Ode to Nikki

I came home from my early morning yoga class feeling rejuvenated and ready to live from my heart and all that other Namaste, my-soul-honors-your-soul yoga jargon.

I walked into the kitchen and saw trash scattered all over the floor.  Since Nikki, our Bichon Frise dog didn’t come running to jump all over me with his usual exuberance, I knew he was the culprit.

As I picked up the empty bags, cereal boxes, and other nibbled on debris, my peaceful yoga flow of love waned.

As I headed toward the stairs, I saw him cowering behind the railing.

“Yeah, you know you’re in trouble so you’re hiding from,” I muttered.

He dropped his head lower.

Then I noticed a yellow stain on the living room carpet.

“Nikki!” I yelled up the stairs as he skulked into one of the girls’ bedrooms to hide.

All that good yoga energy blew out of me in one big gush as I stomped around to find the stain remover.

“That’s it, Nikki.  I’m going to PetSmart as soon as I clean this up, and I’m going to buy you one of those collars that will sting your little neck if you step into this room again.”

For a moment I softened, wondering if he was sick because he rarely has accidents in the house, but he just finished a round of antibiotics so I knew he wasn’t sick.

As soon as I finished dabbing and scrubbing and dabbing again, I went to PetSmart and waited for them to open.

I bought a menacing looking “pet barrier kit,” with a transmitter to place in the living room and a receiver collar to put on Nikki’s neck.  The brochure said, “When your pet enters the Barrier Area, he’ll hear a series of audible tones from the Receiver Collar and he will feel a safe Progressive Static Correction, delivered through the Contact Points on his neck.  The Progressive Static Correction will get his attention, but will not cause harm.”

Perfect.  Just what I needed, something to get his attention, and give him a gentle static correction.

I set up my trap, and placed the transmitter in the living room and the collar around Nikki’s neck.

A few minutes later, a dog walked by the front of the house, and Nikki flew straight into the living room and started barking.

What happened to the Progressive Static Correction and the series of audible tones? Clearly he felt nothing.

I turned the correction up a few notches.  Still he casually wandered into the living room and nothing happened.

I was furious about wasting money on a defective PetSmart corrective system.

In the meantime, Nikki stopped hiding from me every time he saw me, and I’m trying to forgive him.

After all, it’s just him and me now. The girls are off to college and Doug’s at work. So, it’s just the dog and me.

Who would have thought that when I gave in to Annie’s pleadings for a pet, I would end up being Nikki’s favorite member of the family?  Wasn’t I the one that never wanted a pet?

Annie’s tears and pleading got the best of me.

She loved going to the pet store and playing with the puppies.  I avoided taking her there because it only stoked her puppy love.  Doug, however, indulged her.

One Saturday at the pet store, she said, “If I can’t have a dog, can I have two frogs?”

Frogs seemed pretty harmless so I agreed.

That was before I knew about the care and keeping of frogs.

They required weekly runs to the pet store to buy live crickets for their meals, and we had to keep the crickets alive to feed the frogs.  This frog-cricket feeding operation became complicated and smelly.

One day after Doug and Annie made the cricket run, Doug walked into the kitchen from the garage and said,  “We have a very sad little girl.”

“Why?” I asked.

Before he could answer, Annie walked in with red eyes and that blotchy red face she gets when she cries.

“What’s wrong?” I asked her.

She plopped the brown bag of crickets down on the counter and said forcefully, “Frogs aren’t fun!  They just sit there.  If I take them out of their cage, nothing happens.  I can’t play with them. They don’t have personalities.  I just want a dog.  All I’ve ever wanted is a dog.

Then she ran upstairs in tears.

Doug shrugged his shoulders and said, “Is she wearing you down yet?

I went to the Internet and started researching pets.  I took a compatibility quiz to find out which kind of dog would be best for our family.

After checking all the boxes of traits most important to us, I wasn’t sure any dog would work.  I wanted a small friendly dog that didn’t shed, sniff inappropriately, drool excessively, require too much exercise (because I knew I would be it’s primary caregiver) and be hypoallergenic.

