Nico, Indianapolis, IN

Hi. I’m Nico. You may know me or you may have seen my photograph that was circulating the world wide web last year. It’s been told a photograph says a thousand words. Some says my photograph united a thousand hearts.

I’m now a seven-year-old Dogo Argentino. When people first saw me last year, I was shown with bowed head, leaning against my kennel wall, looking like a beaten, depressed, dejected and forgotten creature. Perhaps you’ve seen it. If you have, you haven’t forgotten.

My story might have ended there, but when rescue volunteer and photographer Nikki Audet with The Mutt Scouts posted the photograph online to garner attention and hopefully spark someone into action, something amazing happened. My picture went viral, starting with Facebook. Suddenly, I became the unofficial poster dog for homeless dogs, reminding rescuers who they fight for every single day. And I needed that kind of fight. I was a mess: depressed, malnourished, beaten up, bloody, deaf and a “bully breed” to boot. My body was covered with scars and my ears looked like it has been cropped with kitchen sears. I also had a large tumor on my back, even more visible due to my emaciated frame. I didn’t stand a chance of getting out of the shelter. Until that photo of me went gangbusters.

A rescuer named Kelly Gibson from San Diego saw my portrait and acted on it. She operates a small rescue out of her home called Puggles and Pitties and is very active in animal transport so she’s no stranger to the shelter reality, but seeing my picture affected her deeply: I looked so defeated and had totally given up on life, and after all that, I now found myself in the awful South L.A. shelter. Things were going from bad to worse! She knew I had no chance of making it out alive. Especially because the shelter had noted on my record that I was dangerous, a biter, aggressive. But all she saw was a dog that had gotten a really bad chance at life.

So she traveled to Los Angeles to meet me, armed with plans to adopt me herself, take me to her own vet and have me humanely euthanized. She thought I deserved to die with more dignity and respect than I would ever be shown in the shelter. But the minute she walked up to my kennel and looked into my bi-colored eyes, my rescuer knew I was not just misjudged, but I was full of life. I gave her kisses and, despite being sick and filthy, acted sweet as a lamb. She knew right then that I needed help, and she was going to make it happen.

She changed her plan and decided I needed to be given a chance at life. Thanks in part to money raised by the volunteer/photographer, she worked with The Mutt Scouts and bailed me out of the shelter. I went into veterinary care as I waited for my rescuer to coordinate my transportation to the Humane Society for Hamilton County in Noblesville, IN. She has worked with the shelter’s executive director, who has a soft spot for Pits, and together, they arranged for my new life. It took weeks and 45 people to finesse the cross-country deal, but it happened. I arrived at the Humane Society safe and sound. There, I began his training and rehabilitation in search of my forever home.

But who knew my journey to a new life would also inspire so many others along the way?

After meeting me, people couldn’t believe how gentle and sweet I was, especially after what I had experienced. And what I experienced was a terrible life of neglect and abuse on the streets. Scary enough for any dog, but for a deaf dog, the days and nights must have been endless. Yes, I am deaf but I worked extensively with trainer and my foster mom to get me acquainted with rules, manners and commands. Showing what a smart dog I am, I picked up my lessons quickly.

In November 2009, I was nearly ready for a forever home. I’ve come so far. I looked like a different dog from the one you may have seen a few months earlier. Many people, having seen that photo, wanted to adopt me, but the one who eventually become my mom had no idea that I was a celebrity.

My mom and her partner were looking for a special-needs bully-breed dog to adopt, so a co-worker sent her my Hamilton County Humane Society’s page. It was the first she had seen of me. She immediately fell for me. She always root for the underdog and seeing my picture and reading my story made her want to rescue me and provide a good, stable environment for the rest of my days. When she called and asked if she could go for a visit, she couldn’t believe I was still available.

My mom raced down to the shelter the next day to meet me and fill out paperwork. She was surprised when, initially, the shelter was not keen on adopting me out. The staff feared I would be pursued based on my popularity, so they made sure my mom wanted me, not just Nico the Internet Dog. Once they realized she was legit, I was hers. And we’ve all been bonded ever since.

I have been in my forever home with my new sister, Brisby, a Dalmatian/Pit mix who is also deaf and white, two huge cats and 2 moms! I walk in parades with my moms and I love to sit up close on their feet so I knows when they are walking away. In general, I’m 100% low-key and behave like a true gentleman. On the other hand, I’m still just a big guy and I’ll get a wild hair in me once in a while. But I’m a mellow guy and I just love people and give lots of kisses. (I’m very generous with my kisses.)

I love to sleep, snore, play in the snow, cuddle, snort and pass gas. 🙂 (I’ve added so much stinky love to my moms’ lives.) I adore the snow, chewing, sleeping and baths. (Oh how I love my baths!) But perhaps the best thing I love to do is snuggle. I love snuggling with my mom in the morning.

My story is a success: From street dog to death-row dog to rescued canine to adored family member. But everyone involved in my journey knows that there are lots of other me’s in shelters all across the country, just waiting for their happy endings.

I did have a setback: The cancerous tumor that was discovered and removed shortly after my adoption has returned but they know that I will beat this just like all the other terrible things because I’m a loving fighter and I’m strong. I tried holistic meds but they did not work. I was then placed on 3 different chemo treatments (over 7 months) and it only made me ill. I am off meds now and am SO spunky, feisty and happy. I still have Cancer but I’m enjoying my family life and no longer live in fear or suffer through life. I have lots of fans on Facebook who send me messages of love and support.

So here I am, representing a dog that, given a chance, can give more love to a home and my humans because I am more grateful to have them.

Here’s a video of my story. Enjoy.

XO, Nico

Parents: Bridget Swan & Melissa Garris

Editor’s Note:
On January 27, 2016, at 5:52pm, Nico passed on to the Rainbow Bridge. From his family:

“He lived a harsh life for 6 years. He was rescued and never suffered one day for his remaining 6.5 years. That was a goal we always wanted for him… live a peaceful life longer than the harsh world he started in….

Cancer ultimately took Nico from all of us. His spirit was strong but his body was failing him. It was the only fight he did not win.” Thank you for being an inspiration, Nico.