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Born:December 6, 2007
Leavenworth, Kansas
Died:April 2, 2020
Arlington, Virginia
“Your friend is your needs answered.  He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.  And he is your board and your fireside, for you come to him with hunger, and you seek him for peace.”

I named him Niko because, unlike every other four-legged family member we had taken in until then, we knew his true birthday. It was December 6th - 2006 to be exact. In Germany, children leave their shoes out on their front steps on the eve of the 6th for Saint Nikolaus to fill with gifts and treats, provided that they’ve been good of course. As we drove home for the first time with our 7-week old Labrador puppy, I thought the name was thus be appropriate, but I had no idea how perfect it would turn out to be.
He was one of a litter of 12 adorable chocolates! As soon as we walked in the door, they swarmed us and the kids melted. How to choose? But then I saw that there was one missing. He was just waking up from a nap to see what the commotion was all about. I walked over to him, held him up to look at his little face and even though his sleepy eyes were still only half opened he gave me a big fat wet lick right across my face. The deal was sealed. The kids never questioned. This was going to be Mom’s dog!
We had just moved to Kansas from Germany and had not yet taken ownership of our new house. “This is nuts,” I thought to myself, driving back to our hotel that evening. “Why on earth would I bring a puppy into an already stressful situation like this?” All I remember is that something just felt undeniably right about it.
Truly though, he was a perfect puppy. He was easily housebroken in less than a week, he never chewed furniture, rugs, shoes or anything other than his designated chew toys. We did go through a rough patch when he developed an affinity for cat box snacks but that was short-lived. And when he discovered his big dog voice, he scared a few people in fleeting moments of unwarranted protectionism. It was so easy bringing Niko into our family. All of his life, he was so in tune with us, so eager to please that training him was close to effortless. The possible exception to this, however, was leash training. It’s not that he couldn’t be leash trained, but he just had so much energy and drive to run, and swim, and play and explore, that none of us ever really had the heart to hold him back. So the times that he absolutely had to be on a leash were never pleasant. Katie and I took him to the Fort Leavenworth Turkey Trot 5K one year because dogs were allowed. He was always over-the-moon excited to go on a run, but that, coupled with all the other people and all the other dogs was a bridge too far. He was the kid at the birthday party who’s had just a little too much cake and ice cream! The gun went off and I think we broke land speed records that day getting to the finish!
Niko loved everyone, and if they came with tennis balls, he REALLY loved them. But most of all, he loved his family. He regarded himself, I think, a sibling to Katie and Sepp. When Katie was still living at home, he slept in bed with her every night. If she was still in bed when we finished our morning walk or run, he’d go right back to snuggling with her. They often enjoyed breakfast together on the living room couch. Whatever Katie was having, Niko was having – from the same plate and with the same silverware. For Sepp, Niko was a partner in crime, in a manner of speaking. If Sepp and his teenage friends had been a gang, Niko was one of the sworn members. I can’t say I always knew where they were or what they were up to but it usually ended with coming home wet, muddy, and stinky and often involved other animals, dead and alive.
He went everywhere with us as a family. It didn’t matter where we were going, to the lake or to the grocery store, getting in the car was beyond exciting for Niko, so exciting in fact, that he would never sit down, choosing instead to stand in the back with his head as far out of the window as we would safely let him get it. This proved to be problematic only once when we made the 15 hour trek to Montgomery, AL to have Thanksgiving with my Dad. Niko, bless his heart, stood the whole time and could barely walk when we finally reached Alabama!
