In 2010, we adopted a 10-week-old West Highland White Terrier. We named her Nika.
It is difficult to understand the bond between human and dog. We filter everything though language and to imagine what goes on in their consciousness is perhaps wishful thinking.
So wishfully, I can only try to interpret her ears dipping and rising, the different tones of her barks. Chasing my kids around the pool, barking fiercely, that game was called “life guard” and she would not be content until the kids had jumped into the water. And in the morning, with her banned from jumping on beds, she would do her rounds, scratching at the door and coming into my room, her ears pasted back, her tail wagging, and after bashfully looking to make sure nobody was looking she would put her paws up on the bed. My wife was old school and felt that dogs had no place on the master bed.
“Car ride, car ride Nika,” my daughter would say and each morning; those words sent Nika into a tizzy, thrilled to be participating in the six-minute drive to my daughter’s elementary school. One morning Nika had been allowed in the school - they seemed to relax the rules for twenty-pound terriers who fall in love with everyone they meet – and she went into the middle of the room of grade fours and sat down, her ears flattened with joy.
And she was a terrific mooch, she had taken dog training lessons, but nothing had ever stuck, she had never learned a trick, coming on command often seemed to be more of a case that she was going that way anyway and she had no problem with putting her paws up on your lap as you ate, asking for meat.
Frequently in the evenings I would come home late after a long commute and as I entered the dark kitchen, as everyone slept or stared into a screen, I would feel the rough paws of Nika on my knees. When I came in through the front door, I would look through the narrow rectangle of glass to see her white furry face, black nose and twitching ears looking at me, her brown eyes glistening with what I would only see as uninhibited joy.
Some weeks ago, I went to check on Nika in my daughter’s bed. But Nika was gone, she had passed in the early morning; she was still young at 7, taken by some unknown disease or heart failure. The vet had, ironically, declared her fit the day before.
The house was now quiet, no click, click of Nika on the kitchen tiles, no placid white face waiting patiently; all I noticed was the bottom of the kitchen door out to the backyard, the paint worn away by the gentle erosion of a small white terrier’s paw asking a thousand times to be let out to pee.
The comparison contest of griefs is futile, surely yes, she was not as treasured as human children, any day’s newspaper tells of stories which would tender more grief credits than a dog parting. So, in the days following her death, there was always a tinge of embarrassment when I met inquiries into my wellbeing with, “my dog died.” And certainly, months past, society accords me no more tears, it’s of course well known that Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ stages should gobble up no more than a half day each and emotions lasting longer than a few days are nothing more than bourgeois indulgences.
But all I know is that the space at the end of the couch is unfilled, the window by the door now clear, the landing on the staircase is empty, no longer guarded by the little westie who would sit waiting to bestow on her family her endless affections.
A new Westie is now part of her family, Toby, a buoyant six-month pup, who, like Nika, comes roaring down the staircase to meet me when I come in at all hours. It was after getting Toby that I decided to start up Nika’s Raw Dog Food. Toby is an enthusiastic consumer of her late predecessor’s dog food.
At some level I want to commemorate Nika by doing something positive in her name, NRDF is a simple, unpretentious small company, acting on the conviction that dogs were not designed to eat highly processed kibble and by applying any grandmother’s common sense – “Eat fresh meat, fruit and vegetables” to dog food I hope to improve the life’s of local dog lovers.
- Paul, Mariana, Nick and Toby