R.I.P. Nikita: January 18, 2000 -- June 29, 2015|
Rest In Peace my sweet sweet sweet babygirl. Your loyal and unconditional love for 15-and-a-half years has been a blessing and has brought me so much joy and happiness -- and the memories of that will continue to do so for the rest of my life.
You have been by my side through it all since you entered my life in Miami in February of 2000. And from Miami, you made the moves with me to Boston, to New York, to Cleveland, and to Denver.
Aside from your first 4 weeks of life -- you've known nothing else but life with me. I hope you look back at it from the afterlife with fondness and remember it as a good and wonderful life.
You passed away peacefully in my arms - and when your heart stopped beating I looked at your face - and your mouth was just slightly open left with a smile. I find comfort in that despite my loss of your presence in my life.
Rest in peace my dear Nikita.
Our MIAMI days:
I got Nikita when she was just four weeks old. I was told her mother was a Cocker Spaniel, and her father a Terrier of some type. I was also told her mother died giving birth to Nikita's litter, and so I fed my little baby with a bottle for several weeks.
It took a while to settle on a name for Nikita. I called her Loquita - spanish for little crazy girl. And I also called her Negrita - little black one. And then one day at home in Miami, a promo came on TV for the show Le Femme Nikita - and that's how I got her name.
Determined to give her the best - I made shredded chicken, shredded carrots, and rice for her once she was able to eat solid food. She absolutely loved it - especially the carrots. And over the years she compiled quite a collection of carrot squeak toys. She also grew fond of any squeak toy and worked on it for a while until finding just the right spot to make it squeak and then she did it over and over again! Eventually I transitioned Nikita to dog food, and saved the chicken/carrot/rice meal for special occasions.
She had a beautiful coat - smooth, soft, curly hair that grew crazy and long. Groomers enjoyed working with her - and they told me she was a doll and real treat to deal with - and she had many hair styles over the years!
At some point in her first year of life, I noticed Nikita would suffer brief seizures. She would lose all muscle control for about a minute. It was scary for me, and she seemed scared, too. But it was usually over within a minute - and everything was normal like nothing happened. I consulted with Nikita's vet who said it happens often with dogs and if they aren't thrashing about or hurting themselves during the seizure there's not much that can be done.
Among Nikita's favorite things to do in Miami - run like crazy on the sand on the beach and run like crazy away from the waves of the ocean.
During 2001 I spent 4 months on temporary assignment in Boston for work. Nikita stayed with my best friend Alfredo and his mother Dolly - who became her second family. I was home every three weeks for the weekend. Every time I left to go back to Boston, she wouldn't eat for 3 days, and then finally started again.
I returned back to Miami full-time for 4 months - before making a full-time move to Boston in January 2002.
Our BOSTON days:
Nikita joined me in Boston in March. She survived the 22 hour drive with my Dad and me - sleeping peacefully in the back seat most of the time. We stopped for a few hours at the border of North and South Carolina - and smuggled Nikita into a hotel room that didn't take pets. She didn't make a peep!
In Boston we lived on the top floor of a brownstone, which meant going down and then climbing 4 flights of stairs every time we went out. Certainly got both of us in good shape.
I started to notice Nikita was having fewer seizures, but when she did have them, they would last longer - for up to 5 minutes. It was always so scary - for both of us. But I would always pick her up and hold her and comfort her until it was over. I consulted Nikita's vet in Boston - who said something similar but more specific then our Miami vet. I was told - well you could have a brain scan done for a cost of about $5000 and that MIGHT pinpoint what MIGHT be causing them and then there MIGHT be medication available that MIGHT help prevent the seizures. The vet then said the same thing - but if she's not injuring herself when she has them - then you're probably better off just continuing on - so we did.
While in Boston Nikita took her first flight - and a few more - traveling with me to Miami for New Year's every year to visit Alfredo and Dolly. Deciding to have her fly was a tough one - but in the end I figured she would prefer a few hours in a kennel in cargo than a week in a kennel in a pet hotel. Every time we flew - when I boarded the aircraft - I gave the flight attendant at the door my boarding ticket stub with my seat assignment and informed her or him I was traveling with my dog in cargo and to please inform me when my dog was on board. They did, every time, and every time I met a happy Nikita in baggage claim.
