Niko

Today would have been the 11th birthday of our family dog, Niko.  He was born on this date back in 2007, an Easter baby, and upon bringing him into our family home he became the center of everyone’s lives.  He was unable to use his hind legs, and therefore had to be carried everywhere, in his final couple months, so I know that he did not have an excellent quality of life prior to his being put to sleep.  That said, I still miss him terribly, and wish he was still with us virtually every day.  So, on this special day, I hope to look back on some memories and pictures of him with joy in my heart—and, while I know that this post may be long, and probably pretty cheesy, I hope that you do, too.

My first memory relating to Niko is a humbling one: I never wanted a dog.  My younger sister, on the other hand, was constantly begging my parents for one, so when they found a breeder that was about to have a litter of Dobermans, the breed that my dad grew up with, my sister was ecstatic.  When we went to meet the puppies—11 in all—we were drawn to three of them.  I use “we” here very loosely—in addition to not wanting to take care of a puppy, I was also scared of them.  They were loud, nippy, and smelled funny.  My only real favorite at the time was “Blue,” so nicknamed because of the blue ribbon around his neck—and the only real reason for that was that blue is my favorite color.  “Green,” who my mom was drawn to, and “Red,” who my sister liked, were also in play.  Ultimately, our decision was helped along by “Blue” and “Green” being deemed show dogs, we ended up taking home “Red” within a couple weeks of first meeting him, my fears being thrown to the wind.

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You can see some of that fear in my face on the big day—the breeder and my sister were extraordinarily enthusiastic to hold the puppy, while I… was not.

He was the first born of his litter, and the name my mom found for him, Niko, literally means “victory of the people,” or, in another translation, “leader of the pack,” so we found it to be a very fitting moniker.

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His floppy ears and tiny body made him cute, but even then he had an aura of regalness, and his massive paws hinted at the massive creature he would become.

Despite this, I remained fearful of him for weeks.  The tide finally began to turn after we returned to see our breeder for a play date with some of his siblings.  He fell asleep on my lap on our drive back home—something that scared the living daylights out of me but also eased most of my remaining fears about him.

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In his recovery from his ears clipped—you can see the bandages on his ears in the last clip—he had to spend a lot of time inside.  That meant he very quickly got acquainted to the “lay of the land,” so to speak, in our house.  He was very excitable, as young dogs are wont to be, so my parents thought of using baby gates to prevent him from running rampant throughout the house, sliding across our wood floors and maybe falling on his healing ears.  It also proved to be helpful if he came inside with muddy paws, or when we had a large amount of company over.  As he got older he outgrew the gates, but they were still a very effective deterrent for him—when they fell over they made a loud noise that he didn’t appreciate, so he avoided going near them at all costs—unless food and treats were involved, and even then he was cautious.

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Being inside so much early in his life also earned him a lot of little goodies.  His first Christmas saw him accumulate a bunch of little toys, which were continuously added to throughout the years.  He seemed to be really good at chewing things to the point that they split in half, but never enough that they were completely destroyed (the only exception to that was my sister’s Crocs, which were the only thing I can remember him chewing that he wasn’t supposed to), and he seemed to switch which bone he preferred on a day-to-day basis, so by the end of his life we had a picnic basket full of toys throughout the years.  He would leave them everywhere throughout the house, too—there was many a time when we would find chew toys tucked under furniture, or when I would find a bone entangled in my sheets (after my parents and sister got new duvets, my bed was the only one he was allowed on; he was, however, allowed to sleep, with a blanket on, on a huge bed right next to my mom).

