So we popped him into the car and discussed new names on the two-hour drive back. He came with the name Knox, but I needed a two-syllable name to call him out the back door when it was time for supper. I was partial to the biblical J names, but Tom – not so much. And I couldn’t quite let go of Izzie, even though the name was already claimed by a sweet boy two doors down the block. But somewhere the name Niko popped out of my memory, and that was that.
Niko adapted quickly to our household. The neighborhood kids came to greet him and helped him feel welcomed, loved, and at home.
The transition was not all smooth sailing. Later on that day Niko looked around and began to wonder when he was going home. He went on a hunger strike for a few weeks, he would not get back into the car on his own, and he showed other behaviors that I thought were due to separation anxiety. But his good nature, his idyllic puppyhood and adolescence, and our patience, tricks, and subterfuges paid off. He went back on his feed, entered the car again (but only from the left side, never the right, even to this day), and began to see our house and yard as his kingdom. He passed his canine good citizen and his therapy dog tests in short order.
Here is how Niko changes my life:
- Without Niko, I wouldn’t be visiting people in nursing homes, some who had had vibrant lives once, and some who are alone and forgotten. People whose eyes brighten when Niko rounds the doorway to their rooms.
- Without Niko, I wouldn’t know the kids on our block, and our neighbors would have fewer errant tennis balls in their yards.
- Without Niko, I wouldn’t be walking 2-4 miles a day, greeting other people and their dogs.
- Without Niko, I wouldn’t be offering students the chance to remember the dogs they left behind and taste a little bit of home as they stop and make eye and hand contact.
- Without Niko, I wouldn’t laugh nearly as much. Studies show that the very act of smiling and laughing leads to a happier sense of the moment.
- Without Niko, I wouldn’t have a raft of dog friends, old and new, who know exactly what I am talking about.
- Without Niko, I would have fewer Facebook friends, different Facebook friends, fewer funny photos and videos posted by Facebook friends.
- Without Niko, I wouldn’t be dog bait to every passing dog on the street because they know my pockets conceal (or so I thought) dog treats.