June 24, 2006

Goodbye, Red Thunder

On Friday my mom and stepdad unexpectedly and very suddenly lost their dog Nick.

Nick's story is not mine to tell. I was lucky enough to be included in his circle of trusted loved ones, but his heart belonged to my mom and stepdad. They could write volumes on the joy he brought to their lives and their faces reveal how broken their hearts are today. But Nick was a part of my family and I'd like to remember him in my own way, sharing a few loving lines about this big dog with a big heart who may be gone, but who will never, ever be forgotten.

After years and years of taking in cast-off mutts and tossed aside kittens, not to mention hamsters and parakeets and gerbils that multiplied at the speed of light and anything else my brother or I could think of to bring home, my mom got herself a dog. She'd always wanted a golden retriever -- a dog to call her own -- and so one Christmas she and my stepdad brought Nick home.

Nicky was a gorgeous dog -- red with beautiful feathers, tall and long with a stately nose. If you looked at him in a picture you'd think What a beautiful dog, how elegant he is. And then you'd meet him and say What a complete clown! Intelligent, intuitive, loyal, fun-loving -- everything a dog should be and more, that was Nick. He came to them a puppy, went through his adolescent "tube-sock" stage when he became as long and lean as a lanky teenage boy, and then finally he filled out strong and powerful. If you dared to accept a challenge of tug of war from him, he'd pull you right across the room, right off your feet.

Shortly after he came around, we adopted JoJo and a fast friendship was born. Nick and Josie spent a lot of time together and enjoyed the spotlight, because grandkids (in our family at least) hadn't been invented yet. Do you want to go see Nicky? we'd ask Josie and she would just fall apart right then and there, losing all self-control until she arrived at his front door. You'd have to stand back and let them greet each other and get it over with before you could even start to say your own hellos.

They'd have wrestling matches unlike any seen on TV, complete with body slams and with none of the fake maneuvers. Josie learned quickly that Nick was heavier than her, so she'd bite his ankles to bring him down, but more often than not he ended up laying her flat, chewing her face. Every now and then someone would yelp and they'd both stop, sniff each other head to toe as if to politely say Are you alright? Sorry there, didn't mean to nip you so hard on that right flank. Yes, yes, I'm ok. Alright then? Carry on.. And they'd dive right back in for more.

We came to call Nick "Red Thunder" around here, because the minute he entered the house he'd go tearing up the stairs eager to locate and check the status of our three cats. He never harmed them, not even a growl, but he had to know where they were. Sometimes when I saw him coming I'd put JoJo out the back and hold the door. He'd come tearing in the front and go right out the back -- a scrambling, panting flash of red.

We took care of Nick whenever my mom and stepdad were out of town and when the dogs were young they were exasperating. The trouble they could find had no limits -- chewed toys with stuffing spread all over the house, holes dug in the yard (and rolled in for good measure), food stolen directly off the dinner table. My mom would call to check on them and I'd shout They're crazy! Save me! But it was a good kind of exasperation. They competed for everything and Nick learned early on how to handle Josie. I'd give them both a rawhide and tell them to Go lay down before you both drive me crazy! Nick would furiously chew his gone while Josie slunk off to quietly guard hers. When he was finished, Nick would lay in front of her and stare her down. She could spend entire evenings growling at him softly Stay away, Nick. It's mine. And no matter how many times I urged her Eat it NOW, enjoy it! She never would. Nick would stare and stare at her, lulling her into complacency and just when he saw her eyelids droop he'd jump up and snatch it away from her. You couldn't help but laugh and I'd tell her He won JoJo, fair and square. Though I'd usually make him give it back anyway.

They had recently hit "middle-age" and both had become a little slower, a little heavier. The wrestling matches got shorter and more gentle, until they finally stopped. The last time Nick stayed with us -- just a couple of months ago -- they half-heartedly got into it again, kind of like it was for old times sake. I sat and watched --not wanting to interrupt -- and they looked like two old boxers taking jabs at each other just to remember what it felt like. They chewed on each others faces a little and JoJo backed into him the way she used to (putting her heaviest side first) and he grabbed the back of her neck and she laid down for him and they kind of just lay tangled up in each other for a minute, chewing and licking, and then picked themselves up and shook themselves off. I'm grateful for having got to see that now -- two old friends remembering good times, reliving their glory days.

He was such a big, warm, happy presence that the feeling of having him around hasn't really sunk in. Coming in to visit them yesterday, I heard him panting in the hallway and turned to greet him, only he wasn't there. This I think is probably the hardest part, this living, breathing, toy shaking, squirrel chasing, too-big-for-it-but-wanting-to-be-a-lap-dog-anyway, don't-anyone-hug-without-me-in-the-middle-of-it dog's presence is still here, lingering in every corner of their home, their yard, their hearts.

There are dogs that work, dogs that play, dogs that you love, and then there are dogs who become your friend. Nick was a beloved friend, my stepdad's loyal buddy, my mom's constant companion. You are loved, sweet Nicky, and you'll be dearly, dearly missed.


Blogger Margaret said...

We all love our pets, but there are some that are special, unique in some way. Niko was one of those blessed pets. I'll never forget the night when Shiner died and you came over and tossed pebbles at my window to wake me up. I'll bet you Shiner was waiting to greet Nicky and show him the ropes in heaven. I only hope he doesn't make fun of her stray toenail.

June 27, 2006 12:02 AM  
Blogger Lauren said...

I am sorry to hear about the loss of your dog (even if it really was your mom and step-dads).

June 27, 2006 8:32 AM  
Blogger Jenn (formerly gibby23roarof84) said...

Poor Niko.
And I can't stand to think of your mom and C...my heart is breaking for them. Amazing how such relatively small beings can consume such vast quantities of our hearts. I know when we're 80, we'll be saying, "remember niko and josie"...and that is the truest testament to a friend. Godspeed Niko.

June 27, 2006 12:40 PM  
Anonymous Perry said...

Oh. I am so sorry. He sounds like such a lovely dog, a wonderful friend.

Some people don't understand how much you can love a pet, but I do. My condolences to your parents.

June 28, 2006 10:19 PM  
Blogger Her Grace said...

Thanks everyone. Nicky really, really is missed. He was one loved dog, that's for sure.

July 01, 2006 10:07 AM  

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