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Lakota turns Eleven

Almost eleven years ago, Jay and I took our family to South Dakota to build a home for a Lakota nation medicine woman. We experienced and learned many things while there, including participating in a sweat lodge ceremony where the details were new to me, but the songs, smells, and heat on my skin felt somehow familiar to my soul. We paid our respects to Wounded Knee and were ashamed of the savage cruelty perpetrated long ago by faces that looked like ours. We ate meals together and shared many stories of our respective struggles and wisdom. It was an adventure that I will forever remember.

We noticed that there was much help needed on the reservation when it came to animal care. Word quickly spread that we were there with the knowledge of healing animals. We were called to examine an injured horse with an open, oozing wound on his back. Thankfully we never leave the house without Puremedy healing salve and applied it on the gelding’s back each day we were there. By the time we left, the gaping hole was closing with pink, healthy edges, and we left them a jar to continue the treatment until the wound was gone. I can still recall the gratitude on the human and equine faces.

As we were preparing to leave, we were presented with three puppies with the dreaded parvo virus. All three were throwing up, dehydrated, and exhibiting bloody diarrhea. None of them were eating or drinking on their own. After being granted permission from the medicine woman, we took back with us to California. We drove all the way to Nevada to find the only veterinary clinic within hundreds of miles. He armed us with subcutaneous fluids, stated that there was nothing else he could do, predicted the puppies’ demise, and wished us well. We embarked on a three-day drive, in the middle of nowhere, with three dying puppies, and had no idea what would become of us all at the end of that journey.

One of the puppies was so sick that he could not lift his head up off the ground. I checked his pulse every thirty minutes and was surprised each time that his heart was still beating. Three times a day I would inject each of them with fluids under their skin to keep them hydrated. They were so weak that they didn’t even flinch at the poke of the needle. I deposited one puppy in each of my children’s arms, telling them that their nurturing would give them something to live for. Desperate to do more, every half an hour, I mixed up some crushed Sun Chlorella tablets with water to boost their immune systems and give them energy. We stopped often for potty breaks, holding the emaciated and weakened puppies up while they painfully exuded diarrhea laced with bright red blood. We hoped and prayed for a miracle while cautioning our kids not to get too attached.

With each passing day, the puppies seemed brighter and stronger. Afraid to get too excited, we could not help but notice the wags of their tails and the curiosity returning to their eyes. By the time we arrived home, the puppies were completely healthy, active, and fully alive. We brought them into our house, fed them their first real meal since we’d met them, and rejoiced when they gulped every morsal, asked for more, and kept it down.

We later placed the two smaller pups together into a wonderful forever home not too far from The Gentle Barn where they are loved, cherished, and adored to this day. We decided to keep the largest pup, with the wild yellow eyes, wolf-like fur, and huge energy, for fear that no one else would be able to handle him. Lakota was as wild as the medicine woman had foretold. Her blessing to take him is still vivid in my ear today: “You are welcome to take him home with you, but he will be like no other dog you have ever had. He is wild through and through.” I did not believe her then, wondering how bad could it be? But she was absolutely right! Had we not kept him, Lakota would have undoubtedly been returned time and time again.

The first five years with Lakota were hard! He had so much energy that we had to run him several times a day, but it wasn’t just his activity level; there was something other-worldly about Lakota. He does not bark like other dogs do when someone is approaching the house. He howls. And he has taught the rest of our dogs to howl. So, now, whenever someone is passing by the front door, they all erupt into song. The choir also practices at two in the morning.

Lakota has specific rules of conduct for all of us. He demands a real, focused, present time greeting when we enter the door, before we can move on to anything else. He has a sense of right and wrong, fair and unjust, and holds us all to that standard. When our matriarch dog, Socks, was nearing the end of her life and struggled with impaired vision, a friend came into the house and socks lunged for their face. Lakota, as fast as lighting, intervened, pushed her out of the way, and saved our friend. We praised him lavishly. When Socks ultimately bid us farewell, Lakota stepped up overnight from a puppy to a leader and is now the head of our dog pack. He settles disputes, plays with the youngsters, and takes care of us all.

Lakota just turned eleven, with all that comes with it: a frosty muzzle, slower gate, and a lifetime of experience in his eyes. His crazy puppy energy has been replaced with wisdom, his wild ways with order, discipline, and responsibility as head of the household. For his birthday we took him on a long hike, to the pet store to pick out any treat and toy he wanted, and to Carl’s Jr. to get a much deserved Beyond meat burger, followed by a birthday cake and song at home. We wish to celebrate for many more years to come and are grateful for the chance to share Lakota with you.

Ellie Laks, Founder of The Gentle Barn, 2023,

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