Tuesday, September 21, 2010


In every dog person's life, there are animals who steal your heart forever. If you are lucky, sometimes those dogs are your own, a match of soul mates. Sometimes they're not - they are the dog of a friend, a co-worker, a shelter dog you fall for but cannot, for whatever reason, take home with you. There may be many of these dogs throughout one's lifetime, or only a precious few.

For me, one of these dogs was Dakota, a large Malamute who arrived in my area of Best Friends when I was a caregiver there. We knew little about him other than that he had come from a hoarding case, and when he arrived at Best Friends he would not eat any significant amount for weeks. It's not uncommon for dogs in a new place to turn up their nose at food for a little while, but Dakota took this to new heights. He was unsure of his new environment, uneasy.

We had to get food into him, so we laid out an elaborate selection of temptations to get something into him - not just different dog foods but deli meats, cheeses, hot dogs. None thrilled him. We eventually found just one particular brand of canned food that he would eat, most of the time, and I went out once a week to load up on it for him.

He slowly settled into his routine in my area - he was paired up with a very playful dog and she would not let him rest or wallow in his sorrows. If he would not play, she'd nip him in the butt and make him chase her, just to get him going. He began to respond to us as well - he went on overnights to my house and hung out with me and my dogs and began to love his routine, his walks, his caregivers. He was 70 lbs and nearly six feet tall when he stood on his hind legs, and when he really liked someone he would put rear up and put his paws on their shoulders so he could lick their face. As he settled in, his appetite slowly came back and we transitioned him to our regular food over the course of several weeks.

Originally a red collar (restricted to staff only) for guarding behavior, he began to show improvements there as well. As he got to know and trust us he was no longer concerned about what we might take away from him, for our presence brought good things. He graduated to working with volunteers and went to the Human Resources office one day every week to act as their greeter and get a day of special attention.

Near the end of last year, Dakota damaged a cruciate ligament in his leg and needed surgery - a not uncommon injury. Given the difficulty of the surgery on a dog of his size and his long recovery period, all of his caregivers were afraid that he might regress from the happy, playful and affectionate boy we now knew him to be.

I tried to take him home to foster him through his surgical recovery period, but I had a new dog settling into the family and he and Dakota hated each other from the moment they met in a way that I thought was too unsafe to work with - both were large, powerful males and the chemistry between them was downright awful. I was incredibly upset the day I brought Dakota back to work with me. I felt that I had failed him.

Soon after coming back, Dakota was transferred to another area along with his runmate - and two people who were there volunteering fell in love with him, and he with them. They adopted Dakota, and he now travels the country with them in their RV. They rave about him. He's now been with them three months and he has the best life I could possibly imagine for him - he just looks overjoyed in every picture. I am so grateful that they came along and gave him a true home.

Some of the dogs who steal your heart forever steal many hearts. At Best Friends, Dakota was beloved by all who knew him and everyone follows the updates on his new life from his post-surgical hydrotherapist to his caregivers to his trainer. I will likely never see him again, and the pictures make me miss him so much - but buddy, I'm so happy you got everything I ever wanted for you.


Blogger JvB said...

Thanks so much for sharing this- such personal joy and pain on your part, but it makes me so hopeful for my daughter who wants her life's work to be in animal care. Much love, bro!

12:48 PM  
Blogger Toots said...

This is beautiful, and beautifully written. Thank you.

4:54 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Damn it John! Stop making me cry at the office. I LOVED this guy when I came to visit. All we kept saying was "if not us then let him find love." And he did...*happy dance for dakota*

8:18 PM  
Blogger Intvlive said...

Thanks a lot! actually i love dogs, dogs are really awesome animal, because dogs know our mind,what we are thinking,whether we are in happy mood or sad mood.

1:04 AM  
Blogger DAPHNE said...

Thanks John for posting...although we only knew Dakota briefly, we too fell under his spell! So happy that he is in a loving home :0)

9:39 PM  
Blogger jdh said...

I loved walking Dakota - a terrific and absolutely stunning dog. I have some more photos and a video here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jdehaan/tags/dakota/ for a bit more Dakota fix. I was SO happy to read that day Dakota went home (although so sad he wouldn't be there for my next visit a few weeks later), but it sounds (and looks) like he has the most terrific life.

12:01 PM  

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