‘Mayor of Howland Avenue’ laid to rest after 16 years
In the world beyond Jamestown, many notable things happened in early June. A Rhode Islander won the Miss USA Pageant; the Russians sent attack helicopters to Syria; Spain teetered on the brink of economic ruin; and a horse named I’ll Have Another gave up his quest for the Triple Crown.
But on the island, many people felt themselves caught up by a different kind of event, a sudden change in their everyday routine and a quiet loss. The news first spread by the appearance of a single rose placed outside a house in the village. Then more people heard the news and joined the tribute, carrying cards and flowers to the corner of Howland and West.
That was Jamestown’s way of remembering Nike, an old dog who had become famous in town – famous mostly for doing nothing but sleeping in the same spot, on the same corner, for almost 16 years.
“Everybody knew Nike, and it was just kind of neat,” said Jane Conlon, one of the Howland Avenue neighbors. The dog belonged to the Holland family, she said, but over the years Nike had made friends with everybody.
“He used to sleep in front of the house,” she said. He was asleep so much, some people would pass by and mistakenly call animal control to report a dead dog on the curb – sometimes as many as three times a week.
At some point, their dog became a landmark, Sharon Holland said. People would give directions and say, “Take a right at the big black dog on the corner.”
Nike did much more than sleep, of course, as Ed and Sharon Holland remembered. They adopted the dog when he was about 8 weeks old and named him Nike because a shape like the footwear company’s swoosh logo was temporarily impressed on his forehead.
He had been pushing his head against the shelter cage.
The shelter staff didn’t know too much about Nike. They could report the little black puppy with white feet had been abandoned in a cardboard box on the side of a road. He had been found alone, and he might have been the runt of the litter.
“His gait was always a little sideways,” she said.
But he learned to compensate. “In his day, he was fast,” Sharon said, “and he used to come back to the house with his trophies.”
One day, she opened the front door and found Nike waiting “proud as peaches” with a fish in his mouth. “Then, there were the squirrels,” she said, shaking her head. “Many, many squirrels.”
Nike did like to stalk the squirrels, Ed agreed. “He’d go down on all fours like a cat, and the squirrel would outrun him.” One squirrel had seemed to catch on to Nike’s obsession and would jump in the yard and taunt him.
“They’d play 10 times a day,” he said. Holland told the dog he’d never catch a squirrel, but Nike came home two weeks later with a squirrel in his mouth.
One day, the dog arrived home with a pair of deer antlers, which he had probably found in the woods, they said.
But most days, Nike would spend the morning with them in the shop, H.V. Holland, across the street from home. He had two beds in the office.
“About midday he’d grow tired of us,” Ed said. “He’d stand up and bark.” They’d let him out, and then he’d cross the street to his spot on the grass and sleep in front of the house.
“And he’d be there when he got home.”
The family knew about some of Nike’s routine, he said.
When Nike first came to Jamestown, the law allowed dogs to go unleashed after 4 p.m. “That would translate he was free to wander. He would go up the street and see the Matoes, and they would give him cheeses.” Then he would go by the Ceppi’s house, Sharon Holland said.
“Peter would fuss over him and give him treats,” she said. Nike liked to sit on the Ceppi’s back deck.
“Peter would practically have to shoo him home.” Then he would go to the Conlon’s house. “He would stand at the end of their driveway and look at the house,” said Ed, until Jane Conlon came out and gave him a bone or a treat.
But they didn’t realize how many people knew Nike until he was gone.
“We probably received 20 or 30 cards from people we didn’t know,” said Ed. “I came home for lunch today. A woman pulled up to the corner.”
She had seen the tribute. In front of the house, a little stone statue of a sleeping puppy hugs a patch of grass by the curb, holding the spot where Nike had become a fixture.
The neighbors across the street, the Pages, had started the tribute with a single rose. They knew Nike was not coming home again because they had helped carry the dog into the car for the last trip to the Jamestown Animal Hospital. The statue is almost hidden under a tree circled with flowers and a cross bearing the inscription “RIP Nike 1996 – June 2012.” Holland’s daughter Emily made the cross, and Conlon came by with a plaque.
“Is that ...,” the woman in the car said, before she started to fill up. Holland didn’t know the woman, but she told him she had stopped and said hello to Nike every time she drove by.
“Was that the dog?” she said.
“Yes, I told her.”
Nike had been outside in his regular spot on June 1, and Sharon went to bring him in for the night. She called, but he didn’t come. She called again. Then she found Nike lying at the bottom of the front stairs. He was alive, and he could move his eyes, but nothing else.
“It was very sad,” she said.
The Hollands sat outside with the dog and tried to figure out how to move him. Nike weighed about 85 pounds. Finally, they wrapped him in a blanket and carried him in the house. Nike wasn’t crying and didn’t seem to be in pain, they said. They stayed with him, and in the morning, they made the call to the veterinarian, expecting it would be time to put Nike to sleep.
The whole family and the Conlon’s daughter made the trip together.
“That Saturday was one of the toughest days I’ve had in a long time,” Ed said. “I never had a dog that had so many human qualities. You could just look in his eyes, and he understood.”
Of course, Holland said, the world is full of dog people – and people who are not dog people. The latter may wonder why all the fuss for an old dog that died. But for the ones who do love dogs, no explanation is needed.
“Dogs are powerful,” he said. “It meant a lot to us that so many people acknowledged Nike. He sort of was the mayor of Howland Avenue. Or he certainly thought he was. I think he was a very happy dog. And he will be missed.”