Thursday, December 1st 2016.
My sweet, wonderful, loving Nico boy
My life will never be the same.
To say I'll miss him for the rest of my life
is an understatement of monumental proportions.
Friday December 2nd, 2016
My Nico. My buddy. My pal. My best friend.
R.I.P my love.
To say I will miss you, to express how deeply I already miss you, is an understatement beyond measure. With your passing, a part of me passes away as well, and nothing...nothing, will ever again fill that Nico-shaped emptiness that's left in my heart, my soul, my being.
Thursday, December 1, 2016, I had to say good-bye to the most wonderful friend I've ever had. My sweet, intelligent, loving dog, Nico.
I'd had him since he was 12 weeks old.
We had been though a lot together. Some stretches of our journey together were horribly rough. He comforted me when I was sick. I comforted him when he was sick. He didn't care when I had gotten permanently sick and lost everything. He didn't care about my money or job or the house we lived in. He loved me for the man I was. We loved each other. We trusted each other.
I have had precious few people love me in my life. Starting with a mom and dad who were horrible, mean people who never showed me one ounce of love or kindness, to failed relationships to distant family members who didn't care whether I existed or not, I have had very few people love me in my life.
Nico loved me fully, completely, without question, without fail, with all his huge, kind, loyal heart. He trusted me, completely, fully, without fail. The love of a dog surpasses understanding for many people.
To me, my animals are not just animals. They are living, breathing, contributing members of my family, each with their own personality, each contributing something special to my family in their own unique way. In their own way, they each make up a part of who I am as a man and a human being. I was a better man because of what Nico contributed to my heart and life.
I feel the empty space inside myself where Nico lived, and it hasn't even been 24 hours yet.
He was so special in so many ways. I have had many dogs throughout my life. I know German Shepherds are unusually intelligent. Above all that, Nico was special. I have never, ever, seen or had a dog as intelligent as Nico, who showed an understanding like Nico did. I never once had to teach him anything. I simply showed him what I wanted or expected of him...and he understood. I never trained him. I simply communicated with him what I wanted, he understood, and would obey.
I have an acre of back yard, and we walked the perimeter, and he understood the boundaries. He understood this was his yard, and over there was not. He would even take off chasing after a deer, and stop at the boundary. I never had to take him out on a leash. His yard was his home, and he knew it well. It was his territory, and he guarded it with all his heart and soul. He just understood.
I have never had a dog who communicated with me the way he did. He could look at me, and I knew what he wanted or needed. He actually, honestly communicated with me. We had a bond beyond understanding, yet we understood it. It was uncanny. A smile, a nudge, a look in his soulful eyes, asking me to follow him, and he would lead me to what he wanted. Maybe his ball was stuck behind something and he couldn't get it. Maybe he wanted a treat. Maybe one of the kitties was accidentally stuck out on the back porch. Whatever it was, Nico and I shared a bond that transcended normal, natural interaction, and was into something spiritual...supernatural. At times it almost seemed like we could hear or understand each other's thoughts.
I was the pack leader to him, and he was the pack leader to all the other animals. Palmer, my scardy-cat, chicken dog, would follow Nico out into the yard to do his business. But the wonder of that was that Nico understood Palmer was scared of his own shadow, and he would willingly and willfully walk Palmer out into the yard and stand there with him while he did his business. Palmer got his courage and strength from Nico. Palmer got his security from Nico. Nico understood.
When I was hit with any of the many trials that have come into my life, Nico could sense when I was down or stressed. He would lay his head on my leg or in my lap, and look at me with eyes filled with light and love and understanding, yet also full of encouragement and support. No, I was not transferring human feeling into his actions. He understood. He would bring me his ball or put his paw on my knee or just lay down with his head on my foot, and just love me...be with me. He was in tune with my emotions. He understood.
When a stray animal came into our home, which would happen frequently, he understood. He would show them the ropes. He would let them know he was boss, but I was King, and allow them to feel safe and secure, maybe for the first time in their life. He would show them they were going to be cared for, he would show them how to play and eat and where to lie down and sleep. He would show them where his places in the house were, and the spots they could have. If they were being nursed back to health, he would be easy with them and stay close to them, keeping an eye on them and help them heal. We even had a tiny little baby bird once, and he gently nuzzled it, licked it, and never bothered it. He understood so much.
