Aaron Coash talks softly about the dog who was his best friend.
Aaron got Nikko, a shiba inu, when he was 6 and Nikko was a pup. His family went to Texas to get the dog. Aaron’s aim was to show Nikko through 4-H, and judges and others are warned him that the shiba inu breed was independent, hard to train and sometimes mean to other dogs.
But Aaron knew what he wanted: A dog with short hair, a longer muzzle, pointy ears. A real “showy” kind of dog. The shiba inu breed fit all of his requirements.
Not just any shiba inu. He wanted Nikko. Nikko didn’t meet AKC standards because he had more white than allowed, and he had not one but two curls in his tail. Aaron didn’t care.
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“That’s what made him really unique to me,” Aaron said.
Nikko died Jan. 26, likely from antifreeze poisoning. Aaron, now 12, is on a mission to get a law passed in Kansas requiring an additive in antifreeze that would make it smell and taste bitter and, therefore, less attractive to animals and children. A key ingredient in antifreeze makes it smell and taste sweet.
“It’s been sad,” Aaron said of the days since Nikko died. “I really miss him. He was my best friend. But I know I’m doing something in his honor, and I feel really good about that.”
Accompanied at an interview by his mother, Michelle, and brother and sister, Aaron said he’s been taught to make the best of bad situations.
“My mission is to pass Nikko’s Law so no one else has to lose his dog or best friend,” the Valley Center sixth-grader said.
Seventeen states have laws requiring manufacturers of antifreeze to add a bittering agent, usually denatonium benzoate, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. California has required a bittering agent since 2002 and Oregon since 1991. Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin have passed legislation since 2005, the association says on its website.
Aaron has been talking to Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, about introducing a bill in the Kansas Legislature. He’s getting help from the Humane Society of the United States.
McGinn said Aaron’s request came too late in the process for introducing bills to get it considered this session.
“We’re working on getting an awareness resolution put together and have Aaron come up for that,” McGinn said. “That way we can get the ball started because there’s just a lot of information we don’t know about this yet.”
She said it’s inspirational that a 12-year-old is pushing for change.
Aaron and his family had moved recently before Nikko’s death.
“We didn’t have an underground fence yet, and he wandered off one day,” Aaron said. “We went looking for him, and later, he came running around from the back of the porch.”
That was a Thursday. Nikko seemed fine.
But that next Sunday, Nikko began vomiting. The Coash family waited until Monday to see if Nikko would get better.
“When my mom came home, he couldn’t even walk,” Aaron said.
Nikko spent four days at a vet. He was on IVs. On the fourth day, Aaron said, “my mom and I realized he wasn’t getting any better, so we took him to a K-State doctor.”
The doctor said he was almost 100 percent sure that Nikko had gotten into antifreeze during his time away from home.
Aaron has learned a lot about how laws work since he started on his mission, and he’s done a lot of research about antifreeze. He said it costs 2 cents for every $1 to add a bittering agent to antifreeze.
“It’s been very educational for all of us,” Michelle Coash said. “We are extremely proud of him. In his grieving, he asked the question, ‘Why does antifreeze have to taste so good?’ We all sat back and thought, ‘Why does it have to taste so good?’ And that is how this all got started.
“I think it has helped our grieving by giving us a target that can end in positive change,” she added.
The veterinary association estimates that 10,000 animals die each year from antifreeze poisoning. Antifreeze is also dangerous to children, and some adults have used it as a means of suicide.
What Aaron liked the most about Nikko was that “he wasn’t anybody else’s dog. He was my dog, and that’s what made him so special to me,” Aaron said.
Aaron plans to get another dog someday.
“But it won’t be a shiba inu because there was only one Nikko,” he said.