Sunday, September 5, 2010

Nico Update

Do you remember Nico?

Original post dated Sept 9, 2009:


This story begins with a photograph…probably the most compelling photo I’ve ever seen in my time working in animal welfare as it represents so perfectly the sadness and hopelessness these animals often feel as they sit in shelters waiting for a home, or in this case, for the end to come. The photo went out on Face Book the last week of July, and so began the amazing story of redemption for a dog named Nico.

A local rescuer was at the Los Angeles shelter where Nico had arrived as a stray and took this photo of him in his kennel. Moved by the story it told, she posted it on Face Book in the hopes someone might offer to help this physically and emotionally broken dog. To her surprise, the photo spread like wild fire across the U.S. capturing the attention of a woman in San Diego named Kelly Gibson who coordinates animal transports across the country saving hundreds of animals’ lives. Kelly decided to drive to Los Angeles to meet the dog who had touched so many with this haunting image.

Kelly entered Nico’s kennel with warnings from the staff that they didn’t know much about his temperament, only that he is deaf and she should be careful. Kelly knew within moments of stooping down in front of Nico, an approximately 6 year old Dogo Argentino, that this was no ordinary dog. Nico greeted her with a kiss and a beautiful gaze of one bright blue eye and one hazel eye. He was horribly thin and covered in sores, cuts, scars and fleas. The poor condition of his skin and coat as well as several missing teeth were all indications of a dog who has suffered from malnutrition most of his life. A large tumor on his back was especially noticeable on his emaciated body. He was indeed deaf which is not uncommon of pure white dogs, but he managed to communicate loud and clear his delight that Kelly had stopped by to see him that day. He was gentle, loving and gracious…and he was scheduled to die unless someone rescued him and soon.

I’ve known Kelly for about a year now as she has helped us by transporting some of our canine residents to out of state rescues where they’ve been adopted into loving homes. Kelly knows how hard our organization works to find homes for even the hardest to place pets, and she knows that we do not discriminate against any breed, senior pets, or animals with disabilities. She knew when she met Nico that we were his best chance for a second chance.

Kelly and I began working on a plan to get Nico out of this kill-shelter and to safety. Working with a local Los Angeles based rescue organization called The Mutt Scouts, she was able to pull Nico from the facility and board him at a vet clinic where he would be treated for upper respiratory and wait out the three weeks it would take to coordinate his transport.

Kelly started working her magic that involved close to 45 people needed to transport and board Nico during his two week journey across the country from L.A. to Noblesville, Indiana. Kelly also established an online fundraising page that helped us raise $2,000 to put toward his boarding, transport and medical care.

On our end, we approached the Invisible Fence Company about the possibility of them fostering Nico at their facility and allowing one of their trainers, Julie Case, to train him. As a deaf dog with a painful history, he would require special training and care. After seeing Nico’s photo, they couldn’t say no, and agreed to let Nico stay with them for as long as it takes to find him a permanent home.

With a transport in place, the generous donations from hundreds of people from all over the country, and the Invisible Fence Company willing to take Nico in, we had all the pieces in place to finally get Nico to Indiana.

But as it would turn out, Nico wouldn’t travel alone. You see, next to Nico at that Los Angeles shelter was another dog sitting on death row we now call Jug Head. His big smile, blue eyes and beaming personality caught Kelly’s attention during her visit with Nico. Another plea for help on Face Book would catch the attention of Iron Underdawgs Pit Bull Rescue here in Indiana, and they generously offered up one of their foster homes to take Mr. Jug Head in until he found a forever home.
So with their bags packed and a bright future ahead, Nico and Jug Head began their journey to their new homes here in Indiana.

Nico and Jug Head arrived at the Humane Society for Hamilton County on Saturday, August 29th to open arms and lots of kisses. WRTV Channel 6 was there to film their arrival and featured the story on the news that evening. Julie, his foster/ trainer, and Nico became immediate friends and Jug Head was quite the hit.

Updates of Nico’s progress will be featured here each week. Below is our update after week one:

Nico is adjusting very well to his new surroundings. He has been examined by Dr. Risser at Fall Creek Veterinary Clinic and is being treated for a bacterial skin infection. Once that is under control, he’ll have the tumor on his back removed and be neutered.

In the mean time, he has begun basic training and socialization with Julie. He is responding well to the clicker training concept but she flashes a light instead. Nico is VERY treat motivated and knows sit, down and stay. His favorite toy is a bright orange ball they put treats in and he tries to sneak away with the stuffed animals on display in the waiting room. Sadly, both Eyore and Winnie the Pooh are missing limbs.

Nico is learning something every day, but also gets plenty of play time as you can see. I don’t know about you, but it looks like he’s feeling a little better about life these days.

Nico Working

Nico Play Time

Nico Update: September 24, 2009
Julie Case, Trainer & Foster

Nico is doing very well adapting to his new schedule and place. He is very sweet and affectionate to anyone who comes up to pet him. He is showing zero signs of stress and his appetite is excellent.