He trusted me beyond question. He would have followed me to the gates of Hell. When winds blew and the house shuddered and rains poured, when thunder and lighting would shake the foundation of our home, he would come to me for reassurance. He was never scared of storms, but on occasion when we had a bad one, he would simply come to me and check in with me, “Are you sure? We're okay?” is what he would seem to ask me. I would pet him, spend a few minutes talking to him, reassuring him, being his King, his hero, then he would go off and reassure Palmer, who is petrified of storms, look for the kitties to make sure they were in a safe spot, keep an eye out for any danger, until the storm passed. Then he would curl up at my feet, where he always was, and sleep, loving me for being me. He just simply understood.
He loved me. He trusted me. He would go anywhere I would go. He was the guardian of my kingdom. If I was his King, he was my trusted, devoted and loyal knight. Being a 125 pound German Shepherd, he had a deep, rich, full bark that he never hesitated to use against any odd sound or hint of danger or an intruder. A knock on the door, a bang on the house, a sound out in the yard, and there he would be, alert, poised, ready to defend me and his home, without question, without hesitation. Kind, loyal, loving, friendly, affectionate, but protective in a way I've rarely ever seen, even in other German Shepherds. I think it was because he combined that unique intelligence and his almost supernatural intuition with his protective nature, and could actually reason what any situation was.
He loved people and meeting new people. He loved to love people. He loved to give kisses. He was open and warm and inviting. He had more personality than I had ever seen in any dog, and more than most people. From the groomers to the vets to just random people he would meet, everyone commented on what a handsome boy he was, what a good boy he was, and how sweet he was...unless he sensed danger or a threat. If he felt threatened, that was a different story. He was a different dog. He just understood everything.
He loved to go for car rides. Even as he got older, if I would grab my keys and ask him if he wanted to go for a ride, he would dance around prancing and get excited like a puppy. In so many ways, he was always still very much a puppy. Bright eyes, happy, prancing, playing, jut happy without a care in the world. My love. My buddy. My pal. My friend. My protector. My soulmate. He meant so, so much to me.
A year ago, our sweet little girl puppy, Lacey, died suddenly in my arms on Christmas day. It was a shock, a horrible event in our lives, she was suddenly ripped from our family, and Nico understood.
They were inseparable from the moment Lacey came into our lives. They were friends and more. They were in love. Nico mourned her passing right along with me. He missed her, and he has always had just a small spark missing ever since she left us. We shared our grief together, and he understood.
About a week-and-a-half ago, Nico wouldn't eat. Then he wouldn't eat again. He started drinking tons of water. Tons. His energy level dropped like a rock. He would bring me his beloved squeeky tennis ball and just drop it in my lap, then walk away instead of playing keep-away with me. He would sleep. He would drink water. He wouldn't eat. In his eyes was the look of something being very wrong.
I tried a different food. I always mix canned food in with his dry, so I tried a different canned food and he ate a whole bowl. Then he wouldn't eat again.
We called the vet and made an appointment. He had just turned 11 in September, and I simply thought maybe age was catching up with him. Age and his size were certainly going to eventually become a detriment to his health. I thought we would go to the vet and figure out what the problem was, get him some meds, and get him back to his normal, bright, perky, happy self.
Suddenly, the night before his appointment, he got worse. Labored breathing. Not enough strength to stand up for long. I would take him outside to do his business, and he needed to lie down in the yard to rest before he had the strength to walk back into the house.
He felt horrible, and he came to me over and over that night, weakly laying his head in my lap, then lying down.
He had never felt like this before, and I could see it in his eyes. He didn't understand.
He laid by my bed in his usual spot all night, breathing rapid and shallow, and I stayed up with him all night, petting him, reassuring him that we would go to the vet the following morning and get him all taken care of.
Cancer. I didn't see that coming. I didn't understand.
The vet showed me the X-rays. He had developed cancer in his liver and it had spread quickly to his lungs, and most likely to other areas as well.
It was rapid and aggressive and he wasn't going to get better. His lungs were covered in lesions.
He was on the verge of beginning to suffer, and it was going to get worse quickly.
I had to do what was best for him. I always did. He trusted me to do that. This, though, was beyond any understanding for either of us.
The decision had to be made. Nico laid on the office floor listening to us talk. We talked and talked. Questions. Answers. None of them were good. No options. I didn't understand.
I sat in the chair trying to accept what had to happen. Nico laid his head on my foot. I reached down and petted him. My emotions consumed me. Nico looked up at me, then laid his head back on my foot.
Sign the paper. It took me five minutes to sign my name. It's happening.
I laid down on the floor in the office with my poor Nico while the vet prepared to do what he had to do. I laid there with him, sobbing uncontrollably, petting him, softly stroking his ears, rubbing his head, talking to him softly.
