Family, Pets

Goodbye Nikki

Nearly 13 years ago, we gave into Annie’s pleas for a dog.



For all those years, he seemed invincible, immune from aging with all his energy and good health. But, all that changed about six months ago as he started to puzzle us with new behaviors.  We didn’t view any of his symptoms as particularly serious until the past month when we noticed a steady pattern of changes and physical deterioration.

When we took him to the beach a few weeks ago, he seemed like a troubled, confused animal. One day he stood in front of me, stared into my face, and barked urgently like he was trying to tell me something. Our week there continued with one odd occurrence after another, from him running away from me and getting lost on the beach to him pacing around at night unable to sleep.



When I came home, I took him to the vet, and he found nothing to explain it.  The vet confirmed that Nikki’s eyesight and hearing were worse, but didn’t see anything else out of the ordinary for a senior dog. I asked the vet how I would know when it was time to make an end-of-life decision. He said emphatically, “Not now! Look at him. His tail is wagging and he’s doing great.”

Great? Had he listened to me explain how Nikki had day and night mixed up, could barely walk on his arthritic legs, panted nonstop with high level anxiety and nervousness? Did he hear me say his thirst was unquenchable, he was dropping weight, losing his fur, urinating in the house, and acting disoriented?

The vet’s comment made us feel guilty like we were thinking of ending Nikki’s life only because he had become an inconvenience.

Then, Sara came home for a short visit, and immediately noticed dramatic changes from when she’s seen him over the holidays. She confirmed our worries.

During that same time, I cleaned a few things out of Annie’s room, and came across the book, “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein. I read the first chapter about an aging dog trying to tell his owner it was time for him to go. The dog said, “I’m old. And while I’m very capable of getting older, that’s not the way I want to go out.” I kept reading and wondered if that’s what Nikki had been trying to say to me.

After talking it over with our family, we decided it was the humane thing to do for Nikki’s well-being and ours. I called the vet, but still worried about whether it was the right thing to do. I think Nikki overheard my phone call because for the rest of the day, he seemed to confirm to me that I’d done the right thing.

When I got his leash out for his walk, he slowly ambled toward me. His walks were the high points of his day. We started out the door and down the drive way and then, he just stopped about a third of the way down and sat. He was done. He didn’t want a walk. He laid down on the pavement and didn’t move.

Later, we put him in his crate while we did some shopping, and when we got home, he tried to stand up and get out of his crate, and his legs just folded underneath him, and his whine sounded like a cry.

When I moved to the couch, he hobbled toward me and managed to get up on my lap, where he stayed motionless until it was time to go to the vet’s office. I noticed he hadn’t eaten or had anything to drink all day.

We read on the internet that a dog will tell you when it’s time to go and it recommended actually having a conversation with your dog to tell them what you’re thinking and to gauge his response.

I know, I know, it sounds crazy.

But, I actually did it. I got down on the floor, moved my face close to his, and said, “Nikki, I feel like it’s time. Am I right? I feel like you have tried to tell me this for a few weeks now.”

I honestly saw a tear form in his right eye. Sara was there as my witness.

My chat with Nikki
My chat with Nikki
Sara's goodbye
Sara’s goodbye

The vet said we could drop him off at the front desk and leave or we could go into the office and be with Nikki when they gave him the shot to put him to sleep and then euthanized him. I couldn’t bear the thought of it. (In fact, one of my dear friends offered to do this for me.)

Doug was out-of-town. Annie was at college. Sara and I talked about what felt right to do. We decided dropping him off felt wrong and cold, like dumping off a family member at the ER, casually waving goodbye and driving off. We decided we needed to go into the vet’s office and be with Nikki while he passed away.

We carried him to the car when it was time to go and he sat quietly on my lap while Sara drove. Sara unrolled the window and as Nikki’s last act of utter joy, he feebly stood, put his head out the window and let his ears fly in the wind as he took in his last car ride.

I never could have imagined how emotionally hard it would be to say goodbye to that sweet little puppy — the one who comforted me through chemotherapy, provided endless hours of entertainment and love for our family, and never tired of seeing us walk through the door. He was as excited to see me after a trip to the mailbox as he was after a two-week vacation.

