Okay, when they handed out canine beauty, Simon was standing in the wrong line. He has a German shepherd head, Corgi legs, Terrier fur and Australian cattle dog body. Name any breed. It’s in there. Yet Simon is more than the sum of his parts. In fact, in his own way, he’s perfect with only one flaw.
On the plus side, Simon follows me around like I’m Gandhi and he’s one of my disciples. If a repairman comes to visit, he never leaves my side and as one man pointed out, makes sure he’s between us at all times. He lets us know if any unauthorized person sets a toe on our property, barking like Paul Revere announcing the British are coming. He’s the first to greet any family member entering the door. He takes his job seriously.
Ten years ago, we bought Simon at the local pound. He was three. Later my husband Randy confessed after seeing the line-up, he prayed Simon wasn’t my pick. He was a little too “quirky” with those miss-matched body parts and slush-colored fur. “That’s the ugliest mutt I’ve ever seen,” he said, loading Simon into our car. I glared at him. “Be quiet, he’ll hear you.”
And yet there was something in those eyes – trust, kindness, some indefinable twinkle. After we selected Simon, the woman who ran the shelter confessed she was relieved he was adopted. “He’s such a good dog,” she said. Then she lowered her voice. “But he’s been here three months and wouldn’t have lasted much longer.” This was a shelter that euthanized animals.
That first day Randy and my son Patrick walked Simon around the yard when they got the bright idea to let him off the leash. That’s when we discovered Simon’s one flaw. He’s a runner. The moment he was free, he bolted down our driveway, banking like a toboggan, astonishing my husband and son with race car speed.
An hour later, after frantic searching, Simon trotted back home like nothing had happened. The next day, we ordered Simon a collar with his name and phone number on it, the best thing we ever did.
Like Mary Poppins, Simon is practically perfect in every way. He’s affectionate, loving, and kind. He never holds a grudge. He’s never in a bad mood. He’s always happy.
But he sure likes to roam. Over the years he’s made dozens of Houdini-like escapes. Half the time I don’t know Simon’s out of the house. The phone rings. I’ll see by Caller ID it’s a neighbor, thinking this is a social call, shocked to hear my dog’s in her yard.
Over the years, I’ve gotten to know neighbors miles away. Most are kind and understanding. Some find it more humorous than others. Simon’s always happy when I come to collect him, jumping into the car, smiling as we drive home. I can’t count the number of times someone politely asks, “What kind of dog is that?” Many times, after searching the house for unlatched doors or exits, we still have no idea how Simon got free.
Fast forward ten years. Even this once bionic animal is slowing down. Simon’s slush-colored muzzle is now snowy white. He has arthritis and cataracts. He takes stairs stiffly. I can even take Simon outside now without a leash and he’ll stay beside me. The other day I opened the front door for Simon to join me when for the first time he showed no interest, instead lying back down with a content sigh.
There’s something poignant about watching a pet age, a speeded-up process compared to us humans. Although we didn’t know Simon as a puppy, we knew him when he was young and spry, full of energy and life. Now he spends most days sleeping, snoring, or sometimes whimpering from a bad dream. If someone comes to the door he still barks…a little.
Simon probably has one or two years left. I contemplate his passing and realize there’s been something reassuring in his love. We adore our children but past a certain age, they leave. Even good marriages can be complex and challenging. Cats take us or leave us.
But a dog’s love is as pure as a newly-bought chew toy. And all Simon asks in return is a can of dog food, dried-up chicken filets (his favorite treat), and a pat on the head but not the haunches where he’s ticklish.
“What kind of dog is that?” is a question I’m used to being asked and that’s okay. Our canine will never win “Best in Show” but he has other qualities. Simon is noble, courageous, and true. And yes, he likes to let the world know, at least he used to.
What kind of dog is Simon? That’s simple. Simon’s a good dog.
(Postscript: Simon passed away peacefully in July, 2015).
(Published in the Fairfield County Pet Gazette,” August/September 2014 issue).
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