Arlene Ramirez used to walk through the avocado orchards at the end of Poinsettia Way, where her dog was last seen, and call for Dakota through a bullhorn at three o’clock in the morning. She was determined to find the chocolate-brown Labrador retriever, a much-loved pet of her 14-year-old daughter Marynicole who was positive their dog was still alive though a month and a half had gone by since she’d bolted after being hit by a car.
Dakota had wiggled out the gate of her home on August 27 and was headed across Cathedral Oaks when she was struck by a small SUV, an accident witnessed by the youth football team practicing at Foothill School at the time. Their coach chased after Dakota but lost her up Poinsettia. September and October were terrible months for the Ramirez family, who tried to stay positive but couldn’t avoid thinking about the heat and the coyotes.
They plastered the neighborhood with missing dog posters, sent out a pet Amber alert, created Instagram and Facebook pages, sent up prayers, and even consulted a pet psychic. A notice at the NextDoor website resulted in several tips, but what Arlene Ramirez remembers most is the concern people expressed and their assurances that they’d look for Dakota. Employees at the Little Dog House even went out in a search party to look for her.
Then, Arlene Ramirez recalled, they got a phone call from a man last Monday, who said he might have seen Dakota. Without telling their youngest, Ramirez and her husband, Len, drove to the Bosio Ranch. While Arlene waited at the gate, Len and a ranch hand drove about four miles up a dirt road. The rancher waved toward the avocado orchard, and Len got out and walked toward the trees, calling for Dakota. He saw her buried under dried leaves, only her eyes and nose showing. She growled at him.
Len had been talking and texting with Animal Control officers almost daily over the past weeks, asking if Dakota had been brought in. As the days passed, their conversations turned to why Dakota might not have just headed home, and Lisa Kenyon, a shelter supervisor, told Len that often a dog who’s been injured or traumatized will hide, only coming out at night, scared by the experience of a car accident and possibly distrustful of people. Kenyon even offered to send out a live trap to capture Dakota safely if she were spotted but wouldn’t come to her owners.
Len immediately texted Arlene to let her know it was Dakota, and when she texted back, “Are you sure?” her service died.
Back in the orchard, Len took off his shirt and threw it to Dakota, hoping she’d recognize him by scent. She did. Dakota slowly stood up, very thin and weak, and came to him wagging her tail. Their 75-pound dog was down to 55 pounds, was missing some fur from her hind legs, but had survived her “47 days in the wilderness,” as Arlene calls it.
The ordeal took a toll on Dakota, who not only lost weight but also her confidence. She’s become nervous and shy, and the family is working with a dog trainer. Time and Scooby snacks should do the trick, Arlene said, who added that for her family, the goodwill and help from people, businesses, and Animal Control were both amazing and humbling. “No one was mean about it,” she said of their persistent efforts to find Dakota. “Everyone was a good neighbor, a good Samaritan.” As for the man who sped off in his SUV after hitting Dakota, “We’re not mad,” Ramirez said. “We know it was an accident. He probably feels horrible.”