By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - One advantage to owning and operating your own website is that you can write about whatever you feel is important.
Up until writing this column, I had focused solely on University of Iowa athletics with an emphasis on football and men's basketball because that’s what you would expect from a website called Allhawkeyes.com.
I drifted off course this one time as a coping mechanism because this week has been horrible for me personally, as some of you might know from following me on Twitter.
My week started with the death of my precious dog LaKota on Monday morning. He had been at my side for over a decade, a devoted and loyal companion who was rescued by my nephew from a shelter just days before he was scheduled to be euthanized in 2008.
My nephew wasn’t ready to handle the responsibility of owning a 75-pound dog with endless energy, so he asked if I’d be willing to give LaKota a permanent home.
I already had a dog named Buddy at the time, but the only thing better than having one dog is having two or three.
So I gladly welcomed LaKota into my home, and so did Buddy, although, not without some reluctance.
Buddy was an Australian Shephard who was incredibly smart and stubborn, and who considered himself to be my equal, which is probably my fault for spoiling him.
Buddy was also the king of his castle and wasn’t about to relinquish that title to some strange dog that just suddenly showed up one day.
LaKota as a Husky and Lab mix was bigger and faster and tougher than Buddy, but that didn’t matter because Buddy was here first.
It was up to LaKota to fit in and he seemed to realize that from the beginning as he treated Buddy like royalty.
They both slept on the same couch while living together for eight years, but LaKota always let Buddy choose his spot first.
LaKota didn’t care much for other dogs and he despised any form of wildlife that would make the mistake of visiting my fenced-in backyard on the east side of Iowa City.
He turned my backyard into his own killing field where possums, squirrels and rabbits often met their untimely demise because they were no match against LaKota’s speed, quickness and determination.
LaKota was so athletic in his prime that I had to add a three-foot extension to the four-foot fence that surrounds my backyard to prevent him from breaking out.
He never ran away when he broke loose, but he did go on journeys that sometimes would last two or three hours with mischief as his co-pilot.
I became so used to having Buddy and LaKota in my life, but always knew in the back of my mind that this fairytale wouldn’t last forever.
Buddy was about five years older than LaKota, so I figured that Buddy’s life probably would end sooner.
And sadly, that’s what happened when Buddy was laid to rest on July 12, 2016 at approximately 4:30 p.m. He had been struggling for a while and his 16-year old body finally broke down.
Buddy’s death left me devastated, but I still had LaKota to help get through the grieving process.
LaKota seemed confused at first by Buddy’s absence. He would stand near a spot on the living room floor where Buddy often slept and would whine and scratch the carpet as if that might bring Buddy back.
I eventually got rid of the couch that Buddy and LaKota both slept on because it was trashed and filthy. Dogs are wonderful animals, but they’re hard on furniture.
LaKota spent the last 2 ½ years of his life sleeping on the same chair in my living room until it became too hard for him to climb on to the chair.
That was the first sign that his body was starting to break down.
He then stopped wagging his tail and would struggle to get up and down.
But we still went on walks, sometimes as long as two miles, until that became too much for his aging body to endure.
The last month of LaKota’s life was difficult for both of us.
A dog that used to run like the wind and leap over fences needed me to carry him outside just to go potty because he had lost the use of his two back legs.
A dog that had endless amounts energy and curiosity spent the last month of his life mostly sleeping on the floor and dreading the times when he had to go outside.
LaKota hated that I had to carry him outside for the last six weeks of his life. He took pride in being self-reliant until his body finally succumbed to old age.
I probably kept him alive for too long, but did so out of love more than selfishness, or at least that’s what I told myself.
I wasn’t ready to say goodbye because the thought of not having a dog for the first time in nearly 17 years was too much to handle.
LaKota was undergoing laser treatment on his spine and hips as a last resort, but then his kidneys stopped functioning, which explains why he smelled like urine as it was seeping through his pores.
It was also causing major discomfort as I learned early this past Monday morning when I heard LaKota moan and cry from the pain for the first time.
It was shortly after midnight when his situation took a turn for the worse. His pupils were dilated and he had no appetite or any desire to drink water.
He would stop crying only if I laid next to him and rubbed his body.
So that’s what I did from about 2 a.m. on Monday until the animal clinic opened at 8 a.m. We both slept under a blanket with pillows surrounding us.
I knew the end was near, and I think he did, too, by the blank expression on his face.
I thought about all the good times that we had and thanked him for bringing so much joy to my life, crying like a baby the whole time.
I thought about the kindness of my neighbors, and friends, who took care of my dogs when I traveled for work.
And I thought about life without LaKota and how empty it would be.
One of the best things about traveling to cover the Hawkeyes was coming home because I knew that Buddy and LaKota would be waiting at the front door to greet me.
LaKota continued to do that even after Buddy had passed away.
Dogs are so sincere and genuine and they make you feel like the most important person in the world. They worship the ground you walk on and want nothing more than to please you.
At least most of the time.
LaKota never was a fan of playing fetch. I would throw something and tell him to go fetch, and he would look at me with an expression that said, ‘you threw it, so you go get it.'
His idea of playing fetch was to take a critter that he had killed in the backyard and drop it at my feet, sometimes inside.
We also played a game called hide the treat where I would take a milkbone and place it on the same table, but in differents spots. The video that accompanies this story shows LaKota finding a treat.
LaKota loved giving high-fives. Anytime I would raise my hand, he would raise his paw and slap my hand.
I could never get Buddy to do that as much as I tried. He and LaKota were joined at the hip, but they were also unique and different.
Buddy would immediately gobble his food without hardly breathing, while LaKota would nibble and sometimes wait for hours to eat. I used to have to guard or hide LaKota’s food because Buddy would go from emptying his bowl to emptying LaKota's bowl in just minutes.
And LaKota didn’t care.
Two of the worst times in my life were when I drove both Buddy and LaKota to the veterinarian to be laid to rest about 2 ½ years apart.
I loaded LaKota into my car at approximately 7:45 this past Monday morning and knew that I was doing the right thing.
LaKota told me that it was time during the six hours we spent together on the floor. He also assured me that he had a good run and thanked me for being his devoted friend and caretaker.
My drive to the vet was impaired by the tears that soaked my glasses.
Upon arriving at the vet, I carried LaKota to a room where a blanket was waiting for him.
We then spent about 30 minutes together as my mind flashed back to all the good times that we had together, and with Buddy.
LaKota would lift his head a few times as if to acknowledge my presence and to reassure me that he was ready. He then went to sleep for the last time.
It was the end of a special era and the beginning of overwhelming sadness that only a pet owner could understand.
I broke down after returning home from the vet because I walked into the living room and it was empty. I still cry when I look at my backyard because it’s empty.
There aren’t even any paw prints in the snow in my backyard because in the final month of his life LaKota was limited to doing his business in the front yard in order to avoid steps.
But there are memories of happy times that will last forever.
I would like to thank everybody who has reached out to me with kindness and support since LaKota passed away.
Believe me, it helps.
I would also like to remind pet owners to cherish every day that you have with your best friend because the days don’t last forever.
One of the hardest things about having a dog is that they don’t live long enough. LaKota was nearly 105 in dog years when he was laid to rest.
And he looked it, and felt it.
Thanks for indulging me with this tribute to my dogs, and now it’s back to writing about the Hawkeyes where there has been plenty to write about recently, good and bad.
I’m very fortunate to be able to cover Hawkeye athletics and my job now serves as a great distraction from the pain and void in my life.
Rest in peace LaKota and say hello to Buddy for me.