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Christmas comes early in Maine and a veterinarian reminds our family of the highest professional conduct

Simba was set for her 'appointment' but it was too soon for our hearts and the dog doctor's, too

Friday, December 27, 2013 – 4:32 AM by Brooke Southall
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Simba talked the veterinarian out of it.

Brooke’s Note: Normally I write some missive from Maine signaling my big geographical, cultural jump from California. See: Merry Christmas: A nor’easter makes life interesting as RIABiz heads up to Maine. This year my mood was affected by a sick dog. I started writing this on Christmas Eve. I finished today. Simba, after a walk in the light snow and some good turkey leftovers, is sleeping at my feet. And my idea of professionalism has another touch point.

Earlier this morning Simba cooperated with the plan.

She was listless, indifferent to a tennis ball and even turned away a breakfast of raw hamburger. This is how one hopes a dog’ll act on the day when it is scheduled for its final, one-way trip to the veterinarian.

The trip wasn’t scheduled by accident. It had been a rough night of panting.

A golden retriever that doesn’t want raw meat, tennis balls or a big walk isn’t really a golden retriever anyway. She’d be happier, we reason, where her sleep isn’t troubled by the tumors wrapping themselves around her windpipe and making her neck bulge.

The veterinarian had promised a maximum eight-week survival. That was exactly eight weeks ago.

I protest slightly the rationale, though not in words. My body language is expressive enough, my mother later tells me. It’s hard on me. Simba has been my summer canoeing partner in Maine for a decade. I ruined my shoulder throwing her balls. I believe in my own immortality. Why not Simba’s?

Short, quiet journey

But the appointment has been made. It’s the right thing to do, we reason again, while Simba has the dignity to walk, even jumping into the car herself.

We drive south to the clinic, a 20-minute journey, way too short, of few words and a few reaches back over the seat to apply pats. It’s Maine. It’s winter. Everything is white but slushed by a light rain. Christmas decorations adorn homes along the route.

Simba, going places, is now attentive, even holding a ball in her paws in a proprietary way.

At first she is excited to arrive at the vet. She resists a little on her leash as we reach the door. I refuse to yank her to her executioner. I wait. With a grudging look, she enters.

Immediately, there are beseeching looks on the faces of the counter staff. They know our grievous mission. So sorry. Can we wait? The vet is experiencing a Christmas Eve rush and she is backed up. It’ll be 20 minutes.

We are in canine purgatory.

Last walk

I suggest we walk Simba. She’d literally have to be bound and tethered not to walk in the bracing cold, even on a road like this that cuts between shopping centers and car dealerships, where cars whoosh by and toss road salt and slush at you. We head south along it, Simba with a light tug, carrying her ball now, in pack mode with our threesome. After a couple hundred yards, we circle back. A friend of my mother’s has met us there. She sees Simba and cries and joins our parade.

We have ten more minutes to kill. We walk north this time and then we are beckoned by vet staff to get inside. We are ushered to a room where a veterinary assistant goes through the choices for individual versus mass cremation of Simba’s ashes and explains how the to-sleep medicine does its extinguishing work.

Simba begins to play in earnest with her ball and snaps eagerly at the treats offered by the staff, standing steady, ears perked.

I await the vet with little sense of hope. These are people who see death daily. They are practical. I brace for a talk about the pragmatic and humane and inevitable, all tempered by a Christmas rush we are all too aware of from the crowd in the waiting room.


A young woman appears and kneels beside Simba with a bright, broad smile. She doesn’t tell us much or seem much in a hurry. She observes the look on my face and the one on my mother’s. She observes Simba, the one to whom she gave eight weeks. She feels Simba’s throat, which is hard and enlarged beneath her unsullied mane.

Her precise words are now a blur but I sense she’s receptive when I suggest that perhaps Simba could make it through Christmas. She uses the word “month” as a possibility. She assures my mother, a trained nurse, that Simba will not choke to death despite the noises she makes when sleeping.

Despite a farewell tour earlier in the day, Simba is soon jumping back in the car and making sure her ball is there, too. No charge for the service — including a bottle of steroids that seems to have improved her breathing.

Simba may be back soon enough. But for now that doesn’t seem to matter. She’s coming home for Christmas.

The other good news is that when she comes back, it’ll be the same veterinarian, someone who reinforced our trust in her.

Pete Giza

Pete Giza

December 30, 2013 — 10:11 AM


A touching article lightyears away from the din of our industrial lives.

My Polish Lowland Sheepdog Raggz is now 12 1/2 years old. When we brought him home he was one of less than 3000 PONs in the US. The AKC had yet to receive his breed as official doing so just a few years later.

I dread the day I experience what you experienced. Our Raggz has been an integral part of shaping our twin daughters’ lives and appreciation for living things.

At one time we had 50 chickens on our little urban farm that he would herd. Working dogs never stop working. If he wasn’t herding the chickens he was cut-back to-and-fro making sure his human herd stayed within his protective gate.

“The Raggz” doesn’t herd anymore. Advancing age, a bit of arthritis and his busy humans keep him from accomplishing what he was born and bed to do. But he is still a majestic creature. His slowing and tendency to sleep longer now just reminds me of the eventuality that you penned above. And now that the second of twin daughters is soon to also enter married life – well you get the picture.

It’s a tough thing to let go and no amount of preparation makes it easier. Thanks for the time to reflect on something a bit more meaningful.


Pete Giza | VP Business Development | WealthSite

PS. Please excuse any newly invented words or grammar. I wrote this on my phone;-)



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Marie Swift

Marie Swift

December 29, 2013 — 6:01 AM

Brooke, Thanks for sharing this very personal story. We have been having a similar, ongoing discussion at my house for about a year now regarding my son’s dog, Chelsea, a small Cairn Terrier who is “advanced geriatric” according to the vet. Life span is 12-15 years. She’ll be 16 in May. Son has long since moved away for college and graduate school, leaving Chelsea in the family’s care (which is not always fun). What to do, what to do. For now, we wait and watch, and feed her brown rice and buttered whole wheat bread – her favorite treats these days. Wishing you, your family and Simba a good holiday together in Maine.



December 30, 2013 — 8:50 AM

Thanks for this story Brooke. To Simba as well. And Marie, to Chelsea. You are good caretakers, and they the best of friends, for sure.

Brooke Southall

Brooke Southall

December 30, 2013 — 5:56 PM

Thank you, everybody for not only showing sympathy, and absorbing a slightly-heavy-at-Christmas story but also telling your own stories. For those who might want an update, Simba is breathing better and finding her appetite late in the day. We simply are letting her dictate what she eats and what she does. Lying on a snowbank with short visits inside seems to suit her best!




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