As a lab, of course Niko loved the water and loved to swim. Hawaii was doggie paradise for him. Every weekend we would go to the beach where he would swim after tennis balls launched at least 50 feet into the water for literally hours until he had nothing left to give and would drag his exhausted body back up onto the beach. One Christmas when the kids were both home, they taught him how to body surf….he would swim out to the wave and know exactly the right time to turn around to be carried back to shore.
Just as much as he loved to swim, he loved to hike. The two of us have hiked thousands of miles together, through the backwoods of Kansas, through the Kahuku and Ko’Olau mountains in Hawaii, Shenandoah National Forest and all over the Chesapeake watershed area. In his youth he always covered at least twice the miles I did as he quite literally ran circles around me exploring, chasing squirrels and finding new waterholes. He knew every milestone on the way to wherever we were hiking and as soon as we got within a mile of the parking lot, he would bark with anticipation and wouldn’t stop until we started walking, as if to say, “Come on, Mom!!! I’m so excited! Lets goooooo!!”
One of the best things about Niko was that he was such a gentle, benevolent soul, I could trust him around anyone, even other animals. My neighbors in Maryland had twin 6 year olds who were half Niko’s size. They adored him and would lay on him, ride him, and continue to try and play with him when he was clearly done, but I never worried that he would be anything but sweet with them. He would never admit that he liked having all my foster kittens around but he would patiently tolerate their attempts to play with him as well.
I was always more of a cat person. We had a few dogs when I was growing up but they weren’t my dogs and I didn’t feel like I was missing anything when I struck out on my own and remained, for the most part, dog-free. In fact, the only reason I found myself in that house with 12 puppies was a promise I had made to my kids. All the years we were in Germany, they never stopped asking for a dog so I told them that we would get one when we moved back to the States. That relative indifference to dog ownership ended with Niko. He was my friend, my confidant, my co-pilot, my comfort, my courage, my weakness and my strength. Even in the tougher times when he was sick or hurt or old and feeble, he was a continuous source of warmth and goodness, love and happiness for me. If I had my Niko with me, I could do anything! Everything I’ve achieved, every challenge I’ve overcome in the 13 years that he was with me is due in large part to his unwavering love and companionship. My life, our lives will never be the same without him.
But in keeping with my intent to memorialize him in a positive way, I want to thank my friends, colleagues and family who were special to Niko, for making his life rich with the same love, warmth and goodness that he gave every day. There are so many of you - too numerous to mention all, but you know who you are! You’re the ones who cared for him in my absence, the ones who tolerated him in the office, the vets and their assistants who kept him healthy and active for so many years. You’re the ones who helped me manage when he was sick and gave me seven more wonderful years with him when I thought I had none. You’re the ones who were never too busy to say hello, sit with him and pet him, or play fetch with him until the sun went down. You’re the ones who gave him steak under the table when you thought I wasn’t looking. You were all part of making his life one that he deserved. I am forever grateful to you and I’m sure Niko is too.
In a take on the Beatles song, a popular bumper sticker reads “All you need is love and a dog,” as if the two were mutually exclusive. Niko WAS love - a leggy, goofy, chocolate, bellowing, fur ball of goodness and love that never quit. Born on Saint Nikolaus’ birthday, the name I gave him seemed perfect as we drove home on that big adoption night. But through the years, I’ve come to appreciate the deeper similarities between my pup and the good saint. Nikolaus, in his 3rd Century life, was sainted in large part for taking care of people in need and for his frequent and often secret gift-giving. Niko not only was a gift to me, my family and all who knew him, but like his namesake, every day of his long and full life, never stopped giving the gift of his love.
I will love and miss you always my very dear friend!

