On February 16, we lost a member of our pack and a huge piece of our hearts.
Our first introduction to Nikki was a Facebook post. She was at a kill shelter in Atlanta, and a rescue group (Angels Among Us) had posted her picture in hopes of finding someone to foster her. Usually when you see a picture of a dogs in a shelter, they look sad and confused. But Nikki’s picture stuck out to us. Here she was, in a desperate situation, and she had a big goofy grin on her face. This is the actual picture we saw of her on Facebook.
I contacted the rescue group that night, and we signed up to be Nikki’s foster home.
Two days later, I drove to a vet’s office to pick her up. They had just pulled her from the shelter that morning, and she was in pretty bad shape. She was severely underweight, had heart worms, and she smelled awful. I knew nothing about this dog, but I knew she needed a bath. I took her straight to self-service dog wash, and somewhat nervously loaded her into the tub. Since she was from a shelter, little to nothing was known about her personality, so I didn’t know how she would react to being handled and bathed. But she stood stock still the entire time, never taking her eyes off of me for a second.
After the bath I drove her to a local dog park so she could meet Deas and Jake. She was very friendly with both of them and had a blast running around playing with Jake. She constantly kept running back to me, and would just sit at my feet and stare at me.
Over the next few months we slowly nursed her back to health, getting her through her heartworm treatments, getting her spayed, and feeding her lots of yummy meals to help her put on weight. We were still just fostering her, but couldn’t help falling in love.
Fate intervened when the couple who were planning to adopt her suddenly changed their mind just hours before they were supposed to take her. We knew at that moment that she was staying with us. She was our first and last foster dog – we were officially foster failures.
From day one, Nikki was incredibly devoted to me. She never let me out of her sight – if I walked from one room to another, she followed me. If I ever left the house or RV, she would sit at the door and stare at it until I returned. Once I walked out the door to walk down the street to a local coffee shop. I was about 2 blocks from the house when I heard dog tags jingling behind me – I turned around and much to my surprise, there was Nikki. She had pushed the front door open and run down the street to catch up with me. I’ve never had an animal bond to me as much as Nikki did, and I can’t tell you how much I loved her.
But Nikki also loved her daddy – one of her favorite things to do to Deas was cover his face with big, wet kisses. She’d throw her whole body on top of him and lick him all over his face. Deas didn’t always enjoy this as much as she did, but as any good daddy would do, he’d grin and bear it. It always made me laugh so much.
Even though Nikki was a big, strong, powerful dog, she was full of nothing but love. From the first time she met my nieces, she adored them. Her whole life, she was always drawn to children. No matter what age child, Nikki was exceptionally sweet and gentle with them. I trusted her with them 100%.
Nikki also loved cats. Our cat Annie was a feral stray when I adopted her, and she was always nervous and untrusting of people, including me and Deas. But she loved Nikki. It always amazed me that this tiny cat who was afraid of everything would pick a 75 pound dog as her buddy, but even she must have sensed how sweet and loving Nikki was. They would snuggle on the same bed together and give each other kisses. Annie was very talkative and would meow like crazy while she rubbed all over Nikki, and one day Nikki started making some weird noises back to her. Deas and I joked that she was trying to speak cat. And for years after that, even after Annie passed away, Nikki always made her special noise whenever she saw a cat.
Nikki also loved her “babies.” She had many stuffed animals over the years, and she never destroyed them. She would carry them around in her mouth constantly, and loved to lie on her bed with them and give them a good bath. She would always bring one to bed with her at night. Sometimes if we weren’t paying attention as we walked out the door for a walk, she would sneak one of her babies outside too. When I cleaned up the house or RV, I would put all of her babies into a basket. Without fail, she’d have her nose in the basket within an hour taking them back out.
We got Shorty about 6 months after Nikki, and the two of them were best friends. They were such an odd couple – Nikki was big and strong, and Shorty is just a little fat ball of goofiness. But they adored each other and would play all the time. Shorty was so much shorter than Nikki, so sometimes she would just lay down on the ground to get to his level. In our house, they would play hide-and-seek under the bed – Shorty would hide under the bed and Nikki would try to grab him from the other side.
