Nika was Nika, and now she is no more. Her materials no longer carry on that pattern of organization so familiar and generally loved by my wife and myself. What is left of that dear dog sits in a tin container atop a bookshelf with family photos. What is left, also, is in our memory and habits.
All living things exhibit “need”,”effort” and “satisfaction”, contended American philosopher John Dewey in 1929. Dewey was one of the prominent members of a philosophic movement called “Pragmatism”. They sought to rehabilitate philosophic Idealism by expressing its insights in naturalistic terms. Today, Idealism represents the belief that the wholeness of a thing is as real and significant as the pieces that compose it, in some contexts.
In that sense, a living thing is a whole whose activity expresses itself in its own characteristic environment: first, in its most immediate and ‘intimate’ environment — its own parts; its body and consciousness (as that variously applies); second, in its more ‘external’ environment where its needs, efforts and satisfactions play out. Living things have this distinctive relation of “inside” and “out” as recognized by Dewey: “a living organism and its life processes involve a world or nature temporarily and spatially ‘external’ to itself but ‘internal’ to its functions.” The web of a spider, the pond built by a beaver, the house of a person are its external ‘organs’, and their bodies are their most immediate ‘environment’.
This unity of inside and out makes a living thing “an equilibrium pattern”, Dewey wrote. This particular pattern or organization must maintain itself through “restoration” and “recovery” in “a complex integrated course or history.” In words more plain, a living thing must “keep this shit together” as long as it can.
Nika was such a history. A mass of molecules, constantly varying, that was nonetheless her, nonetheless that same sweet dog. That history, that continuity, is worth recounting. That is this post: Our life with Nika.
Nika had obvious satisfactions. Upon the appearance of a friendly face her entire body burst into reaction. Ears perked, the back half of her body swung side to side in sync with her wagging tail. At that person’s feet, she would throw herself to the ground and roll, still wiggling, to expose her stomach. With very little doubt, her behavior was always interpreted as “friendly”, “happy”, “affectionate”.
Frequently, she could not contain herself, especially early in her life. Her molecules seemed to explode with enthusiasm. In the house, she would charge from room to room, repeatedly, with great speed and agility, over top of couches, under tables.
Nika was Nika, indeed; but she was also a beagle of a smaller variety. Close to the ground, she weighted a mere 17 lbs. In the backyard, when a fit of enthusiasm overtook her, she broke into full gallop. Nose extended, low to the ground, legs fully outstretched, she barely slowed when taking a corner. She ran a circle-eight, cutting through garden and galloping over deck again and again. We called it “the bullet run”. Exhilarated by her own abilities, she did so appear.
Nika had needs, as do all living creatures. Nika needed to smell. Guided by her nose, often she did not get far. Many things were worthy of a sniff to Nika. My wife often despaired of walking her because she was interested in exercise but Nika in smelling life’s daisies.
That keen nose got her into many situations, often bad. Detecting the odor of the many hands that handled currency, she was led into my wife’s purse and my wallet. On several occasions she pulled out bills. Pieces of $5’s, $1’s and even a $20 once, were found on the floor or embedded in stinking piles in the backyard.
One winter holiday, my wife left accessible a bag of holiday-decorated, foil wrapped, chocolate Kisses. Nika’s nose soon found them. She consumed them foil and all. This resulted in the most decorative turds I have ever seen. Sparkling with reds and blues and green, they adorned the yard.
Yes, Nika needed to eat. “Beagles are bagels,” a vet once told us; yet, Nika never gained
weight in spite of her constant desire. A ‘chow hound’, she was: She ate raw carrots and broccoli and certainly cooked. Cantaloupe was a favorite and watermelon too. Salad with dressing was nice, but so was ice. Dirty socks (and underwear) left accessible were shredded and chewed. Kitchen Handi Wipes that were used were several times chewed and they came out her end not much more abused.
She had her needs and like all living creatures was willing to put in the effort to fulfill them.
We did indulge her. In waiting for a plate to lick clean, Nika was never impatient. She
sat several feet away and stared and waited, stared and waited. Seldom did she have anything better to do; staring, waiting for a plate to lick, that was Nika.
But a rabbit or squirrel was a horse of a different color. When the word “rabbit” or “squirrel” was said with enthusiasm, Nika leaped to her feet, ears up, and looking about. Constantly she rushed from the house or deck and through the yard in chase. Never once did she catch one, and never did her efforts decline —- until late in life. Every time the squirrel reached a tree, or the rabbit a hole in the fence. The point was in the chase.
As Nika grew into adulthood, one of the most important factors in her environment changed. I desired to see her in action. After all, by nature and breeding beagles are rabbit hounds. I began looking for opportunities while on walks in our suburban neighborhood to let go of her leash, allowing her in safe and somewhat confined situations to chase her prey.
And so she would dash and howl. “OooOooOooo”, she howled, not barked, until the rabbit escaped and I regained the leash. Once, a rabbit avoided the safety of yards and fences and raced (leaped) straight down the sidewalk of a cul de sac. Nika followed at full speed and full voice, “OooOooOoooo”. A neighbor came to the door thinking a dog had been hit. “No, just chasing a rabbit.”
A Pattern of Activity No Longer Restored
Nika came to our house at the age of three from a relative who could no longer keep her. She was with us for ten years. As she grew old, like me, she lost much of her hair; her body became misshapen and she lost her swiftness and grace. Her need to eliminate waste became more frequent, sporadic and prone to accident; again, like me.
She had a persistent cough and lost most of the use of her hind legs.
When we decided “to put her down”, it was a fairly easy decision. We feared leaving her at home alone when, as teachers, we returned to work in the fall. We set up an appointment at OSU Veterinary Hospital and they did their job with great respect.
When the day arrived, we loaded Nika into the car. They let us in a special door at the hospital and walked us to a special room, really more like a waiting room than an exam room. As we walked down the hall to that room, I set Nika on the floor and she walked between us slowly, somewhat sideways, and with no awareness of what awaited. In the room a pad was placed on a couch and Nika on the pad. We sat next to her and held her as a large dose of anesthesia was administered. She soon slept. In minutes she stopped breathing. Later, my wife recalled how she looked at Nika, when we were walking down that hospital hall, and realized Nika was no longer the dog she was. And yet, Nika was still Nika, a pattern of activity that will never be forgotten.