By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – I have a confession to make to those who have asked why I haven’t brought another dog, or two, into my life since losing my best friends, Buddy and LaKota.
I’m scared to let go of 17 of the greatest years of my life – that is the amount of time I had either Buddy, LaKota or both in my life – and I’m scared to adopt a dog because I would only want a rescue dog, but my fear is that I wouldn’t be able to pick one over another, so I’d leave with four or five dogs.
I hadn’t planned on writing anything about my dogs because Buddy has been gone for almost six years, while LaKota passed away over three years ago.
But then I watched ESPN anchor Scott Van Pelt give an incredible tribute to his dog, Otis, who just recently passed away from cancer, and I couldn’t help myself.
I started thinking about all the good times that I had with Buddy and LaKota, and the not-so-good times like when LaKota brought a dead possum into the house in the middle of the night and then dropped it at my feet with the guts torn out and with blood dripping all over the carpet, and then I just sat down and started writing.
Buddy, my beloved Australian Shepard who could read my mind, and who was incredibly stubborn as a herding dog, passed away on July 12, 2016 at 4:23 p.m. and at the age of 16, which is 112 in dog years.
Buddy had a great life, and he made my life better in so many ways just from always being there, and just from always loving me.
I still get emotional sometimes when I look down to my left while sitting at the desk in my office at home because that’s where Buddy used to sit for hours as I worked.
LaKota, my beloved Husky and lab mix, passed away on Feb. 25, 2019 at approximately 11 in the morning.
Unlike Buddy’s physical demise, which happened slowly, LaKota’s body broke down quickly.
Age probably had something to do with it since he was about 14 years old when he passed.
But in just a month or two, LaKota lost the ability to use his two back legs.
He had gone from taking long walks to having to be carried out of the house just to go the bathroom.
In his final days, I would have to keep LaKota from falling as he urinated.
The same dog that used to run like the wind, and that caused me to get a three-foot extension on my backyard fence to keep him from jumping over couldn’t even stand on his own anymore.
I wondered at the time if LaKota knew what was happening to his body.
I tried laser treatment, which had helped a friend’s dog walk better, but it had no effect on LaKota.
It was time.
His final night was horrible as his kidneys stopped functioning.
I still can remember LaKota howling from what I assume was the pain, and it was the worst sound and the worst feeling I have ever experienced because I was helpless.
I also still remember the smell of the urine that was building in LaKota’s body due to his kidneys not functioning properly.
He was dying right before my eyes and there wasn’t anything I could do about it besides just love and comfort him.
Buddy became my dog in June 2002 when my sister gave him to me after I had just purchased my first house. He was a little too active for my sister’s youngest child, who was about seven at the time, so she asked if I wanted him.
I said, yes, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
We already knew each other from hanging out during family dinners and holidays at my sister’s house in Des Moines, and that helped to ease the transition when Buddy moved in with me.
Buddy went from living in a massive house in Des Moines that had a massive backyard to living in a tiny starter home in Coralville that had a backyard that was average in size.
But he didn’t care because dogs don’t judge or base their love on material things.
A dog only wants three things: love, food and water.
But a dog gives so much in return to where we almost don’t deserve dogs.
LaKota came into my life in 2007 after I had moved from Coralville to the east side of Iowa City.
My nephew was attending classes at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids when he adopted LaKota from a local shelter.
LaKota spent a lot of time at my house when my nephew was in school, and we formed a bond.
Buddy even tolerated him.
My nephew then moved back to his parents’ house in West Des Moines after finishing school, but LaKota didn’t get along with their family dog.
LaKota also had a bad habit of jumping up on the kitchen counter and eating whatever was sitting on the counter, including three sticks of butter one time.
It was obviously a bad arrangement, and when my older brother asked if I wanted LaKota, I said, yes, without hesitating.
Buddy and LaKota then spent nearly a decade living together.
LaKota was bigger, stronger, faster and younger than Buddy, but Buddy was the boss because he was there first.
Buddy had a spot on the couch that was his spot, and LaKota never touched that spot until after Buddy had passed away.
LaKota used to put his paw on the spot where Buddy had slept and that always brought me to tears, especially when LaKota would cry out for Buddy.
I eventually got rid of the couch and replaced it with two chairs that had been in my parents’ house.
LaKota became very fond of one of the chairs and he spent the rest of his life sleeping on that same chair.
He never would climb on the other chair, even if I begged him to do so. One time I lifted LaKota on to the other chair, but he quickly jumped off and climbed back on to his chair.
Both chairs still sit side by side in my living room, and sometimes I will look over to LaKota’s chair and smile, or cry, depending on my mood.
LaKota didn’t have enough strength to climb on to his favorite chair in his final days, so we often slept on the floor together.
Speaking of furniture, I used to try to keep Buddy off my couch at my home in Coralville, but with little success.
My job covering the Hawkeyes has required a lot of traveling and I used to put books, chairs and shoes on the couch to keep Buddy from sleeping on it.
But more times than not I would come home to find Buddy squeezed into a corner of the couch as if he were saying, you don’t tell me where to sleep.
I was devasted when Buddy was laid to rest, but at least I still had LaKota for nearly three more years to help with the grieving process.
But when LaKota died, I came back to an empty house and just bawled.
I still think about Buddy and LaKota every day, and probably will for the rest of my life, even if I adopt another dog, or two.
I’ve watched Van Pelt’s beautiful tribute three times and each time I cried because I know exactly how he feels.
The past five years have been rough as I’ve lost both of my dogs and my parents.
My parents were both 91 years old when they passed away almost three years apart, and they were married for over 60 years.
I couldn’t have asked for better parents, and it was devastating to lose them.
But it felt different than losing my dogs because my parents never depended on me for anything, while my dogs depended on me for everything.
Scott Van Pelt can take some comfort in knowing that the grieving process should get easier with time, and that he has memories of Otis that will last forever.
But the void will always be there to remind Van Pelt just how special Otis was and how lucky Van Pelt and his family were to have him.
RIP Otis, and say hello to Buddy and LaKota for me.