Furry Flashbacks – The Time Niko Almost Ate My Friend

A number of our blogoshpere friends know that mid-July is ruff at our house. We lost Rocky on July 14, 2014 and Niko on July 22, 2010. They were both beloved family members. To honor Niko’s memory, I decided I would share one of my favorite stories about him. It still makes me cry – but they’re tears of laughter. I can never get through the story without laughing hysterically. I hope it at least gives you a chuckle.


In the summer of 2000, my dear friend, Shaun*, came to visit. Shaun was a big guy (like 6’5”), very amiable (he’s Canadian, after all), and while quite ornery, he was (and still is) a genuinely good guy. None of that mattered to Niko. For whatever reason, Niko didn’t like Shaun.

One day during his visit, Shaun offered to get groceries and cook a curry dinner at my place. I gave him a key to the house and thought nothing more of it. While sitting at lunch with a friend, I realized that Shaun would be entering the house without me… and I wasn’t sure how Niko would handle that. My friend and I raced back to the house and saw the front door ajar. Before he had stopped the car, I jumped out and started running towards the door. I heard fierce barking and ran faster. I hit the door full force and was stopped in my tracks. The door wouldn’t budge. I was able to poke my head through the crack and couldn’t believe my eyes. There, in the small foyer, was my giant friend crouched down into a ball. Across the room was Niko – ears back, teeth showing. He was not about to let this guy into the house!

Don’t let his smile fool you… He didn’t like strangers coming into his house!

I couldn’t quite process what was going on. There were grocery sacks next to Shaun, and between Niko and him was a large package of chicken. I just stood there for a second not knowing what to do. Finally I shoved my way past Shaun and into the house. I yelled Niko’s name which seemed to get his attention momentarily before he refocused on the “intruder.” After calling his name a few more times and “petting” Shaun in a lame attempt to show Niko that Shaun wasn’t a threat, Niko finally came around and ran to me.

Once the situation was diffused, Shaun, our friend, and I finally started to laugh at the absurdity of it all. I Shaun asked if the chicken was supposed to be our dinner; he said yes. Then I asked him why it was in the middle of the room. He told me that he was hoping Niko would rather eat the chicken than him. Fair enough.

From what I remember, Shaun gave Niko some curried chicken that night which finally won Niko over (or at least helped him decide to be a little nicer to Shaun).

*Shaun isn’t the guy’s real name, but it’s close enough.

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!

So Much to Say… with So Little Sound

Or… Who Hit the Mute Button?

Niko, my late German shepherd, was a very talkative fellow. And by “talkative” I mean he yelled at me. A lot. In his defense, it was usually when I had a treat or tennis ball in my hand but still… The funny thing about his “yelling” was that when he did it, it was either very loud and commanding (“Throw the damn ball!”) or it was like someone had hit his “mute button.”  The silent yelling was hilarious!! He would jump up and down and move his large muzzle but all I heard was air being sucked in and his teeth gnashing. He was very animated and would get extremely agitated the longer I withheld the ball or treat. And the more I laughed and said, “Speak!” or “Tell me!” the more agitated and animated he would get – yet still he wouldn’t make any sound. At some point he would finally get so fed up (or he somehow got unmuted), he would let out a loud and very annoyed “WOOF!” I never figured out why he did it and had never heard of a dog doing the same thing. It didn’t matter – I was amused by it. Always.

Let's go play... Please??!

“Let’s go play…”

Every day I see Jacques do something that he learned from Rocky. I watched (and laughed) while he learned these (mostly bad) habits. Niko had been gone for almost two years when we adopted Jacques, so Jacques never had the opportunity to “learn” anything from Niko. Needless to say, I was surprised when he started exhibiting some very Niko-like behavior…

As it turns out, Jacques also has a mute button. We have to work really hard to get him to actually speak (out loud) on command. He goes through the motions – very animated ones at that – but no real sounds come out. Jacques is a bit more stubborn than Niko was, so we quit asking, “Are you a good boy?” or “Do you want a treat?” much sooner than we did with Niko and just give him the treat, otherwise we’d be waiting for a. Long. Time.

