Nico with head out car

Nico sticks his head out of the sunroof of Stacia Munson’s Ford Focus as they go for a drive on Tuesday afternoon. Munson says it’s common for people to take photos of her Husky as they drive around town.

Rory O’Driscoll photos, La Crosse Tribune

It’s impossible not to think of Marmaduke when Stacia Munson tools down the street in her red Ford Focus, with her dog, Nico, sticking his head out the sunroof as if he owned the world.

The 7-year-old Husky has commanded that post since the 20-year-old La Crosse woman rescued him from the Coulee Region Humane Society in Onalaska seven months ago, she said.

“I always have my sunroof open when he’s in the car if it’s not raining,” she said. “People get out their phones and take pictures, and little kids point at him.”

The similarities don’t end at car-hogging between the 75-pound Nico and Marmaduke, whose weight isn’t known for sure but easily could be twice that.

Despite his size and penetrating blue eyes, Nico is laid-back and as gentle as a cool summer breeze kissing your cheek. In spite of Marmaduke’s monstrous presence and seemingly reckless attitude, he is easygoing and as lovable as a newborn baby, traits common to Great Danes, according to the American Kennel Club.

“There’s not anybody he doesn’t like,” Stacia said. “He’s super good with kids.”

For example, when Stacia’s 17-month-old niece extends her hand with a treat for Nico, “he licks it out of her hand” instead of chomping and takes it off to munch by himself, she said.

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Nico

Stacia Munson’s Husky, Nico, shadows her so closely that he maintains a sentinel post when she showers.

Similarly, Nico is a gentle giant when Stacia takes him along to her job as a nanny to two little girls who adore him and he, them, she said.

Nico, who spends his days with Munson’s parents, Karen and Walter, when Stacia is at her other job, at Eagle Crest South assisted-living facility, gets along swimmingly with Greta, the couple’s mostly deaf and blind cocker spaniel rescue dog, and Gilbert, the couple’s other dog, who has far outgrown his purported breed as a Teddy but nonetheless is about knee-high to Nico. Marmaduke is the leader of the neighborhood pack, a nonthreatening presence.

The only time he got a bit irked with Greta was when the 14-year-old tried to eat his food, said Karen, adding, “They get along fine now.”

Nico is friendly to a fault, ready to welcome even strangers who don’t mind an innocently invasive sniff or two. Similarly, Marmaduke is as likely to smother a person with friendliness as look at him.

Stacia, who was petrified of dogs as a child after being bitten, attributes Nico’s gentle spirit to the fact that he was raised by a loving family who had to give him up reluctantly for personal reasons.

“He was with a really good family. They gave me a huge list of his likes and dislikes, with do-this and do-that,” she said, laughing.

“I got so lucky to get Nico when I went to the Coulee Region Humane Society” to rescue a dog, said Stacia, who overcame her fear of canines when the family rescued a golden retriever/border collie.

The black Labrador she had intended to get was much too loud and rambunctious to meet the quiet and behavior standards at her apartment, she said.

After falling in love at first sight with Nico, Stacia was crestfallen to learn that she was second in line for the rare find of a purebred Husky.

“He hadn’t even gotten onto the Facebook page yet,” she said. “I filled out an application anyway, just in case. I figured if it was meant to be …”

As it turned out, it must have been meant to be, as the other potential owners didn’t pass the initial review, “my application went through first” and the rest is history, she said.

Nico was loyal to and possessive of Stacia from the get-go, even wanting to follow her into the bathroom, she said.

“He sat outside with a squeaky whine,” she said, demanding access.

Even now, he usually insists on being a sentinel when she showers.

Similarly, an AKC account quotes a Great Dane owner as saying that Danes “are loyal almost to a fault. They are a shadow to their person. Really — you’re not even allowed to use the bathroom alone.”

Karen underscored Nico’s protectiveness of Stacia, saying that anyone who might threaten her daughter probably would have a rude awakening.

While one can’t imagine Marmaduke’s bark as anything but deep yet unthreatening, Nico has a versatile vocal range — from an incredibly gruff greeting that sounds more like Chewbacca to the whine Stacia mentioned, probably akin to a tenor in the Siberian or Alaskan Husky Tabernacle Choir.

People tell Stacia that Nico seems large even for a husky, a fact borne out in the AKC’s gauge of 21- to 24-inch heights and 44- to 60-pound weights for male huskies, compared with Nico’s 26-inch height to the shoulder and 75 pounds.

For such a big fella, he eats moderately, with two cups of dog food in the morning and at night, and occasional treats (no information available for sure how many sneaky treats Karen slips to him).

Nico’s not nearly as mischievous as Marmaduke is portrayed to be, digging holes all over creation.

“If he gets bored outside, he’ll dig a hole,” Stacia said. “But he hasn’t done that for a while.”

Nico is ambidextrous, obeying an invitation to shake hands, and switching to the other in answer to another request.

When Nico is aboard in the Focus, Stacia drives slowly, saying he could fall to one side or the other on a curve and be injured if she drove too fast.

When Stacia is in bed, Nico “is kind of a bed hog,” she said. “I think because he gets so warm, he just spreads out.”

One suspects he also hogs it — because he can.

Nico, who enjoys the luxury of a daily brushing, sheds his furry coat, designed to retain heat against the frigid cold in Alaska, Siberian and other climes, where huskies’ most common job is pulling sleds. He’s still shedding last season’s coat, Walter said, adding, “About the time he’s done, he’ll be growing a winter one.”

Nico loves not only car rides but also long walks, springing from a resting spot at the mere glimpse of a leash.

“I’ve never seen a big dog walk so quietly,” Walter said.

“He has a sassy walk,” Stacia said.

Nico has slipped the surly bonds of his leash a few times, his owner acknowledged.

“He got out and really booked it. He was so excited in his eyes. Five people were chasing him … and we caught him only because he stopped to take a pee,” she said.

The Munsons are rabid advocates of rescuing dogs rather than buying in stores or from breeders.

“I’ll never not rescue,” Stacia said.

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Mike Tighe is the Tribune newsroom's senior citizen. That said, he don't get no respect from the cub reporters as he goes about his duly-appointed rounds on the health, religion and whatever-else-lands-in-his-inbox beats. Call him at 608-791-8446.

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