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About Jon
Thank You For Not ...

1) using profanity or any euphemisms for profanity
2) personally attacking other commenters
3) baiting other commenters
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5) discussing politics
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My Pets
2008-12-30 21:30
by Jon Weisman
Note: The Dodger Thoughts blog has moved to the Los Angeles Times.

Local baseball bloggers talking about their pets is usually the territory of Rob McMillin, but I hope you'll permit this interlude as the year winds to a close.

Five dogs passed through the Weisman household when I was a child. Four of them died young, without a chance for me to say goodbye to them. In 1972, we got a dalmatian, named Truly (I was the youngest of three kids and never once participated in naming the pets). She died at age 3, of kidney failure if I'm remembering correctly. I was 7 when I came home from Meadow Oaks Summer Camp in Calabasas to the news. My mom told me in her bedroom, and my next memory is sobbing in my post-camp bath, for the first time having to deal with missing someone and not being able to get her back.

Not too long after Truly passed, we got another female dalmatian, which was named Truly Too (yes, that was the spelling - I guess you can replace a dear friend), and weeks later, we added her brother, who naturally got the name Really. So now we had Really and Truly Too.

Now, despite their cinematic fame, dalmatians have a pretty bad reputation for behavior. I reflexively rise to defend their honor, but it is true that though completely loving, both Trulys were quite spirited. I think Truly Too in particular would have made a good free safety in the NFL - covering a ton of ground and eager for a leaping tackle. But by contrast, Really, in those late-'70s days, was more laid-back and more of a follower. On a number of occasions, Really and Truly Too broke out of the not-insubstantial fencing of our backyard (all our dogs were outdoor dogs) and took off roaming the neighborhood. I can remember us one time picking up the dogs at the Ralphs on Ventura and Winnetka, well over a mile from our house.

A few years later, my sister got a puppy for a birthday present (one that my father knew nothing about until it was too late for him to stop it) - a runt of a sheltie that was named Taffy. And so for a brief time, we had three dogs. But while on a trip to Carmel one September, we got word from our housesitter that one of our dalmatians had suddenly died. I wasn't immediately told which one, and I remember hoping, though knowing it was wrong to even have an opinion, that it was Truly Too, who was just a little tougher to handle. A suburban kid's Sophie's Choice. It did little to make me feel good to come home and find it was her: A blood vessel to her heart had burst. She was 5.

By this time, Really had already developed kidney problems, forcing him at a young age from a diet of dog food to one of rice and vegetables that my mother faithfully prepared in bulk on an ongoing basis. So you can imagine how I felt the clock was ticking on him. But in 1983, it was Taffy who died, also before her fifth birthday. She wasn't around one morning when I was getting ready for school, and by the time I got home, my mother was once again breaking bad news to me. A coyote had gotten hold of Taffy the previous night; all that was left was evidence.

I was closing in on my 16th birthday by this time, so my outward demonstrations of grief had evolved from sobbing to solemnity, but I'm not sure I'd say that experience was helping me adjust to the deaths any better. On top of it all, Really was particularly shaken, literally shaking. He had bonded more closely with Taffy after his sister died, almost immediately adjusting to a more sedate life. The escapes from Weismanville stopped, and after an early morning jaunt around the yard when we let him out of his dog run, Really would spend most of the day on a chaise longue, with Taffy curled up close to his belly.

So after Taffy was killed, when we got Really a new companion, a spitz whom my sister named Isis, Really visibly rebelled. He was too dignified to attack Isis, but he wanted nothing to do with her. As time passed, though she won him over (he was, after all, a soft touch), and soon they were pals as well.

But Really was growing more fragile. I spent fall quarter of my junior year in college in Europe, and as I left, I knew I might not see Really when I returned. For the first time, at age 19, I had the chance to say goodbye to a best friend. I held him on the lounge chair, talking to him, telling him to hang in there, but also telling him how much I was going to miss him. Treating him awfully close to something like a peer. About a month later, calling my parents late one night from a payphone in Rome, I found out that Really had walked over to a tree-laden part of our backyard, lay down and expired. And I sobbed like I was 7 all over again.

