This is your last photo, Simon. It captures your essence perfectly. Curious, gentle with a hint of jester lurking behind gold-hued eyes.
Nearly seven years ago, you arrived on a cool fall morning - a day-old lamb and already forsaken by the world. Your mom abandoned you and so had the farmer. Like your rescuer, we promised that would never happen again. Promises can be such tricky things.
The first time I interacted with you, you head-butted me. Nine-months-old and king of the world. I cannot pinpoint the exact moment when you started to mellow, wanting to receive scratches instead of knocking heads. Whenever it was, I'm sure we all heaved a sigh of relief - finally the king had matured.
Your love was Sophie and the sheep. You wanted nothing to do with the other animals, and focused your entire being on monitoring the flock. I think you filled up with joy each time a new sheep was added - your flock of four grew to eight, and you were content.
In the past year, I watched with pleasure as you sought out people on tours, reveling in their scratches and massages. No more head-butting for you!
Last year, you struggled to overcome bladder stones, mineral deposits that blocked your urethra and stopped you from urinating. The pain you endured was immense and two surgeries later, we hoped against all hopes that it would never happen again.
This past Tuesday, you went blind. Your gut was not working, not moving like it should. We knew that in ruminants, an improper working stomach spells disaster. We threw everything at you to transform sickness into health. When you refused to eat, we rushed you to the veterinary hospital.
You were blocked again. The first attempt at flushing the stones out failed. Surgery was your only option. When they opened you up, the damage was extensive. To fix you meant to hurt you more, and it did not come with a remote guarantee of success. The likelihood of recovery, of never having stones again was nil. This was your final surgery, if you got stones again, we could not help you. Recovery from this surgery is one of the most painful, almost as painful as the stones themselves.
Of course, you were asleep for all this. Unconscious.
Your life, your death - it all boiled down to ten wrenching moments in which we had to decide. Could we put you through months of recovery, then almost immediate blockage, out of a small, tiny hope that maybe, just maybe, you'd live a few months more? Is that what you wanted? Perhaps it was, and perhaps we failed you in the ways only humans can. Perhaps it wasn't.
We took your life because we wanted to take away your immense suffering and almost certain, painful death. Selfish and selfless, the dichotomy of being responsible for another living being's care.
I will hold dear the final moments spent with you. You could not see me, but when you sniffed my hand, I could feel you relax. As I scratched soft cheek and chin, massaged short wool, you leaned into me. We took comfort in each other, in the knowledge that cheek to cheek, we were safe.
We'll miss you Simon. Your mischievous glances, playful nudges, and insistent ploys of garnering attention. Sophie will miss you, her adopted brother, the one who protected and comforted her. The flock is empty without your calm presence. I'm incredibly sorry we could not heal you.