I thought the quiz would tell me we only qualified for Beanie Babies, but we had already given every Beanie Baby dog made to Annie and she still wanted a real one.

It surprised me when the screen popped up and told me a Bishon Frise was almost 100 percent compatible with our family.

So that’s when Nikki came into the picture.  We found an ad in the Washington Post for a five-month, house-trained Bishon Frise. His previous owner lived in Pennsylvania and worked at home when she got the dog.  Then, she changed jobs and had to travel too much, so she needed to sell him.

We decided to get the dog on Christmas Eve and surprise the kids.

We named him Nicholas because we got him on Christmas, you know, like St. Nick.

Since then, Nikki and I have had quite a life together.

When I took him to the vet for the first time, the receptionist said, “What’s Nikki’s last name?”

“His last name? I never thought about dogs having full names,” I said.

“Well then what’s his mommy’s name?”

“Oh, I don’t know his mom’s name.  I guess it’s on his birth certificate or whatever you call a dog’s papers.”

“No, I mean your name.”

“Oh, I’m his mommy? I guess his last name is Turner then.”

Nikki Turner?  When we discussed names, we never tried them out with our last name.

I’m sure the vet’s office wondered whether I should even have a pet.  I wondered too … especially when they told me they needed a urine sample.

I handed the receptionist the leash so she could get the urine sample, and she handed it back to me, and said, “You do it.”

“Me?” I said, looking shocked and disgusted.

“How do I do that?”

She rolled her eyes like I was an idiot, and said, “Well, when he lifts his leg, you slip the cup under him and collect the urine.”

“Like duh,” her face said.

Grossed out completely by this prospect, I said, “Ah, do you have the cup and some gloves?”

Again, the “you-shouldn’t-have-a-pet-look” came over her face, at which time I totally agreed with her, and wanted to give him back to that working woman in Pennsylvania.

But I donned the gloves, traipsed around the neighborhood with my specimen cup, trying to slip it under him at just the right time.  I think it took me all afternoon to get a few drops in that cup.

I wondered if getting a dog was a good idea because of all that urine and poop collecting. But he won my heart the day he punished a little girl who had taunted and harassed Annie.

Every day as we walked Annie to the bus stop, I teased Annie about how I wanted to teach that girl a lesson about bullying.  I imagined grabbing her by her preppy little shirt collar and backing her up to the light post to threaten her to never say a mean word again.

Annie always begged me to stay out of it because it would only make things worse, so I always stayed out of their quarrels

But one glorious spring day when we walked to the bus stop and all the kids were playing games and running around waiting for the bus.  The bully tossed her backpack on the lawn, and when Nikki and I walked toward it, he marched right up to her backpack, lifted his leg and sprayed urine all over it.

It shocked me because he had never done anything like that before, and he never has since.

She screamed and ran over to pick up her backpack, and I apologized profusely.  As I turned around to run home to get something to clean up the mess, Annie knelt and whispered, “Good boy, Nikki.”

On the way home, I promised him one big juicy bone as soon as our clean-up duty was over.

Nikki took good care of me during my long, miserable chemo days.

After I came home from my first treatment, Nikki looked up at me with such sympathetic eyes. For months he curled up around my legs and comforted me.

Those instances of loyalty and love help me put up with his barking, jumping, and occasional accidents in the house.

And now that my dog zapping “Pawz Away” pet barrier is useless, I’m going to have to find another way to keep him from venturing into the living room.

Maybe my nest won’t seem as empty with him pattering along behind me every step I take.  He’ll keep me on a schedule with all his whining every time his reliable body clock tells him it’s time to walk.

Yep, it’s just you and me, Nikki, which means you might be seeing a little more of that dog crate than you like. When the kids aren’t here to beg for you to sleep on their beds, you’re going into the crate because you can’t be trusted.

I can’t afford to let you roam freely while I go to yoga. It isn’t good for my heart chakra.  I can’t sink deep into my heart, surrender my mind, and enjoy peace if I have to clean up after you.  So while I might not like you sometimes, we’ve got to work together to make this relationship work.  That means I must go to yoga classes to learn patience, and you must stay out of the living room even without a hyped up pet barrier.

We both have a lot of work to do.

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