By Merle 2011
As a child, and even into adult married life, dogs were always a part of my life. After my divorce, and then shortly after another painful breakup from a relationship that had lasted almost four years, I was feeling pretty lonely and bad about myself. Then I met Jim. A man like no other I had ever met in my life.
After dating almost one and a half years, I asked him if we could get a dog. At the time we were renting in Euclid, and he said that the landlord might not approve, so he put me off. I was relentless, begging him night and day to please, please get a dog. In my heart, I wanted someone that I could love and who would love me back unconditionally. My maternal instincts were crying out for a "child" and a furry friend would surely "fix" everything that was ailing me. Inside I was broken and just knew a dog would help me to heal.
On Valentine’s Day in 1996, while washing dishes, Jim came up behind me with a gift. He reached inside his jacket and pulled out the cutest little black puppy I had ever seen. I was thrilled. My prayers had been answered. He was a purebred "Miniature Pinscher" born December 28, 1995. Jim said he would be the lap dog I always wanted, not realizing at the time just how large he would grow - about 23lbs at his heaviest. A lap dog he wasn't.
It took me weeks to come up with a name because it had to be perfect. About two weeks into our new relationship, he was still nameless, but while driving on the highway it came to me....Dakota. Jim and I called him our son, so with a play on words, we named him "Dakota Arson I". Arson for "our son". He grew quickly and we took him everywhere we went. When we left home for long periods of time, he ate would eat my shoes. Visiting Payless to stock up on new heels became a weekly field trip. Jim's kids were all young at the time and even they cherished and loved him. He slept in our bed and was content just to be at my side.
My fondest memory is of the two of us jogging every morning before I went to work. We started when he was just a puppy. I would tie him to my waist and attach his leash to my belt before running off through the neighborhood. About two miles, five days a week. It was our special time together and oh, how he loved it. He was often up several hours before me just waiting by the door. We were running partners for many years before I had to stop due to back injuries from all the years of running on cement.
He was also a notorious mouse killer. Better than any cat at rodent control. Going to the park for hikes in the woods was another favorite pastime.
After a few years of living in Euclid, Jim and I bought a home in Highland Heights where Dakota spent the majority of this life. Feeling bad that Jim and I were working and not home all day, I thought Dakota needed a sibling. That's when we got him a brother, an Italian Greyhound named Teddy Bear. They spent the next seven years together before Teddy got unexpectedly ill and died two weeks later. As I layin bed sobbing and heartbroken, Dakota was right at my side. He was going through his own grieving process but still licked the tears from my face. I told him that someday he would see Teddy Bear again in heaven.
Within a few short months we got another Italian Greyhound named Gia. She looked so much like Teddy Bear, and in a strange way she helped me to get over my grief. Dakota was just as thrilled with his new little sister. About a year later, not planning to get another dog, a Toy Fox Terrier named Baxter needed a home, so he became the third member of our happy little family.
Dakota was the "pack leader". Being the oldest and wisest, he was top dog and everyone else fell in line behind him. He was brave and strong and afraid of nothing. His fearlessness got him in trouble a few times. Like when the neighbor's 100lb Akita challenged him and 23lb Dakota thought he was up for the fight. That dog tore him up not once, but twice over the course of a year - the second time almost killing him. With such severe internal injuries they had to do immediate surgery and told me he may die on the operating table. But he didn't. He fought his way back to me just like he did so many times before. He was like a cat with nine lives and no one or nothing could destroy him.
Over the course of his lifetime, besides being attacked twice by the neighbor's dog, he was also hit by a car, had a broken kneecap, had cancerous tumors removed, and one time ate a dead duck that was lying in the middle of the road baking in the August heat,becoming so violently ill he was hospitalized and put on IV's to treat food poisoning. This dog was incredible, like the Energizing Bunny, "he took a licking and kept on ticking". I was always there to nurse him back to health. I thought he would live forever. I was wrong.
He was so brave and determined fighting back from whatever was ailing him. A born fighter with such determination to live but sweet and loving. He liked everyone, and never bit anyone in his entire life. He was highly protective of Jim and I, and often barked at every leaf blowing around in the yard. No one was sneaking up on me anytime soon.
The vacuum was his sworn enemy and any time we tried to vacuum, he went crazy barking and biting at it. Unfortunately, he passed this bad habit onto Gia and Baxter. With his resiliency and will to live, Dakota taught me to never give up when life knocks you down. You need to fight with everything you have to get back on top. He took one day at a time, never worrying about tomorrow. He was always in the present, enjoying the here and now. No matter if that meant lying in the sun basking in its glow, or enjoying the heat from a roaring fire. That's what is so wonderful about dogs - they're just happy to be, not spending their days chasing after money or things. Dakota was a great dog, and there will never be another just like him. A true one of a kind original. A warrior.
About four months ago, at almost 16 years of age, he was diagnosed with liver and kidney failure. This was one fight he couldn't win. Jim and I decided to take care of him up until the point when he would die on his own or have to be put to sleep. Once again, he fought the deterioration of his body with everything he had. As sick and weak as he was, he still went to the door every day to do his "business". I believe he didn't want to leave us. He often looked into my eyes pleading with me to make him feel better. I always could in the past, but this time I could not.
At one point he stopped eating, and Jim and I knew we would have to do what we had been dreading for months. We had hoped he would go peacefully in his sleep but he just refused to die. The day we put him down was Feb 24, 2011. Ten days after Valentine’s Day – the day that he had first entered our lives so many years ago. The day was cold and dreary, no sun in the sky. Sending Dakota to heaven was one of the hardest things we ever had to do. He's at peace now, no more pain and discomfort - and I like to think that Teddy Bear was there waiting for him to help him "cross over". The dog with nine lives who refused to die was now dead.
Even though we're sad, I know in my heart that someday we will be together again. I whispered that into his ear as he quietly slipped away there in the stillness of the vet's office. And when we see him again he will jump into our arms and it will be as if we were never apart.
Goodbye Kota Boy. Daddy and I will miss you every day for the rest of our lives, but we will never forget you. How could I forget the dog who taught me to love again...? Dakota Arson Giallombardo I. Thank you for coming into our lives and being such a loyal and faithful friend. Until the day we meet again, remember we love you, and you'll always be right here in our hearts.