When my nest emptied and my girls went off to college, I still had Nikki to follow me around, keep me on a schedule, and warm my feet under my desk. When Doug was out-of-town, I had Nikki to snuggle up to me on the bed, keep my feet warm, and alert me to anybody even getting close to the house.

As he melted down on to the vet’s table into a deep and final sleep, Sara and I kissed his soft head and told him goodbye and thanked him for being such a good, sweet dog. After the vet checked his heart beat and told us he was gone, we did our best to thank him, and then walked straight out of the vet’s office for the last time, holding Nikki’s leash and collar, and crying like babies.

Yes, we will miss that dog.

And after all my resistance to getting him 13 years ago, as hard as it was to say goodbye to him, if I could go back in time, I’d do it all over again because that crazy little creature enhanced our family life immensely, taught us about love and loyalty, and gave each of us a dose of sweetness that we’ll never forget.




Dog Whisperer Mojo

Now that we have work to do in North Carolina to get a beach house ready to rent, we have a little Nikki conundrum.



He’s not a good passenger in the car.


I prefer passengers who can sit still, not drool on my seats, and not hang their heads out of my windows with their tongues and ears flapping in the breeze.


When I take Nikki to the dog groomers or the vet, I always put him in the back seat. He immediately steps on the window button, sticks his head out the window and pants and wags his tail like he’s the happiest dog ever born. He seriously smiles because he’s so happy with that breeze on his face.



I love seeing him that happy until he decides to leap up to the front seat and sit  on my lap. He’s too big for my lap and I’m afraid he’s going to kill us both when he pounces on me while I’m driving.


I’ve tried to train him to be a better car rider. Really, I have.


I took him to PetSmart to look at the traveling, soft-sided crates. I pulled one down from the shelf to see if he could fit in it.


“Come on Nikki,” I said repeatedly, encouragingly. “Get in the crate.”


He backed away like I was guiding him into a heated oven.  Then, I saw a dog harness that I could use to strap him into a seat belt.


I bought the harness, went out to the car, and tried to strap him in it. As I struggled to hold the straps, pull him into the harness, and buckle the seatbelt, I looked around the parking lot looking for Allen Funt, thinking my struggle felt like one of those old Candid Camera episodes I used to watch on TV when I was a kid.


Candid Camera
Candid Camera (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I probably spent 30 minutes getting him buckled into that contraption. I felt optimistic as I pulled out of the parking lot.


I didn’t even get out on the road when I heard the window roll down. That brilliant little scamp of a dog managed to unfasten the seatbelt and roll down the window to ride on his own terms — smiling, panting with ears flying in the wind and tail wagging so hard it nearly hit me in the back of the head.



So much for the harness.


The Dog Whisperer said I should take Nikki on short 15-minute trips in his crate and let him get used to riding in the car that way. So I hauled the darn, heavy crate out of the house, hefted it up into the back of the car, and then hoisted Nikki up there and into the crate.


Cesar Millan, the dogwhisperer
Cesar Millan, the dogwhisperer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Off we went. I even unrolled the backseat windows to help him feel the sensation of being on the back of a Harley.


This is going to work, I thought. It’s a lot of heavy lifting, but I think I can make this work. Before I even pulled out of the garage, he started whining.


I turned up the radio.


He whined louder.


“Sing, Adele, sing!” I said as I turned up the sound.


Just you and me, Nikki, out on the open road, enjoying the breeze and a little Adele music. .


I drove aimlessly around, getting a headache from Adele’s loud singing and Nikki’s competitive whining.


Then, I started resenting that darn Dog Whisperer. I don’t know what it is about him, but he’s got dog magic. Dogs do everything he wants them to do. His dogs sit quietly in their crates and go for pleasant car rides. They don’t wriggle out of harnesses, roll down car windows, unlatch seat belts, jump on Cesar’s lap while he’s driving. They obediently stay in their car seats and crates because he has dog mojo and I don’t.


I’m not giving up yet though. We’ve got a few more short practice drives to make in the next few days before I give up.


So, if you see me driving around with music blaring out of my car windows and a white dog panting nervously in a crate, you’ll know I’m trying to get my Cesar Millan mojo on so that Nikki and I can be good road trip companions.


