back of the store and found the source of the noise.

There on a wall occupied by cages of cats and dogs and other mammals, at eye level, was one particular puppy. It could only have been him.

He was six weeks old. He was born in June. A small bundle of black and white fur, with mottled socks on his front legs and overtly tall, pointed ears. His eyes were huge, almost too big for his face. And, as we approached the glass he instantly stopped his ultimate fighting contest with the ball of newspaper, sat down on his hind legs, wagged his tail furiously and looked straight at us. He yapped twice then got up, turned his rear end to the glass and promptly shat on it, a liquid stream of poo that made me flinch reflexively. My rose colored glasses cracked a little.

I noticed then that his enclosure was kinda filthy with poo and under normal circumstances I probably would have baulked right away. But this observation was almost completely usurped by the fact that the puppy occupying the enclosure was so damned cute. Even though we hadn't even made a decision yet, I knew we weren't going to be leaving the store without him.

He was six weeks old. He was a cross breed, a mixture of Border Collie and that quintessentially Australian cattle dog - the Blue Heeler. We were told he had been born in a litter of pups from the Southern Vailes of South Australia, down among the wine barrels of the McLaren Vale Wine Region.

My then serioso was sold on him the moment she laid eyes on him. I, although a little concerned about the amount of shit he had produced in those first few minutes, was reassured after the pet shop owner told me that he had just finished a course of routine antibiotics which was the cause of his "squirts".

Cut forward to us driving home from the mall. We'd purchased a bottle of Bleasedale Caberbet Sauvignon to seemed appropriate.

...On my serioso's lap, was a large cardboard box. The pup lay sleeping inside, evidently worn out after the whole ultimate fighting thing and the subsequent liberation from the two feet by four feet enclosure. Though we had no idea of the concept, we felt complete. Niether of us could take our eyes off the box. We were hoping he would wake up so we could interact with him.

"What shall we name him?" my serioso asked.

We ran through a bunch of names, from the usual, dumb pet names to the more sensible ones. None of them seemed to 'fit' however. This little pup seemed to possess something special - something different. He wasn't an average pooch at all. As we mulled it over, the pup awoke to the sound of our voices and popped his head out of the top of the box, yawning generously.

My serioso gave him a loving soft nose rub.

"What do you think of Sam?" I suggested, thinking that he looked noble enough to be a Sam.

"Hmmm" my serioso mused, a note of hesitation running through her voice.

"Okay..." I continued. "How about...Simon?"

We both looked at our new puppy. There was a moment of quiet between us, then my serioso nodded.

"Simon...that's it. Simon"

It fit.

Simon from then on, has become an inextricable part of my life. I regard him as, quite possibly, my best friend. We have grown up together, an unshakeable bond has grown between us.

Simon has been there during the best parts of my life - when my serioso and I were married. I actually wanted him to wear a golden bow tie and be a part of the wedding but I was talked out of it - probably for the best. The morning walks my wife and I used to go on religiously when we lived in Adelaide Hills - Simon was there. I'm sure he woulda put his own leash on if he could. I mean, he would actually bring it to us so we could put it on him. Whenevee the very word 'Walk' was uttered he would bolt straight for the leash, hanging on a hook outside. And he wouldn't so much walk along with us as he would attempt to pull our arms out of our sockets. Thank god we could let him off occasionally. Simon was particularly spoilt - by myself. He always got one of the sofas to himself and especially loved our movie nights, especially when we got our first home theater. He is an avowed Star Wars fan - like his 'daddy' - although I think he secretly leans a little more towards the works of Tarrantino, especially recently. Simon loves popcorn - MAJORLY - and we would usually end up surrendering at least half of a bowl of hot buttered heaven to him alone. He loved the drives and the day trips we used to go on and he always had his favored position in the back seat. No one would dare get in the way of his spot on the back seat. When my wife and I moved to the city, to our new house, he didn't once fret or struggle with adjusting to the new environment. He is and always has been adaptable.

A number of times, Simon has flirted with disaster. Chewing the cords of my Playstation controllers aside, Simon once brought down some loose house bricks on one of his front paws in an attempt to get through the side gate and he did a pretty decent job of breaking it. For weeks after, he sported a bright blue plaster which he wore, reluctantly. He hobbled around like a senior citizen and made it known that blue is definitely not his color. But the paw healed and he didn't suffer any long term after effects as a result of his injury. We once brought him home from the kennel we used to favor after an overseas holiday to find a really nasty hole in his equivalent of his groin. The wound must have been sustained from him being impaled by something sharp and it became badly infected. Subsequently, Simon became very ill and it was touch and go for some time. Again, he pulled through as if nothing had happened. We never took him back to that kennel.

Simon has also been there during the worst parts of my life - my darkest hours. When my marriage broke down and I was, literally, totally alone in this city that is far from the place where I grew up, Simon was my confidant, my one unwavering support, my only friend. He was with me when I had to move all of my furniture out of the house and into a shed that would become my home for 6 months while I built a new house. There were many of those trips at really odd hours to move my life out and Simon subtly moved from the back seat upto the front passenger seat to keep me company. For a time, my wife and I had joint custody of Simon and we made an honest attempt at sharing him. But it was doing us no good. In the ensuing train wreck that inevitably happens with a marriage breakdown, I feared I would lose Simon. And I was prepared to give him up too if it meant that he would be settled and happy. Fortunately (and I was to be forever grateful for this) my wife decided to surrender him to me.