Among Nikita's favorite things to do in Boston - sit on the top of the couch so she could look out our 4th floor bay window and watch the activity below. She also enjoyed trips to my Mom and Dad's home in CT and run around in their big back yard. This is where she had her first encounters with squirrels - chasing them until they ran up a tree - and she would rest her paws on the trunk and peer up at the squirrel that got away! She also enjoyed traveling in the car - always resting her paws on the window sill so she could see all there was to see. She certainly was very curious - but also usually very cautious. My family also grew very fond of Nikita - my parents called her their grand-dog, and my grandmother called Nikita her Great Grand-dog.
After four years in Boston - we were ready to make our next move - to Albany, New York.
Our ALBANY days:
Our first 6 weeks in Albany were spent living in a hotel - and Nikita handled it perfectly. The housekeeping staff got to know and like her a lot during our time there.
When we found our home - it was a nice one-level townhome in Albany on the ground level - so no more stairs. We also had a patio where we spent many nights and weekends. This is where Nikita encountered rabbits for the first time - chasing them just as she did the squirrels at Mom and Dad's house - that we continued to visit from time to time.
I don't remember Nikita suffering many seizures while in Albany - but she did have her first experience with having to wear a lampshade on her head - after having a cyst removed. Thankfully there were no signs of cancer at that time and life was good.
She didn't make the trips to Miami with me from Albany. There were no direct flights - and I didn't feel comfortable with her flying in cargo and being stuck in a baggage area while making a connection.
Among Nikita's favorite things to do in Albany were going to the dog park at Washington Park and running around with all the dogs there. We would also go to the annual daffodil festival at the park and take lots of pictures. Over the years it seemed Nikita got used to my love of taking pictures and taking pictures of her - and usually posed beautifully for me!
Our CLEVELAND days:
After only 2-and-a-half years in Albany we were making another move to Cleveland. Mom made the ride with us this time - and she again slept peacefully in the backseat for the drive.
We settled into a nice 3rd floor unit overlooking the Cuyahoga River. We spent a lot of time on our balcony together watching the sunset over Lake Erie, watching the cargo ships heading up and down the Cuyahoga from Lake Erie, and listening to the concerts at the pavilion straight across the river from our home. We also spent a lot of time walking in the park right along the river.
While in Cleveland I noticed Nikita began having trouble getting up into bed with me. Thinking maybe it was age, and I had heard hip and leg problems were common with Cocker Spaniels, I bought a little staircase for Nikita so she could climb the stairs into bed every night. Then during a checkup with her vet - we learned that she had pretty big cataracts and she was beginning to lose her eyesight - which is why she was having trouble jumping up into bed. But all was good with her little staircase.
While in Cleveland Nikita started enjoying climbing up on a pillow above me on the couch while I was watching TV - and licking my bald head!
Our DENVER days:
It was Dad's turn to drive with me on this move after 3-and-a-half years in Cleveland - off to the Mile High City. Again - Nikita made the trip and overnight stay in a hotel by the Iowa - Nebraska border.
Our first home in Denver was a 12th floor condo with a beautiful balcony and view of downtown and the mountains. We spent a lot of time on the balcony - watching the action - although I don't know how much of it Nikita could see - her eyesight continued to deteriorate, but she found ways to cope and work around it.
Just about the time we were leaving Cleveland, I noticed a small lump on Nikita's chest. A few months into our time in Denver, I noticed a couple more and that the initial lump had grown. I brought it to the attention of Nikita's vet who did some tests, and then recommended a pair of surgeries 4 weeks apart to remove both strings of mammary glands. I was nervous about it all - but we got thru the first surgery - which left Nikita stapled up from just below her neck to just above her hips. She was a trooper and got through it all. The tests came back on the removed tumors and they were benign. So the vet recommended that the 2nd surgery not remove the 2nd string of mammary glands out of concern for another major operation at Nikita's age. Instead the 2nd surgery simply removed the tumors on the 2nd set of mammary glands. However, the tests on those tumors came back as malignant. The vet recommended I keep a close eye on any other future tumor development. Nikita bounced back from the 2nd surgery and was quickly back to being her "normal" self as her eyesight continued to deteriorate.
