Nico looked at me with those languid bicolored eyes that held no fear or malice or even a sense of having been wronged. The smile that was on his face as he left the shelter last week now shone through his eyes and his demeanor, even through the dirt and the scars and the open sores and many healing wounds.
I went to visit Nico a couple of times while he was in boarding in San Diego. On my first visit, he leaned in to me as I took him into the play yard. I could feel the bones in his ribs as he braced against my leg, the bones in his chest as I idly scratched him while trying to murmur into his deaf ears. I know he couldn’t hear the words but I’m pretty sure he heard the love, as he turned to offer me the flicker of a kiss on my cheek. He patiently let me look at his teeth, pick up his well worn paws, wipe goop from his eyes, peer into his raggedly chopped ears.
On subsequent visits, his kisses were more enthusiastic and keeping my lips firmly pursed, I was the one who leaned in. He took the treats I offered with the very tips of his teeth so as not to bite my fingers. Every ounce the gentleman, he made me wonder what had brought him to that dank shelter in Los Angeles, to the very brink of death and the edges of human stereotype. Had he ever been a loved puppy? Had he ever seen a couch or lived in a home? Was he chained outside for hours? Did they remember to feed him or give him water? Did someone try to use him to fight but toss him into the streets when he wouldn’t do it? What were they thinking when they took scissors to his tender young ears and chopped them down to the cartilage? Did he cry out? Was he scared out on the streets? These are things we may never know because Nico himself has risen above them and they are no longer relevant to his life.
Nico spent 2 weeks in boarding at the Animal Medical Center in El Cajon, CA. Each day he was poked and prodded, checked and medicated and loved on. He got multiple baths to try to wash the stench of neglect off of him. He gave appropriate thank yous, with huge slurping kisses whenever the techs weren’t looking. They turned their heads away often, not for fear of the teeth, but to avoid the ever-present grateful tongue. Despite how he still looked, his demeanor seemed to put all at ease. Nico was changing perceptions.
While we enjoyed his stay in San Diego and it was fulfilling to see him take the first tentative steps towards a real life as a pet, we all were aware that the beginning of his new life was actually in Hamilton County, Indiana – a mere 2,161 miles away… Rebecca Stevens, director at the Humane Society for Hamilton County Indiana, had stepped into the role of angel to offer Nico a spot in her foster program. Not only that but she had arranged for a foster parent that is also a trainer with some experience training deaf dogs! Now to get him there…