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His bed

He also got used to getting a very large amount of table scraps.  We weren’t as bad as my grandparents in giving him people food—they spoiled him beyond belief, which is a very grandparent-y thing to do—but he got his fair share from us, as well.  He was a big dog whose eye level was even with our table, so it was easy for him to snatch things off the table, which he did when he was younger, grabbing two of my mini donuts off the table and managing to take a sip of my soup.  To counteract that, we gave him little bits from our meals every day so that he wouldn’t simply grab at things.  That allowed him to develop some great discipline—we could leave food out on lower tables and he wouldn’t take any—but whenever we had food he would look at us with sad eyes that were virtually impossible to ignore.  As such, he developed great tastes for, among other things, steak, yogurt, peanut butter, ice cubes, white rice, scrambled eggs, fresh sweet peppers, and my vanilla ice cream, the remnants of which you can see on his nose here:

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Once he healed up and finally got to spend some time outside, he developed a reputation throughout our neighborhood.  Dobermans, Rottweilers, and Great Danes are frequently portrayed as being vicious in media—or, at the very least, villainous, as in Beverly Hills Chihuahua—so in the first couple years we had him, people would cross the street whenever they saw him walking down the street.  Pictures like this may hint at that reasoning a little:

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As time went on, though, and people around the neighborhood got to see more of him, they became much more comfortable with him, as they realized the truth—that he was a complete softy.  That sense of comfort was enforced even more whenever it was my sister walking him, like in the dog parade below:

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My mom was the person that took him for the most walks—she was around most often and enjoyed the chance to have long talks with him, and God, on their strolls, which in his prime could last as long as two and a half hours.  He made many friends throughout the neighborhood—Henry, Mini Me, Tuffy, Chloe, Frisco, Molly, and his best friend Cooper—that he enjoyed walking and playing with, as well.  I, myself, preferred to spend with my time outside with him just… running around.  We were afforded ample space to do that—we had a big backyard in our first house, and the second one backed up to a giant field, so there was plenty of space for him to roam.  His favorite things to do seemed to be chasing after tennis balls and sticks—about as stereotypical for a dog as you could get—but he also just enjoyed being able to run.  My friends and I would sometimes run to opposite sides of the field as quick as we could; he’d pick one of us to chase after, often plowing us over in his quest to turn around or slow down, before the other person got his attention and he’d chase them.  My dad would sometimes take this a step further, having Niko chase him up the sledding hill and then back down, an incredible feat of athleticism to watch.

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He wasn’t much a fan of rain—it reminded him of showers, which he hated, and it got in his ears pretty easily, so whenever it was raining and he needed to go outside it sometimes took a person with an umbrella leading him to coax him out—but he loved the snow.  He sometimes ran into the path of the snow blower when my dad had it out, and was big enough to look like a little horse prancing in and out of the bigger drifts.  He also really enjoyed chasing after squirrels—he never caught one, as his loud barking and inability to change directions made it near impossible—but watching him try to follow them, then jump up the trees the little animals had scampered up, was always amusing.

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As he got older, and his ability to be active in and out of the house began to diminish, he remained a constant presence in our lives.  We moved in the summer after my sophomore year of high school, and we put his favorite piece of furniture, a couch from our old office, in our front foyer.  It was there where he spent most of the rest of his days—he could see everyone coming walking near or up to the house, which gave him ample time to prepare to greet people with one of his trademark smiles, which always managed to brighten our days even after he couldn’t get up off of the couch to do it.  His lack of mobility also meant that his couch became the center of familial activity in the house—we all wanted to spend as much time with him as we possibly could, to the point where we would spend hours on end just sitting with him, talking, napping, and cuddling.

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I would go more into what he meant to me personally, but there’s just so much to share, so much to say, that I wouldn’t ever be able to properly articulate exactly how much he meant to me.  So I’m just going to end with this: he was the brother I never thought I’d be lucky enough to have.  He was my source of comfort in my hardest times and the one of the brightest lights in the good ones.  He lived with me in two different houses and met both of my girlfriends.  He was my best friend.  I will love and cherish him, and these memories of him, forever.

Niko Gaffney

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If you want/have more pictures, or want to talk more about Niko, comment below or contact me here.  I would love to hear from you.

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