In 2012, our school did our first herbal medicine clinic in Nicaragua with about 22 of our students and staff. Our clinical herbalist students were doing free herbal clinics for the village we stayed in, and our off-grid engineering students were working on slow sand water filtration units for a contaminated well. This is where we met Nica.
When I first saw her, she was starving to death. Thirteen pounds, a walking skeleton … she had big paws and deep soulful eyes. The children of the village took turns throwing rocks at her, and against the advice of the group leader our school was there with, I stood in front of her to protect her from the abuse. I think that was the moment I decided I wanted to bring her home with us. I talked with Sam, and as a school, we decided to figure out a way to rescue her from certain death.
Our students secretly fed her high protein energy bars and watched with amazement as she tore through the camp with boundless energy for the first time. We asked the village’s elders if they would allow us to take her and they agreed to it. Getting her out of the jungle was going to be a challenge. It was a 6-mile hike back to our base camp with all our gear, and she would have to follow us out.
I spent most of that hike looking back to see if she was able to keep up, and if she could make it. At one point, a large hog charged her and she fled into the jungle. And at another point, she was chased by a pair of aggressive dogs and disappeared. My heart sank and I thought she had turned back.
Finally the truck with the rest of our gear gave us a lift and I saw that she’d found us again. As the truck passed her up, I saw her behind us, running for everything she was worth, refusing to be left behind. Even when she fell out of sight, she kept after us, even through a low creek that she had to wade through. (she shows up on the last few minutes of this video below…)
Nica had the spirit of a true survivor, and we knew she had to come home with us. Thankfully we had a friend there who helped connect us with a local vet who cared for her over the next 5 months, treating everything that was wrong with her. She was anemic, had parasites, had heartworms and fleas, but was 13 pounds of hopeful.
Our students wanted to adopt her to stay at our San Antonio campus as the school mascot. Students pitched in funds, and we made it happen! When I went to pick her up from the Houston airport, she was terrified but seemed delighted to have affection, food and love.
Adjustment to life outside the jungle village took a long time. She had to learn from our other dogs about everything. She was a runner. She was mischievous. And most of all, she was demanding in her need for one-on-one focus and love from us. Probably from her hardships she endured, Nica developed a taste for luxury, and would always be found on the softest bed she could find, atop piles of even softer blankets. I called her the Princess and the Pea.
As school mascot, Nica was always in trouble. She’d station herself next to the student campfire, and on more than one occasion helped herself to unattended meat that was cooking. She’d make herself at home in any unzipped tent with a soft sleeping bag and if there was a crash of pans, and a bellow, you’d be sure it was Sam yelling her name as she fled from the scene of another crime.
If there was trouble a dog could get in, she did it. Nica was also the most intelligent dog we’ve ever had. She avoided being skunked, she avoided being injured, and had the uncanny ability to disappear moments before being discovered for the latest infraction, and turn up later with a “who me?” look of disbelief.
Nica died yesterday of kidney failure. We’ve fostered and adopted many many dogs over the years, and Nica was surely one of the most hopeful and happiest dogs we’d ever rescued. Even in her last hours, she thumped her tail and laid a paw over our hands as we wept for her, trying to comfort us.
Nica has always loved lying in the sun, soaking in all that energy. In Texas when it was triple digit heat and oppressive, you would still find her lounging in full sun. Sam affectionately called her his ‘sun doggie’. When she would finally come inside, her shiny black fur would radiate warmth, and she’d nestle down with whichever dog in the pack with the weakest resistance to snuggling that day.
Our home feels empty without your big happy and pushy personality. Our hearts feel the pain of watching you go. Our school can’t replace you, a true survivor.
Summerlands, sweet Nica.
We have fostered and adopted dozens of dogs over the years, and it is one of the greatest joys of the work we have done. Please consider donating, fostering or adopting from one of the many shelters that work with sweet souls like Nica. Here are a couple of our favorites that we have worked with and can vouch for.
Nica has traveled from the jungles of Nicaragua thousands of miles and 10 years in which we tried to spoil her as much as we could, and was laid to rest under a juniper tree in the sun, here in the mountains of our Taos clinical campus.