If not, you’ll know I gave up, found a kennel or a sucker for dogs and made other arrangements.








Family, Pets

About that anxiety, Nikki…

Nikki is avoiding me.

I tried to take his picture for this blog post but he eluded me.

I think he’s mad because he saw my empty suitcase being filled again.

I can’t help it, Nikki. I have places to go.

Last time I went away, Ginger, our amazing dog sitter, sent me an urgent message.

“I’m very worried about Nikki.  Since about 2 this morning he has been pacing all over the house, panting, and chewing on his back leg.  It is now bloody looking.  I think he is in pain but I don’t know what I should do. Is there anything I can give him?”

Nikki, what are you doing to poor Ginger, waking her up at 2 in the morning?

I told her to give him a Benadryl because sometimes his skin gets itchy and then he can’t leave it alone.

This is a common problem with Bichons because they have sensitive skin and sometimes scratch until they break the skin.

Doug said, “I think he’s just missing you.”

He says that all the time, but I refuse to believe Nikki is that attached to me.

(As I write this I can feel his fur on my foot because he is so close to me.)

Doug said when I leave town, Nikki roams around the house looking for me the entire time I’m away.

He’s restless and nervous until I get home.

If I go across the street, he sits in the front window and waits for me and then jumps excitedly all over me when I come home because five minutes is like a month to him.

I took him to the vet after I got home last time because his skin was so irritated.

Guess what the doctor said?

“I think it’s a combination of his dry skin and the separation anxiety he feels when you go out of town.”

Separation anxiety?

This is not acceptable, Nikki.

Ginger is so good to you and you wag your tail at a dizzying speed with happiness when we go there so why so much anxiety?

Well, the experts say, he spends too much time with me.

I’m not sure how to solve that problem.  Take him to doggie day care?

I did a little research about Bichon Frises and separation anxiety.  Apparently, that’s another issue with this breed.

A possible remedy? Sending him to Ginger’s house with pieces of my unwashed clothing.

I’ve heard this about puppies but Nikki is an old man by now.  Still, my very scent can calm him down.

It’s worth a try.

I’m sure Ginger will be thrilled when I show up with bits of my worn-out pajamas to store in his crate.

I’m going to experiment this weekend while I’m away for a wedding.

I’ll leave a piece of clothing in his crate and see if he acts calmer for Doug.

Then when we go to the beach soon, I’ll arm Ginger with my worn-out pajamas, some children’s Benadryl and some Benadryl spray and instruct her to use them at the first sign of an impending situation.

And if that doesn’t work…

I will have to order the cone of shame.

I think Nikki is afraid just hearing the rhythm of the keys that just typed out those words.

Like I’ve said before, we have a sweet deal with Ginger and her family and we can’t afford to mess it up.

You hear me Nikki, snoring there beside me? We can’t afford to mess this up!




Pets, Uncategorized

Anybody Want a Dog?

Do dogs get more mischievous as they age?

When Nikki was an energetic, jumping puppy, I asked a dog-loving friend if he would ever mellow.

“When he’s old.  He’ll just lay around and stay out of trouble.”

That was over 10 years ago and Nikki is still living the jumping, energetic puppy life.

He’s like the Peter Pan of dogs, never wanting to grow up.

His new favorite game is to stand on his hind legs,

wedge his sharp little claws into the pull-out cupboard where we keep the trash can,

and then scavenge for trash like a vulture swooping in on roadkill.

I wonder if she'll know I made that mess..

I usually know he’s been up to trouble when I go downstairs and he stays at the top of the stairs

in a guilty lump on the landing.

Or when I walk into the kitchen and he’s hiding from me.

She'll never find me here

I use my low, leader-of-the-pack “Dog Whisperer” voice and say, “Nikki, what have you been up to?”

Then he gives me this look…

Who me?

Or, I see him under the table like he’s put himself in timeout.

I'll just stay here the rest of the day and keep out of her way...

In addition to his new scavenger life, he’s developed a bad habit of waking up in the middle of the night. And it’s always oh-so-urgent for him to go outside.

We follow him blurry-eyed downstairs and let him out the back door and dutifully wait while he sniffs, snoops, and roots around in the backyard.

