One day we were walking in the neighborhood and he got tired so I picked him up. While walking and holding him in the palm of my hand, I suddenly felt his little heart beat, and at that moment in time I stopped. It was one of those moments in one’s life when one realizes a universal truth that was hidden but always there, out of sight and out of mind. I realized for the first time in my life the incongruity, the paradox, the dissonance between what I felt for this four-legged non-human animal and my attitude toward the chickens, cows, and other birds and sea animals I did not care for and had no issue eating. That moment I realized what Nikita had become for me.
On the morning of November 28, 2012, I lost my teacher, my guru, my soul mate to cancer. Nikita was not an ordinary earthling; he was a furry, 9-pound Maltese with an attitude and plenty of love to give.
Nikita came into my life at a time when I was searching for meaning and for love. His arrival changed me forever. There is a saying that when the student is ready the teacher will appear. That is what happened in the summer of 1999 when my cousin asked me to take care of a small Maltese dog she had bought.
His stay with me was supposed to be for a short period, just until my cousin could find a place that would allow her to keep him. A month became a year, then a year turned into 13 years. Our start was rough. I was a lonely guy in my early forties in a big city, looking for love and meaning in my own life. As a relatively young doctor, I was determined to suppress the feeling of loneliness and the need for love by partying, buying meaningless toys and traveling to exotic shores—none of which brought me what I wanted so desperately.
Then one day, Nikita showed up in my life. As I mentioned before, our relationship was rough at the beginning. He peed and pooped everywhere, and barked non-stop. I had to feed him two to three times a day, walk him, clean his poop and pee, and take him for his shots, all of which prevented me from travelling and going out when I wanted. In other words, I had to learn to be a father. The transformation was gradual, but it was deep and permanent.
The idea that a little being depended on me for his existence was a very powerful concept that slowly hit me like a ton of bricks. I could no longer worry only about myself, because now I had him to worry about. Then something even more powerful happened. Nikita started following me around everywhere in my spacious home, and at nighttime he would snuggle up to me. Relentless in his determination to give me kisses, he would pin me down while on top of my chest and lick me clean. The idea that a four-legged living being (or for that matter, any being) can give so much love was so foreign to me that I didn’t know how to deal with it.
As time passed our bond grew stronger. Of course, I still had moments when I did not want him to be around, and I would sometimes call up a friend of mine who loved dogs to watch him for a few days. I would give some excuse, whether that I was going out of town or I was working a few days in a row. Sometimes my reasons where legitimate, but sometimes they were made up just to get away from him.
But the resistance I put up to avoid falling in love with Nikita gradually disappeared. Over time, our bond became complete. He was my universe and I, his. We started traveling all over the US together. When I was not working we would go to town, and to coffee shops together. I would drive around in my car, with his little head hanging out the window feeling the warm southwestern breath of Texas air.
People knew me as the guy who drove around with a little white puppy. Our love for each other was unbelievable. He was the child I never had, and he fulfilled my need to love and to be loved. But Nikita also did much more than that. He became my spiritual teacher, my “Guru” or “Buddha.”
His unconditional love for me and mine for him opened a door that had locked itself away in the deepest parts of my heart. He opened the floodgates of compassion that I never thought I had. One day we were walking in the neighborhood and he got tired so I picked him up. While walking and holding him in the palm of my hand, I suddenly felt his little heart beat, and at that moment in time I stopped. It was one of those moments in one’s life when one realizes a universal truth that was hidden but always there, out of sight and out of mind. I realized for the first time in my life the incongruity, the paradox, the dissonance between what I felt for this four-legged non-human animal and my attitude toward the chickens, cows, and other birds and sea animals I did not care for and had no issue eating.
That moment I realized what Nikita had become for me. He was sent from the universe to teach me not only to accept, receive, and give love, but also to see the beauty in nature, the beauty of all life, and to be one that cares for all sentient beings. He was teaching me to tread as lightly as I can on this fragile and beautiful planet, the only one we have.
My little guru started me on a road 13 years ago that has since changed my life. It has led me to dedicate my life to serving others, both human and non-human, and inspired me to renounce eating animals and thereby participating in the suffering of animals. He taught me to speak on behalf of the poor, the downtrodden and the voiceless. This eternal lesson is the gift my teacher, my guru, my soul mate Nikita has given me. Now that he has left me, every action I take toward caring for others—human and non-human—and every vegan meal I eat will be a testament to his enduring legacy and to his continued presence in my life. He is now part of me for all eternity. Nothing can separate us, and when my time comes I will join him and other loved ones for all eternity.