For a time it was just Simon and me. And we were comfortable - if a little homeless. I battled depression - severe depression - and Simon was there to help me pick up the pieces. Much to my shame he did a lot of picking up after me but never once did he turn away. Eventually, I met someone new and with Emily came new love and new possibilities. The house was built - back in the Adelaide Hills that we both loved so much. Simon was kitted out with a brand new kennel and our new life began. There were new places to explore, new roads to walk and new air to breathe. 

With the passing of years, I sometimes wondered how long would Simon be around for. I mean, I know dogs have a different lifespan to humans and inevitably, I knew time would catch up to Simon. But I was amazed - constantly - watching him as he passed through his tenth and eleventh and twelfth years of life effortlessly. He witnessed the birth of our first child and took to Xavier without difficulty at all. In fact, he seemed tailor made for children. When Lucy was born, Simon seemed to be just as excited when we brought her home as Xavy was. He has watched them both grow and they have have grown to love him as a part of the family. Simon has slowed down somewhat. Arthritis has collected in his hips and it's made things a little more challenging for him to do, but it hasn't prevented him from enjoying an active life and playing with the children in the garden.

Simon has given so much joy but perhaps the most rewarding thing Simon has given me was the basis for an in-story characterization of him in my novel "The Hambledown Dream". During the months I spent writing the novel, Simon was with me a lot of time, sitting on the floor of my little den, snoring away as I wrote on rainy afternoons or out on the patio with a glass of wine and the bird song to keep us company when the sun was shining. It was somewhat inevitable that I would feature him in the story. I didn't count on his role being such a popular one. People who have read the novel have told me how much they loved Simon's appearence in it and how they loved his contribution to the emotional finale. He really is that wonderful character. He has such personality and a wisdom that he conveys through his eyes and his big smile.

Last week, we received some fairly shattering news.

For the past couple of months, Simon has been visibly struggling with walking and, initially, we thought it was an exacerbation of his arthritis. It's been really distressing for him - given that he has been such an active dog - and it's been distressing for us, not really.knowing what to do to make it better for him. Things however, took an alarming turn a couple of weeks ago when, as if from no-where, a large lump developed on his hind leg which seemed to irritate the hell out of him. Alarms bells went off and we promptly took him to the vet for an examination.

Simon has been diagnosed with cancer.

Without going into the specifics of the type of cancer that he has - it's a particularly nasty one - we've been told that the prognosis is poor and that his remaining time here with us is uncertain. Painful as the decision was, we've decided that treatment is not an option. There are too many risks for an older dog like Simon and the outcome would most likely be the same. For now, we've opted to treat him conservatively - to clear up the infection in his leg, manage the tumor, treat his arthritis with steroids and make him as comfortable as possible.

Our little family has been rocked to it's core. Xavier has some basic idea of the significance of the diagnosis, while Lucy is far too young to comprehend it. Both Emily and I are struggling to comprehend it ourselves. Suffice to say we are devastated.

For now, the steroids have actually helped Simon a lot and he has regained some of that characteristic spark that so endears him to everyone. He seems more comfortable and moves much more easily. Just today, he was playing soccer with Xavy and I in the garden and he was mixing it up quite skilfully - if a little gingerly. He hasn't lost his appetite and still eats like a horse - the steroids no doubt have helped that. So long as he has that kind of quality of life, then I am happy. 

He will celebrate his fourteenth year of life on June the 26th this year. I don't know yet, if he will make it to that date. After much discussion, anguish, soul searching and tears I've decided that once his quality of life deteriorates significantly, then I will make that one final journey to the vet with him.

Simon has made an indelible mark on my life for a full third of my life. I can't imagine how my life would have been without him in it. I can't imagine how life will be once he is gone.

Simon is my friend.



  1. This is just SO beautiful. People who love animals as you do, and as I do, are the best. Your precious Simon has touched my heart by the reading of this story alone.

  2. Aw, Dean. I'm so sorry. I wondered if Simon was a real dog in your life. He truly does come across as so very real and loveable in the book. He's clearly a beloved part of your family. I hope he does make it to his birthday, bouncing and happy and full of life.

  3. Sooo sad. We've had a similar thing happen with pets in our family, and I know exactly how heart breaking it is. Let us know what happens...

  4. Oh Dean. I lost my good friend Buddy (my cat) this past fall, after over 16 years of life with him. He saw me through so much, university, boyfriends, husband, birth, death, jobs. It's amazing what they are to us. He got very sick and I nursed him as best I could for several months, but he was ready to go. I was there with him till the end, and while it broke my heart to let him go, I knew the minute he passed on. It was like this overwhelming joy and ecstasy erupted in me for a split second. I looked down at him and knew he was already gone.

    As you know I'm not a writer, but I wrote this poem to thank him - I had posted it on my blog shortly after he died, but wrote it when I knew what was about to happen.

    I'll be thinking of you during this very tough time.

  5. Michelle - that was a beautiful, sweet poem and it says much about the way I feel right now. I regard Simon not as a pet but as a true friend - one of the truest I've ever known.

  6. One of the hardest things about pets is we outlive them. I've said goodbye to my share of dogs, and I'm humbled to have shared a part of my life with such wonderful creatures.

    Simon's story is absolutely beautiful - you're both lucky to have had each other for so very many years. What a sweet pup - thanks for sharing him with us. :-)