He was so weak now. He could hardly hold his head off the floor. I reached for his head and he laid it in my hands.
The vet offered to take him away and save me from this. I told him there was no way in Hell I would let my Nico boy go through this without me being there. I would see him through to the end. Never in my life had I abandoned him, never could I abandon him, and I was not going to let his last thoughts be wondering where Daddy was.
The hardest journey we ever had to take together.
First the anesthetic.
Nico relaxed. He loved me being there with him. He looked toward the door as noises from outside caught his attention, then laid his head back in my hands. His tail would weakly wag when I would say “My Nico Boy.” He loved me so much. He trusted me without question. He moved his head out of my hands and onto my arm, relaxing more and more. One last time, he lifted his head and looked up at me, eyes glazed from the anesthetic, head foggy.
He relaxed his head back into my upturned hands and closed his eyes, loving me every second, cherishing being in Daddy's hands.
The second injection.
It took the vet a couple tries to find an artery. I laid there, waiting...anticipating...listening...soothing Nico the whole time. After a few minutes, I heard him say. “There we go.”
It was over quick. Nico breathed his last breath with his head laying in my hand, my other hand stroking his ear...which he loved.
Just during the course of any given day, Nico would come up to me for pettin's and I had this way I would stroke his ear. Soft, long, slow, gentle strokes with his ear between my fingers. His eyes would close half way, glaze over, his head would tilt, he would relax. Oh, he loved it when Daddy would stroke his ear like that.
This time, as I stroked his ear in that special way, and held his head and face in my hand, softly talking to him, telling him over and over what a good boy he was, he relaxed, and drifted away.
I spent the next hour lying with him. Nurses would come in and out, checking on me, checking on us, they covered him with a blanket, I snuggled up to him and wept like a child.
So quick. So sudden. Nico wasn't going home with me ever again. Cancer. My buddy. My pal. My boy. Cancer.
I finally forced myself to leave. I walked to the car and sat there for about another 30 minutes...alone...crying...sobbing...still not accepting what had happened...in shock, not wanting to face what had just happened to my boy...but having no choice but to accept it.
I drove home...to all the reminders of him. His squeeky tennis balls on the living room floor that he loved so much and played with constantly. He LOVED those balls.
The bowl of uneaten food from the night before.
We have a decorative metal frame on the kitchen floor. It holds two dog food bowls elevated for the comfort and ease of eating, so dogs don't have to try to swallow up against gravity like they do when their bowl is on the floor. It was designed to hold one bowl for food, one for water. We used it for two food bowls, Nico and Lacey, and they would eat together every meal, side-by-side.
For the last year, half of that metal holder has had an empty spot...no bowl for Lacey. I looked at Nico's bowl, and sobbed that there would now be no bowls in the frame, ever again. Empty, like I suddenly felt. No more bowls of food. First Lacey's, bowl, now Nico's bowl, no more.
His bed on the living room floor with a nice, soft blanket that he loved. My screensaver on my computer with pictures of him. Pictures of him on my phone...on my refrigerator. Pictures of him in collages on the walls. Big piles of Nico poop in the back yard. Tufts of Nico fur on the floor. Memories of where he would lie on the floor just to be close to me. I couldn't get up and walk from one room into the other without him following me: “Where ya goin, Daddy? Whatcha gonna do in here? What's this? What's that for?” Then he would lay by me, just to be close to me always. No matter which room I was in, or if I was out in the yard or on the back porch, he had to be right there with me.
Now I see empty spaces where he would have been....should be...and isn't. He was so ingrained in my life in so many ways. Some may consider this melodramatic, but a year ago I lost my Lacey. Now I've lost my Nico boy, and my life will never be the same.
I know this grief will pass. I know time heals all wounds. I know eventually the fond memories of love and affection and the 11 years of true joy and companionship I had with Nico will replace the feeling of loss and emptiness and gut-wrenching sadness I have now. I know I'll eventually be able to look at pictures of him and smile rather than be overcome with grief.
For now, he is worth the grief I feel. He is worth mourning so deeply. He is worth grieving so completely. What he was to me, all the things he meant to me, all the things he represented to me, are worth this lament. What he brought into my life, the person he made me, the things he taught me, the way he made me feel about myself, the relationship we had with each other that I never would have thought was possible, the times of utter joy and laughter and contentment, is worth this grief.
To my Nico boy, who made me a better person, a better man, a better human being, by simply being the kind of friend you were, I say a fond, loving good-bye for now.
Say Hello to Lacey for me. Play, have fun, enjoy, and love like I know you're able. Love the way you showed me was possible.
I'll see you again.