Furry Flashbacks – An Engagement Story

When my husband and I started dating, I told him early on that I was a package deal. I let him know that I came with a Niko, a Rocky, and a Gina. Never one to back down from a challenge, he said, “No problem.” (Good answer, honey!) It didn’t take long before we were one big happy (and furry) family.

My husband (a.k.a A3) and I had been dating a little over a year when Niko passed. Niko was my first true love. Losing him was devastating. A3 was grief stricken as well and did his best to comfort me. A few months after Niko was gone, I was having a particularly bad day. A3 drove the 60 miles that separated us just to have lunch with me in hopes of brightening my day. Seeing his face made me feel better. After lunch, I went back to work and was so glad and so ready to go home by the end of the day.

As I turned into my neighborhood, I immediately knew something wasn’t right. A3’s truck was in the driveway. I was happy but quite puzzled. There was something on the front door… It was a sign telling me to hurry and go to the backyard.

note

(I think at this point I knew what was happening but I was in such a state of disbelief. It was almost like an out of body experience.)

I went inside and through the house to the backyard. And there were my loves. A3 stood smiling at me (and looking quite handsome, I must say). Next to him was Rocky. And on a table near Niko’s favorite tree was a bouquet of my favorite flowers, one of Niko’s tennis balls, and a picture of Niko. The sight quite literally took my breath away.

I joined them under the tree where A3 proceeded to say the sweetest, most beautiful things to me before getting down on his knee and asking if I would marry him.

(Rocky had gotten bored by this point and had wandered off…)

The box that my beautiful ring was in had a light that shined on the solitaire, making it look as though my ring was glowing. “Why is my ring glowing? My ring is glowing!” kept going through my head. Apparently I hadn’t answered, because A3 said, “Let’s make this official, shall we?” I was brought back to Earth and gave him a resounding “YES!!!” He picked me up and spun me around. Rocky ran back to us and began to bark and jump and celebrate with us.

It was so beautiful. Having Niko and Rocky included in one of the most amazing moments of my life is something I’ll always cherish and never forget.

Everyone Needs an Auntie G

I could write volumes about why my best friend, Gina, is one of the most wonderful people ever. Volumes. And I don’t just say nice things about her because she knows way too much about all of the insane things I’ve done in my life. (Though flattery can never hurt, right?) I could wax poetic (which I have a habit of doing), but I won’t. I’ll simply say that she is an amazing woman who inspires me every day and tell you how it started.

In 2003, Gina and her 11-year old daughter came to pick me up for a fun day out. They were a little early, so I wasn’t quite ready. I left them in the living room to entertain themselves while I showered. While I was showering, I heard fierce barking – and a lot of it. It was Niko. I quickly covered myself and ran to the living room to find Gina and her daughter huddled in the corner of an over-sized chair. Gina was protectively covering her daughter while not moving and managing to keep an eye on Niko who was all but on the chair barking at them. Rocky was right there too, barking as if he was saying, “Yeah, what he said!” I was horrified and shrieked, “NIKO!!!” Niko immediately stopped barking and wagged his tail while looking at me. I was dumbfounded. Gina and her daughter uncurled themselves from the chair and looked at me with fear still in their eyes. I apologized profusely and made Niko and Rocky stay with me while I finished getting ready.

Gina, her daughter, and I went on to have a good day, even sharing a few nervous laughs about the events of that morning. (In fact, we chuckle about it from time to time even to this day!) A lot of people I know – family members included – would have distanced themselves from me after that incident, but not Gina. A few months later when I was in the midst of (another) cross-country move, she welcomed Niko, Rocky, and me to stay at her house – with her two children, cat, and husband. She never hesitated. And when, during that stay, Niko and Rocky made complete asses of themselves, she didn’t judge. She didn’t get upset. She just calmly helped me manage the chaos.

(For the record: I seriously doubt Niko would have ever done anything to Gina or her daughter because he was, in fact, a pansy. That being said, it was still an unsettling experience. He never acted that way towards them [or anyone else] again.)

100_0654Does this look like the face of a bully? He certainly was at times!

Every year that my boys were alive, their Auntie G sent them birthday presents and Christmas presents (apparently the squeakier, the better). Niko and Rocky LOVED getting packages from her!! When she came to visit, she always brought the boys special  “cookies” and didn’t complain when Rocky had pooters or Niko hounded her to throw the ball. She was firm but kind when she reprimanded Rocky for “accosting” her leg. Again – most people I know would’ve stopped associating with me or would’ve judged me. Not Gina.

