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The big man and the little dog

The American Visionary Arts Museum sponsor Visionary Pets of Parade on Monday, July 4 in Federal Hill. (Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore Sun video)

My husband, Charles, is a 6-foot, 1-inch bearded and burly man. The other day I found him sitting on the sofa stroking a pillow embroidered with the face of a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. He looked up at me and said, "It looks just like Simba, doesn't it?"

Simba, our 15-pound rebound dog, passed away a couple of weeks ago. About 11 years earlier when we lost our Bernese Mountain dog, Watson, to cancer, Charles insisted, "No more dogs. I can't go through another loss." But I tired of him coming home and muttering, "Hi honey" — I missed his booming, "Hey, buddy, I'm home!" And so, after many months, I wore him down, but not before he made sure I knew the new dog was for me. I couldn't go through another day of his grief.

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Having gotten the go ahead, I embarked on military-like reconnaissance to find the right fit. I interviewed breeders, visited shelters and combed the web. My daughter-in-law suggested the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and I was hooked by the big floppy ears and sweet disposition of the breed. I also learned that they were susceptible to cardiac valve disease, so I screened breeders to avoid such problems. I found a reputable one in Minnesota, who emailed me pictures of a recent litter. That night, as I was scrolling through the pictures, Charles peered over my shoulder, saw Simba's face, and demanded, "How soon can he get here?"

About two weeks later, Simba arrived at BWI. Charles stayed in the car while I went to claim my dog. I got to the baggage counter and eyed Simba sitting quietly in a crate. He looked up at me and I melted. I pulled him out, swaddled him in a beach towel and carried him to the car as if he were a newborn infant. As I opened the door, Charles turned away. He was not going to bond with my little dog. But, about 10 seconds later, as he was buckling his seat belt, he stole a glance at the Blenheim ball of fur, with the big black eyes, and snapped "give him here."

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My diligence paid off — Simba never had heart issues. What he did have was epilepsy, diabetes, arthritis and an optic disease that caused him to lose an eye. Charles took care of his medicine routines with the precision of an intensive care nurse: the insulin shots given precisely 12 hours apart — 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. (we could never go directly from an afternoon movie to dinner); his pills and vitamins, disguised in cheese; and the twice daily eye drops. Charles bought Simba doggy stairs to help him climb into our bed. He and Charles shared a pillow.

One morning Charles was running late for a meeting. "Honey, come say goodbye," I shouted from our bed. "I don't have time," he yelled back. I got up to kiss him goodbye, and caught him red-handed in the doorway just as he was patting Simba's head saying, "Goodbye buddy, I love you."

Another time, as we were getting ready to leave for a trip, I overheard him saying, "Now, Daddy will be away for 10 days," he proceeded to hold up 10 fingers and count off, "one, two, three, …. ten. Then I'll be back. I'll miss you."

I loved Simba. I enjoyed going for walks with him and cherished snuggling together under my blanket on cold winter mornings. He was a big part of my life. Aside from family, he was Charles' life.

A couple of weeks ago, Simba became lethargic and could no longer stand without help. Charles took him to the vet and called me an hour or so later. "You better come." By the time I arrived, he and the vet had made the decision.

Nevertheless, I asked the questions we ask: Are you sure there is nothing else we can do? Is he in pain? Resigned, I nodded my agreement. Charles cradled Simba in the crock of his arm, kissed his head and murmured, "it's OK buddy, it's OK." I could not stay. It was bad enough for me to lose Simba — it was intolerable to watch Charles lose him.

Not long after, he joined me outside. I hugged him tightly and cried. His only words, "I don't want another dog — I can't do this again."

Simba was "just a little dog" with the ability to reach the soul of a big man. Charles is a big man with the capacity to love fully and freely — asking nothing in return. How I wish I could bottle his spirit and sprinkle it over our crazy world.

Laura Black (laura@laurablack.net) is a local community leader, attorney and business woman. She is the author of "Big Butts, Fat Thighs, and Other Secrets to Success" (Cazco Press, 2012).

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