THE BLOG

Thank You God for Bringing This Amazing Spirit Into My Life

05/09/2014 12:31 pm ET | Updated Jul 08, 2014
  • Greg Louganis Four-time Olympic gold medalist, gay man living with HIV, and activist

Nipper.

An amazing little girl! Thank you God for bringing this amazing spirit into my life.

She wasn't supposed to "stay" with me, as I had my Great Danes, and I was not a "terrier person," but I was eager to do the training. I was getting her ready to attend film festivals around the world for Steve Kmetko. We went to Cannes, Venice, Toronto Film Festivals; we saw much of the world together. She was feisty, she was naughty, she always made us laugh, I never knew a more intelligent dog. Sitting at a table in France with a plate of pomme frites in front of her as she watched us eat, always the little lady. She traveled the world. Once Steve said she had too much energy for him -- "I think I want a Yorkie." What was I to do? I was a Dane person! As a pup, she would be hanging from the lip of my Great Dane, Ryan Luke, she would treat Freeway's tail as a tug toy with four paws off the ground! I HAD to find her a home! I looked and looked, but no home was good enough, because she needed a "job!" Steve was right!

So we started training for competition obedience. Our first novice trial, we made it through, until our long "sits" and "downs." I was a newbie, so I didn't want to be "out of line," as we lined up for our long sit, she sat, we left our dogs, it was a hot day, all the dogs were in the shade of some trees but our spot was the only one in the sun. Being the "good boy," I kept the line straight so she was the only one in the sun, as we turned to face our dogs, I saw her look left, and then right, she looked at me, and she got up, took a few steps into the shade and sat, and continued to focus on me. As I returned, smiling, I knew we failed the exercise. I knew I had the smartest dog out there! Even the judge smiled and chuckled saying, "I am sorry you failed, but you have the smartest dog out here." There her fan club started to grow in the obedience ring. We never knew what Nipper was going to do! In "Open" another hot day, on the retrieve of the dumb bell, she dashed out picked it up, looked at me and retreated to the shade of a tree! Another time she got so excited she did a tumble, never missing a step, on her return, which was pretty typical of her. With her exuberance she would jump up and push off of my legs and plop her little butt down, so proud! Not a fail, but definitely points off. We didn't pass with high scores. She would often heel, bouncing up and down by my side, but when I would stop she would again plop her little butt on the ground and look up, almost smiling at me. I remember when she earned her "Open" title for her long "sits" and "downs" with handlers out of sight, this little white 12-pound dog between a large German Shepard and a huge Rottweiler. I feared she would fail -- she had issues with big black dogs, a couple nasty experiences. But she did it! I was so happy and so proud! We got to "Utility" pretty quick, she enjoyed that much more, no long "sits" and "downs" in sight or out of sight. When we did articles or directed retrieves, she never missed! Although one time, it was a hot day, the judge said "take your number fours," of course that was one leather and one metal article or dumb bell. I did, it was leather first, she went to the pile and sniffed out her number four and brought it back and held it until I was asked to take it from her -- "finish your dog." With a waive of my hand she would jump and turn and land in her heel position! "Exercise finished." We were close to getting a qualifying score, just one more article, my metal number four! I sent her out, and it must have been in the sun a bit too long, she sniffed it out and brought back my number four and spit it at my feet! Well, since I didn't have to take a step to pick it, we passed! She went from her "Novice" to "Utility" title in 8.5 months, earning her a special award from Front and Finish magazine! She did accumulate a fan club at trials, as she was SO entertaining! I think I was too dumb to be embarrassed, not high scores, but it wasn't about that for me, she made me laugh!

During this time, it was more travel to Chicago for Just Say No, a Larry Kramer play, and Hollywood Florida for Nun-Sense Ah-men -- she had her own "habit!" She was patient with her dad, but she always knew the last number and was ready to play!

This was also a time in my HIV treatment protease inhibitors were experimental and IL 2 treatments explored. These were very trying times for me, and even though she wanted to get out and play, she would snuggle under the cover, curl up against my stomach, and when I lifted the covers to check on her, it was like her eyes said, "It's okay Daddy, we can play later," and nestled in as long as it took to come back to being more myself. It was then I secretly had an unspoken vow to her, capsulized in a song from Passions:

Loving you is not a choice
And not much reason to rejoice,
But it gives me purpose
Gives me voice to say to the world:
This is why I live
You are why I live.

