by Ray Campbell
I’m remembering a very special dog in my life. I grew up on a farm, and every farm has a farm dog. We had several during my childhood, but none as special as Nikki. Nikki was a German shepherd that we got from a neighbor in 1973, when I was 8. As we grew up together, Nikki realized there was something different about me, that I was blind.
During his nearly 10 years of life, Nikki was almost always with me. Whether I was working in the garden, cleaning up chicken manure, or enjoying nature while riding my bike, there he was.
Nikki came across to most people as a pretty quiet shepherd. He hardly ever barked. But if someone got to close to me, he’d be anything but quiet and reserved. My dad used to kid around like he was going to hurt me, and Nikki would whine at him like, you stop that. One time, someone was visiting us. Dad did that, then stepped back and said, “You try messing with him.” The person said, “I want to keep my arm.” Then there was the time my grandma put her arm around my shoulders. Nikki put his head right on her arm and barked as if to say, no, no, hands off!
Now Nikki did all the stuff farm dogs do. At least once, he tangled with a skunk. Those were the only times I really didn’t want him sleeping on the floor by my bed. He got into the cockleburs, too. It was real fun keeping him still and pulling those out of his fur. He chased his share of cats and swam in the creek.
He did something else kind of peculiar. He realized I was blind, but he laid right across the top of the open stairs going down from the second story of my parents’ farmhouse. Mom was always so afraid I’d trip right over him and go head over heels down the stairs. I don’t know why he liked to lay right there, but he always moved a little whenever I got close to him, letting me know he was there. See, he was looking out for me all along.
I’ve often said I’d like to just delete the first three months of 1983 from history as if they never happened. First, I lost my paternal grandpa. Then, Nikki had a stroke and never walked again. The vet said if he didn’t come around in a couple weeks, we’d need to think about putting him down. My parents had made a bed for him in our basement. The vet had given us exercises to do with him to try to get him walking again. I stood at the top of the stairs and called to him to see if he’d try coming to me. I can’t quantify for you how hard that dog tried to get to me but couldn’t. That tore me right up.
Later that night, he started howling. Both my parents went downstairs and talked to him, but he kept it up. I went down, petted and talked to him, and he stopped. It’s as if he wanted to see me and he didn’t care that it was the middle of the night.
In March of 1983, two months after the stroke, we finally made the difficult decision to put Nikki down. We did it ourselves with a shotgun. My dad couldn’t bring himself to do it; my brother had to do it. While it was the best for him, it was still very sad. In fact, thinking back on that time, I have a few tears coming to my eyes.
Dogs are called man’s best friend. Nikki was that to me. He was always there, had a lick for me whenever I came home from school or wherever, and was just a wonderful dog. Nikki, rest in peace, big boy!