"We were best buddies," says Rick Sirmans, a 36-year-old Steilacoom journeyman carpenter, "we were never apart. It's been almost two months and I'm still hurting."
Sirmans still recalls vividly and tearfully what unfolded March 24 in a heavily wooded area in Lacey. "I took Nike to work with me, like I did almost every day since I got him. He always hung around close by. Seldom did he ever get out of sight and when he did, I just call and he'd be right there in a few seconds."
But that day Nike roamed a bit farther than normal and was picked up by an animal-control officer patrolling a nearby neighborhood.
"By 2:30 that afternoon I began searching for him. By 5:30, 1 was frantic and drove to downtown Lacey to find the dog pound. I was informed that I would have to go to Olympia to the animal shelter, so I returned home to Steilacoom to call for more information.
"I was told animal control had picked up my dog at 10:15 a.m. I made arrangements to pick him up that night, after hours. The night man met me and we went into the kennel to get Nike.
"He could be identified easily, since he had an injured front leg, which I had bandaged that morning. The pickup slip made out by the animal-control officer noted the bandaged front leg, so I knew Nike was there. As we passed each pen, I expected to see his happy face looking up at me.
"But no Nike. The kennel attendant suggested, that since the dog had an injured limb, he was probably taken to a nearby veterinary hospital for treatment and that somehow the paperwork had been overlooked.
"I wanted to make sure he wasn't there," Sirmans recalls, "so I went into the back room where they keep the animals euthanized that day, stuffed into trash cans waiting for disposal. I saw a little black dog, but when I looked real close, I didn't recognize Nike."
Sirmans returned, spending a "restless night praying for my dog."
The next morning he was informed that Nike had been euthanized "by mistake" and would he please return to Olympia to identify him.
"When I saw Nike, I became ballistic," he says. "They called the police and I was escorted out the back door and told how sorry they were. . . and would I like a refund. Can you believe it? Then they asked if I would please stop shouting because I was upsetting the people inside. Then, I asked them, `Well, what about me. What about my feelings!' "
Sirmans is still grieving today. "Don't let anyone ever tell you grown men don't cry. Not a day goes by when I don't think about that little guy."
Sirmans' hurt ignited into anger in the days that followed. "This shouldn't happen to anyone," he says, "so I decided to get legal counsel." He hired an attorney, Steve Ann Chambers of Seattle, whom he was directed to by the Progressive Animal Welfare Society in Lynnwood.
Through a demand letter to the executive director of animal control for the city of Lacey, Sirmans sought $10,000 in damages. He settled for $1,000 earlier this month.
"It wasn't about money," he says, "it was about making the agency accountable for its actions and changing the system so this won't happen to others.
"Nike was priceless. There's no way you can place a value on a friendship like we had. One million dollars wouldn't be enough. He used to play ball, Frisbee and fetch every day. And he'd go in the Sound after sticks I'd toss out. He went everywhere with me in the pickup truck. There is no excuse for this kind of mistake," he says.
A byproduct of Nike's case will be a more thorough tagging and intake information on each animal, according to Susanne Beauregard, director of animal services for Thurston County. "This should never have happened," she says. "Because we have two to three dogs per run, some of which look very similar, sometimes there's confusion. Nike had a leg wrap when he came in, but by that night it was off.
"To hopefully eliminate this happening again, we now place a yellow-and-black collar with a tag on each incoming animal. The tag number matches a number on incoming paper work, which notes when and where the animal was picked up."
Sirmans, however, places considerable blame on himself. "Nike didn't have an ID tag or license and he was running loose. I have that to answer for. If he'd had a ID tag, I'm certain he'd be alive today. And obviously, I should have kept a closer eye on him. Third, he should have been neutered.
"I hope others can learn from my mistakes and that of the shelter. Don't wait till the next day to buy a license or ID tag. The next day may be too late. Every day I look down beside me wishing he were there. I see a stick laying on the ground and go to pick it up. I have to wait a split second to remember, Knothead's (he used to call Nike that in jest) gone. He had a heart, brains and all the right moves. Now he's just a memory."
Does your dog have a Jekyl and Hyde personality? Is it sweet and lovable when it's around you but turn into a menace when you leave home?
Do you come home to a house of chewed-up furniture or angry neighbors complaining about howling? Likely, your dog is suffering from separation anxiety - that is, distress at being left alone.
Quaker Professional Services is offering a free booklet, "The Dog That Cannot be Left Alone," which addresses subjects such as attachment and separation anxiety, characteristics of separation anxiety, treating separation anxiety, safety signals, long absences, anti-anxiety medication, punishment.
To receive a copy, send a business-sized, stamped, self-addressed envelope to Quaker Professional Services, "Home Alone. . .," Dept. M216, 585 Hawthorne Court, Galesburg, IL 61401.
-- Mail information regarding dog/cat events to Classified Division, attn. Marilyn Fairbanks, Dog/Cat Events, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA. 98111. All releases must be in writing and received by Monday prior to Sunday publication. Be sure to include a public phone-contact number. Also don't forget to phone in for my pet tip of the week on The Seattle Times Infoline, 464-2000, then press PETS (7387).