We were spending the week between Christmas and New Year's at Ed's parents. As I've mentioned in other posts, it truly was Niko's favorite getaway spot. He was familiar with the endless acres of land, the house, and family. In the car rides up, when we said "Grandma and Grandpa's!" his head would pop up and eyes would be alert to look out the window. His tail would wag with excitement as he jumps out of the car to greet everyone and go explore.
The "come when called" command was always a challenge for Niko. Although we had him leashed when we were in urban areas, we made a conscious decision to allow him off leash opportunities in what we believed were safe conditions. Ed's parents house was one of the places because of the open land of fields and woods. Niko had spent a week full of play, treats, and time with family, including Ed's nephews who adored Niko. In fact, the day before his last, Niko was tired out from spending hours playing with nephew Peter who is 6 years old.
On December 30, 2011, while Ed and I were still asleep, Niko was let outside to go to the bathroom. When called to come inside, he insisted on staying out. It was surreal to be woken up and told Niko was hit by a car and needed to be taken to the vet ASAP. We learned afterward that a lady was driving to work that morning. She caught sight of Niko and slowed down her car. When she saw that he was standing in the lawn by the flagpole, she accelerated, thinking Niko wouldn't move. For whatever reason, Niko darted out at the wrong moment and was hit.
After he was hit, Niko walked around the yard, probably in shock. The driver who was very upset, rang the doorbell to let us know. Ed's father picked Niko up and brought him inside. There were no visible injuries aside from a little blood on his hind leg. Niko walked into a bedroom to lay down. This was something he used to do when he wasn't feeling well and wanted to be alone. Once we found out which animal hospital was open at that time (before 8am), Ed wrapped Niko up in a blanket and brought him to the car. Up to this point, all of us thought he would survive due to the fact that he was able to walk and he wasn't visibly hurt. However, Ed was not optimistic when Niko didn't squirm when he was picked up. I sat with Niko in the backseat. I was silent most of the ride from shock and disbelief. I petted him, held him, and we looked at each other, communicating silently. The ride to the hospital was less than 10 minutes, but I could feel Niko slipping away. He moved his head towards the front of the car where Ed was. Ed petted his head; Niko was reaching out for one last contact with his Dad. Moments later, Niko took his last breath. It happened right before we reached the hospital. I say it was Niko's rebellious way of telling us he had always hated going to the vet. When we arrived, I asked for Niko to be taken inside just to make sure he was gone and the technician confirmed it. We brought Niko back to the house and there was no question that we would bury him in his favorite place. Niko is buried by the tree pictured here that overlooks the fields he used to run in and the woods in the distance is where we used to go hiking with him.
Niko was two and half years old. I feel very sad he was taken from us so quickly. We can't help but wonder if we did the right thing. I will say that Niko lived a very full life, had many experiences, and was loved by all. If we hadn't given him off-leash time, he wouldn't have done and seen half the things he wanted to. My friend Mona captured it well: "Niko was an adventurer and his parents accepted his free spirit." If I had to choose a favorite off-leash experience, it would be the time we went on the canoe/backpacking trip in the Adirondacks a few months ago. The trip was not possible if we did not trust him off the leash. I smile when I think back to how he sat next to me when we had to take a break from transporting the canoe. Off leash, Niko had free reigns to run off, but he chose to stay close to us and wait until we were ready to move again.
I had taken the following picture two weeks before NIko's fateful day and had planned on writing a post about this sleeping position. I like how he intricately crosses all four of his paws like that. I'd like to think that he's resting peacefully like so.
Even after a month had passed, we miss Niko every single day. Life is just different without him. We both have dreams of him now, when we did not when he was alive. I especially miss his soft fur and how he cheers me up on bad days. Writing this blog was more fulfilling than I had imagined when I started it and I'm happy it is there for us to reflect on our days with Niko. Through the blog, I found other Shiba Inu bloggers from around the world. You can bet I'll continue reading up on you guys and living vicariously through you.
I am concluding this blog with a few pictures from when Niko was a puppy to his last Christmas. And a list of the multiple nicknames we had for him: Niko Peeko, Bud Bud, Bum Bum, Bumblebutt, Pup Pup, and Foxy. Niko lives in our hearts forever.