I pointed to the bundle in my arms. "I'll take him."
The shelter director smiled. "You're lucky. The vet decided even though St. Nick is a little too young to adopt, he feels he'd get better care over the Christmas holidays in a forever home."
St. Nick, and he was available a few days before Christmas? This had to be a sign.
I'm highly skilled at signing forms minutes before the school bus appears at our front door, and that training paid off when I slid my forms over to the director, seconds before another family did. I crossed my fingers and said a quick prayer, hoping the lady didn't question the validity of my chicken-scratch writing. A half an hour later, and we left with the newest addition to the family, Saint Nick.
Having a pet enriches a family. The children learn the responsibility of taking caring of it, and the animal becomes part of the family, embarking on adventures and enjoying vacations. Nicky did that and more. Shortly after his arrival into our group, I noticed a change in my younger son Joseph, who has Autism. Joseph became more willing to be out in public and his speech improved as a result of telling people about his pup.
I believe animals are able to sense when a person has special needs. I've witnessed grumpy, old cats become affectionate to children with intellectual disabilities, and horses walk as sedate as ponies when carrying a person with physical disabilities. Nicky was no exception.
It's frustrating for a parent when a child on the Autism spectrum can't communicate their wants and emotions--even more so for the child, and that leads to melt-downs, angry episodes that can escalate and last for several minutes. Every time that occurred, Nicky would jump in the chair and lay his head on my son's lap. It was his way of soothing "his boy", and it always worked.
I thought I'd have my furry friend forever. Silly I know, but I thought I'd have him in my life for at least 15 years--I wasn't prepared to say good-bye after only three.
One night, as he has so many times in the past, Nick begged to go outside. There were no worries. We lived in the country, and the dog always stayed by the porch. A few minutes later I heard a car in my driveway, and the agonized scream of my pup. I still don't know how I got outside. There, on the ground was Nick. My son rushed to get the carrier to take him to our vet.
As I loaded him into the crate our eyes met, like they did three years ago. "This is good-bye," they seemed to say. I never saw precious boy alive again.
For several months Nick's pillow by my chair was undisturbed. His passing left a hole in my heart, and I couldn't bear the sight of it. I vowed I'd never get another pup again. Just the thought of another canine stepping one paw into the house seemed like treason. My husband John, who had a close bond with the dog as well, agreed. No one would replace our Nicky.
"But wouldn't it be an insult to him not to get another dog?" my older son reasoned. John and I agreed, and soon we made the trip to the local ASPCA shelter. We were drawn to a playful Chihuahua/Dachshund pup named Clyde. An hour later, and he was ours.
The minute we walked into the house, Clyde walked over to Nick's pillow. There in the middle was my beloved dog's favorite rope, unseen for several months. It was Nick's way of passing the baton, and again opening the door to my heart.