Thursday, May 9, 2013

In Memory of Nickie


         On Tuesday, April 30, we lost our wonderful Border Collie, Nickie, after she suffered four bites from a large rattlesnake.  Her spirit has gone to join those of Lucky Dog and Feathers, the other two members of the original Bagley Pack.  If there is any comfort, it is that before she encountered the snake, she had a glorious morning walk with John and me.  Racing through the pastures at our farm with companions Kota and Colt, she fetched sticks in the pond, looked for bunnies and squirrels and did all the things she loved most.  Nickie was an incredible gift and we will always cherish her memory. 

            It was here in the spring of 2006, seven years ago this weekend, that she and Feathers came trotting up the front walk and into our hearts and lives.  According to the neighbors, the dogs were dumped on a country road near our farm in Hamilton County, Texas.  They spent three or more weeks living off the land and on what scraps they could beg from the few residents in the area.  Then, on Friday afternoon of Memorial Day Weekend they appeared just after we arrived from our home outside of Austin

           Nickie led the way, and Feathers lagged behind, obviously afraid that they would not be welcome.  The dogs had no collars or tags, and the vet later said both were about one year old, hardly more than teenagers.

           Although we called everyone in the neighborhood we could find no one who claimed them.  Lucky Dog, our venerable Catahoula, didn’t object to them, and we fed them because they looked lean and hungry.  They soon became part of our family and gave us joy every day they were with us.  They ran and played over every inch of our farm, and made it their own.

Nickie and Feathers were closely bonded. We don't know if they were litter mates or just running buddies. However, Nickie was the most important "person" in Feathers’ life, as she was in Nickie’s. They were like two parts of a whole…..each incomplete without the other. They clearly had been together for some time before they came to us. Whether racing through the pasture or having a spirited dog tussle in Austin, they were inseparable. No matter where they were, each knew where the other was. When we lost our Feathers in September of 2010 to complications from canine meningitis, Nickie mourned her passing along with us.

Several weeks ago Nickie and I made this image of her footprint to fashion a card for a dear friend who had lost her own treasured companion.  The card read, “They leave footprints on our hearts that time cannot erase.” 
Little did I know how soon I would be left with only footprints, photos and memories of our beloved companion. 

Those memories include how much she loved her toys, especially the ones with squeakers.  The first toy I bought for Nickie and Feathers was a soft-sided “tree” with three small squirrels inside.  The idea was for the dog to reach into the “tree” through a hole and pull out a squirrel.  Well, that lasted for about 3 minutes.  Then the dogs found it was much easier to demolish the “tree” than to search for squirrels.  They joyously ripped it apart, removed the squirrels and went racing around the house squeaking them.  That “tree” was the only toy Nickie and Feathers ever destroyed, and even today it lives on.  It’s hardly more than a rag now, but cherished nevertheless. 
Toys were also an important part of John’s and my relationship with Nickie.  From the beginning, almost every morning we were rudely awakened when she and Feathers stood at the side of the bed squeaking their toys and urging us to get up.  Nickie frequently offered a toy when she wanted something.  It might signal that she wanted me to come out and play, or that it was time for supper, but it was part of that special communication bond that we shared.

Nickie sometimes used a ball like she used a toy, but balls also had another purpose in her life.  She loved to run with a ball in her mouth, barking all the time, as she chased the other dogs or invited them to chase her.  I’ve never known another dog that could make so much noise with a ball clenched in its jaws.  Nickie didn’t play “fetch.”  Once she had a ball, it was hers and she didn’t relinquish it easily.  However, if I threw a second ball, Nickie would often run to it and exchange hers for the new one.  That way we could keep the game going.

Sticks were another important prop for Nickie.  When she picked up a stick, it was a signal that it was play time…time to run and chase and bark.  Sometimes it was a small stick that was hardly longer than her mouth was wide, and sometimes it was a very large stick.  She has even been known to use a "cow chip" when no stick was at hand.  No matter, it was her signal to the other dogs and much running, chasing and barking quickly followed. 