Shortly after her surgeries, another dog began living with us. Flicka was my significant other's dog - a Golden Lab, Retriever, German Shepard mix. Nikita was extremely standoffish at first. I can remember trying to take some pictures of the pair on our balcony - and while Nikita would sit and pose for the pictures - she would turn her head away from Flicka! But after about 3 weeks - Flicka turned into a playmate. The two would frequently frolick, and I often felt having the younger Flicka around might extend Nikita's happiness and life. It also seemed Flicka helped with Nikita's deteriorating eyesight - by giving her someone to follow around and on our walks outside.
In September 2013 we moved to a new apartment. This transition was the toughest yet for Nikita. The packing up of stuff a couple of weeks before the move, and the new home and unpacking of boxes for a couple weeks after the move through Nikita for a bit of a loop. But she figured things out by walking around a lot and getting a feel for our new surroundings fairly quickly. At this home Nikita was most comfortable cuddling on the couch with me while I was watching TV. She would sit in front of the couch and paw it - repeatedly - and with increased intensity until I picked her up to join me!
A year later we were on our own again - just the two of us - and Nikita returned to sleeping me in bed. Then one night in December of 2014 I woke up to Nikita thrashing about in bed a bit. She was struggling. Her head was contorted to one side and she couldn't control herself and her eyes were shaking back and forth. I picked her up, got in the car, and drove down to the emergency vet clinic. Within a few hours they told me it appeared to be vestibular disease. Essentially, the nerve between one of her inner ears and her brain had disconnected - throwing of her balance and making her dizzy and nauseous. The usual causes: a stroke, a tumor, or just old age. I thought for sure I was going to be faced with a decision - that might involve having to put her to sleep. That afternoon they told me the good news - it appears it's just old age. The tough part - usually dogs rely in a big way on their eyesight to help them cope and learn to live without half their equilibrium. But after 3 days in the hospital - Nikita was good to come home and start figuring things out - and that she did! Quite the trooper my girl - but the struggles were real. She would often stumble about, and occasionally tumble like a puppy learning to walk. I bought bedding and padding for the floors so her stumbles and tumbles would be easier to take. But she took it in stride and through it all she always greeted me with a wagging tail and kisses and we continued on with life as normal as we could and she continued to follow me all around the house - although half the time she was wandering around looking for me because she lost track of where I was and couldn't see me! And when she found me on the couch - she demanded I pick her up to join.
Things began to change in May with Nikita - about the same time I began looking for a new apartment. I was concerned about her ability to make another move in her condition. But whenever I had any doubts - she always showed signs of continued happiness - and finding ways to cope with and work around her disabilities. But those disabilities and challenges began to show more often and for longer periods of time - despite the spurts of "normalcy" and happiness. However, Nikita began to eat less, and began losing weight, and started to refuse to walk down stairs to go outside for a walk. But she would still greet me with a wagging tail at the door, try to follow me around, and lie with me on the couch licking my face and my hand.
During the last week of June, things got increasingly worse. Nikita became less responsive, and began eating even less. When I woke up every morning the first thing I would do would be to check to see if she was still breathing. And she always was - but was getting very sluggish in the morning. Then one morning she was having a real hard time walking and just gave up and plopped down in the middle of the kitchen floor. I picked her up - and she gave two long wimpering sighs - which broke my heart. It was at that moment I felt that she was tired of trying - and was giving up at trying. I was heartbroken. The physical deterioration was one thing to accept and acknowledge and deal with - the emotional and mental deterioration was an entirely different and difficult realization.
