I’m re-sharing a blog post I wrote a while ago – Ode to a Big Brown Dog. I still miss him every day.
June 1, 2000. My daughter Tracy was 15 years old and determined beyond measure to convince me to let her keep a gangly brown puppy that she had carried home from the trailer court. I was determined not to let her. It wasn’t that I didn’t think she would take care of it; I just didn’t want a big dog and I knew that I would inherit it when she eventually moved out. She promised that would never happen.
I argued that we didn’t have a proper yard for a large dog. She said she would build a run. I pointed out the high cost of vet bills and food. She swore she’d work to support his every need. I simply said no. She simply waited until Dave came home from work. When I told him that Tracy wanted to keep the puppy, he casually remarked that it was okay with him. At that moment I knew I was doomed.
Doomed to spend the next 11 and a half years with one of the coolest dogs that ever was.
Neiko was born on April 10th, 2000. One of a litter of 14 Chocolate Lab/Akita cross puppies, he was the only one that was solid brown. The only tell that he was more than just a lab was a thick line of wavy fur down his back. And the fact that he grew into an 86 lb. monster of a lab. For the most part, he had the sweet disposition of a Labrador retriever, but the 25% Akita in him was 100% dog aggressive. This trait didn’t really present itself until he was a little older. Had we known that cute little bundle would become such a terror, we might not have given in so easily.
Tracy wanted to name him Bartleby after the angel in the movie Dogma. There was no way I was going to stand on my deck and call a Bartleby into the house, so I protested vehemently. Oddly enough, a woman named Pollyanna suggested Neiko and, thankfully, Tracy liked it. With that settled, we did our best to put up with one of the dumbest, clumsiest puppies in the world. He got hit be cars twice, but both times was fortunate enough to escape serious injury. Tracy took him everywhere with her and so he assumed that the whole town was his playground. One night he followed a friend of Tracy’s home and when her friend’s mother came home from work at the mill at midnight, refused to let her into her own house.
By the time he was approaching his second birthday, even Tracy was feeling like she just might have bitten off more than she could chew. We were about to give up on him, but seemingly overnight, Neiko stopped being dumb and clumsy and turned into an incredible dog. His aggression toward his fellow species notwithstanding, Neiko was smart and full of personality. His repertoire of tricks included the standard sit and lay down, but was enhanced by singing and playing dead when we pointed a finger at him and said, “Bang!” He could roll over, sit pretty and crawl, too.
Neiko loved people. Someone once remarked to me that I must feel so safe at night when Dave was working with Neiko around. I had visions of an intruder breaking in and Neiko thinking, “Hey, someone new to pet, pamper and play with me!” Thankfully, his protective instincts were never put to the test.
When he wasn’t happy with us, he let us know. He would pout and refuse to acknowledge us if we had offended him in anyway. Pretty much the only way to get him to forgive us was to say the word ‘treat’ – and, of course, follow through with the offer.
He loved to go for rides. Any opportunity to hop in the car or truck was met with joy and big, happy doggy smiles. It didn’t matter where we were going or even if he never got to get out when we got there. Neiko just wanted to be included in our activities.
Our yard was constantly littered with bones that Neiko dragged home from God knows where. Moose, deer, cow – and even horse once – parts were a familiar part of the landscaping. We never mowed the lawn without first “walking the grid” in search of blade bending bones. One morning we woke up to the head of a four-point buck on the lawn. Neiko and Simon (our dachshund) munched on that for weeks. I prayed that no one would drive by and see their trophy in our yard. Hooves were a particularly favourite treat. Ever step on a piece of Lego in the dark? Hoof bits have a similar effect!
True to her word, Tracy looked after The Schnoof, as he affectionately came to be called. She fed him, brushed and bathed him, walked him and cleaned up his messes. She worked to buy his food and pay for any vet bills. She responsibly had him neutered when he was six months old. And when she moved out, she took him with her. Neiko, however, didn’t want to go. He became even more aggressive and difficult to handle. Tracy, in tears, thought she was going to have to put him down. But Dave had other thoughts on the matter and told her to bring him home. As much as I didn’t really want to have look after him, I was relieved that he wasn’t going to die and welcomed him back. Tracy continued to support him by buying his food and tending to vet bills over the next several years.
