Simon and I met in Boston. He had just arrived from Tennessee where he had been, I assumed, much more of an outdoorsy guy. When I brought him back to my third-story apartment, I apologized that I couldn’t just open the door and let him into a non-existent backyard. Instead, every single outing was to be on a leash: around the neighborhood, through the park, past the lake. I felt guilty providing him with no safe way to roam about unrestricted, but as I got to know him better I realized that that there was something that would hinder him, leashed or otherwise. My dog is terrified. He is terrified of busses and of plastic bags, of tall men and short women, of the sound of a laptop being shut…terrified of life itself. I concluded that he may not know how to breathe if I let him off leash.
Last year, I decided to unravel Si’s existence once more by moving back to Colorado. There were two theories regarding how the little Jack Russell-mix would handle this transition. One: he would find solace in the quiet mountains, delight in the abundance of squirrels and peace at the thought of being far from any major bus route, or two: my dog would suffer from cardiac arrest before we even made it half-way through Ohio.
As it turned out, Simon was able to endure the trip west (though he never once laid down in the car throughout the entire thirty-three hour drive). Once in Boulder, I tried taking him for long walks (“A tired dog is a happy dog,” my sister chirped), tried using a D.A.P. calming collar (which he chewed through, the irony being that chewing is his nervous habit) and tried feeding him ‘calming’ chamomile treats. Still, Simon showed every sign of being on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It was at this point that I began to worry that I’d never find a way to help him.
Thus far, I understand it may be hard to see any of Simon’s redeeming qualities. The truth is, though, that he and I are one and the same. As a child, I was dreadfully anxious, unsure of every move I made. Eventually, I overcame this behavior that I now saw in him. How had I done that? I decided to ask my mom.
“Really, when you started riding. You became much more confident―more daring than I’ll ever be,” she laughed, before hesitantly asking, “are you sure you want to leave Si here?” She had offered to look after him while I went to Moab for the week, but was now eyeing him with uncertainty.
“No, but…I mean, he’s been in the car enough lately, right? I thought that one more relocation would be too much for him,” I reasoned.
“Honestly, I think he’d be happier with you. Wherever you are,” she responded. I looked down at Simon. He had backed away from my mom and was now perched on my shoes like a parrot.
“You’re probably right,” I conceded. “C’mon Si―back in the car!”
The next morning, I was still mulling over what my mom had said as I pulled into the Slickrock parking lot to go for a morning run. As we started out, my sister’s and father’s dogs were let off leash, but Si stayed beside me.
“Oh, go on,” my sister encouraged. “We’re not near a road. This is a good place to let him off on his own.” I unclipped his leash, but Simon didn’t budge.
“Go on!” I urged again and again, but for forty-five minutes he stayed right on my heels, his little face powdered with the sand I kicked up as I jogged.
For the next eight months, Simon would be let off leash only to adhere himself to my ankles. Eventually I accepted that this was where he felt comfortable (in spite of his face-full of sand). I had almost given up hope of his ever trotting off ahead of me, sniffing and scouting about like a “real” dog, until two weeks ago. This time, I unclipped the leash, and we headed out across the sandstone. I heard the jingle of his collar grow faint, and turned to look back. Simon had stopped to sniff.
“C’mon Simon!” I called. He began running towards us, and then right past! After a moment, he seemed to startle himself with his own boldness and fell back, but for the rest of the jog he continued to take the lead, his ears up and tail wagging. Not once in Boston and not even in Boulder had I seen him so happy. It’s true, Simon: you and I really are one and the same.