We had been home precisely one week from our wonderful trip to France for the Feast of Tabernacles. Things had been a bit chaotic, to say the least. We had finished our car shopping and finally purchased a vehicle on Thursday night. There were still bits and pieces of our trip lying here and there around the house... And Lakota was very sick.
It is incredibly difficult to say goodbye to a wonderful companion and faithful friend. Any of you who have gone through it, know how hard it is. And yet you also know that they are not enjoying life anymore, maybe even suffering.
But instead of concentrating on the unpleasantness at the end, I want to remember him for the fun, laughter and joy he brought us through the years.
When we first brought him home, he was not quite nine weeks old and weighed 15 pounds already. He was the cutest little thing! And he would sleep anywhere - and I mean anywhere. On a pile of shoes, underneath a chair - where ever he happened to be when he got tired playing, that's where he would go to sleep.
He used to annoy Casey to no end. Where ever she was and whatever she was investigating or playing with, he had to be right there investigating and playing with, too. It was a riot to watch them run around the back yard, one on each end of the rope toy!
He and Casey used to chase each other around the basement of my in-laws' house. (We lived there for a year and a half while our house was being built.) It was usually Casey who did the chasing, and Lakota would run and dive under the bed to "hide" from her. This only worked for a few months, though, as he quickly became too big to fit under the bed anymore! But he would still run and shove his head under the bed as far as he could - apparently thinking that if he couldn't see her, then she couldn't see him.
He and Casey also had this routine that Brian and I dubbed "The Bone Swap Ceremony" (or the BSC for short). We would give them each a bone to chew on, and they would go at it with gusto. Then, when the good stuff and most of the flavor was gone, they would somehow mutually agree that they should try the other bone. They would get up at almost the same time, pretend to be interested in something else, and then sneak over to the other's bone and start chewing. It was hilarious! They each thought they were tricking the other!
Lakota was quite the dramatist when he was younger. Brian taught him to play dead, but not the conventional way. Lakota would sit, and Brian would say "bang", while pointing his finger at him. Lakota would, oh, so dramatically, throw his head back and howl, flop himself to the ground and roll over onto his back. It was truly Oscar-worthy!
He loved the snow - absolutely loved it. We would come home in the winter and find him laying outside with the wind and snow blowing around him, and he would just be as happy as could be.
He became a registered therapy dog in the fall of 2004, and he retired in the spring of 2013. In that time, he awed and entertained people at many kinds of events and facilities. Many times, they would be almost afraid of him, because he was so large. But they soon discovered what a big teddy bear he was. There was one young man at a facility we visited regularly who was afraid of Lakota for the longest time. I believe the young man had Down's Syndrome, or something similar. He would shy away from Lakota, even if we walked on the opposite side of the hallway from him. And we respected the young man's fears; the last thing we wanted to do was to frighten him completely away. This went on for months - we would carefully walk by on the opposite side of the hall from this young man in his wheelchair. Then, one day, there was a nurse assisting the young man, and she asked him if he wouldn't like to pet the dog. He shook his head, but then the nurse bent down to pet Lakota and began to talk about how soft he was and how nice he was. Finally, after a little more coaxing, the young man gently petted Lakota. A huge smile spread across his face, and he continued petting Lakota. After a few minutes, he looked up - still smiling - and we smiled back and gave him the thumbs up sign, which he returned enthusiastically. Every time after that, he would smile when he saw Lakota come in. He wasn't afraid of him anymore, and he always wanted to pet him. And we would always leave him with a smile and a thumbs up.
To us, that was the whole reason we had a therapy dog. That was just one of the amazing things dogs could do. And many times nurses would tell us that they had never seen a patient be as animated or move as much as when Lakota (or any therapy dog) would come to visit.
We loved Lakota - still do - and we are so thankful to have had him in our lives for such a long time. He was a wonderful therapy dog, always winning people over with his gentleness and great attitude. He was our big, handsome Bear, and the hole he leaves in our hearts and our lives is cavernous. But while he was with us, he brought us great joy, peace and laughter.
Farewell, Lakota Little Bear. We will love you always.