This blog is for all caretakers and friends who look out for one another.
Simon, our long-haired dachshund, runs to Mary Lou’s apartment and makes low, moaning sounds of anticipation as we wait for her to come to the door. Once in her arms, he licks every inch of her face and then runs to her kitchen.
“Simon, you know there won’t be any treats!” I call after him. Mary Lou, slender herself, is strict about getting Simon’s weight under control, but it’s a hopeless goal.
Mary Lou and I hug. We have not seen each other since she left for Palm Beach and we, South Beach last fall. Now it is May, and Mary Lou’s turn to have the dog. I hand her Simon’s heartworm and tick prevention pills, his leash and harness, and take the elevator to our apartment. I miss the dog already. He won’t return to our bed (literally) until next fall.
It is right and fitting that Mary Lou and her husband have Simon for six months. They own half of him, although which half it is, after almost 14 years, is still contested. We bought Simon together, not long after Frieda, my wire-haired dachshund, died.
Mary Lou and I became friends almost 30 years ago when we moved the same month into a new condominium building in Boston. My husband and I were traveling frequently for work, and she offered to care for Frieda. Their condo became the dog’s second home, and Frieda spent so time at their medical supply company that her picture appeared on the cover of the company catalogue.
Frieda died at 16, and after we stopped grieving, Mary Lou and I agreed that it hurt too much to get another dog. Six weeks later we bought Simon. The breeder, named Jenn, was so fussy that she interviewed me on the phone before allowing us to visit. So we decided not to tell her that we were going to buy and share the dog. Our story was that I wanted a dog and Mary Lou was helping me find one. It was a wise decision. I doubt that Jenn would have tolerated the dog being shared like a lawn mower. The puppy, whom we named Simon, seemed unconcerned.
Sharing the puppy was the only way we managed to live through the two years it took to housebreak him. Like many of his breed, it mattered little to him that our carpets were not grass. “You take him; I am out of pee cleaner!” became a common refrain during the frequent hand-overs.
Our somewhat erratic sharing of Simon eventually became fixed by season. Mary Lou and her husband became snowbirds, and as their Florida apartment did not allow dogs, Simon lived with us from November to early May. We followed the snowbird migration a few years later living in a building littered with dogs.
Dividing two dogs has cemented our friendship. Like an old married couple, we kvetch over the same things, share private details about our lives, comfort each other, gossip ( too much), and occasionally go hiking.
We also get lost. Often.
There was the time we hiked with Simon on Blue Hill, a nearby 630 foot nano-mountain, and could not find our way back to our car. Using an out of date map, (we didn’t know) and following a trail marked with barely visible dots (the trail had been abandoned) we were certain that the three of us would become a newspaper headline when our bodies were discovered. We were rescued by a hiker who pointed out our stupidity as she pointed us in the right direction.
That was our last hike. But the reason was not our phobia about getting lost again. Simon is almost blind. He has a genetic disease similar to macronnuclear disintegration. He walks slowly, his nose acting as a built in white cane, scanning the space around him for obstacles. He manages well enough in familiarly scented areas but rock strewn hiking paths, typical of those on Blue Hill, are no longer possible.
And the other reason is that Mary Lou has cancer. The double whammy of her treatment protocol, radiation and chemotherapy, is stilling her normally active life. So the three of sit together in the library of our building, which is a social space for residents. Our armchairs are close enough so that Simon’s head is on one lap and his tail on the other. (He is a very long dog). We each rub him and talk and laugh and gossip and sometimes cry because that is what friends do. And our love for Simon and our love for each other passes through his furry body to each of our hands and our hearts and our memories.