Dogs are a big part of my life. Unless this is your first time reading this blog, you would have to know that. Also, there are at least four (or four hundred) regular readers who are dog people too, based upon how the hits increased after my dog story was published in the April 2008 issue of Popular Woodworking.
Well, this morning at 10:20 am, Gail and I were at the opening of the movie Marley and Me here in Indianapolis. It was a little weird to realize that on Christmas Day while little kids in California were still in bed, I was at a theater watching a movie. Somehow…good or bad… that is a testament to our country.
I read Marley and Me years ago. I think I was at Amazon.com looking for the biography of Marco Pantani when the scary, scary computer deep within Amazon said, “Here is a new book (Marley and Me) that we think is right up your alley, Jeff Skiver…” The next thing you know I was reading the first edition and relating to life as the owner of yellow Labrador Retrievers.
Both of the dogs we owned when I first read Marley have since gone. Abby and Simon have been replaced by Peyton, and he is a beautiful, wonderful, and very loving dog.
When we lost Abby earlier this year, I recorded it here in the blog. And I know my words affected some of you. There was one new reader who later told me, “You had me at Three Carries.”
The loss of Simon almost two years ago was a great tragedy in my life. He was what I describe as, “The Dog of a Lifetime.” As I mentioned in the blog back in September, the PopWood article was the tribute to Simon that I had struggled with for a long time. It still serves as one of my great personal trophies that I found a fitting way to pay tribute to my lost buddy. Let’s face it, I could only have dreamed of buying the back page of a national magazine as a memorial, but instead, I got paid to do it. Somehow… good or bad… that is a testament to our country.
Today is Christmas. It’s the day chosen to represent God sending His Son from Heaven to Earth. So I am going to give you all the text I used to send my boy from Earth to Heaven. Below is the mass email I sent to all of my family and friends back on Monday, January 15, 2007. I was sitting at my desk at work and I had just made the decision to let Simon go. Before I drove to the vet, I opened my heart and shared the pain of my situation with everyone in my life who either loved Simon or knew how much I loved him.
I believe that when it is time for us to let our dogs go, we owe it to them to be with them. You can choose to disagree with me, but if you do… then you are wrong. Below is the unedited text of the email you received two years ago if you were a friend of Simon. I now think of all of you as Friends of Simon. So in honor of Marley, Simon, and Abby… here is the rawest thing I have ever written.
DATE: January 15, 2007 11:25 am
SUBJECT: Simon Skiver
Simon has been at the Animal Hospital since Friday. Gail took him in Friday morning. She and I visited him Friday afternoon, Saturday, and yesterday (Sunday).
Gail and I ran by the Animal Hospital this morning when they opened at 7:30 to visit Simon. He made it through the night, and I decided that rather than waiting around for 45 minutes for the vet to arrive at 8:30, we would just go onto work and decide tonight what we should do with Simon's treatment. Well, after I got to work I called the vet and talked to her about the boy.
His liver is starting to shut down, so there is almost no way he is going to make it.
They are giving him a cortisone injection today, which is the only chance he has (1 in a million). And I am going to go by there after work and be with him as we put him down. He is about two weeks short of being 6 1/2 years old, so it is completely baffling that something so horrible can so quickly take down a dog that is the picture of health and vitality. 7 days ago he was perfect. However, my limited research shows that Acute Pancreatitis is one of the most mysterious, yet deadly things that can befall an otherwise healthy dog. There are two kinds of Pancreatitis…one is a bad little nagging ailment…the other is more of a rapid and sure death sentence, he has the latter.
I can honestly say there is no dog I have ever heard of who is as loved as my boy, Simon. We have given him a wonderful home and a wonderful life. Still, he is a very special dog. At times he can be brilliant. At times he can be crazy. However, he is always loving and lovable….100% of the time. We originally went to the West Michigan Chocolate Lab Rescue (they handle black and yellow labs, too) to look into being foster parents to another dog for a few weeks. The first moment I saw Simon, he strolled right up to me, sat his butt down on my feet (with his back up against my shins), and he looked straight up at me and basically said, "If you take me home, I will love you completely and unconditionally until the day I die."
For four and a half years, that has been the case. Everything that I have worked on around the house since the day he arrived in the late summer of 2002 has been under the sleepy supervision of my boy.
In February 2003, when he and I had only been together for 6 months, I left Donnelly and started staying home with him and Abby all day long. Abby didn't really care. Simon let me know that he thought this was how it should always be; I should spend every minute of every day with him. Digging sprinklers in the back yard... he would be right there with me. For the front yard sprinklers I had to leave the door open so he could watch me out the screen door.
