It is a beautiful spring day, the sun is shining, the grass is green and we are enjoying father-daughter time out at the farm. We are hunting a common prairie pest, the gopher. These little creatures are much like a ground squirrel, but their burrows are dangerous to horses and cattle, so we keep their numbers down. My daughter has walked over the hill, and I sit back at the wheelchair accessible portions of the field with our trusty yellow lab, Nakoda.
“Now you stay back here with me, I’m going to be shooting so you can’t go out in front of me,” I say to Nakoda. She looks into my eyes, walks calmly back and lies down right beside me with an exaggerated sigh. I move forward to position myself for the shot and feel my wheel drop into a rut. Uh-oh, I try to back out, only to spin down deeper.
Nakoda trains her eyes on mine and her ears perk up as if to ask me to repeat the question.
“I got stuck, my wheelchair won’t move, will you go get Shania, she is just over the hill over there,” I say, gesturing and looking to where I want her to go. She looks that direction, and then stares back for verification. “That’s right, that’s where she is.”
Nakoda springs to her feet and bolts off.
I calmly sit and wait, frustrated with myself that I got stuck in a tire rut once again, but glad that it is a nice day and my coffee cup is full. A little while later my daughter walks up over the hill a couple of hundred yards away.
“Did you send the dog to look for me?” she calls. “She kept bouncing in front of me.”
“Yes, I got stuck in a rut here.”
Shania walks over, chuckling, once again rescues me with a simple pull, and then refills the clip of my gun.
“Good girl!” We reward the dog with pats. She smiles back and wags her tail.
* * *
We had come to realize as Nakoda grew older that we could speak to her like a human, and she seemed to understand what we were saying. We could send her to find people and she always seemed to go to the right person. We suspected that this would come in handy. On this day it proved that it was a very valuable game to play.
It is amazing how attached you can get to a dog. They are such constant and loyal companions. I recall going for runs with her leash tied to my chair. She had seemingly endless energy and would run without tiring as far as I wanted to go. I recall her sitting on the picnic table looking over my shoulder as I was writing emails while on camping trips, giving the odd lick of encouragement to the back of my neck.
She loved to be in water, so we would head out to the farm and all I could do was tell her to swim since I could not throw anything for her to retrieve. She would swim in circles in front of me, and if I wheeled down the shoreline, she would follow. I could always safely take her with me when I was alone and could count on her to always be by my side even though I could not put a leash on her. I fondly recall her tireless frolicking in the waves on the Texas Gulf Coast.
I think of the many hours she spent lying on her bed under my desk while I worked. She was so patient and would wait until I would ask if she wanted to go for a walk or a swim, then she would perk up and bounce by the door, ready to go! There were all the miles of running she did while retrieving countless tennis balls thrown by anybody who would come by and play.
* * *
As the years went by, walks were getting shorter and shorter, her eyes started getting cloudy, and we wondered if her hearing was diminishing.
A few weeks ago we took a trip to the West Coast and rented a place on the shore. During our trip her breathing became labored. She made it to the shore of the ocean a few times, but showed no interest in going in to the water. She just slowly turned around and sauntered back to us. My wife and I commented that we aren’t going to get many more trips with her.
“Come on, old girl! We’ll get a short walk in and then you can sleep!” I said to Nakoda one morning. She plodded along, slightly behind me, and showed a noticeable smile. We were planning to take in the last practice routine of the Canadian Air Force Snowbirds aerobatic team. Nakoda would stay at the cabin and relax while we were gone for a few hours. She slowly followed me back to lie down on the porch. We could tell that she wasn’t feeling well; she was not her bubbly self. As we were explaining to the owner of the cabin about our concern for her, Nakoda got a funny look on her face. My wife was familiar with that look and right away knew that a seizure was about to happen. They held her through the seizure, and we rushed to the nearest veterinarian, only to find that there was no hope for our great friend and family member.
“I want you there waiting for me when I get there,” I said, gazing into her eyes. She stared back into mine as if to let me know that she had gotten the message. Then she took her last breath and was gone.
If there are no dogs in Heaven, I want to go where the dogs went.