She understood that these boys were my family; they were all I had. She never once said, “They’re just dogs.” In fact, she would often say, “Sure, they’re dogs, but those are your boys. They’re family.” When Niko was diagnosed with cancer, she was the first one I called. Though she had lost her brother and father to cancer only a few years before, she never belittled me for feeling the way I did. She answered my questions and held my hand though it all. When they were sick, she would tell me to give them hugs from Auntie G, which I did. (It was amazing – those hugs always seemed to make them act as though they felt better.)

When Niko and Rocky passed, she sent flowers and cards and called frequently to check on me. She helped me cope with those devastating losses and, again, never once said, “They’re just dogs.” She accepted not only me with my many, many flaws, but she accepted and loved my boys. She did from day one. It was an honest and unconditional love. It was (and still is) absolutely beautiful. And that is why Gina is my best friend and why everyone needs an Auntie G.

The boys LOVED getting packages from Auntie G! (below)

opening packages

Furry Flashbacks – No Way!

Around 2006, Niko was diagnosed with a rare genetic disease called nodular dermatofibrosis which caused lumps (some very large) to grow all over his body. The lumps grew steadily until there were so many of them on his feet and in between his toes that in 2008 he needed to have them surgically removed to be able to walk comfortably. Because Niko was my “Energizer Bunny,” it was hard to get him to rest long enough for his surgical wounds to heal. He made at least two trips back to the vet to have a few spots sutured closed again.

nikos_lumpOne of Niko’s many, many lumps.

balloon nikoNiko post-surgery wearing a balloon cone before being put in “the cone of shame.”

During the slow and frustrating healing process, Niko had to wear “The Cone of Shame,” which he hated. It didn’t help that Rocky tormented him when he had to wear it. And, okay, okay… I didn’t help either. I may have played the “toll bridge” game (where I tossed a treat into the cone like it was a toll as I passed by) once or twice. I might have even laughed. On a regular basis.

Before you start to feel too sorry for Niko, he got us back. He would often walk up and down the hallway with the cone scraping the wall making a sound that was akin to nails on a chalkboard. Or he would walk up “innocently” behind me and slam into the back of my knee almost knocking me down. Rocky often got smacked upside the head with Niko’s cone as he passed by. So, really, the torment was a two-way street.

Back to the story… Niko had to wear the cone and have his wounds medicated several times a day – both things he hated. One morning, I guess he had had enough. When I approached him to put the ointment on his feet, he collapsed down on the floor with all four feet under him. (Think of a duck sitting on her eggs – except instead of a duck it was a large German shepherd and instead of eggs it was his giant feet.) His feet became powerful springs – just as I would get one pulled out, it would spring right back under his body. Pull. Boing. Pull. Boing. It was HILARIOUS!! I was trying to be stern but couldn’t keep myself from giggling.

During one of my fits of laughter, Niko saw his chance to escape and took off. Though I was laughing hysterically, I was quickly in hot pursuit. Down the hall and around the corner we went. He ran into the bedroom, leaped onto the bed, and shoved himself under the pillows. (Seriously, did he think he could hide there??!) Pull. Boing. Pull. Boing. His legs were incredibly strong and he was incredibly determined, but I had an ace in the hole. I played the mommy card. I was able to finally pull myself together long enough to say “That’s enough!” in a somewhat convincing tone, grab his foot firmly, and squirt the ointment on it before he knew what hit him. Once he realized I had won, he gave up the other three paws. He knew he’d been beaten. But he also knew he was going to get a treat. It was a win-win for everyone in the end.

When I replay that scene in my mind I a) am thankful no one was there to see us and b) often laugh so hard I cry. It was very Tom and Jerry (sans the malicious intent) and totally Niko. He was saying, “No way! I don’t think so! Thanks for playing!” He was such a good boy!

100_0933Niko’s lumps and bumps came back, but they never stopped him!

End note: At that time, there wasn’t really a treatment for nodular dermatofibrosis. (I’m not sure if any advances have been made in the last few years.) In addition to unsightly and sometimes uncomfortable lumps, the disease ultimately attacks the kidneys and causes renal failure. Some of Niko’s growths came back though they never got as big as they initially were. After battling an unrelated adenocarcinoma, a large cyst was found on one of Niko’s kidneys. We let him go once we discovered that he was in the mid-stages of renal failure. He was 12 years old.

