It is with tremendous sadness that we announce the passing of Niko Vesga-Cromley. He went peacefully at 7:20 AM on Monday, April 16, 2012. It's difficult to put our loss and sadness into words but I can unreservedly say that Niko was a fighter. There's no other way to describe the dog who went on to live a year and four months after the doctors gave him "six months at the most."
The last couple weeks his tumor got to be too much for him. The back stairs became scary. And even standing up on the hardwood floors grew tricky. All of that we were more than happy to help him with. We had no problem lending a hand or even carrying him if need be (though he hated the carrying). No, what really told us that it was time was the fact that he was uncomfortable, constantly shifting to find a position that didn't aggravate his tumor. We'd see him sprawled awkwardly on the floor, bewildered at the fact that his own body was failing him. That's when we knew.
It's impossible to quantify what he's meant to us and I won't even try to do that here. But there are some things people should know about Niko. He was the most empathic dog I have ever known. He internalized our moods – be they happy, sad, nervous, or angry – and made them his own. If Natalie was doing a last minute crunch on a paper, he was there, sitting next to her, trying to calm her. If I was watching a football game, he'd bark when I'd cheer and growl when I'd curse. When Natalie and I fought, he'd try to broker a peace. In the last six months of his life he developed a new habit. On days when I'd have to wake up early for classes, if I did not get out of bed on the first ring of my alarm clock, he'd get agitated and start pawing the bed, worried I would oversleep. When he was satisfied that I was rising, he'd curl up and go back to sleep.
We learn many things from our pets – things about ourselves, but, more importantly, things about life. Niko taught me about love. Unlike most dogs, he was never a font of unconditional, tail-wagging love. Rather, affection was something he doled out cautiously, reservedly. If he let you pet him, you knew you'd earned it with Niko. And if he wanted nothing to do with you (as was often the case) he felt no compunction to fake it. When he gave you his love, it really meant something.
In the immediate aftermath of the decision, there was relief. Relief also after we found a lovely pet crematorium who could take him in right away and give us his ashes before we left. Then, on the drive back into town, heading toward home with his still-warm ashes in Natalie's lap, we were forced to face the horrible emptiness, an all-consuming absence. No music or talk could replace an essential sound that was now missing. We've spent the hours since alternately grieving, focusing our attention on our remaining dog, and trying futilely to distract ourselves. I don't know where it goes from here. I suppose the pain will ease in time. But it's hard to see that now. So I try to focus my thoughts only on the positive, only on memories that sustain: Niko was a good dog, a loyal dog. He always gave of himself and he made our lives immeasurably better. He will be missed. He will always be loved.