I never understood how people felt when they lost a pet before now.
To be honest, I did not grow up being a huge animal lover. Sure, I had my favorites – white tigers and monkeys. I always teased when I was a child that I was going to grow up and have one of each. A somewhat unrealistic goal. I remember having puppies at various times in my childhood but none that I got super close to or that we kept long term. We fostered some puppies that my sister’s dog had once until we found them homes. They were such a handful that I wasn’t as invested as some kids would be.
My mom had a dog and he passed away after I moved out. I remember giving him some attention but I never considered him mine so we didn’t have a bond.
Fast forward to the first week of April in 2009. That’s when Nicolette came into our lives. Life had been pretty chaotic for a few years leading up to what I consider getting my first dog. Gabby’s health had taken us down so many different paths, with her having her first major brain surgery in 2007. During our hospital stays we were given the opportunity to spend a lot of time with therapy dogs. Once Gabby was cleared to go back to school she had a therapy dog in her classroom with her daily.
Back then, we participated in a minimum of three 5K races for charity each year – ones benefiting the Make-a-Wish Foundation, childhood cancer and the Hemispherectomy Foundation. At each race we would see children with special needs accompanied by their dogs. We were drawn to having a companion of our own.
I spent months researching about owning a dog. I spent months searching for a Boxer. I filled out applications to adopt through the Boxer Rescue locally, which surprisingly wasn’t easy or a fast process. Then we found Nicki at eight-weeks old.
Since I worked from a home office I was able to spend quality time puppy training. I gave it my all. She grew up alongside the kids and quickly became protective of them. The early days of her sleeping in their laps turned into them resting their head on her. She was family.
The stress of being a single mom and learning how to advocate for my daughter’s special needs was melted away each day when Nicki and I would go for our two-mile jog. When she was a puppy she would get tired before we made it back home and I would happily carry her home. It wasn’t long before I had a hard time keeping up with her! But she always stayed by my side. Each night before bed she would rest her head on my mattress so I could say my goodnights before she climbed into her dog bed two-feet away. Although her snoring was loud, I found peace in it each night and missed it when I traveled without her.
She was four-years-old before we brought another dog into the home. She treated Cooper like he was her puppy. Instantly being motherly to him. When he got out of line she stood her ground. Everyone knew Nicki was the Alpha Dog and Queen B, there was no denying it. Even as Cooper grew to be 150lbs, our 65lb Nicki was still the boss.
I was naive in the past to think losing a pet wasn’t as big of a deal as losing a human family member. I’ve even struggled over the last month validating my own feelings. Feeling like I was being overly sensitive and that it didn’t make sense to be this broken hearted over a dog. My grief has hit me harder than any family member I’ve lost, which was embarrassing to admit. I know close friends that have lost a child or a parent and here I am crying daily over my dog.
But Nicolette wasn’t just some dog. She wasn’t just a pet we occasionally played with. She was family. She was my shadow following me everywhere I went. She was our buddy during family walks and camping trips. She was my companion during a very dark time in my life. She was therapy for my daughter. She was by my son’s side when he was struggling to sleep at night. She was the adopted mother to my other dogs.
Grieving the loss of a pet is real. Nicki fought a very hard battle for several months. I invested lots of money and endless vet visits to prolong her life as long as I could. We dealt with seizures from a brain tumor since September and the end was dramatic. A scene I will never forget. I knew the day was coming for four months but I didn’t accept it. I wasn’t ready. I would have never been ready.
Her death came during a stressful and busy time in my life. I don’t feel like I had any real time to fully grieve and process. It has just been constant sadness and emptiness.
I was blessed to have Nicki by my side for almost 11 years. She was the most loyal and loving dog. Today would have been her birthday. I miss my sweet girl more than I can even begin to explain.