Sextiped Valley: Hero dog Nikita’s never-ending story
This month’s column promised to be fun to write and inspiring to read. I loved the title: “An Early Thanksgiving,” and had the whole thing lined out. It was to be an update of Nikita’s story: the heroic dog who, after saving her family in a catastrophic car accident, then herself became paralyzed, suffering a broken back and needing expensive surgery.
The Post Independent’s coverage of her plight and the Dundee Fund’s pledge to raise money sparked an amazing outpouring of support from a generous community. And best of all, during the fundraising period before that surgery could be scheduled, an evaluation by a local rehab vet started Nikita down an unexpectedly hopeful path.
When we saw her Sunday at the October Dundee Dog Wash, she was happy and lively, moving skillfully around in her wheelchair, and her owner talked of the amazing progress she had made. Her nerve impulses were improving, and she had begun to wag her tail, to feel toe pinches, and to move muscles in her paralyzed hind legs. It was now possible to entertain a realistic hope for her recovery.
So many people had responded to her story — with cash, checks, encouragement, comped treatments and other gifts — and most universal of all, with good wishes and prayers. This month, I planned to use this space to thank everyone for their generosity, and to share the good news of Nikita’s unexpected improvement and prospects. Whenever I wash dogs on Dundee Sundays, deposit the money, count the pennies and dollars in the counter jar, and write checks to vets, I get to experience that feeling of accomplishment, that satisfaction of being part of a common endeavor that accomplishes much more than any of us could alone. I wanted to write a column that would let you all feel it, too, as participants in the victory.
But then came devastation: Nikita had gone into seizures and lost even the use of her front legs. “Dr. Oz” as she is known (Dr. Aslaug Mandel, our own local canine rehabilitation specialist veterinarian, who has been so instrumental to Nikita’s progress) told me that this is indeed a huge setback. Nikita now needs a neurological examination by a specialist, with no guarantees that her condition is reparable. This means a trip to Denver for the distressed dog and her devoted, frantic family, for what may well be the most dreaded of diagnoses.
I hate knowing that Nikita is suffering, and her family, too. I hated that the good outcome that seemed imminent has vanished. And I didn’t want to tell this story.
Dundee’s common purpose is to prevent forcing life-or-death decisions for our beloved animal companions to be made on the basis of money alone. Vindication is not in outcomes, but in our being true to that purpose, without the assurance of cost-benefit projections. And it becomes clearer all the time (to me, at least) that what we are up against are not just the vicissitudes of individual circumstances that prevent us, sometimes, being able to afford to meet our most heartfelt obligations to care for our dependents, each other or our common earth.
We are taking on a piece of a system that is profoundly unjust and anti-life. When we come up against it, alone, it’s hard not to blame the person we see as closing the door on our hopes. But the veterinarian who tells us what treatment is needed and what it will cost cannot change the reality of what it costs her to live and meet her overhead. When she discounts or donates services, that comes out of her livelihood. What is amazing is how often healers do it anyway. They serve our common purpose, often with significant sacrifice.
But there is a real enemy. It is an economic system that rewards industries like Big Pharma for abandoning humanity and ethics, being devoted only to maximizing profits. They drive costs through the roof for everyone, while finding it cost-effective to market unnecessary, overpriced and dangerous products, bribe legislators and pay out billions to settle lawsuits brought by those they have harmed. So, while we help and support each other to care for our beloved animals, we also have skin in the game of challenging the unacceptable system and striving to change it.
We’ll keep hope alive in our hearts for Nikita and her family by cherishing our compassionate sextiped community and working to make things better.
Laurie Raymond owns High Tails Dog & Cat Outfitters in Glenwood Springs.
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