December 1992 – July 16, 2009
On April 22nd, 1993, my mom picked me up after school and we drove to the Fairfax County Animal Shelter. We had visited the shelter six days prior to look for a new addition to the family. We had just lost Liesel, a chow mix stray we had since 1986, to cancer a few weeks back. During that visit to the shelter, I found a 4 month old male sheltie mix, #02000. He was a stray, and not available for adoption until April 22nd. I had instantly fallen for the little guy. Not only was he irresistibly cute, but he seemed to really like me too. He had even cried when I left his cage after our first visit.
My mother was adamant about not getting a male dog. She claimed they would pee on all the furniture. This had been the case with a previous male dog, but there were other instigators at play there, so I went to work on changing her mind. For six days I wrote the number 02000 everywhere. I wrote it in lipstick on her bathroom mirror. I left notes in her car and posted around the house. I pleaded my case over and over again. She finally agreed we could go back in the afternoon on the day he became available for adoption. If he was still there, we could take him.
That afternoon came, and once at the shelter, I ran to his cage. It was empty. He was gone. My mother called out to me from down the hall, “here he is”. I ran to him, but there was a sign that read “adopted – hold until 4:00” posted on his cage. My heart sank and I burst into tears. How could it be? I was so sure he was meant to be mine.
It felt like an eternity, but was likely just a few seconds later that my mom then handed me a leash and said “he’s yours”. She had stopped at the shelter in the morning when they opened and adopted him for me. It was a good thing too – as she was filling out the paperwork, two gentlemen came in and requested to adopt #02000. The shelter worker informed them they were 5 minutes too late. Niko was my (early) 17th birthday present. To this day, the gift of Niko is unrivaled by any gift I’ve received since. I don’t think this one is surpassable.
Niko and I bonded immediately. He was the first dog that picked me over the other humans in the house (my parents). He was a very emotionally intuitive dog. He knew when I was sad, mad, happy, without me even showing any signs of it. When I would cry, he would come over and nudge me to stop. When I was angry, he’d put a paw on me and try to divert my attention to his eyes. If I roughhoused with a friend, he would jump in to ‘protect’ me. He made it perfectly clear that I was his, and he was mine.
Niko was so smart. I know everyone says this about their dogs (or cats or kids etc) but he really was remarkable to me. He could learn a new trick with just minutes of training. He could sit, lay down, shake, play dead, crawl, and beg. He loved to learn new games and often mimicked my movements. If I shook the rope during tug of war, he shook the rope. If I did a short burst of tugs, he did the exact same back.
He loved his walks and runs through the woods, he loved to sniff, and he loved to swim. He loved to race me up from the barn. He loved going everywhere I went. He loved life and he loved me.
I moved out of the house in 1995. I didn’t move far, and I still came by daily to see my boy and feed the horses. It was a difficult few years, not spending as much time with Niko. I would pick him up and take him to various parks to walk and swim. I had tried keeping him overnight, but it upset the other dog, Gusti, way too much. Gusti had abandonment issues after we lost Liesel, so I decided not to take Niko away for the night as long as we still had Gusti. Living apart from him was difficult, and I wish so much now to have those years back.
We lost Gusti in May of 2003. She was 15. My parents had already introduced a boxer named Angel to the mix. She was my brother’s, but he could not longer keep her. Angel was bonded to my mom, so she didn’t care when Niko started to spend more and more time with me at my place. I even took him to work for a period of time. I’m thankful that I got 6 years of spending lots of time with my boy. I’m thankful I was able to be there for him when he needed me most.
Niko overcame a lot of challenges – aside from just being a stray. He lost vision in his left eye to Glaucoma in 2004. It had been injured as a young pup (before we had him) so this was not unexpected. He overcame a bad vestibular disease episode in 2005. Niko was diagnosed with Cushings in March of 2008. We were able to get that well under control with medication and were then hit with a Lymphosarcoma diagnosis October 16th 2008. He had too much life in him to let the disease take him without a fight, so we did several rounds of chemotherapy and got him into remission. He stayed in remission until July 1st 2009.
We had an excellent support staff for Niko throughout his life. I have listed them on my “Thank You” page. Niko enjoyed walking a mile plus every evening until 6 days before he passed. He was 16 years and 7 months when he passed at home, surrounded by family on July 16th 2009. He went very peacefully, my good boy. I whispered in his ear long past him being able to hear me.
Niko touched a lot of lives. Even those that never met him were impacted by him and he was an inspiration to many. The response to his death was overwhelming and heartwarming. To know him, was to know how special he was. I do not know if it was the lymphoma that that had spread or a macrotumor (stems from PDH cushing) or if it was just his age taking it’s toll. I know how lucky I am to have had this incredible boy in my life for so long, though it wasn’t enough. The hole in my heart is indescribable.