If nothing else, he had at least lived a full life. He was 12 when he died.

That left Isis, but despite our best efforts, we simply could not make our property resistant to entry and exit. Another coyote got her, also at a tender young age. And that was it for the pets of my childhood.

My most serious girlfriend of my 20s introduced me to friendship with a cat, which was something dramatically different, and also accompanied by the realities of allergies. Most times when I came over to my girlfriend's house, I did so with the knowledge that my nose would not be the nose I had always known. But I did start to get used to it, and was a bit more prepared when, 10 years ago, I met the woman I would marry. She was a transplant from New York with mixed feelings about being in Los Angeles, and had adopted a kitten the previous year to keep her company, naming him Simon. He and I met each other with some amount of mutual wariness, but grew fond of each other rather quickly.

Simon grew into an adult that was rather large. Almost every visitor would comment upon it. My wife and I thought he wore his weight rather well, arguing that his coat made him look bigger than he was. Still, we did try to regulate his diet, and would try to engage him in active play, at least until our kids started arriving. Then, we got distracted.

Although Simon had no qualms about annoying us with his meowing demands at sunrise to be fed, and had the common cat standoffishness that took affection more than it was offered, he really was a good guy. With the kids, he was a natural. Not once did he ever have to be told to be careful with them, and he clearly took any inadvertent rough contact from them with understanding – whereas grownups got snapped at if they rubbed him the wrong way. My youngest, now nine months old, might have been more fascinated by Simon than anyone, gasping with delight each time he watched him over the past few weeks.

A couple months ago, the unthinkable (or, in retrospect, all too thinkable) started happening. Simon wasn't finishing his meals. My wife took him to the vet, and he was diagnosed with (in no particular order) fleas, anemia and an ear infection. We treated him, and he seemed to recover quickly and fully. But last week, he started to lose his appetite again. We were out of town, so our catsitter took him to the 24-hour vet Friday night. Tests revealed more serious problems: fluid in his lungs, signs of heart disease, possible kidney issues. His outward condition took a dramatic turn for the worse.

We arrived home Saturday, landing at LAX with a phone message giving us the latest update. Long story short, after a couple of hours of discussion, we made the depressing decision to have him put to sleep. We didn't want the kids to see him this way, so my wife would go down to the vet while I stayed home with the children.

We sat the jet-lagged kids down and told them – told them simply Simon had died, rather than try to explain euthanasia to 6- and 4-year-olds. My middle child didn't have much of a reaction, but my oldest, my daughter, burst into tears and was barely consolable for the rest of the night. Both of them wrote farewell letters to Simon that my wife took with her to his farewell. My daughter's note was just heartbreaking.

The following morning, though, she had all but completely come to terms with Simon's passing. That's a good thing, I suppose, although it confounds me a little, because I haven't. I sit here wondering what we didn't do for him that could have forestalled his demise, and I still find myself at various times staring at the blank spaces where he'd be if he were alive.

And once more, I didn't get to say goodbye.

Comments
2008-12-30 21:49:43
1.   Bob Timmermann
Strangely, my cat Casey came up and looked over my shoulder as I read this.

So long Simonn.

2008-12-30 21:53:31
2.   Daniel Zappala
Jon, that's really touching. My heart goes out to you and your family.
2008-12-30 22:00:57
3.   Daniel Zappala
Great episode of Cheers too. Best show of all time.
2008-12-30 22:22:26
4.   Marty
Nice post Jon. I've got a lab that for the last two years, I've had to help do his bathroom functions (if you knew my history at all, you'd cackle at the irony of that). But damn it if I don't love that stupid pooch even more. Pets are the damnedest things.
2008-12-30 22:27:08
5.   Andrew Shimmin
I have measured out my life in cat box spoonings.
2008-12-30 22:32:29
6.   JJ42
Jon, best wishes to your family. Our family cat, Charlie, died last year almost to the day of the same illness that Simon had. He was with us for 18 years, and really was there as my brother grew up and stayed with my parents as they dealt with both of their sons moving out of the house and into adulthood. He became my parent's cat, and in many ways their child. A few year prior, our other cat died, but she was always a bit more sickly. Charlie seemed like he would live forever. But then, at the beginning of December, we saw that Charlie was showing the signs of illness and quickly deteriorated. He made it past my birthday but would not make it to Christmas. Before he did, I was able to say goodbye, like you did with your dog years before. It took a while for the whole family to get over it - and we are all grown adults now.

