It was a cool 45 degree overcast morning in late May at Lake Lahontan, Nevada. I had a doctor’s appointment in Reno. Rene, my neighbor from across the highway, had arrived to re-install my swamp cooler for the warm days just ahead.
Nicki, my aged half Collie-half Chow dog and Kojack, my new birthday gift, a toy Australian Shepherd dog, were out snooping around the road grader and sniffing the tires to see if any visitors had been there overnight.
When Rene left before noon, the dogs were fine and all was good. I returned around 5:15 in the afternoon from the doctor’s visit, and unlocked my gate across the driveway, and started up the 3/8 mile long stretch to the house. Usually, by the time I was half way, Kojack would meet me, and start to run large circles behind my truck. Nicki was always out by the grader and tractor, about three hundred feet down the drive from the house. She really could not run very fast and she did not like to run anyway, but she did like to be first to greet my arrival. When it was still light, even if it was late, she was always there. This behavior started as part of a contest she had with my old beloved dog Max. He died just a few months prior, but that is still where she kept her vigil.
Today, there was no Nicki, and as I parked the truck, Kojack finally came around the corner of the house, and ran toward me in a strangely distracted manner. He greeted me, but immediately he started to move around the yard, nose to the ground as if he searched for something.
The wind blew about 25-30 miles per hour, and I did not think too much about Nicki’s failure to appear. She hated the wind. Nicki was a digger, and I figured she was curled within one of her little protected burrows to enjoy the cool earth. She only left her burrow as a last resort…for food!
I went into my house at about 8 p.m., and I came back out to feed the dogs and our two new kittens. My tool shed had doggie and kitty doors. Next to the dog’s pen, I built carpeted ramps to allow for the kittens to go up and over the chain link fences. Cats and dogs could come and go into the shed at will. Kojack was now in his doggie bed. Nickety Nic always greeted me this late in the evening because she loved food. It was one of the few things she could absolutely enjoy.
Nicki was a tortured individual! She was very hard to get close too. I called robustly, “Here Nickety Nic. Let’s eat! Where are you?” When she was certain I would feed her, then she would even get a tiny bit affectionate and let me rub her head lightly, and squeeze her sides, but not for very long. It was kind of like when you get hugged in church. Greetings are one thing, but do not hug too long, because it feels uncomfortable and a bit improper.
Usually, after our ritual greeting, we would head for the shed and the big overstuffed dog beds and treasured feed bowls. Nicki received special food because her teeth were worn nearly off. Even with the plush doggy-style accommodations, she hated to be locked within her outside quarters. Unfortunately, we had too many roving packs of coyotes, and so lock-down at night was a necessity.
“Nicki, where are you?” No Nicki! Now I knew something was wrong. We walked around the house, and Kojack kept going under the deck. I went in the house and got my flashlight. There was Nicki, about six feet back under the deck. Her eyes were closed and she would not move. I retrieved the broom and gently nudged her. There was no life at all.
Morning came early and I was up at sunrise. I drove our little Kubota tractor around beside her, and I gently pulled her from under the deck, and lifted her onto the front bucket. Tilting the bucket back so she would not fall, I drove out through the field to a spot about three hundred yards from the house. There was a large pile of rocks where we had dumped excess jagged boulders during a landscaping job. I dug a hole several feet deep. Gently, I lowered Nicki’s lifeless form down into the earth. I back filled her grave with several feet of dirt and large rocks. The rocks were added on top as a visual memorial.
Now came the hard part! I needed to give her a last farewell. I live all by myself, alone except for my pets, the many birds at the feeder, the owls at night, and the roaming coyotes. Poor, poor Nicki. According to the people from whom our family adopted her, she was previously abused. We did not know until we had her settled into our family just how badly the mistreatment must have been. She had obviously been severely mistreated by a man. She would somewhat warm up to a woman, but all men were taboo. I tried and tried to gain her confidence throughout her time with us. For hours on end, I would sit on the edge of the back deck in the warm evenings and talk to her and feed her soft morsels of doggy treats she loved. I would pet Max when he was alive and lay beside her. She would literally quiver and shake with desire to be touched, but she would not allow it. She always moved just out of reach!
“Nicki, I want to apologize on behalf of all the humans with whom you interacted. They must have abused you and treated you with contempt! The hurt apparently was so severe that you lost your ability to establish any kind of trust.”
I paused and looked beyond the rocks and the earth.
“I hope in some way you could see in me a human who loved you and always treated you gently. I am so pleased you met Kojack. He needed a mother figure and he would not let you not love him! He was lively, boisterous, a pest, but gentle with you. He never let you ignore him. He loved you just like you were, and you thrived on his companionship. Oh, yes, you acted annoyed with him a little, but I could tell perhaps for the first time in your life you found someone who really loved you. I thank God for Kojack. We all need someone like that in our lives. May God rest your tortured soul. Good-bye, I’ll miss you!”
As I drove back to the house with the tractor, the sun warmed the desert earth. I thought to myself is it not strange from whom we are reminded about the most important lessons in life? Poor Nicki was abused early in her life, and it impacted her until she died. Even kindness could not win her over or calm her soul. People also are affected by how they are treated early in life, and it too lasts throughout time. Like Nicki, people often are unable to overcome these early experiences.
I reached the house and looked back at the rock memorial. “Good-bye old girl, good-bye!”