First-time dog owner Camilo Hernandez held tight to the leash as his 50-pound dog dragged him down the beach, the big dog occasionally jumping in to the incoming tide with a tennis ball in his mouth and wide grin on his face. It is a dogs’ happy place at Trinidad Beach when the weather is nice.
The pair are now inseparable and often can be found walking local trails in and around Humboldt County or visiting beaches on weekday afternoons.
Julia Morales, Hernandez’s long-time girlfriend remembered the day she first saw Niko.
“He was a tiny shy little puppy when Hernandez brought him home the first day,” Morales said. “we were planning to drive up here the next morning so I can start school but when I saw him I knew he had to come with us.”
It was clear the puppy did not have a good start on life to the couple and they were prepared to change things around for Niko.
“His previous owner was an old friend of mine,” Hernandez said. “But when I saw the way he was treating this innocent little guy I couldn’t handle it. He would lock him up in the bathroom for days with little food and no water.”
Hernandez shared how during the first few months Niko often would stay hidden in small hiding places, rarely eat and would not walk on a leash. Noises, such as pots and pans in the kitchen or an action-packed show on TV would make him jump and run in fear. Being persistent with him they often tried to limit his exposure and introduce new sounds and objects to him gradually and allowing him to take his time.
“What really got him use to me I think was because I am a chill guy,” Hernandez said. “I would spend nights just playing video games or watching Netflix on the couch and after a while Niko would be on the couch lying next to me. At first the noise from the TV would make him jump but over time he got used to it.”
Despite his uneasiness around strangers, bikes, and tall trees on windy days Hernandez has made a lot of progress with helping Niko to be a socialized dog. He admits his body language and attitude when he is with Niko plays a big role in how he behaves. When he is feeling unsure about a situation or person Hernandez stands tall and acts confident he says and it usually helps Niko pass by the situation without freezing up or trying to bolt the other way.
“They have a close bond,” Morales said. “I think he knows that Camilo rescued him to give him a better home and he thanks him every day by the way he looks up at him.”
Since he doesn’t let new people get near him or touch him the couple doesn’t allow guest to come over often unless they can control the situation and keep their pup feeling comfortable.
“It is not easy, because when he gets scared now that he is 50-plus pound dog he is difficult to control,” Hernandez said. “He will run jump over tables, knock people down and do just about anything in his power to get away from the situation. His tail goes under him; his eyes get wide and his whole body shakes when it gets bad. It makes me feel sorry for him that he is that afraid of certain people or things. “
HSU student and friend of the couple, Ayuja Dixit remembers the first time she met Niko.
“We met at the beach, his happy place,” said Dixit. “When I found out that he is a timid and nervous puppy because of his past I offered to help him get use to strangers by starting off really slow and letting him come to me. He likes me now, and no longer crouches down in fear when I get close to him.”
Hernandez plans to continue to work with Niko and hopes to one day soon travel outside the states with his dog. He plans to visit Canada and Costa Rica to see family next year and hopes his dog can be right by his side.
“My goal for him is to have a great life, continue to gain confidence, and have the best experiences a dog can possibly have” Hernandez said. “I saw how this dog’s life started out and it was ugly. But to see how much he has gone through and still can be a kind loving sweet dog I know there is hope for him.”