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Sputnik was a Rat Terrier, although his dark brindle markings would have disqualified him from registration with either the AKC or UKC. He was about 17 years old when he passed away in 2020. He weighed 18 pounds and stood 15 inches at the withers. I found him listed on Petfinder.com and adopted him when he was about one year old. Sputnik came from a shelter in New Jersey where nothing was known about his background. At the shelter, he briefly went by the name of "Jax". My name for him comes from our mutual love of balls: mine being 1960s signs such as these and these. Sputnik's ears looked very much like the spikey projections of these signs. The actual Russian translation of his name is "fellow traveler" which was also very appropriate.

In his youth, Nik had boundless energy and was crazy about toys, especially balls. When I adopted him, his teeth were already ground down to stumps from obsessive chewing on tennis balls. He also loved stuffed toys and squeak toys but gutted them instantly. If a toy wasn't handy, an empty bottle or a tiny piece of paper was a fine substitute. His high-pitched screaming and manic barking were luckily only an outdoor phenomenon. A few times, his screams actually frightened squirrels enough to make them panic and fall from trees. I trained Nik for agility but he didn't enjoy competition since you can't bring a ball into the ring. We developed our own form of agility using trees, trash cans, benches, etc.

In 2008, I discovered that Nik was completely blind in his right eye. The vet believed it was probably a genetic defect. The retina in that eye was completely detached. He may have even been blind in that eye when I adopted him. Despite the handicap, he caught balls with great precision and was able to leap and go around objects efficiently at top speed. Nik evidently developed his own system for depth perception.

In 2011, I began to notice some vision loss in his left eye. The vet detected the beginning stage of a cataract. The consistency of the eye was too soft for an operation. It would most likely result in retinal detachment (blindness) like the other eye. At that point, Nik probably only had 2% of vision in his one good eye. I had to be careful where I ran him since he didn't see poles, chain link fencing, dips, and sometimes trees or people. We stuck to big grassy areas and beaches. He could see just enough to run full speed, parallel to the water,and listen for the ball's bounce and then fine tune to find it with his nose. Luckily, among the many tricks that I taught him over the years, he knew the words "left" and "right" which allowed me to help him find his toys. He also ground to a crawl when I said "careful" which meant he was approaching an object.

By 2014, Nik was completely blind. However, his enthusiasm for life was undiminished. For a few years, he could hear the remote racecar and loved to chase its fake motor sounds. However, his hearing went wonky. He could hear but couldn't tell direction. He still liked to play with balls, throwing them and then hunting them down with his nose. When he was home, he preferred to be alone and sleep in the closet. He was always fairly autistic (not big on petting, preferring his own world, and was highly obsessive). He was a very special dog and I will always miss him.

photos taken the day I adopted him, no muscles yet and such an innocent face:

rare motionless moments:

action photos below thanks to Misa Martin

Nik needed foot/leg wraps when the ground was frozen/icy or he came home with bloody feet

Nik was fast and fearless in the water. He loved scaling the waves and riding them in pursuit of his ballie.

"Throw it!"
(photos thanks Eric Maierson)
Nik was crazy about lure coursing Nik & the Pacific

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