Nikita stopped eating on Friday - and so also stopped going to the bathroom. She spent most of her time sleeping that weekend and struggling to get up, stand, and walk around. I held her a lot over the weekend and comforted her as best I could. On Monday when I woke up, I picked her up and held in her bed. Her breathing had changed - it was very methodic and mechanical and about twice the rate of her normal breathing at rest. She was not responding to me at all. I came home at lunch, and held her for an hour in the rocking chair. I called her vet and requested an appointment, but they said they were booked. I insisted they find a way to see us, and they said they would call back if they could but would see me at 9:30 the next morning. I told them I just wanted to ensure she wasn't suffering. They never called back. Back at work I googled pet hospice and found a wonderful service with a very poignant checklist of questions:
Quality of Life Questions
Your beloved pet will always show you their best face, regardless of their pain or disease. Evaluating your pet in any of the following areas below should be considered on a timeline. Just as you watch children grow, they grow every day but we measure that grow in incraments of time. So likewise, your pet's deterioration occurs daily, but your true evauluation is over a period of time. The information below requires you to assess your pet's responses as they are today compared to your pet's "normal" responses as of weeks or months ago. You already know your pet's normal actions better than anyone, and so you are in the best position to evaluate your pet's current situation. You may use the categories below to evaluate your pet's current quality of life, but feel free to contact us with any additional questions you may have so we may serve you in these difficult times.
How can I tell if my pet is suffering, and what is my pet's quality of life?
Mobility: Can your pet get up without help? Can your pet walk? Does your pet move without pain or minimal pain? Does your pet have difficulty lying down, or do they just drop to the floor? Arthritis often makes it very difficult for pets to move around as do many other disease conditions.
Appetite and Drinking: Is your pet eating regularly? Is your pet eating normal amounts of food? Is your pet drinking adequate amounts of water based on your pet's past history? Or drinking too much water?
Incontinence: Does your pet exhibit a lack of control of their bowels or bladder? Does your pet need to relieve itself more frequently, or have accidents before it can get to an appropriate area? Is your pet vomiting and/or having diarrhea and are either of these becoming more frequent?
Breathing: Is your pet breathing with increased difficulty? Does breathing become more labored with exercise? A number of diseases can result in difficult breathing. Some of these are lung cancer or other diseases of the lungs, heart diseases, and metastatic cancers.
General Pain Level: Does your pet have a "stressed" look on its face? Does your pet groan when it moves, or does your pet resist moving? Does your pet's body appear to be "hunched" or "tense"? Often times, touching a pet that is in pain will cause them to flinch or cry from the pain, or in anticipation of pain.
Sleeping: Is your pet having trouble sleeping through the night? Is your pet sleeping much more than usual? Is there crying or confusion as your pet awakens?
Happiness & Mental Acuity: Does your pet seem to be inattentive, or non-responsive to normal stimuli compared to days or weeks ago? Does your pet have a normal, "happy" response to seeing you, or has responding become too difficult? Does your pet wander incessantly? Does your pet seem to be very confused about where they are in your house?
Quality of Life: Does your pet have more bad days or bad times than good? When the bad times outweigh the good ones, then the quality of life has been compromised. When this happens, it may be time to strongly consider in-home hospice care or in-home pet euthanasia.
They were all things I was aware of and had thought about a lot over the past 6 months. But having it all in front of me at once made it clear what was the right thing to do - especially when the answer to almost everything was yes. I drove home from work that afternoon in tears - fearing that I would find that she had passed away or that I was going to have to make a tough decision.
When I got home her condition hadn't changed and seemed maybe to have deteriorated more, so I called a pet hospice vet and asked them to pay us a visit. For 2-and-a-half hours I held Nikita rocking in a chair listening to classical music and talking to her and singing to her until the vet arrived. The vet's evaluation was in line with my own - that she was giving up and shutting down and didn't have much longer to live so we moved forward with euthanization. Nikita lay on my chest as the vet injected her with morphine and then a sedative. She passed away peacefully.
A week after her passing she returned to me physically. Her remains were cremated and were returned to me in an urn. I also have a clay imprint of one of her paws.
We had a wonderful life together and I'm thankful for every minute of those 15-and-a-half years. Her loyal and unconditional love to me and our time together is like none other I've ever had with any other living being. There hasn't been a day since her passing that I haven't thought of her and missed her several times - but each of those moments usually ends with a smile and a warm heart from the wonderful memories.