Niki Sawyer: A Celebration of the Life of an Extraordinary Woman

Nik, The Extraordinary Christmas Dog

Nik the Extraordinary Christmas Dog I spent most of Christmas Eve, 2006 at the hospital while Niki lay in a coma. I had been awake for the better part of 24 hours, when I suddenly realized the sheep had not been fed. So, I drove back to the farm in the late morning and headed out back to do chores.

When I got to the barn, I realized something was up. Instead of reclining and loafing as was their usual morning habit, the sheep were on their feet and alert. They were seeing something beyond my view around the corner. So, I spoke to them, walked through the paddock and stopped — and stared.

There, sitting motionless by the gate in the barnyard, was a dog.

Now, before continuing, I want to clarify something: Niki and I carefully designed and installed our own fencing system, because we were dissatisfied with every other commercial fence. We had tried several and there was always something wrong with every approach. We were concerned about our sheep being savaged (as had already happened to several local farmers) and didn't want to invest in expensive livestock guardian dogs or llamas. So, we implemented a double-barrier, low-maintenance system consisting of (a) a 6-ft high-tensile electrified 6-wire exterior perimeter, and (b) an interior 4-ft woven wire mesh that went all the way to the ground. It was basically impenetrable.

No animal larger than a rabbit or a possum had ever gotten past, not a coyote, or fox, or any other critter we knew of — and especially not a dog. It was designed specifically to prevent it, and it worked well. He couldn't have just "somehow" gotten through. He couldn't have been "dropped off" by someone, because the sheep would have stampeded. Besides, the door was locked and there's no easy access to the fence from the road.

Still, my immediate reaction was that this dog might be after the sheep — but a moment's observation showed he wasn't interested. He was calm and composed. I then noticed that he had hair the same color as Niki, something I'd never seen in a dog. We used to joke about how beauticians were put off by Niki's unique hair color, but here was a dog wearing it!

He just sat motionless and stared at me. He made no aggressive move, he didn't react to my presence, except to turn his head slightly. It was a little spooky. The dog was not acting normally and I wondered if he might be rabid. My first impulse was to chase him away, but then I realized: Where would he go? He can't get past the fence, there's no opening for him to get out. And how the hell did he get in here in the first place?

I had a special lead in the barn I used for tethering young lambs, so I went back and got it. I then walked right up to the dog and said: "Well, hello there! Who are you? How did you get in here?" He just stared at me, he made no movement of any kind. He was a young dog, I judged maybe a year old, but wearing what looked like an old collar, I said: "Do you mind if I put this on you?" No reaction. So, I reached over and snapped the lead into the collar. As I did so, he stood up, walked completely around me, sat down on my left side and looked up at me, waiting for instructions. I was speechless.

Nik the Extraordinary Christmas Dog He stared at me with eyes like I'd never seen in a dog. They were black and gold with bright yellow rings around the outsides — like a wolf, only gentler. I took a step forward and so did he. I stopped. So did he. "I'll be damned."

He walked obediently beside me through the multiple gates up to the house. I opened the back door, we went in the utility room and I unsnapped the lead. He looked around, sniffe a few times, turned a couple of times, and laid down on the throw rug — as if he'd been doing it all his life. I gave him a bowl of water and some cookies, he gobbled them up and then stared at me again with that special look of appreciation. I was floored.

Niki passed away that night. There were times over the next few days when I reached the ultimate despair. There was no consolation, no remedy, no relief from the anguish, no escaping the awful reality. And yet, that dog did something several times which, if you'd asked me at the time, I would have said was impossible: He made me laugh. I can't tell you exactly what he did each time because, honestly, I no longer remember and I was pretty shaken up each time it happened. But I remember looking him in the eye and thanking him for saving my life. I remembered Niki frequently telling me that making her laugh was "my greatest gift" to her.

I named him "Nik" and it seemed just right. I still don't know what to make of him, but he's been my constant, inseparable companion since that day. As far as I can tell, he's a "Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever." That's a mouthful, but it appears to be what he is. He adores the outdoors, loves to run and have fun, he's smart as a whip, and everyone who meets him falls in love with him. Sound familiar?

I apologize for the poor photographs of Nik, but he knows before I come into the room that I'm carrying a camera and immediately walks away, usually before I get there. I have a wonderful collection of photos of his rear end, his feet, the side of his head, and numerous blurry shots of him turning or running away. Other people have also tried and failed. The only decent shots I have of him (shown here) were taken on the sly with my cell phone camera, while driving in the truck and while on a leash waiting to go through a gate (he refused even to look at me). He's caught on to the cell phone trick now, he lays down and covers his face with his paws if he sees me take it out.

Niki also disliked having her picture taken...