Instead of getting impatient and angry, I’ve developed some weird nighttime habits of my own like emptying the dishwasher, sweeping the floor, and do I dare admit…looking at my game boards and playing a word on “Words with Friends?”

He also decided to start barking when I’m on important conference calls.

I’m not sure where that came from or how he even knows when it’s an important conference call.

I told my sister about his bad habits and she coolly said, “Today might be a good day to put him down.”

“Put him down?”

Now before you dog lovers get all offended, my sister is a major jokester and my all-time cracker-upper, so take that into consideration, please. In other words, she didn’t really mean it.

Her son moved home recently and brought a dog with him even though he knew her “no-pet” policy.

The dog, Liv, chewed up her furniture and then fell so in love with her that when she gets home from work, Liv jumps up and down with such excitement  that she can’t contain herself or her bladder, and then she pees on her.

So in frustration, and as a joke, she started saying to her son,

“Today might be a good day to put Liv down.”

They laugh about it, and they keep working with Liv to teach her that glee should not equal pee.

Oh, the things we do for love, I mean … dogs.

I need one of these...

Personal, Pets, Uncategorized

Here kitty, kitty…

I’m dedicating this post to my cousin Becky.

When my mom and I arrived at the beach a couple of weeks ago, we filled our arms full of all the supplies we hauled down there and headed up the stairs. When I peeked over the Costco-sized packages of toilet paper and paper towels to unlock the door, I noticed a cat sitting on the cover of the hot tub.

“I think we have a visitor,” Mom said, standing behind me with her arms full of new mattress pads.

“Oh great! I wonder how long it’s been here. Lew and Brian will die,” I said, as I fumbled to get the key in the lock.

Lew and Brian and Doug bought the house before Doug and I married and we’ve all vacationed there nearly every summer since. We rent it out the rest of the time.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to call these men “particular” or “fastidious” owners. Every time we go down, they expect a report on the house — what’s broken, worn-out or needs to be replaced, for example. In fact, it’s because they are so meticulous about the house being in good shape and well-stocked that Mom and I packed the back of my car with all those rolls of paper towels and toilet paper, only to discover the shelves and closets were already filled with those basic supplies.

So when I noticed a cat living there, I thought they would want it removed from the premises ASAP. I imagined them worrying about the cat having some nasty disease or scratching or hissing at some little beach-going toddler or people writing in the guest book that a feral cat ruined their beach vacation by hanging around the house making people sneeze or by holding the hot tub hostage.

As a dutiful wife of an owner (I know my place in this beach house triumvirate), I fired off an e-mail telling them about the cat. Then I said, “Should I call animal control?” I told them that when I woke up the first morning we were there, I opened the blinds in the kitchen window and the cat’s face was staring in at me.

“It loves sitting on the hot tub and stretching out across the door so that you have to step over it when you go out. I almost fell down the steps trying to avoid it as it wrapped around my legs.”

Then, I received this e-mail from Lew: “I didn’t know you liked cats so much. I have a new name for your new cat –“Rascal, the Raccoon Cat” or it could be “Rascal Turner” for short? Actually, there are many feral cats down there. Many of the residents feed them and certainly the tourists feed them because they are so cute. I doubt there is an animal control down there.”

So I overreacted about the cat. Then Brian replied and said, “How about writing a play about the Cat on the Hot Tub Roof? Have the setting in the south (oops, Hatteras is the south), then we can get some celebrity cats to play the keys roles.”

Doug just wrote back and said, “Send pictures!”

Clearly I was the only one with the cat problem.

The boys didn’t care about a cat taking up residence at their beach house.

And, no animal control?

I found a little story about “Basket Lid Wisdom.” It said, “Before you reach to pet a cat on Hatteras Island we suggest you exercise caution. Many of the cats roaming the Island are descendants of a breed of cats that date back to the first settlers of the island…The cats came with the ships…As the years have progressed many of the wild cats have become domesticated, but you will still occasionally run across one that has that wild look in his eye…”

This cat didn’t have a “wild” look in his eyes and he must have feasted on food at someone else’s door because I didn’t feed it or pet it. And every time I tried to take a picture of it, it eluded me.

