Growing up we almost always had two dogs. Generally one was a purebred of some sort and the second was a stray that made itself at home with us. One such stray was Nikki. Nikki was a Belgian Sheep Dog. They basically look like black Collies. Lots and lots of black hair.
Nikki wandered onto our street and into our lives and never left. Having grown up in California where weather was temperate and in a family peopled with severe asthmatics and allergy sufferers, all of our dogs were outside dogs. And they liked it that way. They ran freely on the nearly half-acre lot, had their cozy dog houses to sleep in and a covered patio during inclement weather.
The only problem with Nikki being an outside dog was how much hair she had. Her hair really needed to be meticulously groomed but no one in the family, sadly, made it a regular enough priority. When Nikki would be brushed and groomed the yard would appear as one big black cloud so prolific were the tufts of fur. One could look out the family room window and see billows of black fur drifting dreamily through the air. I’m sure many a bird’s nest was insulated by this wonderful bounty of downy softness.
Also not in her favor was the presence of fox tails and burrs in the yard. In her frolicking and cavorting with her best buddy, Rusty the Golden retriever, Nikki would get these sticky little buggers in her fur and they would quickly work themselves in without ever being visible to the human eye, even during brushing.
One week, Nikki was clearly in need of a serious grooming and the family was heading out on a vacation. She was taken to the Vet for an extended stay in their kennels where we asked for a full grooming and a fix to any skin related problems due to the burrs that she had collected.
Well, it turns out poor quiet unassuming dear Nikki was not telling us how she felt. For when the vet went about his business he found that she had far more fox tails in her skin than anyone had ever realized, several of which were abscessed.
Upon our return home from vacation my brother and my sister’s boyfriend were sent to pick Nikki up from the Veterinarian’s office. Much to their surprise, they were not greeted by the black dog that had been left there just a week before. Instead they were greeted by a veritable Q-tip of a canine. Nikki had been shaved completely bald on every part of her body save her head. She still had the sweet face-full of silky black fur along with a pair of very sad eyes.
Nikki was sorrowfully aware of the lack of her former glory. She was a mere shadow of the dog she had been before. The poor darling. People stared in horror as she walked past. My brother and my sister’s boyfriend didn’t know quite how they felt about being seen with this forlorn little animal that looked more like a mix between a sick black bear and a naked mole rat than a dog.
When we got her home we did our utter best not to laugh. It was clear that any laughter that happened at her expense, Nikki was keenly aware of. So we were determined not to laugh but to love her though her appearance was startling to say the least. None of us were expecting a bald dog. It was hard for anyone to contain their surprise even if they did keep from laughing.
After the initial shock of the baldness wore off, Nikki went back to enjoying her life in the yard, lazing about, soaking up the Summer sunshine and sleeping in her regular spots. But there remained one little problem. Nikki no longer had protection from the sun. For some reason the thought of putting sunscreen on her just never entered any one’s mind.
So it came about that Nikki endured a bit of a sunburn and so her fur never did grow back in to it’s former glory. She was forever tufted. A patch here. A sprig there. Despite this fact and her decidedly un-doggy-like appearance, Nikki lived to a ripe old age.
During her first hairless winter we made her her very own turtleneck shirts to keep warm. Wearing bright red Christmas themed turtlenecks, you can just imagine what a sight she was to behold.
She hung around for much longer than any of us suspected. Indeed my Mom found her lying still enough to be mistaken for dead a couple of times and even wrote, “Nikki died today” in her journal once, later having to strike through her final condolences when Nikki had moved from that spot to another of her favorite locations in the yard.
She did, of course, finally fall asleep for the last time in one of those sunny spots. Nikki was buried with the other family pets under the old apple tree. If there were a dog heaven I’m sure Nikki would have been given a beautiful dog house in the sun and a new coat of fur so that she wouldn’t have to wear turtlenecks and sunscreen anymore.