I am sharing this because I want others to know nodular dermatofibrosis isn’t a death sentence. If your pup has this disease, work closely with your vet/doggie dermatologist to keep growths in check and to monitor the kidneys. Your pup can live a full and happy life. I am extremely thankful Niko was able to!

DSC_0067Niko might have been lumpy and bumpy, but he was a happy boy!

Furry Flashbacks – LOL

In April 2010, Niko, Rocky, and I were at my then boyfriend’s house (now husband) for a family gathering. There was a ton of great food being eaten by a bunch of festive people. I noticed that Rocky had dropped off the radar and set out to find him. Once I found him, I had to figure out what in the heck he was doing – which didn’t take long. I think this series of photos says it all. I laughed so hard when I saw what he was doing. To this day, I still laugh out loud when I see the pictures. They are just so Rocky.

Look closely… and enjoy!
LOL1LOL2LOL3LOL4

Furry Flashbacks – Big Toys for Big Boys

A number of years ago (like 7 or 8), I helped with a garage sale that benefited some local animal rescues. As we were loading up the unsold items to take to Goodwill, I noticed a very large stuffed duck. I thought it was hilarious and brought it home for Niko who had a thing for stuffed animals.

Niko was VERY excited to receive this new, giant baby. He quickly grabbed the duck and headed for the back door. He tried to push it out the partially open sliding glass door but instead fell over it and out the door. He didn’t let that deter him… He grabbed the duck from the outside and tugged with all his might over and over before it finally popped loose and sent him somersaulting backwards. He then proceeded to trot back and forth across the yard with the duck in a victory parade of sorts before he settled down to gnaw on the toy.
niko&duckAbout a year later Niko was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma, a very aggressive form of cancer. After surgery to remove the tumor, he underwent chemotherapy. One of my co-workers (who was an ovarian cancer survivor) told me about her chemotherapy experience, so I knew that it was going to be a rough road for him. One week, he was having a really hard time. My boy, who was normally so full of life, was a shadow of his former self. He seemed so down and depressed. I remembered how happy he was when he saw that giant duck, so I set out to find him another one. Luckily for me it was right around Easter and the local pet store was overflowing with giant sheep, ducks, and bunnies. I grabbed a duck for Niko and a sheep for Rocky and rushed home. Though I could tell he still felt awful, it was so wonderful to see the flicker of happiness in his eyes when he saw me with that duck. He grabbed it and dragged it into the back yard where he proceeded to slobber all over it. When he could, he would drag the duck through the house with him and would often sleep with it. When he couldn’t move it, I would bring it to him and watch him almost sigh with relief. He finished his chemo soon thereafter and was cancer-free for another almost two years. He loved that duck so much that I had to sew the silly thing up THREE times and wash it countless times (he LOVED to drag it though the backyard).

Niko with his duck in 2008.

Niko with his duck in 2008.

Niko with his duck a month before crossing the Rainbow Bridge in 2010.

Niko with his duck a month before crossing the Rainbow Bridge in 2010.

Though Niko is no longer with me, I still have the giant duck. He sits atop the bookcase in my office and looks down on me while I work. I look at the duck and think of the silliness that was Niko and how much I will always love him.
duck(For the record, Rocky’s sheep lasted about 30 seconds before he had the head ripped off and stuffing strewn across the backyard.)

A few weeks ago, I saw a bin of giant ducks, sheep, frogs, and cows. I couldn’t help but think of how much Niko would have loved those. I started to get one for Jacques but couldn’t bring myself to do it. I wasn’t ready. About a week ago I saw the bin again and knew what needed to be done. I picked out the biggest, plushest frog I could find and brought it home. Jacques was overjoyed and though the frog was bigger than him, he didn’t let it stop him from dragging it around the house, cuddling with it, and even sleeping on it. It made me happy. In fact, I laughed hysterically for a long time. It was a reminder that loves comes in all shapes and sizes – we just need to keep an open heart.

IMG_2851 IMG_2854Jacques may not be big in size like my other boys, but his heart is every bit as big. And his ego… Well, his ego is much, MUCH bigger.