Journey to Rescue (1 of 4)

Nico - photo courtesy Nikki Audet

Nico - photo courtesy Nikki Audet

I wish that I could say that Nico is special; that his story is unique.  Unfortunately he represents hundreds of thousands of dogs languishing in shelters every day – alone, scared, waiting, wanting to die but longing for a life never known.

This photo was taken on Sunday , July 26, 2009 at a shelter in South Los Angeles, California.  Nico (nameless at that time) was, in fact, trying to will himself away from the 6 years of life that had brought him to this place.  Closing his eyes and tucking himself close to the wall, he could almost believe he was somewhere else.  Most were afraid to interact with him because of how he looked – a bully breed who didn’t know where to put himself.   He was lucky to be deaf that he could not hear the fear in the frantic cacophony of barking and screaming around him, but he could sense it assaulting his eyes, his sense of smell, even through the pads of his well worn paws.   His photo was taken by a group of rescuers there to pick up other dogs but Nico’s fate was not to be one of them.

However the rescuer who caught that face wanted it to tell a story – to have his life mean something in its meaningless existence (Mutt Scouts Blog Post). What Nico did not know was that, in wanting to be so invisible, he became more than himself.  Hundreds of people’s hearts grabbed onto and wrapped themselves tightly around his battered body.  His photo was passed from rescuer to rescuer until it landed on the soul of a rescuer who could make a difference.

“I might go visit him then. Not to pull him, because I can’t keep him here, but to try and love on him before it’s too late for him to be loved on.”  – Kelly Gibson

Thus began the story of Nico’s experience of what people should be. Kelly did go up to love on him.  And he loved on Kelly, with tender little kisses and a shy and timid demeanor that belied the dirt and the sores and the red-rimmed eyes.  He was jumpy when approached from behind.  Wouldn’t you be – deaf and abused?  However, he looked at dogs passing his kennel with nothing but mild interest.  And humans, who he had not any reason to trust, he gave the benefit of the doubt and leaned in.  Kelly was entranced with the dog she saw beneath the dirt.

Kelly, a small local rescuer with a limited local network, began making calls as soon as she walked out the door of the shelter.  She reached out beyond herself through social networking avenues to let the world know about this dog.  Nico, a voiceless sad face in an overcrowded Los Angeles shelter, now had a voice on Facebook and Fundable and through hundreds of emails and photo sharing sites.  As miracles often do, this one fell together with surprising ease.  The Humane Society for Hamilton County, Indiana, transport rescuers throughout the United States, trainers, vets, and good Samaritans joined hands around Nico’s fate.  Hence evolved the name Nico for a previously unnamed dog – “Nico” (NEE-koe) is short for the Greek name Nicodemus, which means “Victory of the people”.  Donations and a destination for Nico secured, Kelly headed back up to Los Angeles to start Nico’s journey to what would hopefully be his forever home.

“On the way up to L.A. I stopped at PETCO to pick up a collar, leash, ID tag, and tub of freeze-dried liver cubes. This is what I had with me on Friday when I went up to visit him and he liked it so much I thought it might be helpful for the vet to have some on hand while they try to treat and groom him. The collar & leash are red, the tag is a blue bone-shaped one, and he (will be) white…because after all, this IS his own Independence Day.

I had to sign my life away at the shelter because I was adopting a dog that everyone said would bite me. 20 minutes later the guy who was pulling him out of the kennel asked me for the collar I brought and, when I asked him if he would like some of the treats too to distract Nico, just in case, he shook his head and said “No, he’s a sweet boy.”” – Kelly Gibson

Nico leaves the shelter

Nico leaves the shelter

And a sweet passenger he was, as he offered Kelly gentle thank you kisses throughout the 3 hour ride to Animal Medical Center in El Cajon, CA.  He rode like a gentleman, as if he had been chauffeured all his life.  Happily he watched the stench of death fade behind him and the aroma of life stretch out before him.  The further they journeyed from the shelter and the streets of Los Angeles, the bigger his smile grew.

It did not matter that he was headed somewhere where he would be kenneled again for a couple of weeks.  It didn’t matter that his skin hurt and the places where bones poked through were worn raw.  It did not matter that he had picked up a nasty cough which shook his body as it rattled through. It did not matter that he had been labeled savage, purely because of how he looked from years of living on the streets and not through any actions of his own.  It did not matter that his poor deaf ears had been savagely cut, probably with kitchen shears, when he was very young, probably to make him appear tough and likely to reinforce someone else’s image of themselves.  He was alive and I think he knew that he had been saved.  He only looked forward in his ride to San Diego…he only looked forward.

This is only the beginning of Nico’s story – a story of rescue that is still happening and will be shared with you as it unfolds.  Nico has been rescued from the shelter and begins his long journey home now.  While one may read this and think that it will be a story about the evolution of a mangy street dog into a family pet,  I can tell you that, even though we have just begun, the evolution is not in him, but in my own life and the many whose lives he has and will touch.

As you read this story, Nico’s life is changing… and Nico’s story is changing lives.

(originally posted by me on PetcoScoop.com – 09/07/09)
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