November 4, 1989, to September 2, 2001: That’s how long we had Dakota to share our lives. Her dam was a purebred black lab and her sire was a purebred collie. She was named after the Black Hills of South Dakota where we vacationed every year during Bike Week in Sturgis. My husband Guy brought her home just before Christmas 1989. Our daughter Amy and I had our backs turned when he walked in and placed this small package with a large heart under our Christmas tree. We were delighted.
She was still just a cute little puppy when I realized she could be aggressive. She also seemed not to walk quite right. One day I read about hip dysplasia and realized that could be the problem. I told the vet about it. Dakota was too young for him to run tests on her, so we waited. Some months later, the vet took her out to the parking lot and watched her walk. He admitted I was right, and the X-rays proved it.
Dakota’s hip problem was very bad. We did the best we could for her, though we couldn’t afford surgery. The vet told us to let her be, as long as she was full of life. We loved her more every single day. The last couple of years were really rough. There were times when I gave her permission to leave us.“Remember Lady and Shadow?” I asked.“You can go to them now; it’s okay.” It broke my heart, but I hoped she could go on her own. I couldn’t imagine what the future had in store for us. Sometime in 2000, Dakota developed a hump on her shoulders.We called her our “little buffalo,” though we didn’t think it was funny. We didn’t want to know or believe what it really was. Even the vet wouldn’t say. We knew there really wasn’t a lot of time left. Dakota deserved better than to be put through painful and expensive tests.
Sometime in August 2001, Dakota was no longer able to reach her food and water stand.We had to put it on a stool so she didn’t have to put her head down to eat. My husband was out of town that Labor Day weekend. Dakota’s condition went from bad to worse. On Friday, Amy made her ramps so Dakota could get in and out of the house.That didn’t work. By Saturday she could barely stand or walk. She got up once and fell back down. Dakota looked up at me, horrified. Amy and I started to cry. Amy’s best friend Amanda was with us watching a movie. She just sat there in stunned silence.When the movie ended they went home, and then it was just Dakota and I.
Dakota and I made it to my bed. She cried off and on and finally wet the bed. She had never done that before.We spent the remainder of the night on the living room floor. For all of her suffering,we did actually fall a sleep from time to time. In between she would tremble and cry. I tried to keep her warm with her blankie but of course that wasn’t the real problem. It was around this time that I decided I somehow had to detach myself long enough to do what needed to be done as soon as day came.
I tried calling three different clinics and even a traveling vet, who never did return my call. Then I tried to call our friends Rodie and Judy. I was almost certain they were out camping, but they answered on the second ring. I filled them in on what was happening and asked if they could help. Judy said she would make a call and get right back to me. Judy knew the pain Dakota and I were going through; she had been through it herself. Dakota continued to cry, and I was beside myself with grief. All morning the song “I am Weary, Let Me Rest” kept going through my head.
Judy called and said she had to run to her vet to learn how and where to give Dakota a shot to keep her comfortable while we wrapped her up in a blanket and got her to the clinic. At this point we couldn’t even move her without hurting her. If we could get her there they would put her to sleep in the back of Rodie’s van. Dakota and I waited for Judy. I kept telling her: “Momma loves Dakota, Daddy loves Dakota, Amy loves Dakota.” Judy came and gave her the shot. After that, Dakota wasn’t really aware of anything. So basically she got to go in her own living room with Judy and I comforting her. When we got to the clinic, the vet said we should hold off for a few minutes because she thought Dakota was going to go on her own. But after a few minutes she gave her the shot. Dakota went in the back of Rodie’s van with Judy, the vet, and I to see her off. It was very solemn, sweet, and sad. The vet took one look at Dakota’s hump and said it was cancer.
We got her home and buried her with her blankie in the backyard under the grape arbor. It would be Tuesday before I could tell my husband all of this. The day before he came home, I went out to visit Dakota. There beside the grave was a small blue flower. It was never there before.We hadn’t planted it. With a smile on my face and a lift to my heart, I looked up, crying, and said, “Thank you.” I knew Dakota was telling me it was okay. That’s exactly how I felt. The flower bloomed for exactly one week. I will never ever forget Dakota’s gift of the blue flower.—Debra Loeffel, Monticello, Wisc.