2013-05-29 / Columnists
Pets pets pets
My Memorial Day “Pets” column is a few days late because I had to re-read portions of the novel, The Art of Racing in the Rain to pinpoint how the book parallels a discovery concerning “Nike” a Babylon Town Shelter, turned Last Hope rescue dog, and how our tiny Terrier connects to “Nickie,” a valiant World War II veteran and the late grandfather of Nike’s new mom. This story is incredible, yet true.
Those familiar with the bestseller by Garth Stevens will know that our local dog story is the reverse sequence of the author’s touching tale of Enzo, an old dog recounting his life with racing car driver Denny, his devoted owner. Enzo believes he is a human soul trapped inside a dog’s body. Fans of the book reading this “Pets” might agree that Enzo and Nike may have you looking at your dog in a different way.
Death and possible reincarnation are central themes in the book. The senior Lab narrator, Enzo, comments from his unique canine perspective. About the moment of death, on page 314, he says: “And, anyway, it is not for me to decide. My soul has learned what it came to learn, and all other things are just things.”
Concerning reincarnation, on page 312, Enzo makes a promise: “When I return to this world, I will be a man. I will walk among you…I will shake hands with other men, grasping firmly with my opposable thumbs. And I will teach people all that I know. And when I see a man or a woman or a child in trouble, I will extend my hand, both metaphorically and physically. I will offer my hand. To him. To her. To you. To the world, I will be a good citizen, a good partner in the endeavor of life that we all share.”
“Nike”: Last October, “Nike,” a six-monthold scruffy Terrier pup, was turned in to Babylon Shelter by people who claimed they had too many dogs. Their surrender sheet showed that they didn’t even know their pup was a male, but he did already have the name “Nike” which is significant later in this story. They mentioned that his brother was probably his father, making poor Nike inbred.
I brought “Nike” to Last Hope in Wantagh nine days before the storm, but at that time we didn’t know (or believe) there would be such a storm. He was fostered during Sandy, and later adopted by a wonderful family in Merrick. Mom, Jennifer, and Holly, age 8, are Last Hope volunteers.
A match made in heaven? Holly wanted a dog for a long time. To show that she would be responsible, her parents (both teachers) asked her to “walk” a toy dog three times a day for a month. Then Holly and her mom began helping at the Last Hope Dog Center. Nike, once discarded, is now cherished by three children- Holly, Vincent, 6, and Francesca, 5. He sleeps and “bathes” with them. He even likes the family guinea pig named Owen.
Nike had been sick recently, so I have been speaking with Jen, his mom. That is how I learned about the remarkable, old family photo. Jen mentioned she had just finished The Art of Racing in the Rain, and how it made you wonder about reincarnation, or the chance of departed loved ones watching over us.
Grandfather “Nickie”: Jen’s late grandfather Nicholas “Nickie” Capece, a true dog devotee, landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day, fought at the Battle of the Bulge, in “Rhineland,” as his Army honorable discharge states, as well as at other European battles during World War II.
A Bronx native, Jen’s grandfather was drafted in 1942 while his wife was expecting Jen’s dad. He didn’t meet his son, and only child, until the war was over in 1945. To those lucky enough to have known him, Nicholas Capece was a member of “The Greatest Generation,” all who fought because it was the right thing to do. He was the salt of the earth, a wonderful family man who died, not in combat, but still far too young.
Grandfather Nickie owned a window shade shop in Elmont after the war. He was a big animal lover, and it seemed that all his dogs wound up with the name “Lucky.” One was a Collie; another a mixed breed who would wait by the door for his owner “Nickie” to come home from the shop each evening. After Grandfather Nickie died unexpectedly in his sleep at age 65, Jen’s grandmother said that “Lucky II” continued his sad vigil each night until years later when she found his lifeless body waiting at the door.
Jen was very close to her grandfather who died in the 1980s. Her dear grandmother is gone five years now. Her family and her brothers’ families spend a lot of time together. Recently when going through her grandfather’s military albums, she found a photo from Belgium. Her grandfather, posing with his fellow soldiers, had written his name “Nickie” pointing to himself with an arrow. Sitting on his lap is a little Terrier who looks exactly like “Nike.” The photo takes your breath away.
Are the names “Nicky/Nike” a coincidence? Someone once said that coincidences are God’s way of remaining anonymous. Need further convincing that our departed loved ones are nearby? Read, or re-read, The Art of Racing in the Rain. (Jen says that since the World War II photo was discovered, Nike’s new nickname is “Enzo.”)
Free Rabies Vaccine Clinic: Sat., June 1 from 11 to 2 p.m. Last Hope is hosting this free clinic at Babylon Shelter. All LI owners are welcome. Dogs must be leashed; cats must be in carriers. Babylon Shelter is also offering $25 microchips, including registration. Babylon Town Shelter (631- 643-9270), Lamar St., W. Babylon,