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Simba was set for her 'appointment' but it was too soon for our hearts and the dog doctor's, too
December 27, 2013 — 4:32 AM UTC by Brooke Southall
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.
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.
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