It's funny, the amount of emotion that we give to our pets. It's even more amazing how much more we receive from them. They are such large parts of our lives, there for all of the special moments, and sometimes the cause of those moments. I hope you remember them with a smile, and not with any sadness.

2008-12-30 23:03:06
7.   underdog
Thanks for sharing this Jon. As a pet lover and cat owner I both empathized and felt teary eyed reading it. (Though your dog stories also reminded me of an Edward Gorey story or that Jim Carroll song, "These are the People Who Died."

But my hearty condolences about Simon. My older cat, Dashiell, has had some ups and downs over past year or so though he's now back in very good health, knock on wood. But now that he's an elderly cat I try not to take him for granted.

Their deaths can make us sad but it's a lifetime of warmth and play and affection that bring us much more in happiness.

2008-12-30 23:37:41
8.   Indiana Jon
I feel for you Jon. I've had two dogs pass this past year. One was an 18 year old poodle that we'd been expecting to go for several years. I had a chance to say goodbye before we had him put to sleep. The other was just seven years old. I got up for work one morning and he was just gone. Totally unexpected. His brother still survives and we both miss him terribly. I cried like a baby both times.
2008-12-31 04:29:07
9.   D4P
Very sorry about Simon. Sounds like he was a good boy. Animal deaths always seem so unfair.
2008-12-31 04:51:45
10.   Bob Hendley
Sorry about your loss. I am a cat lover who hasn't had one for over thirty years. My GF/Wife during that time can't stand them. She is very utilitarian and does know what they do besides messing things up. Our new beach house is almost completed and it appears that we have some rat problems (really just field mice), so she came into the room yesterday and asked if we should get a cat. Yes!
2008-12-31 07:27:56
11.   popup
RIP Simon. Thanks Jon for a fine elegy.

Stan from Tacoma

2008-12-31 07:28:55
12.   ToyCannon
I'm sorry you never got to say good bye to your pets. The last time spent with a cat ready to pass is a special time. I've never put them to sleep but I've had the time to spend with them at the end. At the moment I've got four 18 year old cats from the same litter and I expect all them will be gone in two years or less.
Coyotes in Woodland Hills are still a constant problem. We've only lost one pet to them but it is a constant worry.
2008-12-31 08:35:35
13.   dianagramr
My condolences Jon. I hope writing this piece was in some way cathartic.

If I didn't have allergies, I'd certainly have a cat (or two).

2008-12-31 10:33:15
14.   scareduck
You love them, and no matter how much you try to change it, all you can do is to slow down the inevitable. It doesn't change the joy they bring to your life, and it doesn't diminish the sadness when they leave.

Great piece, Jon.

2008-12-31 10:36:24
15.   scareduck
12 - we have coyotes in our neighborhood, but I hadn't thought much of it until I was driving home late one night in August. I saw one dancing -- bounding on tiptoe -- skittering along a zigzag path in the darkness ahead of me.

The only other time I've seen one is when I went to Death Valley in 2000, and one sat on the side of the road to Scotty's Castle. On our return, at the same place, the same coyote.

2008-12-31 14:45:01
16.   Linkmeister
My sympathies. I had to do the same thing in October to our dog of sixteen years. It hurts.
2009-01-02 16:36:46
17.   bagg4
Sorry to hear Jon, but thanks for sharing. It is a fact of life that we outlive our pets.

That said, I still sob like a baby when they go. We had to put Della (our 14 year old Dalmatian/Blue Heeler mix) down this summer. The vet came out to our house to euthanize her and it was really a pleasant experience. My wife and I, along with Della's littermate Perry, got to say so long in the place where she gave us so many smiles and kisses.

Happy New Year...
http://picasaweb.google.com/bagg444/ByeDellie?authkey=Mr1ZJLTUxQA&feat=directlink

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