 After we lost Feathers and Kota joined our family, Nickie taught her the ritual of sticks, and Kota carries it on with gusto. 

One of Nickie’s favorite pastimes was watching TV.  From almost the moment she came to us, she was enthralled by programs featuring animals, especially if they moved quickly.

The first time I noticed this behavior, she was sitting in front of the TV in our bedroom.  As she watched, a tiger ran across the screen.  Nickie lunged toward the TV, then quickly moved to the side of the set to see where the tiger had gone.  She was puzzled when she couldn’t see it.

That didn’t stop her, though.  Almost any time we went upstairs with the dogs, Nickie trotted up to the TV, sat down, then looked over her shoulder to let me know she wanted to watch.  We then turned on the set and she happily watched NatGeo Wild, Animal Planet or any other program that featured animals moving quickly.  During commercials, or if fishing or some other dull program came on, she quickly lost interest.  Only a couple of weeks before we lost her, I stayed up late for the joy of watching her watch a program about wolves.  How she jumped and barked!  She was interested in the chases and kills as they unfolded, but I think her strongest reaction was when two wolves were engaged in “flirting” behavior.  She could flirt with the best of them, and though spayed, she never failed to show off when she met a new, interesting male dog.   

Like her wolf ancestors, Nickie was quite a hunter.  She caught a number of cottontail rabbits, squirrels, and this fine, fat rat. 

But she didn't stop with small game.  Over the course of her seven years with us, she teamed up with Lucky Dog and Feathers to catch a feral hog,

And in late December of 2010, Nickie, Lucky Dog and Kota bagged a young whitetail buck.  They were very proud!

Here, while Feathers and Lucky Dog watch, Nickie demonstrates her technique for catching field mice.

If Nickie’s absolute favorite activity was running through the pastures at our farm, then the sports of canine agility and herding were close seconds.  I introduced her to agility in her second year and she loved it, especially the contacts.  Over the years she earned her AKC Excellent titles in Standard, Jumpers and FAST, and was working toward her Masters titles.  In the process, she accumulated dozens of ribbons and squeaky toys, which she shared with the other dogs. 

Because Nickie enjoyed lots of activity and loved to learn, several years ago I also introduced to the sport of herding, for which Border Collies have been bred for generations.  She quickly became an enthusiastic participant, and would stick her head out the window and bark all the way to our practice sessions or trials.  Working together as we both learned how to read and move the sheep deepened our bond further.   We were just beginners in the sport, but I treasure the photo of us below taken by a friend at an event a couple of months ago.

Nickie was a wonderful gift every day of her life.  Each dog that has shared and enriched our lives has been special in his or her own way, but I believe Nickie will always be the one with whom I had the strongest bond and whose memory I will most cherish.

We buried her at the farm under overcast skies with a stiff north wind whipping across the pasture, the weather as raw as our emotions.   She is wrapped in the cover to her bed, and has her bowl, a squeaky toy, a treat, a bone, two fine sticks for carrying and fetching, the bandana she wore when company came and a rose from the bush by the back door.  Oh, My Nickie with the Bright Brown Eyes, I miss you so.



  1. Michal, I am sitting here with tears streaming down my face. What a wonderful friendship you had with Nickie! I have lost a couple of close doggie friends and I know how it hurts. Now that we have Megabyte2, I know how you must be feeling. I don't know what I would do if something happened to my little kitty friend. I am so sorry for your loss but I know Nickie is having lots of fun with her squeaky toy, treats, bone and bandana. :-) I bet she's sharing them and frolicking with her buddies in Heaven. You are all in my thoughts and prayers. Much love...........Pat

  2. For this special moment I will emerge from "beneath the shroud" and offer a post in the daylight rather than via back channel.

    I too have tears in my eyes. You were blessed to have been able to borrow Nickie from The Grand Architect Of The Universe. She came with a message I'm sure both you and John heard clearly.

    Jimmy Joe