“When you part from your friend, grieve not; For that which you love in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.”

* quotes from Kahlil Gibran's "The Prophet"
Photos
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Added by Anonymous

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Added by Anonymous
 
Personal Notes

Though it is time that heals our wounds, sharing you memories of Niko will help!
Added by Jen


Dearest Niko,
It was with a heavy heart that I learned of your passing from your Mom. I too, am a cat person, but since meeting you I have developed a special place in my heart for dogs. As a result, I now have 2 cats and 2 dogs as part of my household. I enjoyed your visits to the office and it was such a comfort to see you. I remember calling out your name “Niko” in my high voice whenever you came to the office. I loved the way you would lumber on over and lean against my knee giving me your special hug. Although your Mom is correct in saying you loved people, you also were quite adept at discerning the myriad of different individuals you encountered. I always marveled at the way you would grumble in your deep voice when certain people were present. You had great insight. I will miss you my friend, as I miss your Mom. My thoughts and prayers are for both you and your wonderful family.
Tomoyo wakare (Farewell my friend)
Anata ga totemo koishi (Will miss you so much)

Added by Aunty Gayle


Our Special Niko!

I'm sadden to hear of your passing. You were my "Sunshine". Whenever your mom brought you to the office you brightened up my day. Your soft eyes, smiley face and wagging tail. How you would lean on my leg to say "hello".

You truly loved people and everything around you. Will miss your visits and definitely your mom. Your mom was a great boss and an awesome person. You brought so much love and joy to her life.

Niko, Special Animals go to "Rainbow Bridge". There you will be taken care of. Your paw prints has left a mark in all of our hearts.

"Namaste, Niko"

Added by Aunty MaryAnn


Niko when I heard of your passing by your Mom, my heart became so heavy. You were the greatest loving four legged family member I have ever known. I have never seen such a well behaved dog like you that I could trust with my twin boys. We as a family loved you so much. From my older son and daughter walking you to the twins riding and playing with you made you a part of our family too. You were a gentle giant and we will miss you so much. Thank you for being a part of family and we thank your Mom for sharing you with us. ??
Added by Deleesha McCall


To me you will always be Baboo.

We grew up together. We bonded in a hotel room tub where we slept together because you were too needy to be crate trained. I loved you so much already that taking you out to go potty every couple of hours in the below zero Kansas winter was never a chore. Watching you bound through the snow with your lanky limbs and big ole floppy ears made my heart so light. You came everywhere with us... if you weren’t allowed into a store as a puppy, I just put you in my purse. You were my buddy when I started a brand new high school and didn’t have any others. You were my favorite running partner, I’d come home from college on the weekends just so I could run with you.

We spent a lot of time at Shawnee Mission Park. The whole drive if your head wasn’t out of the window, it was right above my right shoulder. You’d slobber all over me during the 30 minute drive. I never had the heart to ask you to move.

Added by Katie


The pure happiness you had to just be with me and the trust you had that anywhere I was taking you was going to be a good time....That happiness and trust always outweighed my drool covered shoulder. We ran and swam together. You were my triathlete. You could outrun, swim faster and fetch farther than any other dog. I was always so proud to have you as my dog. I will never forget when when you jumped out of our canoe after a bouy thinking it was a tennis ball. I jumped in after you because you wouldn’t give it up and we got into some trouble with the park patrol. There are so many incredible memories we made together that I’ll have for the rest of my life.

I love your smile, that teethy grin you’d give me whenever I came home from high school, from college, and from Tennessee. Even in the days that your body was so tired, you could muster up a grin to welcome me home. I was always just as excited to see you too Baboo.

Added by Katie


The pure happiness you had to just be with me and the trust you had that anywhere I was taking you was going to be a good time....That happiness and trust always outweighed my drool covered shoulder. We ran and swam together. You were my triathlete. You could outrun, swim faster and fetch farther than any other dog. I was always so proud to have you as my dog. I will never forget when when you jumped out of our canoe after a bouy thinking it was a tennis ball. I jumped in after you because you wouldn’t give it up and we got into some trouble with the park patrol. There are so many incredible memories we made together that I’ll have for the rest of my life.

I love your smile, that teethy grin you’d give me whenever I came home from high school, from college, and from Tennessee. Even in the days that your body was so tired, you could muster up a grin to welcome me home. I was always just as excited to see you too Baboo.

Added by Katie


Above all, thank you for taking such great care of mom when we left. Thank you for making her go outside during war college no matter how much reading or writing she had to do. Thank you for greeting her with a wagging tail after the long work days.Thank you for being patient with her when she was stressed. Thank you for being her copilot on car rides and through life. I know sometimes she’s not always the easiest... but man she loves you much!

I think about you every time I walk into the woods, every time I see an open body of water I know you’d love to swim through and when I watch my dogs run freely the way you loved to do.

You’ll always have a piece of my heart and a place in this family Baboo.

I love you so much Niko!

Added by Katie
 
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