Nico responds to training very well, but we definitely have a lot to learn. He shows zero evidence of ever being exposed to any rules. You can clearly see he has had to survive on his own for some time. I train with visual markers and signals. One of the most important things for Nico to learn is to always pay attention to his handler. He is learning to focus on me and watch me at all times. I use a key chain light as the visual marker of any behavior I like. He has learned SIT, DOWN, STAY, HEEL, COME, LETS GO, PLACE and NO! No was our biggest challenge. He had to accept and make sense of “NO”, which meant whatever he is doing he, for some mysterious reason, had to stop, for example peeing on furniture, chewing on leashes and collecting whatever he wants from table tops and trash cans – all the fun things.

What amazes me is that he shows no signs of food or toy aggression. You would think after starving and being through all the tough times, he would be very possessive of his food. I can easily take a bone from his mouth or stick my hand in his food bowl while he is eating and Nico does not mind it at all. He thinks toys are magical and he collects them in his basket, always amazed by how many the basket will hold. His favorite thing is to go to the pet store and pick out a new toy.
Nico gets along with dogs here in school and so far has not shown any signs of dog aggression.

Trying to impress the ladies, he has learned to run on a treadmill and is getting in a better physical shape already. I’m so pleased with his progress and see nothing but a bright future for him.

Nico Making (& Smelling) New Friends

Discovering the magic of toys. . .


Almost a year later, this is what Nico's doing now:


Last year, guest blogger Janet Kinosian shared the story of Nico, a shelter dog who was rescued through the efforts of Southern California rescuers and a community of animal-loving Facebook users. Since then, Nico's story has gotten even better; here, Kinosian fills us in on what's been going on in the life of this hard-luck dog who became one of the luckiest couch potatoes in Indiana.

Nico9 Nico8

Remember Nico, the defeated deaf white Dogo Argentino at South Los Angeles animal shelter -- who moved so many people with the sad photo of him first posted on Facebook? Nico, the forlorn animal who evoked the agony and utter defeat so many discarded animals must experience? Well, it's a joy to update you on Nico's life.

Just look at these two photos side by side: Can this possibly be the same animal?

Photos like the one on the left aren't anything new on the Web: Tens of thousands flood Facebook alone on a daily basis. What was different about Nico's photo, though, was what it captured: the loneliness of an animal that lay against the shelter's wall full of sadness, seeming to have lost all hope. That only spurred on Southern California rescuers.

And that's where the photo on the right comes in.

Things have worked out well for Nico SwanGarris. That's his new name and he lives now with his two moms and new sister, Brisby, a pit bull mix who is also deaf and white, in Indiana. He still loves balls, baths and life as a major couch potato, says Bridget Swan, who, with her partner Melissa, adopted Nico in November 2009.


Last August, Southern California animal rescuer Nikki Audet first posted Nico's photo on Facebook, and Kelley Gibson, a rescuer and animal transporter based in a San Diego, helped get him to the Hamilton County Humane Society in Indianapolis. Nico likely didn't know how lucky a hand he'd been dealt.

He quickly went through training to help him with issues resulting from his deafness and teach him how to navigate in a world of sound. His bumps and nicks and battle scars were attended to. He was happy and safe when Bridget and Melissa decided they wanted to adopt a dog, and Bridget's friend said she should see this dog at the local humane society.

Swan remembers that, at first, the animal agency was a bit wary of her adopting Nico. She didn't understand why until she was clued in by shelter staff that Nico was a bit of a celebrity and they wanted to make sure she was adopting him for the right reasons.

These days Nico walks in parades with his new moms, “loves to sit up close on your feet so he knows when you are walking away,” says Swan, and “in general is 100% low-key. He'll get a wild hair in him once in a while, but he's a mellow guy, and he deserves it after all he went through back then. He just loves people -- despite whatever was done to him -- and gives lots of kisses. He's very generous and free with his kisses. He's just so dependent on us, and he likes to hang with you 24/7.”


Nico has had one setback: A cancerous tumor was discovered and removed shortly after his adoption. Recently, Swan and Garris learned that the cancer has returned, but they remain optimistic about his future. "We are attempting a holistic approach so that we can hopefully avoid an ear amputation," Swan says. "We know that he will beat this just like all the other terrible things he has put up with in the past. He is a loving fighter and is strong."

According to Swan, finding toys for Nico can be a bit of a problem, as he loves and chews up Kongs, bones and anything he can wrap his canines around. He also has hundreds of fans on Facebook who hear about his daily happenings and send him messages of love and support.

Asked what Nico might say now that he's safe and sound, Swan replies: “The main message is this: Just because it's a cute small dog or puppy doesn't mean it'll be your best companion. Go for the downtrodden, defeated dogs, look at the underdog, because they will give you all their love and gratitude and forever be grateful you literally saved their life.”

So this soulful, special dog, once full of sadness, now lives out the good life in the Midwest. It's the happy story ending all dog rescuers wish for but often don't always see -- though every animals deserve nothing less. We're wishing Nico a happy, healthy and cancer-free future!

-- Janet Kinosian









Nancy Bailey said...

Absolutely beautiful. Thank you to everyone who saved Nico's life. True heroes! You are such an angel Nico.

Vanessa said...

Yaaay Nico!! Anybody have an update on Jug Head? Did he find his forever home?