Even though Jake was a bit more independent, the 3 of them were definitely a pack. We always felt so lucky that we got 3 dogs from 3 different places and they always got along so well together, even when we moved into the RV. Over the past several years they went on so many adventures together.
Nikki really was just a happy girl. She never lost that big, goofy grin that she had in the first picture we ever saw of her. Even now I can’t help but smile looking at these pictures.
Even though Nikki was big lover, she was also tough as nails. In 2015, she threw up one day and became pretty lethargic within a matter of hours. After a night at the emergency vet, we took her to a specialist the next day who informed us that her gall bladder was about to rupture and she needed emergency surgery to remove it. He said she had probably been feeling badly for quite some time, but she never gave us any signs that she was uncomfortable. She put us through quite the scare (and quite an expensive vet bill) but she came home from the hospital a few days later and recovered from her surgery quite well.
Nikki’s true German Shepherd personality showed itself it so many ways. I mentioned before how she always wanted to keep me in sight – and I guess for that reason I never had to worry about her being off-leash. She never wanted to get too far away from me, so I knew she would never run off. In 2014 when we were visiting Yellowstone, all 3 dogs accidentally got out of the RV when I cracked the door to try to try to scare off some elk that were in our campsite. In a flash, the dogs pushed past me and took off after the elk. It was terrifying, but even in the heat of the moment, I didn’t pay any attention to which way Nikki was going, because I knew she wouldn’t go far. I was yelling for all three dogs like crazy, but Nikki was the only one that stopped and came right back to me. I always knew I could trust her.
Jake on the other hand was always our escape artist, who given the chance to run free would take off in a split second, and we would often find him hours later and sometimes miles away. Once we were camped at a vineyard in Oregon, and we were inside enjoying a cup of coffee. Nikki and Shorty were in the RV with us, and Jake was tied up outside (where he prefers to be.) Suddenly we heard a large “pop” and looked outside to see a broken rope – and no Jake. He must have seen a rabbit or a squirrel, and he took off after it. We had no idea in what direction he had run. Not knowing what else to do, I let Nikki out and said “Find Jake!” She immediately took off running with Deas following her. She would run ahead and then circle back to make sure Deas was close behind. And I’ll be damned, but she found Jake. She ran up to him barking and fussing at him like crazy, and chased him right back to Deas. We couldn’t believe it. She was just the best dog.
We always laughed because Nikki seemed to be such a stickler for the rules – we joked that it was the German side of her personality. Even though Nikki occasionally got some off-leash time, her brothers never did, and I think Nikki thought that all dogs were supposed to be on leashes on walks. If she ever saw an off-leash dog she would go crazy barking at it. We’ve spent a lot of time with our friends Nancy and Betsy of RVaGoGo, and their dog Spirit gets lots of off-leash time as she is well trained. However, Nikki would fuss and fuss at her the whole time. I always laugh at this picture of Spirit happily playing in a creek (and ignoring Nikki) as Nikki scolds her from the sidelines.
The last year or so, Nikki had really started to slow down. The dog that used to hike with us for 6 or 7 miles struggled to just walk a mile or 2. She was diagnosed with arthritis, and we had her on many different medications and supplements to try to help her. Her health had always been delicate – in addition to the gall bladder removal, she also had food allergies and was very prone to ear and skin infections. It was a constant balancing act to keep her healthy and happy, and for the most part I think we did.
But the one area that we really struggled to help her was with the arthritis. She seemed to have a negative reaction to every medicine we put her on. Even though she was moving slower, she still seemed happy. But towards the end of January she started to lose that big, goofy grin that had drawn us to her in the beginning. I had her at the vet multiple times over her last few weeks, but no matter what we did, she just wasn’t improving. After her last appointment, I brought her home, she lied down on her bed, and she never got back up. I slept on the couch to be close to her that night, hoping she would feel better in the morning. But when we got up the next day, she still didn’t want to move. I tried to gently encourage her to lift her head, and she barred her teeth at me. That’s when I knew it was time – she had never, ever shown me any aggression at any point in her life. The vet came to our RV a few hours later, and Nikki left us as I held her and cried into her neck.
I can’t really put into words the hole she has left in our hearts and in our lives. She was such a strong, gentle, and loving soul and I’ll love her for the rest of my life. I can’t wait to see you again, sweet Nikki. You were the best girl ever.