This is Nikita. The companion of my childhood. The destroyer of fences and killer of turkeys. The best dog who ever lived.
I don’t say she was the best dog because she was perfect. Far from it. We lost count of the number of times she ran away by the time she was four years old. She once chewed a gigantic hole in the side of our tent. She ate our garden hose. I don’t think she once sat on command without a Milkbone waved in her face and as for her recall… Non-existent. The second she got off leash she was gone. The only thing left to do was trudge home to call Animal Control.
Nikita wasn’t perfect. She wasn’t even obedient. But she was there when I needed her; she never judged me when I cried. She was always up for a game or a walk. She never scolded and she gave warm, fuzzy hugs. Not matter how many times we lost her, she always found her way home.
I’ve been meaning to write about her for a long time. The dog of my youth, the dog who will remain ensconced in my golden memories forever. Not a day goes by when I don’t think of her. Unfortunately, it is still hard for me to put these thoughts into words without tearing up. Nikita lived a long time for a purebred Siberian. Born January 14th, 1988, she lived each day to the fullest until February of 2005. Those seventeen years went by much too fast. Those seventeen years were not long enough.
As I was only six when we brought her home as a puppy, Nikita was more my father’s dog than mine. He was the one taking her to obedience classes and working with her on proper leash walking. He was the one who got up throughout the night when she howled from her space in the kitchen. Training methods in the late eighties were primarily dominance-based. It’s just how it was. But I don’t think my parents ever felt entirely right about the choke collar they were told to purchase. After the first six months it was put away, along with any thoughts of teaching the dog any skills. Nikita lived the rest of her life doing pretty much whatever she wanted.
Luckily, Nikita’s nature was not troublesome. She adored all children and other dogs. If a stranger came to the house, she immediately welcomed him as her new best friend. I don’t remember hearing her bark more than once in her entire life. We used to joke she was the world’s worst guard dog. Unlike Shiva, her unlimited energy did not translate into constant pacing and attention-grabbing. When in the house, Nikita would settle on her bed, content to watch us hurry around her.
Not that she spent much time in the house. She was an outdoor dog through and through. I distinctly remember my father chasing her around the backyard during a blizzard, trying to get her to come back in.
The only weather that would induce Nikita to seek shelter was the rain. There was only one thing Nikita feared, and that was thunder. This fear only grew as she aged. Fireworks were just as bad. Kids in our neighbourhood used to set them off at random, which would drive her crazy. We’d built her an eight-foot high dog run in the backyard because she was able to jump our lower fence. One evening fireworks went off and she’d happened to be outside. Nikita had been so freaked out, she jumped the eight feet in an adrenaline-pumped haze.
Naturally, if a dog is successful at something once, the dog will do it again and again. Eight feet was no longer tall enough to contain her.
There are many stories about the antics, and the charms, of my childhood dog. How she refused to play fetch in preference for tossing the ball and catching it herself. The only game we were allowed to share in was chase. We had to chase her – she would never lower herself to following us. She was ruthlessly independent in all things, and yet patient and full of affection.
I can’t think of her older years without large pangs of guilt. I think perhaps this guilt is why I have never fully gotten over her passing. Nikita suffered from arthritis for many of her final years. It slowed her down greatly. Not that she let it stop her. Ever the escape artist, at the age of fourteen I remember her still managing to find a way out of the backyard. I went outside to take her for a walk and she wasn’t to be seen. Noticing the open gate, I walked around to the front of the house and there she was, lying in the shade on the cool grass.
Independent to the end.
One of the regrets I carry is that I didn’t spend more time with her, that I didn’t appreciate her as much as I should have when she was alive. I viewed walking her a chore. Something I needed to get over with so I could go hang out with my friends. It bothers me greatly now that I have put more energy into Shiva in two years than I ever did into Nikita in seventeen. I know I missed out. It’s a loss I have to bear.
I try to use my memories of Nikita as a lesson to be more mindful with my current dog. I try to remember to pay attention to the little moments. To enjoy the mistakes and the frustration as much as the laughs and the success. It all passes by much too fast. I don’t want to regret not taking Shiva for just one more walk.
In my opinion Nikita was the best dog who ever lived. The best dog I never really knew.