I’m not much of a cat person. When I was in high school, we had a family cat and it loved to sleep on the top of the front wheel of my car. When I turned the car on, it jumped off and ran away. Except one day it didn’t jump off…and, well…

“Mom, remember the cat that got hurt when it didn’t get off my tire and you said it ran away?” I asked.

“Oh, well, I might have told you that so you wouldn’t feel bad,” she said, not looking up from her embroidery project. “You actually killed the cat.”

“Now you tell me!” I said. “No wonder I don’t like cats.”

And of course the beach cat liked to wrap itself around my feet every time I went outside. It never loved up to my mom like that. And it liked to rest pressed up to the storm door, staring at me while I worked at my computer. Mom looked in the guest book and saw that several renters wrote about the cat. “It was weird because a cat was here and we loved it. You will too! We found out that it’s notched ear means it’s a Kinnakeet cat descended from shipwrecks.”

“The notched ear means it was captured, spayed or neutered, and then released,” someone wrote.

I checked that out and discovered they were right. There are about 1,000 wild cats living on Hatteras Island.

“The cat was so friendly,” another person wrote. “My kids called her Mrs. Raccoon because of her striped tail. With the broken porch screen, she jumped in through the window and slept on the hot tub at night.”

Well so much for the renters hating the cat. Still, I thought the owner boys would want me to drive the darn cat to the end of the island to live at somebody else’s house.

Toward the end of the week, Mom said, “Do you think I could get that cat home? I could just sit it on my lap on the airplane. It’s so friendly, and it’s really quite pretty. What would you think about me taking it home?”

“No way are you taking that cat home. You have the worst possible history with pets! You should call Becky and see what she thinks of you taking home a cat,” I said.

Many years ago, my mom adopted a cat that made itself at home at her house. She fed it and took good care of it. Then one day she decided she’d had enough of the cat, so that night she decided to give it to my cousin Becky.

Even though Mom was in her pajamas and ready for bed, she scooped up the cat, climbed in the car, and off she went to Becky’s house.

She knocked on the door with the cat in her arms and when Becky opened the door, Mom said, “Here! I can’t stand this cat for one more minute. You have to keep it.”

Becky liked cats so she agreed to keep it.

I recently asked her if she remembered this incident. She said, “I’ll say I remember! That damn cat had three litters of kittens and then one of the kittens had a litter at the same time she did. I had 11 cats in my garage at one point!”

And the real problem? Mom found out the cat she adopted and then gave away belonged to her neighbor!

“You cannot take that cat home. Becky will not want an Outer Banks cat even if it does have a notched ear, a raccoon-like tail and a pirate or shipwreck pedigree,” I told her.

With animal control and adoption out of the question, we said goodbye to the kitty. Then as we packed the car, it followed us up and down the stairs… until I accidentally stepped on its tail, and it decided to go back to the hot tub.

“I think you like that cat,” Mom said. “Maybe you should take it home with you.”

“No way. I am not swayed by its distinguished pirate ship pedigree. And, you certainly can’t take it home and end up giving it to Becky.”

“True,” she said. So we told Mrs. Raccoon goodbye and drove back to Virginia.

But I have to admit I’m curious about whether the cat is still there, whether the renters are feeding it, loving and petting it or if they’re searching the phone book for animal control…

Pets, Uncategorized

More Adventures with Nikki

When we go out-of-town, our good friends, Mike and Ginger, and their family take care of Nikki for us.

Several years ago, when we first took him there, Doug said,

“If you have to put him down, here’s the vet’s number.”

“What? Why would we have to put him down?” Ginger asked, aghast.

“Well, you never know what could happen,” Doug said, trying to make a joke out of it.

Not a very funny joke, but it shows the seriousness of good doggie day care.

You never know what the dog sitters will have to do.

We have the very best dog sitters ever.

We cannot afford to mess up this great arrangement.

So we give Nikki a good talking to before we drop him off.

“Now be good because you don’t want to go back to that kennel where that dog-loving nun made you sleep alone in a crate.  You know how much you like sleeping on Haley’s bed! So don’t misbehave!”

He hasn’t always listened like the last Thanksgiving when he jumped up on the kitchen table, snatched a cube of butter, and gobbled down the entire fatty glob before they could stop him.

