Friday, July 21, 2006

For Nippy, 1993-2006

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep
I am a thousand winds that blow
I am a diamond glint on snow
I am the sunlight on ripened grain
I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you wake in the morning hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight
I am the soft starshine at night
Do not stand at my grave and cry
I am not here. I did not die.

(poem by Mary Frye)

Tears are streaming down my face as I write this. Nippy died this morning. He had been suffering and was not himself for the past year or more. He had arthritus in his back and had lost control of his bowels and urine. He could no longer jump up and follow us around the house or sit and beg for treats. Always a house dog, he spent the last year of his life living in the garage and yard because he made too many messes.

I still remember the day we got him as a puppy. It was the summer after my junior year in high school and our cat had run away. My parents said we could get a dog and some breeds discussed were German Shepherds and Black Labradors. When I saw 2 puppies at the pet store that were half German Shepherd and half Black Lab, I ran home to tell my parents. My dad went back to the store with me to look. He got this completely enchanted look on his face when he held Nippy, who was calmer than his brother and completely black. We went home to ask Mom if we could get him. She reluctantly agreed that we could bring him home "for Peter" who was in NY for the week, and was still upset about losing the cat.

We went back and paid I think $60 for the puppy and another $100 or so for treats, food, a collar, leash, and what they said was his favorite toy (a rubber bone which we could never get him to play with). We took him home and he followed us around the house, especially my dad. He got into all kinds of mischief. The first day home, he walked onto the pool cover and had to be rescued from drowning. Peter got home from his trip and decided to name the dog Nippy because he was always nipping at people's heels. He also "nipped" Peter's brand new leather soccer cleats.

At first he used to spend his nights in the garage, in part that was sectioned off from the rest. Every morning we'd find him outside his section. He'd taken items and moved them into piles to make steps, then climbed the steps to get out. Smart dog! I used to take him on long walks around the hills in our neighbor hood to burn off his puppy energy. Once this worked too well and on the way back up a hill, he stopped in a neighbor's grass and rolled on to his back and took a snooze. I had to carry him home.

There were so many tricks he knew-"sit", "Lie down", "come" "stay" "Left paw", "right paw", and "roll over". The thing was, he was smart enough to do these tricks only if he had adequate compensation. He also learned other key words in English. We taught him "no, that's chocolate" meant he would never have a chance at getting a bite so he might as well not beg. "Go see _____" and he would go see the person named.

Friendly does not even begin to describe his personality. He used to run away so many times that my parents had a pixelated photo and "lost dog" ad copy on file at the newspaper so they could run the ad with just a phone call. One time he followed a jogger home, ran right into her house and got in bed with her 3 kids! They were disappointed they could not keep him. Another time he found a new home and got a new name-"Blackie". When I went to pick up "Blackie", the guy who found him started to ask me questions to prove I was his owner, when he ran over, jumped up and licked my face, ran past me, jumped through the open window of my car and sat down in the back seat with his paw on the arm rest as if to say "take me home"!

The last time he ever ran (far) away, I was in college and working and taking care of him by myself while my parents were living near Sacramento. He'd been gone for a few days and I kept calling the animal shelter to see if he was there. Finally someone told me they had no mixed black dogs but one "purebred black Lab". I decided to go take a look. Sure enough, it was him. He was sitting in his cage and as soon as he saw me, he barked excitedly and tried doing every trick he knew. He sat, offered his left paw, then his right, lied down, and tried to roll over but the cage wasn't big enough so he tilted left, then tilted right, then sat again. When I finally bailed him out, he dragged me towards the grass where another dog was out meeting potential adopters. I thought "great, he's going to start a fight". No, he had not gone to the bathroom in 3 days so he really really had to go for about 5 minutes! After that, 1)he stayed close to home and didn't run far away again. He'd done his "time behind bars" and it reformed him! 2) we didn't worry that he'd been left too long and might have made a mess in the house. We knew he could hold it for 3 days! (Well, until he got old and got arthritis)

He loved people but did not always get along so well with other dogs. He was like the hyper ADD kid with no social skills. Once and only once, we took him to Dog Beach. I was holding his leash when he took off after another dog, dragging me a good 10 feet in the sand. We looked like Elizabeth and Clifford the Big Red Dog. When Dad stopped laughing, he helped me get Nippy back in the car. We turned right around and went home and never tried dog parks again.

My mom was worried for a long time that Nippy would not be good with cats, because the black Lab next door had killed our neighbor's cat. So for the first 5 years of his life or so, she didn't have a cat; he was an "only pet". Then one day he went out at night and didn't come home. Mom figured he was visiting our neighbor, June, who served her dogs, and Nippy as a dinner guest, expensive dog food. She thought maybe he was spending the night there. She heard him barking, and June also heard him barking. In the morning June came out to see what the fuss was about. Nippy was in the brush halfway between June's house and our house. He walked over to June holding a kitten by the scruff of its neck and let her back to where 2 other kittens were. All night he had been standing watch over them, guarding them from coyotes.
June took the kittens to the vet and found homes for them.

After that, Mom didn't worry that Nippy would kill a kitten, and she adopted Bert. Bert and Nippy got along so well that we nicknamed Nippy the "kitty-momma". "Kitty-momma" and Bert would nap curled up together. Bert used to eat Nippy's dog food out of the same bowl at the same time. We have a picture of their 2 little faces at the bowl. When Bert went outside, Nippy used to follow him to make sure no wild animals came near. When Bert wanted to come in and scratched at the door, Nippy would bark to make sure Mom let him in. As Bert got older and more independant, he didn't sleep next to Nippy anymore, but the 2 would always be in the same room and Nippy would still bark to let Mom know if Bert needed the door opened.

When I used to visit as an adult, he'd still sleep in bed with me. Then later when Mom decided she didn't really want him in the guest room, he'd sleep in her room as usual but first thing in the morning when she opened the door, he'd dash out and sit by the guest room door waiting for me to wake up. I used to brush him. He loved that, it was a special treat for him. He could be brushed for hours (and hair would still come out hours later, he was a great shedder!)

He hated suitcases and used to bark at them, because he knew that they meant someone was going on a trip and leaving him. When Peter was packing to go to Yale, Nippy came up with a plan to get him to stay. The luggage was out on the floor, halfway packed, and Nippy pushed everything under the bed to hide it. It didn't work, obviously, Peter left anyway.

Nippy had, on the balance, one bad year of suffering (alleviated, though, by painkillers) and twelve wonderful years living a loved, charmed life. I will miss him terribly, though. I've known this day was coming for awhile, tried to prepare myself but it's never easy. In spite of my best efforts to only remember the good times, tears are still streaming down my face.

Rest in peace, Nippy.


digital janitor said...

I only met the Nipster once, but he was a very cool dog.

Kelly said...

You made me cry too! Nippy was such an awesome doggy. I remember when you used to get mail from Columbia House for Nippy. I miss him.

jenna! said...

I'm so sorry.

stud-horse said...

I'm sure Nippy is in Doggie Heaven.

Homer: I want to tell you about the most wonderful place in the world: Doggie heaven. In doggie heaven, there are mountains of bones, and you can't turn around without sniffing another dog's butt!

Bart: Is there a doggie hell?

Homer: Well... Of course, there couldn't be a heaven if there weren't a hell.

Bart: Who's in there?

Homer: Oh, uh... Hitler's dog... and that dog Nixon had, what's his name, um, Chester...

Lisa: [annoyed] Checkers.

Homer: Yeah! One of the Lassies is in there, too. The mean one! The one that mauled Jimmy!