Loving you is why I do
The things I do
Loving you is not in my control.
But loving you, I have a goal
For what's left of my life...

I would live,
And I would die for you.

Words I believed in my heart and never shared until now. But she taught me I do have a voice and a purpose beyond my love for her.

She gave me three puppies, not an easy birthing -- her temperature dropped and she went into labor. After a number of hours she stopped, I rushed her in first thing and told the vet to get these puppies out! Fleur, who was the biggest was breach, none of the puppies were breathing at first. We placed them in our hands on their back and began to swing them between our legs to clear their lungs of fluid. It worked! They did survive, but Fleur, who is now Louise, had an off-set jaw and couldn't suckle. Nipper kept pushing her away, and I ended up tube feeding her for nearly 3.5 weeks. Just when I was ready to give up, Christine Burton gave me the moral support I needed to keep going -- she was right and she thrived!

Winky and Dobby, looking like bookends of each other, only Winky had a black spot on her rear, she showed far more talent in dog agility, which was my next adventure with Nipper. The trouble was Dobby was attached at the hip, wouldn't let me out of his sight, followed me everywhere! Oye! I separated them at six weeks and for the next six months worked with each individually. Often Nipper was there for support, racing them through a tunnel or across a dog walk. Of course it was no contest, Nipper was fast and they were just little. I decided to keep Dobby, I just couldn't let him go, but he was able to be a teammate with his sister at some dog agility events.

Nipper in dog agility was a hoot! When I wasn't clear or fast enough for her to cue the next obstacle, she let me and she let EVERYONE know it! She also thought slowing down for contacts and pause tables were far overrated!

She introduced me to some amazing people in the world of dog agility! She was also comfortable with the celebrity photo shoots, she could also work a camera, hit her mark, had a handful of non-verbal hand cues she could do. Most impressive was her handstand against the wall -- very cute and very funny.

Daniel was a fixture at the trials, setting up, getting treats ready, beds made for everyone as we settled into the day of trialing. All the other handlers were jealous, saying they were going to steal him from me. It was a wonderful adventure, traipsing around the country in a 40' RV with usually three or more dogs, but Nipper was queen!

We were struck hard with financial issues, basically trusting the wrong people. Well, we were facing the possibility of living out of the RV, Nipper, Gryff my border Collie, and Dobby, Nipper's son, and a new addition -- Hedwig, a Hungarian Pumi. It was all set: We would move and park the RV as our home in Florida.

Once I struggled with getting "real" with myself, I shared with Daniel I couldn't do it. California is my home, and I didn't want to give up my "home" without a fight. After looking after my parents in their last chapter of life, I knew the importance for Daniel to be there for his parents and supported that wholeheartedly, but I just couldn't do it with him. We agreed a long-distance relationship would not work for either of us, so we agreed to split. I knew I would be taking Nipper and Dobby, which was so logical to a "no brainer" to and me! But Daniel, being the voice of reason and logic, pointed out the fact Nipper was going blind and losing her hearing, and a bit incontinent, and it would be difficult to travel with her. After sleeping on it, and through many tears, I knew he was right -- in her older age she needed stability, and my life at that moment in time was anything but. I had no idea if I would be homeless, and if I did need to call on friends, I might be able to ask them to take in one dog and me. Nipper I knew would be spoiled by her new grandparents, and Daniel loved all the dogs. It was the right thing to do, but "right" isn't always easy.

She truly was my superstar, on so many levels. You almost made it to 17; I knew it would be selfish of me to ask you to try to hang on. Daniel, you stayed by her side, my wishes for her, and you gave her something I couldn't give at given time in my life. I thank you for that. I really thought I could not go on if she were gone, but I know once the tears dry she will again inspire me to embrace my life as it is now. I met with a friend, James Van Praagh, not for a "reading," just as friend sharing a dinner, and he said he saw my mother with me, and that I am surrounded by animals, mostly by dogs, big ones and little ones. Now I am sure you are head of the pack, Freeway my guardian and you, my 'lil Nipper, my lessons to live and love and forgive and play. Even at times you could be the "fun police" with other dogs.

Love, Me