That must be why the vet told him he was getting a little chubby around the middle.

It can’t be from the rotisserie chicken I give him after my Costco runs.

He knows when it’s Costco chicken day.

From the minute I walk in the door carrying that juicy bird,

he sits patiently by the counter wagging his tail until I put his precious morsels in his bowl.

Then, he promptly licks it clean.

He does cute things like that sometimes.

Nikki playing "words" with my soul sista

But sometimes his cuteness and cleverness is a little more frustrating.

After our trip to Utah for Thanksgiving, I went to pick him up before Ginger and Mike went to work.

As soon as I got there, Mike opened the front door to bring out Nikki’s crate and other vacation gear, and Nikki bounded out, jumping all over me like it had been over a century since we’d seen each other, just like he does if I walk out to the mailbox or down to the basement and back.

The animal has no sense of time.

Any short break from me is like an eternity for him.

I opened the car door.

He jumped in the car, tail wagging excitedly, because of course it had been eons since we’d seen each other.

Mike followed Nikki, carrying the crate, food bowl, treats, and leash.

He carefully placed them all in the backseat of the car so that he and Ginger could rush off to work.

Then our cute, hyperactive, happy-go-lucky dog jumped up and down from one door to the next, looking out the window at us, and panting with joy to be going home.

Then his little paw hit the door lock.


He locked all the car doors.

The keys were in the ignition.

The car was running.

My cell phone was locked in the car with the dog.


If he could lock the doors, maybe he could unlock them?

It was worth a try.

Ginger and I did our best to convince him.

“Here Nikki, open the door.”

“Come on, you can do it.”

“You locked them so you could unlock them.”

“Good boy, you’re so close!”

“Come on, pop it up!”

He put his paw on the lock, panted happily, and then removed his paw.

Mike ran in the house to get the camera.

“This might not be funny now, but it will be funny later,” he said.

Ginger and I kept coaxing Nikki to open the doors.

“Look, if you can open the drawer where we keep the trash, and unwrap every piece of chocolate that’s ever come into our house, you can open this door!” I thought.

He just looked at me wondering when I would take him home.

“Nikki, I know you can open this door.  You roll the windows down in the car when you want to stick your head out and let your ears fly back in the wind.  So open the door already!”


Finally, Mike drove me home to get the extra key.

Nikki is so not getting that “Wiley tough guy toy” for Christmas that my neighbor told me about.

I searched every possible drawer for that spare key, and found nothing.

Mike waited patiently in the driveway, probably hating both Nikki and me, and resenting us for that butter Nikki ate.

I called Doug.

“Nikki locked himself in the car.  Can you call the police and have them meet me at Mike and Ginger’s house?” I asked.

“What?  How did Nikki lock himself in the car?”

“Just call the police please.  Mike and Ginger are late for work and they’re probably not going to let Nikki vacation there anymore, and then we’re in big trouble.”

Mike drove me back to the car and I tried to convince them to leave me there, standing in the rain, waiting for the police to arrive.

They refused.

So we all stood in the rain waiting for the Herndon police to arrive on the crime scene.

Surely sensing the urgency of our situation, a policeman quickly pulled up.

Armed and ready for action.

He couldn’t stop laughing.

“How did the dog lock himself in the car?  Did you try to get him to unlock the doors?”

Then, another policeman showed up.

Is this really a  two-police-car emergency?

The second policeman also was laughing.

They each took a window and wiggled their special door-opening tools down between the doors and the windows,

trying to lift the door lock.

Nikki looked calmly and innocently on with his tail still wagging.

“It’s your fault we’re in this mess,” I thought, “so don’t look all cute and happy.”

Finally, the door lock popped open.

Thank goodness.

Mike and Ginger left for work, about thirty minutes late.

The police drove off to pull over people going 26 in the 25 mph zone, which is what they excel at doing, as well as opening car doors locked by dogs.

And, I got in the car and waited for Nikki to stop jumping all over me, and licking me like it had been 92 years since we’d seen each other.

But this time, it actually seemed like 92 years to me.

And Doug?  He went to the Honda dealership to get a new key.

Pets, Uncategorized

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.