(By the way, is it strange that Jacques likes carrots? I mean, he goes CRAZY for them!! I’ve never seen a dog get more excited over a carrot than they do a b-o-n-e. Maybe in addition to being part cat, he’s part rabbit? I guess I would believe that if I didn’t see him bark like an idiot while chasing rabbits out of our yard…)

Now, don’t think that Jacques doesn’t bark. Believe me – he does. And it’s usually at an inconvenient time like when we’re on the phone, when we have visitors over, or when we’re trying to sleep…  He seems to save his “banshee” barking for when we’ve just sat down to a quiet dinner or have just curled up in bed. This little guy who has so much to say apparently chooses his moments to speak up. If I didn’t know better I would think he was doing that on purpose.

A Furry Flashbacks Two-Fur

Niko and Rocky were quite the pair – very yin/yang and always entertaining. It seems like most of their antics happened early in the morning (while I was trying to get ready for work) or late at night (after I had gone to bed).

PART ONE
One morning while getting ready for work, Niko walked up to me and let out quite an attention getting bark. Since Niko was my smart boy, I figured he was telling me he needed to go outside (what a good boy!), so I stopped what I was doing and went to let him out. But when I opened the back door, he just stood and stared at me. Apparently I had misinterpreted his “RAWR!” I started thinking, “What else could he possibly want? He wants me to throw the ball! He always wants me to throw the ball,” so I walked back across the house (with Niko excitedly in tow) to the giant bin of toys and dug through it until I found a tennis ball. I was flabbergasted when he showed no interest in the ball. (Seriously, for a German Shepherd to not go crazy upon being shown a ball is just weird.) I proceeded to go through the bucket of toys to see if any of them sparked his interest – none did. He kept barking at me with this certainty – he wanted something. (Did I mention I was running late for work? Yeah, all this was happening while I was running late for work. Of course that’s when it happened.) I wracked my brain for what he could possibly want. He had food and water. He didn’t need to go outside. He didn’t want a ball or a toy. Finally, out of desperation I said, “Do you want a treat?” He went absolutely insane barking and jumping. Apparently I had finally figured it out. After eating his treat, we went and quietly laid down on his chair. Like I said, he was my smart one. Me, on the other hand… I might not be so bright. 🙂

Niko, my guy smiley

Niko, my guy smiley

PART DOO
One morning while I was getting ready for work (sound familiar?), it was business as usual. I would often wet my hair by sticking my head under the faucet in the tub. (I lived in a rent house and didn’t have one of those cool detachable shower heads, but I digress…) It wasn’t unusual for Niko and Rocky to cram themselves into the tiny bathroom with me. Rocky usually stood next to my head so that he could catch the errant sprays of water. On this particular morning though, Niko decided he wanted in on the action so he came over and stuck his head between mine and Rocky’s. (Quite the sight, I’m sure. I’m glad I was single and lived alone at the time…) Rocky didn’t particularly care for Niko’s intrusion, so he pushed him out of the way. I felt bad for Niko, and since he so rarely got in on the action, I coaxed him back over and let him stand next to me while I finished wetting my hair. Rocky would have none of it – he let out his trademark piercing bark, which in a small bathroom was deafening. As I stood up to wrap a towel around my now too-wet hair, I saw Rocky look at Niko, look at the tub, then look at Niko again before he jumped into the tub. Suddenly he was slipping and sliding in the wet tub, leaving muddy paw prints and streaks everywhere. The absurdity of it all left me in hysterics – and running late for work as usual. Niko decided the show was over and left the room, followed by a wet-footed and sulking Rocky. I was left with soggy hair, a muddy bathroom, and wondering “what in the heck just happened??!”

100_0483

rub-a-dub-dub… two dogs in a tub