The fact that Nicky can open his mouth at all is due in large part to Doug’s caring and timely intervention in the dog’s life. As a volunteer at the time for A Cause for Paws, Doug received an e-mail from the New Hope program of Animal Care & Control of NYC (AC&C) about a dog that had been found on a Bronx rooftop who couldn’t open his mouth. No one had any idea how long Nicky had been in this condition. It was clear, however, that the dog had been hit with a blunt instrument and left to die. Luckily, someone called the police and Nicky was taken to AC&C’s Manhattan shelter, where Doug first met him.
“His jaw was locked shut so he could only stick his tongue out a little to lap up kibble and water,” Doug recalls. He pulled Nicky from the shelter and placed him in a foster home with Garo Alexanian, another long-time animal rescuer and caregiver. It was Garo, says Doug, who first suggested they see if it were possible to get the dog’s jaw repaired. Doug contacted the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals to see if Nicky qualified for financial assistance from the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals Medical Fund, a special fund that pays for lifesaving medical treatment for sick and injured animals awaiting adoption. Nicky was deemed an appropriate recipient and was taken to NYC Veterinary Specialists (now BluePearl) for surgery.“The initial diagnosis was extremely poor,” Doug remembers. “The vet was wonderful but had never done this kind of surgery before. She couldn’t even move Nicky’s mouth a quarter of an inch while he was under anesthesia.” The vet, according to Doug, wound up essentially rebuilding Nicky’s jaw. She cut out a section of Nicky’s cheekbone and then re-hinged the jaw.
The surgery was successful and, during post-operative care, a visit from Doug coincided with Nicky’s first open-mouthed yawn. Doug vividly remembers that emotional moment. “It was incredible,” he says. He quickly adds, chuckling, “His breath was unbelievably bad!”
When he was well enough to be released, Nicky returned to foster care with Garo. Shortly thereafter, Cathie Xenakis and her family, who were looking for a second dog to be a companion to their German Shepherd Abby, paid a visit to Garo. They initially wanted another German Shepherd, but the entire family, including Abby, found Nicky irresistible. “Out comes this dog,” recalls Cathie, “his face is crooked and he’s underweight but his tail is wagging. He’s as happy as can be. He was such a happy mess I fell in love with him!”
The Xenakis family adopted Nicky and whisked him off to their home in New Jersey, where the young dog continued to thrive. According to Cathie, “he grew up and grew out.” In the time he’s lived in his loving and nurturing home Nicky has gained more than 20 pounds and he now also boasts a sleek and shiny coat.Nicky is an integral member of the family, having instantly formed bonds that have deepened over time. “He and Abby are like siblings,” says Cathie. The two spend their days together, playing and cuddling. But Nicky is also very much a “people dog,” Cathie says, laughing. “He’s such a goofball sometimes. When you come home he just runs around because he’s so happy.”
A happy Nicky is just who greeted Doug on Doug’s recent visit. And, while Nicky clearly remembered Doug, Doug has never forgotten Nicky either.
Nicky and his situation had such an impact on Doug that, at Ready for Rescue, which he founded in 2009, he has made rehabilitating injured and sick animals a main focus. “Nicky was the first animal I helped who needed special care,” he states. “He is the dog that inspired me to do the work I do today.”