Saturday, August 20, 2011

Simon's Saga Ends

In September of 2003, we were looking for a companion dog for our then almost a year old Aussie, Callie.  We knew we wanted to adopt a rescue dog, and we read about Simon, a red merle Australian Shepherd estimated to be between 4 and 6 years old.  He had survived a lot of trauma - some of which was obvious, some of which revealed itself over time once we adopted him.  It was hard not to fall in love based on his story.  His owners in LaGrande, OR, had hired their neighbor boys to shoot Simon (who had a different name then) and their other dog, a terrier.  So he was taken to a cinder pit outside of town and shot twice in the head, and then presumably struck by a vehicle (glancing shoulder blow).  Somehow he survived, though the bullets took two teeth, punctured his jaw and tongue, and left him bleeding.  It happened in July of 2003 and a deputy found Simon by following a blood trail to some shade of a tree.  A kind vet operated on Simon and the shooters got a whopping sentence of one day's jail time for animal abuse.  He went into foster care and a few months later we adopted him.

At first he was nearly orange, with dry and brittle hair that became a beautiful, silky soft, deep red merle when he got a good nutrition program.  He was too thin and his head looked too big for his body.  He told us through his behavior some of the other things that had happened.  He must have been beaten for pooping, because he would never do it on leash or if watched. He must have been beaten in a kitchen, because no kitchen ever felt safe to took him over 6 years to enter our kitchen; we even tried carpeting it due to his fear of linoleum and tile floors....but that is how we learned the fear of certain types of floors and the fear of kitchens were separate.  When he got nervous or upset, he would poop in the middle of the night in one room of the house.  He was very upset by young men in baseball caps and by the smell of gunpowder.  He was unpredictable, and could bite people when he considered them to be on his turf - sometimes with a warning lip curl, sometimes with no warning at all.  He had an extremely high prey drive and was very aggressive with horses and livestock; he could never be trusted alone with them.  He did not know how to play with any toys and never would fetch.  Eventually our other dogs taught him tug of war, but he only really played it the last 2 years of his life.  He knew how to break ice, respect the end of a leash or a line, and he was all muscle when we got him and could jump over 6 feet straight up.  He had not had enough to eat so he ate way too fast and had to have a special bowl or toys to slow him down.  He also consumed everything and anything - he had to have his stomach pumped at least a dozen times while we had him, but he was indestructible.  He had nightmares for years - I used to wake him up and soothe him until he realized where he was.  He was jealous of anyone else getting attention and thought all hugs should be his.  He was like a football player on a date who does not take no for an answer - he kept trying to get on your lap when you sat on the couch, and snuggle into you.  The vet said that he was probably not professionally neutered and that his tail had been bobbed too short.  It is a wonder he wanted anything to do with humanity at all.

In truth, he was not an easy dog to own.  He was a huge responsibility.  It was not his fault; he just never could completely shake the trauma he had been through.  And who could blame him?

Keeping him safe was the first priority - and that meant making sure he was not in a position where he might bite someone.  One had to manage all house guests very carefully - and once in awhile mistakes were made.  It was hard to ever relax and not worry about him; fortunately Callie, the dominant dog, kept him in line and one need not worry when she was present.  Unexpectedly, however, he outlived her.

From the day he came home, he was a hero in the eyes of Ophelia, one of our cats.  He was "her dog."  She never went a day without washing his face, rubbing her butt on his chin, and napping next to him.  She loved to curl up along side him.  She is very shy about other people and animals, but Simon was a joy to her.

He was with us for almost exactly eight years, and we did our best to make them happy ones for him.  He went on lots of camping trips, he loved boating and rafting, he went running and hiking.  His favorite treats were dried sweet potatoes, but he never met a food he didn't like.  He rolled regularly in manure, annoying to us, heavenly perfume to him.  He loved other dogs, though he had little socialization skills - he liked to hump and then when a dog was submissive to him he had no idea what to do...he was a beta dog all the way.  He was happiest with a strong leader and another submissive dog to be a buddy.  We fostered dogs and he had a clear favorite - a dog he loved so much we almost considered adopting him just for Simon.

He was a gentle dog at heart; he could be trusted with small kittens, and he was a great dog to socialize young foster puppies with - he never lashed out at them no matter what.  He was very protective of us, and we never had to worry that someone would break into the house when he was in it!

He was slowing down a little, but after all, he was 12 to 14 years old, which is a decent age.  He didn't show signs of arthritis and he was still quite active.  Last Sunday, less than a week ago, he developed a slight swelling in his neck.  We picked him up from daycare and they noted it - when we got him home he sounded raspy like it might be impacting his airway, so we went to Westvet in case it was a cheat or a bite that needed treatment.  Samples suggested lymphoma cancer.  We made an appointment for Tuesday to discuss options and went home to await test results.

The next morning he would not eat.  I made him a milkshake of cat food, kitten milk and kibble and he went eagerly after it, suggesting appetite was intact but the swelling, worse overnight, impacted his ability to eat or swallow.  He did not want to eat soft food and would not touch anything until it was liquid.  So I took him to work with me to keep an eye on him.  By noon the swelling had doubled and he was beginning to have trouble breathing, so another trip to Westvet was in order.  Cytology results were back: large cell lymphoma.  We knew that could mean 30 to 60 days, we didn't know it could mean 30 to 60 HOURS.  We were not at all prepared.  He was suffering - clearly complaining of pain, and the swelling was so bad it was like he swallowed a basketball and it got stuck in his throat.  In less than 24 hours it looked like we were losing him.

We had to reduce the swelling and control the pain.  To accomplish that and not rule out other treatment options, we had to treat with a chemo drug and an IV painkiller and he needed to be admitted and monitored for 24 hours.  During that time we tried to evaluate whether to do chemo or put him down.  Chemo would take 4 to 5 weeks until we knew if it was working, would entail 5 months of drug treatment, would require more tests and many drug cocktails, and might buy him 6 to 14 months if successful.  For an older dog, especially one with Simon's issues who is not easily taken to work or monitored 24 hours a day, one who would not like going to the vet on a regular basis...could we put him through chemo?  Would he want that?  We are going into winter - he stays indoors a lot - what would he be looking forward to? 

When he was stable and the swelling was controlled, he could be switched to oral painkillers and come home; so he did, late Tuesday, after 24 hours of wondering whether he would ever be home again.  Ophelia was estatic to see him.  He was tired and relieved to be home.  The vet said that with painkillers, prednisone, and the drug he'd had, he could make it 2 to 5 days before the symptoms re-occurred.  So we decided to give him one last great day and have a vet come to the house so he could die with his family and never have to go back on a tile or linoleum floor.

He played with a dog friend, ate steak cooked in bacon grease and topped with egg, cooled himself in the canal, ran in the pastures, said goodbye to the people at his daycare, napped on his favorite orthopedic bed.  He was clearly not 100% comfortable, and we knew it would get worse and chemo would only postpone the inevitable.  In the end, we had to say goodbye much sooner than we expected.  A week ago he seemed totally fine, and yet two night ago, he died...peacefully and loved.

We did the best we could to give him a good life; to make up for the past.  He gave back all his love and gratitude, and left us with many positive memories of times with him...and funny memories of his quirks.  It is a huge shock to lose him so quickly.  Ophelia, also a rescue, will miss him most of all....her dog is gone, and I can't tell her why.  I found her waiting on his bed this morning.  He leaves a void for all of us.

1 comment:

Crystal K. said...

What a wonderful tribute to an obviously unforgettable dog. Thank you for showing him patience and love through the good times, the frustrating times and to the end. My heart is heavy for your loss.