One year ago today, my dog, my childhood best friend, was shot and killed. It would be another day before my mother would find him in the woods behind our home, yet she knew intuitively when he didn’t respond to her calls for him, Nicco was gone.
I knew that he would pass on eventually, and he had a wonderful, long life. I just always knew that he’d go from old age. So knowing that he couldn’t be here forever didn’t help console me given the way he was taken from this world. It wasn’t his time. It wasn’t fair. He had just been to the vet a few weeks before and he had the heart and mind of a puppy, he just moved a little slower. He had some great days ahead of him, the vet said. My mom was getting ready to leave the workforce and looked forward to spending her time taking him on walks and sending me photos. And then the worst day of my life happened.
I was crushed. I collapsed in wracking sobs multiple times in the weeks that followed, unable to compose myself. Weeks turned into months, and the cries went from daily to weekly, though the immense pain never subsided. How could someone shoot an innocent animal? How could someone shoot Nicco – the sweetest dog I have ever met? The hole is still large. Recently, I wrote a letter to Nicco. I never got to say good-bye to him, and I partially penned it hoping that I might get some closure. Below is an edited version of the letter. I took out some parts that were too personal, though it is still a bit graphic in places.
April 25, 2016
I think about you all the time and I just haven’t had the courage to write it all down before. I miss you. Every single day. I don’t cry as much anymore but it doesn’t mean that I miss you any less. There’s a giant hole in my heart. You were my best friend. I wish I could change it all and bring you back. I would bring you to Utah and you could play in the snow all winter and hike with me all summer. I know you couldn’t go too far anymore but there are some amazing trails with views that you would love.
I have so many thoughts and so many things that I want to say and I know it’s going to just be all over the place, so I am sorry for that in advance. I guess I should start with the things I’d do differently. I would spend every single second with you. When you wanted to hang out in the kitchen where it was cooler, instead of the family room, I should have just sat out there with you instead of trying to convince you to do things my way. I would take you on really incredible adventures. I would show you so many awesome places that neither one of us knew about, and I would cherish every moment of those adventures. I would bring you to Utah with me. You and Mom were best buds too and that would have been tough for her. You would have loved it out here though and whenever I see another dog playing, I always think of you.
Finally, I would have protected you. You loved me so unconditionally. You were the happiest dog I’ve ever met, truly. You deserved the absolute best in return. I love you with every bit of myself, please know that. But I let you down. I wasn’t there when you needed me. I failed you. I let someone hurt you. I don’t know exactly how it happened but I have an image burned in my head of you out in the woods, with a smile on your face and a gun at the back of your head. I hope you didn’t know what was coming. I hope it wasn’t painful. I hope that you were smiling at the end, enjoying being outside, and not terrified of what that person was doing and why he was pulling you. I hope you died quickly and didn’t suffer. God knows I do – I suffer every day. I miss you so much it physically hurts. I see you everywhere. I dream about you all the time. There’s a song that’s always on the radio that makes me think of you. And I cry every time I hear it, and I just keep listening to it because I picture you listening to it with me from up in Heaven. Nicco, you deserved your entire life. You deserved to be surrounded by your family when you breathed your last and you deserved for that breath to be from old age. You didn’t deserve the cold blooded murder. I want to give you that. I wish I could give you that. It just makes me so sick to my stomach. I hope the person who did this gets help because nobody in their right mind would do this to you.
A lot of times I want you to still be here so that I could play with you one more time, walk with you one more time, pet you one more time, hug you one more time. A few weeks ago, it occurred to me how selfish that was. Those feelings won’t ever go away, and I’m not sorry for that because I love you and spending time with you. But new feelings joined now too. I want you to still be here so that you could lick everyone’s face one more time, eat homemade kielbasa one more time, play in the snow one more time. Do everything one more time. More than one more time. But you get what I mean. I just wish you were still here to enjoy life like you did. You were the best at it.
I mentioned it before, but I’ve never experienced a pain so deep and excruciating as when you were killed. I don’t even know how to describe it. Physical, annihilating, paralyzing pain. I cried all the time. I still cry. But I used to collapse on the floor, sobbing so hard. Nothing could calm me down. I know you would want me to keep playing and to be happy. And I’ve done my best to keep on going and to do that in your honor. A few weeks after you died, I raced a triathlon in Milwaukee. It was Age Group National Championships. I carried a photo of you next to my heart for the bike and the run and I felt you there, in my heart, the entire race. As I left T2, I said aloud, “Alright, buddy, let’s go for a run,” and tears streamed down my face as I started the run, remembering the times that we used to run together. You were there with me and that kept me going, the fastest 10k I’ve ever run. Thank you for continuing to give your love from Heaven. That race was for you.
The following months were awful. I was at home in September and Mom gave me your ashes. I keep them out so I can see you every day. I’m glad to have you close by. I left my job in November. I was really unhappy. That’s not the whole truth. I was depressed. I know that a lot of it was work itself, and I know that a lot of it was what happened to you and how it happened. There was just too much and I couldn’t handle all of it. Something had to give. Since I could not change your death, I changed my job. It took me a full month to just get back to “neutral”. It took me another month to start to feel happy again. I still don’t know if I’m doing the right thing, but I took four months off and that helped me a lot. I have a new job now that I started in March. I’m excited for the new chapter and I’ll let you know how it goes.
In that time, too, I started to look back more on the happy times we had together. I knew it wasn’t going to do any good to only think of the bad things or wish for something I know I can’t have. I reflect a lot of the first day we met. You were so tiny. The length of my forearm. I didn’t want to let you go. The day we picked you up, and I whispered your new name to you the whole way home – “Nicco, good puppy, you’re so sweet, Nicco. I love you so much already, Nicco…”. You were shaking and confused. You found yourself at home quickly, though, and we had the best of times. Walks through the woods, lazy days on the porch, your obedience class!, the feeling of my hand on your fur, your never ending smile. And how you’d smile from your eyes. Your beautiful, blue eyes. Those memories keep me going. Thank you for those great days and years.
Anyway, I also wanted to say Hi and tell you what is new down here. I got engaged about a month ago. I’m going to marry that really tall man that you met – Jackson. He misses you too, even though you only met a few times. He helped me a lot when you were killed. He cried with me, he held me when I couldn’t stop crying, he listened to me. He’s a good man. He helps me have fun and stay happy too. We love each other very much.
We talk about getting a puppy. I sometimes feel like I’d be betraying you. I realize, though, that it’s not the case. I want to pay it forward, and love another dog as much as I loved you and as much as you loved everyone. What do you think? Are you ok with it? It won’t be tomorrow, or even next month, so think about it. I had a dream the other night that I adopted an abused husky and named him Flurry. He looked a lot like you. I know there will never be another you though and I’ll never try to replace you.
It’s time for me to go for now. Let’s talk again soon.
Paws and Kisses,
The song I referenced in my letter is “See You Again” by Charlie Puth. Click here to listen. “Why’d you have to leave so soon? Why’d you have to go? Why’d you have to leave me when I needed you the most? Cuz I don’t really know how to tell you without feeling much worse. I know you’re in a better place, but it’s always going to hurt. Carry on, give me all the strength I need to carry on. It’s been a long day, without you, my friend. And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.”
Here are a few photos of Nicco. I know he’s playing in the snow and eating all the donuts and kielbasa he can handle.