Barking with Joy at Little DogServicesPosted: June 9, 2011
We lost our sweet puppy, Nicklaus, to a very aggressive cancer this past weekend. I always referred to him as a puppy even though he was approaching 8 years old. Nick was way too young to leave us, and the pain of the loss is still very raw.
His passing has triggered a flood of memories, though it is way too soon for any of us to speak aloud of them. Just 8 weeks old when we adopted him, he arrived right before Hurricane Isabelle tore through Richmond. Like any other baby, his needs took priority over the gale force winds, and my dear Hub braved the harsh elements so that Nicklaus could relieve himself in the middle of that long, loud night in September 2003 when trees crashed all around our home. What an unforgettable beginning to a relationship that brought immeasurable richness to our lives.
As I struggle to craft a fitting remembrance of Nicklaus, I think of writers who have creatively described dogs and their relationships with their owners. Immediately Garth Stein comes to mind. Although I read The Art of Racing in the Rain over a year ago, I have never been able to forget Enzo, the hero dog and narrator. How hard it must have been to write a book from a dog’s perspective and not have it sound like it was being written for a 6-year-old. Full of profound and quotable thoughts, Enzo lived in a state of frustration because he could not voice them. I often wondered what Nicklaus would have said if he had been given the opportunity.
Nicklaus was handsome, quirky, quick when he wanted to be, and usually bright. Despite his short legs, our scottie could do a standing high jump as effortlessly as a deer. He was suspicious of big things that were new or out of place, either in the house or in the neighborhood, but he loved welcoming people into our home, whether friend or stranger. In the last couple of years of his life, before he got really sick, we discovered that we could get him to sing to us.
Like Enzo, Nicklaus expressed himself through gestures that we learned to understand. He trained us well, though the same cannot necessarily be said for us training him. My Hub refused to admit that Nick was an alpha dog, but it often seemed that Nicky ruled the roost. Funny and frustrating in turns, he was so thoroughly enmeshed in our daily lives that I still feel his shadow whenever I turn around in the house.
Nicklaus loved to go places. Always keen to explore new venues, we spent a lot of his life diverting him from these impulses. Even in his last days when he was really suffering, he found joy in wandering through the homes of a couple of our close friends who kindly opened their doors to him.
As much as Nicklaus loved our family, he adored going to “puppy day care”. Officially known as Little DogServices and a part of DogServices by Donna Crumpler, Nicklaus would beg in the mornings for my Hub to drop him off after taking our son to school. We could all tell when Nicky hadn’t been there for a while because he would look at us with sad, questioning eyes as we went about our morning routines. When one of us would tell him that he was going to day care, he would jump around and stay constantly under foot until he got in the car. Approaching Little DogServices near Willow Lawn, Nick would start a familiar whine like he was asking, “Are we there yet?” Once out of the car, he would dash to the building and upon entering announce his arrival. It was a special, joyful bark that we only heard at Little DogServices. The other dogs would greet him with a chorus of barks in return, and the staff would know that he had returned before they even laid eyes on him.
I can’t say enough about the kind and friendly people at Little DogServices. They always seemed genuinely happy to see Nicklaus. He started going there when he was 3 months old, mostly to learn to socialize with other dogs, but also so that he wouldn’t be alone for long hours when I was busy volunteering. Socialize he did. In time the staff at Little DogServices began putting him with the newer dogs so that he could teach them the ropes. He trained the staff, too, as they would move him from one playroom to the next throughout the day when he so gestured.
In Nicklaus’ last weeks when we knew that he was sick, the staff was especially kind and attentive. I can’t thank April and the rest of them enough for letting him make some last visits even though he needed extra attention. Despite the pain, he still announced his arrival and performed his tricks as we would leave, and we were so glad that some happiness remained in his life.
After watching Nicklaus succumb so rapidly to the ravages of cancer, our hope for him in his doggie afterlife is that he has found a place that makes him bark with joy just like he did at Little DogServices. For Nicklaus, that would be doggie heaven.