Whenever Gail and I go somewhere, as we back out of the driveway we can look up at the front window and see his face pressed against the glass verifying that we really had decided to go somewhere without him. Then, when we come home he is at the front window looking out to see our return. Sometimes it was scary how he would do that. I have seen him stir out of a sleep and run to the front window and sit looking out, only to see Gail pull into the driveway about 45 seconds later. I don't know how he manages that little piece of magic, but I have seen it so many times, I cannot call it a coincidence.
Whenever one of us gets into the shower, "Safety Dog Simon" parks himself right outside the shower curtain, and even occasionally pops his head in…just to make sure we are ok. There have been only a few times, where he was too lazy to get out of bed to do his Safety Dog job for me while I was showering. And on at least one of those occasions, I grabbed tight to the shower rail and intentionally made slip-sliding noises, and he came FLYING into the bathroom, stuck his head through the curtain, and gave me a look like, "HOLY CRAP!!!!!!!!!!!!! One time I try to sleep in and you can't even take a shower without me?!?!?!?!?" Likewise, every night when Gail and I get into the sauna, Simon sits there watching us through the glass to make sure we are ok.
Three weeks ago when I was home for 15 days over the holiday shutdown, he and I got to again share our "full time" buddy relationship…just like after I left Donnelly. Well, during that time I was staying up into the wee hours of the morning. Sometimes I didn't even go to bed until about 6 or 7 am. Even then, I would only sleep for a couple of hours before I would get up and get back to work on all of my projects. One of the great things about officially "going to bed" at weird times, is that Simon will spoon with you. So on one of those days between Christmas and New Year's Day when I was home and Gail had to work, I stayed up all night and then went to bed at about 7:30 am. From 7:30am to 10:00am I lay there in bed with my 105 pound buddy Simon snuggled up against me. His head was on my bicep and his whiskers were right in my face. And he would grunt and snore and without saying a word, he would make his thoughts 0bvious…. "You know, Dad….it doesn't get any better than this." And you know what…given Simon never slobbered one time in his life…his dry mouth did make face to face snuggling one of life's greatest pleasures.
My mistake is that I assigned one role to Simon that he isn't going to be able to follow through on. Simon was supposed to be the key to my getting through Abby's eventual death. Abby turned 10 last September, and I realize with her lessening mobility that she probably only has 3 more years with us, at best. Thinking of that crushes me heart. However, I have always known that Abby's death will also destroy Simon. So, my plan for grief with Abby is to snuggle up with Simon and talk to him about all of the great things we used to do with Abby. I was planning to hold him close and tell him how fun it was to take him and Abby to the beach and watch them race each other as they swam out to fetch the retrieval duck that I would throw out into the waves. I planned to get over the loss of Abby by letting him know that even though I was going to miss her, at least I still have him…my black hole of emotional need that requires constant attention: MY Dog…Simon.
I would still have the dog that would lay at my feet in my woodshop while the noisy dust collector and table saw blared eardrum shattering decibels. It is neat that the same noise that would send Abby running upstairs for cover would signal Simon to come strolling into the woodshop….plop down at my feet with his HUGE, exhaling sigh….and look up at me and use his beautiful brown eyes to ask, "What ya gonna work on today? If you need anything, just let me know…otherwise, I am just going to lay here on the floor at your feet because it is a tough job lying around the house 20 hours a day, and I am tired. However, I will do my best to be in your way as often as possible."
Everybody who loves animals may be blessed during their life to get one pet that takes on a role that transcends the normal human/animal relationship. Timmy had Lassie. Grizzly Adams had Ben. Roy Rogers had Trigger. I have Simon. He knows me, and he loves me with every fiber of his being. He can never get enough of me. If we are in the same building, he wants to be next to me. If I have a free hand, he wants it to be stroking his soft ears. And whenever my day is over and I finally decide to go to bed, he wants to root himself in between Gail and me so that he can get snuggled from both sides and be reassured that we love him too.
So today, I am going to watch Simon go to sleep for the last time. And since he tried his best to make sure I was never alone whenever I fell asleep…I owe it to him to make sure he isn't alone either.
I am going to rub his soft ears, and tell him how blessed I was to have him in my life for four and half years. I am going to softly tell him how much I love him and how thankful I am that he loved me so truly and so strongly. I will stay with him until the end, and I will forever know that I suffered a little bit (watching him go) in order be assured that the last thing he sees and the last thing he feels will be his buddy, his "Dad", his snuggle buddy. I will be there for him, because I know that he would have done ANYTHING for me.