The winter of 2012 will be remembered for its warmth but for me it will be remembered as the winter my old dog, Dakota died. Dakota was a mostly brown with a little white colored English Springer Spaniel who blessed our lives for nearly fourteen years.
Dakota was no Marley of the movie and book fame but she had her moments. Every dog is a bit quirky and develops human traits, some of them are irritating and some are funny. My first dog was a St. Bernard named Hans and Hans had the peculiar taste for hunting road survey stakes, the three foot wood ones with orange tops. Hans would travel sometimes for miles in search of his favorite prey and would select one or two of the best stakes and carry them home. I spent much of my youth wrestling them away from him and then quickly burnt the evidence so as the highway crew would not notice where they had gone off too. Occasionally, we didn’t even know where he had found them with the nearest road construction many miles away. Hans never told us of where he had been, but we wished he had.
Dakota was a good dog and in many ways she was a lucky dog. She wasn’t much of a hunter. But like my first dog, she had a fetish, but it wasn’t highway stakes, it was pizza, specifically Pizza Hut pizza. Somehow, she could even sense it coming from miles away and with a fresh pizza in the car, she would meet me at the mailbox, other times never. Her lust, for there is no better word, for a pepperoni pizza, was the number one thing my kids remembered during her ‘graveside service.’
Where do dogs go when they die, especially good dogs? Dakota is buried in a large mound in our pasture. Two years ago, I started a spring project. This project was like many men’s projects, lacking in purpose and sanity. I decided to dig a hole in this mound to see what was in the bottom of it. A week later, and at the bottom, I found the exact same thing that was at the top, dirt. There was no treasure, bones, rocks, nothing but more dirt. I finally abandoned the project. A few months later, Dakota had been ill for a month and the Vet had declared her non-operable so thinking ahead, I changed the shape of my hole into a burial spot for her. She hadn’t left the porch for months, but all of a sudden over my head, here was Dakota looking into the hole.
“What do you think, old girl, about this being your final resting place,” I asked. She looked at me, wagged her stub of a tail, looked down the hole, and wandered off. Immediately, she went into remission, and she had a very good fifteen months of extra life. It was finally her time, however, on one of the warmest days ever this winter. In the sun on a backyard spot she had sat on for years, she passed away. She is now in the spot I showed her that September day. Where do dogs go when they die?
Humans should be more like dogs—loyal, take one for their pack, gregarious, happy to see you no matter what….unfortunately we tend to be more like cats—selfish, independent, moody, and difficult to understand. Dakota was easy to understand. She liked everyone home at night. When it was bed time, it was time to go to sleep. She liked her afternoon swim. She hated cats with white feet, and she wanted pizza. She always wanted pizza, maybe she was happy to see us come home on the hopes that we brought pizza?
Dakota, when she was younger chased a cat into the woods and broke a bone in her foot. It was a tabby with white socks and it wasn’t even our cat. She never forgot and she never forgave. All cats similarly marked were her nemesis for life including one of our cats that wasn’t even born when the offending event happened. Dakota would bark at the cat even to her last breath, the others, oh they were just stupid cats and she would ignore them.
Dakota worried about the children when she was younger and always worried about my wife. She was never happy until she returned and would stare endlessly down the road looking and hearing for the familiar sounds of her car. It was a lifelong love, something we should all strive for as humans, unconditional love.
Where do dogs go when they die? There is little religious thought on it in western religion, just usually the teachings that dogs don’t have souls or spirits. Dogs know more than we give credit and I know they know what grief and death are. So I don’t know what to believe. A heaven without dogs does not seem to me to be a very nice place, as most of my best friends have been dogs. So wherever dogs go when they die, I hope it is somewhere nice, and in Dakota’s case, I hope it is a place with lots and lots of pizza.
Farewell old friend, we’ll miss you.