We met Simba and Kali one afternoon on a smallish compound a few clicks down from the American Club in Kampala. Jeff found the notice on the advert board at the American Club and called immediately.
Two Rhodesian Ridgebacks, about a year old, were in need of a new home.
Jeff went quickly to meet the dogs and arranged an interview with their owner on the following day. We went as a family for the interview during which our animal ethics and ability to care for such fine animals were analyzed thoroughly.
These animals were incredibly well loved from day one. They would not be allowed to just anyone.
We learned all about their medical history. Simba (the male) had been ill early in his first year of life receiving intense therapy and overcoming the illness completely. His sister Kali, the more energetic of the two, had a great health record and a very strong build. They were most definitely a pair—together since birth—and very doting of each other.
We fell in love immediately.
The previous owner was concerned about the ages of our children as the dogs, very large and strong, had never played around little ones. Our Silas was four at the time and Isaac was six but the dogs and all of our children bonded quickly. Our kids were not afraid and the dogs warmed up to them in no time.
After much discussion, the owner decided we would be the best home for the dogs. We were ecstatic.
Jeff had the dogs delivered from Kampala in the back of our Hilux pickup. They reached our home late in the night. I took the dogs to our lower yard while Jeff prepared their space and blankets. Our children were already in bed, so that left me to entertain the two (VERY LARGE) animals that I didn’t know well yet. On the stairs leading to the yard that stretches below our house, I introduced myself to Simba and Kali and found my heart completely stolen as they both leaned their bodies into my legs and allowed me to pet and cuddle them. Like a giant hug.
Simba gave much space to Kali who was the most pushy of the two, but when Kali would wander off to sniff her new territory, Simba would somberly find his way to my side and gently raise his paw.
I shook his outreached paw that first time only to have him insist on my holding the paw for an extended time.
Simba did not want to simply shake. He wanted to hold hands.
We experienced this with Simba every day. Any time one of us would sit in the yard Simba would find his way to us and rest his very large paw on top of our hand. One evening as I watched the sun set over the mountains Simba sat beside me with his paw on my hand until the sky went dark.
He was happiest when we were holding his paw.
He was my walking buddy. In the evenings as I prepared dinner, he would come to the kitchen door and stick just his nose inside the door. He wasn’t allowed in the kitchen and he never disobeyed this, but his nose in the back door signified that it was 6pm and time to walk. Like clock work, Simba was ready to accompany me. He was my every-single-day friend.
Simba stoically kept watch as I marked off the miles in our yard. He would most often plant himself in the middle of my path with paw up until I took (and held) his paw for a moment. He made me laugh every time. He made me feel cared for.
In the months last year that I was so ill, 6pm would find Simba at the kitchen door laying and waiting every single evening. He never failed. Occasionally he would even ‘talk’ to us inside to let me know he was waiting. Jeff would explain that I was sick, but Simba would show up there anyway. He was so happy when I was well enough to walk again.
Simba loved all of us but Si was easily his favorite. (Silas is Kali’s favorite too. We’ve all just decided to accept this:)) Si, notorious in our family as the nap-evader when he was young, would nap with the dogs on the porch if he ever napped at all. And when the dogs were wrestling with each other, Si could be in the middle of them and they would never harm him. Si was fearless. When he was little he would often try to ride the dogs. Kali grew tired of that behavior and refused to comply but Simba would always concede as horse to Si’s cowboy game. They had a beautiful bond. A bond strengthened over the last seven years. Si doesn’t play cowboy anymore, but he is still the favorite.
(Simba on the left, Kali on the right)
Each member of our family has countless stories of Simba’s somber love and care for them. Moments of loneliness or struggle or heartbreak or anger. Simba could be counted on to find us, lay his paw on our hand and wait with us until the bad feeling passed. He has chased thieves, patrolled our home diligently anytime Jeff was away and he has even served as evangelist. The vet who cared for him over the last weeks wrote that witnessing our family and Simba’s love had encouraged him to get his spiritual life in order.
Simba has been a gift.
When we arrived back in Uganda several weeks ago from furlough we found Kali and Simba struggling. They had both been ill just before our return and the treatment by our trusted vet from Kampala had helped Kali. Simba, on the other hand, was not getting well.
Our hearts were broken to see him so sick. We kept the vet on a weekly visit rotation and we managed the daily care. Jeff ran IVs, gave injections and held on to every hope. I managed the oral meds and spoon feeding when Simba refused to eat. The kids kept constant vigil.
One week ago Simba lost the use of his back legs. We made his bed in our front room and the vet made another trip to provide pain meds and another round of antibiotics.
We were determined to fight for life.
There were hopeful moments when Simba seemed more responsive, but yesterday about midday he took a turn for the worse.
We all spent the day caring for Simba sitting by his side and whispering love all around him.
He, of course, wanted us to hold his paw.
He breathed his last at 1:35AM.
Alex and I were with him. Jeff came immediately and tried to give him every opportunity to breathe, but Simba was gone.
He departed strong and loving, just as he always had been.
Death is raw in this place we live. All death.
Jeff and the boys dressed in boots and work gloves and went to the yard in the early morning dark to begin to dig a hole. I cleaned Simba’s space. We all cried over him and whispered last words of thanks and love.
We buried him in my walking yard. In that place where he reminded me every day that I was loved.
The last seven years have been somewhat isolated for our family in different ways than before.
Kali and Simba needed a new home years ago, but gracious, the Cash family would also so desperately need them.
In our last season, those dogs, those animals have loved us so faithfully and so very well.
A reminder to us daily that God knows what we need and provides it ahead of time.
A reminder that we are known and adored.
We had no idea on that day we met the dogs what was about to transpire in our Fort Portal world.
We simply thought Kali and Simba were cool dogs.
They would also be faithful and stalwart friends.
In the wake of so many painful world events and understanding that many families are grieving the tragic loss of human life, we humbly offer our loss into that midst.
We join the prayers for all who grieve today. We join the prayers for peace.
And we pray for the courage to see the ordinary miracles in our day to day getting us through even the darkest valleys.
Simba was one such miracle to our family.
We will always be grateful.
"The earth is the Lord's and everything in it, the world and all who live in it;" Psalm 24:1