In Memoriam

Brinkley, who was featured in the Raine Stockton Dog Mystery HIGH IN TRIAL, is now romping and swimming on the Rainbow Bridge.

The Famous Dakota Legend "Kodi"

The following is reprinted from

In Memoriam

We don’t like to say this out loud, but it’s the truth: for many of us, the most meaningful, honest, and pure relationships we will ever have are not with other human beings, but with our companion animals.

When Jeff Bridges won the Academy Award for Crazy Horse, he thanked his three dogs, who, as he said, were the only ones who were there for him during the lean years. Ali McGraw, in a recent interview with Oprah, made no apology for living alone on a ranch with her “family”—her two dogs. Our relationships with other humans, as much as we treasure them, are inevitably tainted by disappointment, betrayal, jealousy, dishonesty and even ennui. But in the words of author Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson , Dogs Never Lie about Love.

I came late to the love of dogs. I got Jinx, a golden retriever, when my daughter was 16. Jinx saw me through the empty nest years, a major move, a tsunami-like career upheaval. Lovers deserted me, friends forgot my name, family had other priorities, but Jinx was always there. She gave me the courage to do things I never would have dreamed of tackling on my own before—protracted road trips, volunteering for animal rights organizations, making friends of strangers. Because of Jinx I began a study of canine behavior that eventually inspired the ground-breaking Devoncroix werewolf series (The Passion and The Promise). I got involved in animal rescue. I became a volunteer puppy-raiser for Canine Companions for Independence, a non-profit organization that provides service dogs to the disabled at no charge. I accepted the presidency of the Humane Society in the small rural community to which I was a new member, and began to advocate for real change. Through these and other activities I came to understand how one person—or one dog—could change the world. For almost thirteen years, people rarely spoke of me in the singular; it was always Donna-and-Jinx. And suddenly one night in March, three days after I brought home a fuzzy 12-week old collie puppy, Jinx began having massive seizures. She died less than twenty four hours later. She changed my life. And when she died, I felt as though my life was over.

I was right. The all-too-short lifespans of our companion animals define entire eras of our lives. In the space of ten or twelve years, a marriage can blossom and wither into the bitterness of divorce. A child can go from lunchboxes to college. The face in the mirror that once was beautiful with hope grows tired and lined. I think I instinctively knew that, when Jinx died, an era of my life—perhaps the most enchanted era—was also coming to an end. And in those first dark weeks without her, the only thing that gave me the strength to get out of bed every morning was a fuzzy collie puppy named Dakota Legend.

I acquired Kodi (forever after known as The Famous Dakota Legend) from championship stock with the specific intent of pursuing dogs as a sport. I wasn’t sure what sport, exactly, it was I wanted to pursue, so I tried everything. My quest for perfection became the subject of “How Dakota Legend Became Famous”, a skit we performed for hundreds of children (and adults!) across the south, and, when it was reprinted in a book I wrote for therapy dogs, it became the inspiration for hundreds of other dogs to perform. Kodi was the original inspiration for the Raine Stockton Dog Mystery series (Smoky Mountain Tracks, Rapid Fire, Gun Shy, Bone Yard), and the pivotal scene in Smoky Mountain Tracks played out in my head after a disastrous fall Kodi took from the dogwalk. Tens of thousands of people have read and enjoyed those books, and the stories continue to live today, because of Kodi. Kodi won enough ribbons to plaster my wall. He had more initials after his name than a Rhodes scholar. He originated the “reading to dogs” program in our county, which in turn touched off similar programs in surrounding counties, and even in other states. He helped raise tens of thousands of dollars for local humane societies. He was a "guest speaker" for a business communications class at a local college, demonstrating the power of positive reinforcement. He established the first canine musical freestyle team in the south. He was the first—and for almost ten years—the only therapy dog in our part of the state. He visited schools, nursing homes and hospitals. In his eleven years, he touched more lives than most humans do in eighty or ninety.

Kodi made my world larger. He took me places I never thought I’d go—to dog camp, to the performing stage, to the winners’ circle of the competitive agility ring (me! who used to pretend to have my period to get out of gym class!) , to a sheep herding farm, to major dog shows, to the instructor’s podium, to the internet as an expert in dog behavior. He showed me it was possible to achieve things I’d never even known to dream about, or imagined I could be. He showed me that heaven can sometimes be glimpsed in a thirty-second clean run, dog and human moving in perfect synchronicity, High in Trial.

Yesterday, I buried Dakota Legend, and with him, a part of myself. It is the end of an era, and the grief that I feel—that we all feel upon the loss of a beloved companion—is for the days that will never come again, and the joy that he brought to those days. We grieve for the humans that we were, when the dogs we loved were with us.

When Jinx died, I thought the best part of my life was over. Kodi taught me that I could be bigger, better and brighter than anything I’d ever imagined before. I know that one day soon another dog will come along to lift me to even greater heights, because that’s what love does: it lifts you up. But right now, I’m just sad.

For the finale of “How Dakota Legend Became Famous” Kodi used to perform a dance routine to “Fame”. The lyrics, which I quote without permission, are : “Fame! I’m gonna live forever!” The last time he performed this routine was at a camp for the families of children living with diabetes. Afterwards, he was mobbed by adoring fans, and one young fellow, who had clearly suffered the ravages of the disease, came up to Kodi and said, “Boy, I bet all those dogs who made fun of you as a puppy are sorry now! You’re gonna live forever, dude!”

What he said.