Faces of No-Kill: Beloved senior dog goes home

Selfie of Victor with Dakota the dog whose tongue is out
After bouncing from place to place for a decade, Dakota finally has the stability and unconditional love she deserves.
By Christina London

When Victor and Shaniah adopted Dakota, they thought they were getting a dog. In reality, she was a cat disguised as an 80-pound canine.

This story is a part of our Faces of No-Kill series, highlighting the journey of pets who lost their place to call home. These pets are thriving today thanks to an animal shelter that helped them rather than killed them. Best Friends’ goal is for every shelter and every community to reach no-kill in 2025, and this story shows why that’s so important.

“She's not the typical 'give me all of your attention at once' type of dog. She's a gentle giant who, just like a cat, does her own thing at her own time,” says Victor.

The staff at the Best Friends Pet Adoption Center in Los Angeles noticed these feline tendencies, too. “She loved chasing shadows, flickering lights, and laser pointers,” says Ana Pulido, Best Friends community engagement manager.

But Dakota’s life hasn’t been all snuggles and sunbeams. It took her 12 years to truly feel stability.

Senior dog’s fresh start

During the first decade of Dakota’s life, she bounced around from place to place. While she was incredibly sweet and had impeccable manners, she was reactive around other dogs and protective of her toys and people. What this senior gal needed was a fresh start.

At the pet adoption center, Dakota stole the hearts of everyone she met. The vet staff made sure she was in tip-top shape, while the adoptions team provided the care and human connection she craved. This sweet girl loved nothing more than romping around the play yard with a staff member or volunteer, then flopping over for belly rubs.

Still, the busy environment took its toll. “The longer she was on-site, the more she did seem to react to other dogs, likely due to stress,” says Ana.

[Senior dog finds love on the beaches of California]

So Dakota went to foster care, which provided a quiet, comfortable space to unwind. Once she was feeling relaxed and secure, her true personality began to shine.

“Dakota had two incredibly loving foster homes who were very dedicated to her,” says Ana. “They each confirmed our suspicions — that Dakota was going to be a playful, loving pup who is wonderfully behaved in a home.”

In addition to providing plenty of TLC, the foster volunteers learned Dakota’s body language and respected her boundaries. Back at the pet adoption center, she received training to feel more comfortable around dogs, which included going on walks with other furry friends.

Dakota goes home

When Victor and Shaniah came to the pet adoption center, they weren’t planning to leave with a pet. But that all changed when they met a certain white-and-brindle pup with perky ears and big brown eyes.

“The minute we locked eyes with Dakota, we both gave each other ‘the look’ and knew we both had mutual feelings for Dakota,” says Victor. “Something about her aura called to us.”

Best Friends staff counseled the couple about Dakota, and everyone decided it was a match. Despite her challenging past, Shaniah and Victor knew she belonged with them.

“If anything, knowing her history made us want to adopt her even more. We're making sure that that part of her life is over,” says Victor.

Dakota settled seamlessly into her new home, aside from being on alert those first few nights (totally understandable in an unfamiliar place). Shaniah and Victor helped the adjustment process by spoiling her with treats and establishing a routine from the get-go.

The good life

For Dakota, life is all about the simple pleasures. Her favorite things include naps, toys, and walks — especially to the duck pond. Whenever her people pick up the leash, she does a happy little tap dance in anticipation of going outside. This is something that had made her foster volunteers smile, too.

Just like the cat she is, Dakota sets her boundaries and doesn’t need constant cuddles. That said, she also likes being close to her people, following them around from room to room.

[A senior dog’s journey home]

“She's almost like a shadow,” says Victor. “When we're cooking, she'll be laying on the kitchen floor. When we're working, she'll be right under the table. When we're watching TV, she'll plop down right next to us. She likes her space, but she also loves being near us.”

There have been some bumps along the way. Victor and Shaniah are still working on Dakota’s reaction to other dogs and identifying her triggers. (They also note that she is a “gassy lady.”) Still, the couple say they wouldn’t change a thing. She’s brought joy and laughter into their lives. Perhaps best of all, she helped Shaniah through a really tough time. Dakota gave her a sense of purpose, a reason to get out of the house, and unconditional love.

“It's safe to say life is so much better with Dakota in it,” says Victor. “We just hope she loves us as much as we love her.”

Let's make every shelter and every community no-kill by 2025

Our goal at Best Friends is to support all animal shelters in the U.S. in reaching no-kill by 2025. No-kill means saving every dog and cat in a shelter who can be saved, accounting for community safety and good quality of life for pets. 

Shelter staff can’t do it alone. Saving animals in shelters is everyone’s responsibility, and it takes support and participation from the community. No-kill is possible when we work together thoughtfully, honestly, and collaboratively.

Silhouette of two dogs, cat and kitten

You can help save homeless pets

You can help end the killing in shelters and save the lives of homeless pets when you foster, adopt, and advocate for the dogs and cats who need it most.

Saving lives around the country

Together, we're creating compassionate no-kill communities nationwide for pets and the people who care for them.

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