As brave as Schnoofy could be in a dog fight, he was terrified of fireworks, backfiring cars and the sound of gunshots. Thunder had him cowering next to – if not on top of – us on the couch. He would visibly quake until the noise stopped.
In spite of having fangs that were over an inch long, Neiko was incredibly gentle when being hand fed. He was always nervous around young children, but very tolerant and never, ever hurt anyone – on purpose. When Tracy was raising rabbits and guinea pigs, Neiko protected them. No other dog could get near his “babies.”
As much as it broke my heart, I chose to leave Neiko and Simon both with Dave when I moved out last spring. It was their home and after Tracy’s disastrous attempt at relocating him, I believed that Neiko would be content to stay with Dave for the rest of his life. Then one day, Neiko discovered where I lived and began making increasingly frequent visits. I would often come home from work to find him waiting for me on my deck. I would take him home or Dave would come and get him, but he just kept coming back. Sometimes circumstances would mean that he had to stay overnight with me. I didn’t feed him, but he wouldn’t go home on his own when he got hungry either. When he was home, Dave would have to physically drag him into the house to eat. As soon as he was released, back he came to my place. We finally decided that for his own safety Neiko would live with me. Or rather, we finally agreed with Schnoofy on the matter.
He settled in and was quite happy here. He was the only pet and so got all the attention. For a while he would go back to Dave’s for visits now and then, but eventually he stopped even doing that.
He suffered from progressive hip dysplasia over the last couple of years. Like most dogs with the condition, he had good days and bad days. It was all I could do not to burst into tears when he stumbled and fell on the stairs. But I tried to follow Cesar Milan’s advice and not show overt pity for his plight. Neiko accepted it and so I tried to as well. To help him, we ensured that he got top of the line dog food with glucosamine and had hoped that that would slow down the degeneration of his hips joints and ease his discomfort. It seemed to be working. He wasn’t as shaky and unstable for the last few weeks.
Last night I came home from work to find Neiko waiting for me at the door. As per our usual routine, I gave him a treat and a hug and let him outside for a pee. He didn’t even go down the stairs and barked to be let in only a few moments later. For the next two hours he was quite restless, moving from the couch to the floor to his bed and back to the couch again every few minutes. I didn’t think much of it as he would do this every now and then. I was expecting another bad spell with his hips.
At about seven o’clock he wanted to go outside. I opened the door and he walked out with his tail down. He paused at the top of the stairs and looked back at me. I gave him a pet and watched him go down the steps. He walked into the back yard and laid down in the snow. Again, I didn’t think much of it as he sometimes did this. I figured he’d be back at the door in a few minutes.
An hour passed. I decided to go and check on him. When I opened the door and called his name there was no response. He wasn’t on his chair on the deck and I thought that maybe he had gone for a walk-about. When I turned to come back in, I saw him laying in the snow a few feet from the bottom of the stairs. I called his name. He didn’t move.
Neiko had died.
It looked like he was heading back inside and just collapsed on the way. Perhaps his heart gave out. I really don’t know. I hope he didn’t suffer. I feel so bad that I wasn’t there with him when it happened.
He’s gone to rest at Dave’s Dad’s farm next to Muffy, Wiggles, Cleo and other McKilligan family pets. Dave’s Dad kindly fired up his back hoe to dig a grave. Being winter, the option of digging one any other way is nil.
Before wrapping him in his old blanket, Dave removed his collar and gave it to me. It now hangs on my headboard. Eventually, I will put it away, but for now, that’s where it’s going to stay.
Dogs are such amazing creatures. Their love and loyalty, their natural empathy and compassion for their owners is a model more of us could emulate. Dogs live in the moment. They don’t regret. They don’t hate. They know how to forgive.
Having Neiko in my life was a privilege. I’m glad that we were able to give him a good life. We spoiled him quite rotten. I doubt Cesar Milan would have been proud of us, but we loved him. So much! He’s going to be very, very missed – by us and by a lot of people in this community who got to know him over the years.
I’m sure I won’t miss the hair on the furniture. Or the requests to go outside in the wee hours of the morning. But I will miss the cuddles and the kisses, the tricks and the company. Neiko was great company!
Good bye, my big brown dog. I hope that wherever you are there are no end to the bones and balls and squeaky toys that you loved so much. Rest in peace, dear Schnoofy!