Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Losing Nicky

My Nicky wasn't just stories I got to watch and then loved to retell. He wasn't just a really big (think enormous--170 lbs) dog. He was also my child, and my husband's. He was our beloved boy.

He didn't start out that way. Our first child is also a great dane, a brindle named Trudy.

My husband took me to pick her out of a litter as a Valentine's Day present 9 years ago, and she was to fill the hole left in my heart by the loss of my Molly right after we married. Molly and his dog Princess had gotten into a real dog-fight and I adopted Molly out in an attempt to keep Paul's daughters from resenting our presence even more. But that's a whole other story, and a whole other heartbreak.

Paul didn't "get" my thing about Great Danes. So his intention was that I have Trudy to make up for Molly after the Dalmations had passed away. He was being kind, and fair. But she ended up sucking him into the world of Loving Great Danes. A year later we decided to add another dane to our family and, unfortunately, little darling Greta died 6 days later of parvo. More heartbreak. But my youngest son still believed our forever dog was out there. He scoured the paper every day and we went out a few times a week to meet prospective pups. One day he found one listed in Leming, a place I'd once lived in my distant past. We decided to swing by there on our way out to our place in Floresville. We took Trudy with us because she loves to run free out there.

While I was looking at puppies' markings, this teeny little runt dove for my husband and tucked his little head under his arm, and my husband called to me, "Tammy, it's this one. He chose me." And so he had.

This is Nicky that very first day, standing next to one of the 2 oak trees on our place, and under his new big sister.

We had our Nicky for nearly 8 years. We called him Nicky and Mud Puddle and Snuffle-upagus (also calling Trudy "Big Bird") and Bumble Butt and tons of other silly names. He was silly and sweet and LOUD and bossy and nearly always in the way. He took up the majority of the room on our king bed and for all these years we've just slept along the edges. He ran in his sleep which sometimes felt like being beaten up, at other times as though we were in a storm at sea being pummeled by waves. Once he fell OFF the bed and made a huge BOOM followed by a teeny scared whimper. There was a similar instance with a similar chain of sounds when he pushed PAUL off the bed one night. I have had small bruises on the tops of my feet forEVER, because he never failed to stomp on my feet on his way to or from somewhere. He ran to us for safety during thunderstorms and holiday fireworks displays. He barked so loudly at the doorbell (even the ones on television) that it echoed off the walls and ceiling and HURT my ears.

Nicky had had hip surgery (in which he incurred 3rd-degree burns along nearly the entire length of his back, down to muscle), then surgery for bloat, then plastic surgery for the burns. This all occurred 2 years ago, and for the entire pre-surgical to post-surgical period I slept with him on the sofa downstairs, as did Paul whenever he could (it's different for firemen, you know). He was the biggest little baby you ever met, but I always loved the opportunity to take care of a sick child (my kids can attest to this, as I smothered them with attention and fed them home-made soup until they could fairly float away). Nicky didn't mind my smothering... so for nearly 4 months he had my undivided attention. I did chores while he slept, and stayed next to him while he was awake. It was a lot like nursing a newborn.

Nick began having more trouble getting around last summer. We took him to the vet and were told he needed to lose weight and exercise, but it was also confirmed that he had extensive hip dysplasia and that he was, in dane years, the equivalent of an overweight 80-year-old man with terrible arthritis. He was put on meds and he did improve to a degree, but over the last few weeks we watched him deteriorate quickly, from developing a limp to becoming completely lame in one of his rear legs literally in just hours. He could no longer get up the stairs and there's no sofa bed downstairs anymore. Luckily it was bulky trash week in our neighborhood, so we hopped in the truck, drove down the block, and came home with a twin bed with pillow-top mattress that we set up for him downstairs. I slept on the recliner across the room, taking up Nicky-watch again.

The vet gave him meds again but, while this relieved his pain and lifted his spirits again, did nothing to improve the lameness. He had some sort of mass or bulge in his spine, cutting off nerves and muscle. We had to use a sling to help him maneuver up and down, and he couldn't clean himself (yup....lucky thing for all the baby wipes and rubber gloves I keep around for art). So we decided it was time to let him go.

We laid on the floor with him at the vet's office and he fell asleep with his head on my arm, and we buried him under the very tree where we took his first picture. In an enormous hole dug by a backhoe (thanks to the good people of J & B Drilling in Floresville) and in a casket made for him by his dad, who built it with wood and nails and glue and tears, with a make-shift A-frame and hoist, finally covered over by 2 crying parents with shovels and the veritable mountain of dirt that sat beside the hole. I know that the moment he slipped away he woke up heaven-side running and leaping and chasing things. But mostly we just cry when we notice his absence here. No heart-stopping barks or foot-stomping or just plain laying across the kitchen floor while we step over and around him to make dinner. Nope. It's quiet and there's room on our bed to sleep. And FAR less poop to clean out of the back yard.

I'd trade it all for another year with him.

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