1,000 Miles Couldn’t Keep this Dog and Her Pup Apart

A chance TV news spot reunited this bonded pair after a tragic separation.

Editor’s Note: America’s Best Pet Pals is a nationwide search for the animal friendships that make you laugh, cry, and purr. Reader’s Digest honors the best in pet friendship in print, online, and on social media. This is the winner in our “Rescued Animals” category. To see winners in other categories and our full list of finalists, go to rd.com/petpals.

For four months, puppy Indiana miraculously survived in the woods with a shattered shoulder. She’d been mistaken for a coyote and shot while running wild with her mother, Dakota. An animal control officer said they were the most intensely bonded pair he’d ever seen and refused to leave one another’s side, even while trying to evade immediate capture. He said they’d never had a home and were feral dogs who’d always lived on the run.

dogs Dakota and Indiana stand together at the end of a boardwalk near a beachMike McGregor for Reader's Digest

Indiana would soon lose her leg as a result of the gunshot, as well as her mother as the two were sent to different rescue shelters. While Indiana was learning to walk on three legs down south, Dakota was 1,000 miles north in New England. The first family to adopt her returned her two days later. They said she couldn’t bond with humans, kept them up all night, and couldn’t live in a home.

Dakota found her forever home with me on Long Island. I have lots of experience with Nordic breeds, and she just needed attention and someone who understood how to approach her. I always let her come up to me. I gave her the time and space to explore and feel comfortable. She soon let me put a leash on her and would jump on my bed and lay on the sofa with me.

two dogs with their faces close togetherCourtesy Nonnie Gerber

When I first read Dakota’s Petfinder bio, it mentioned the puppy she’d been running with was shot, and I assumed, killed. I’m a broadcast news journalist, so I did some sleuthing and came across a story from a South Carolina TV news outlet about a puppy that recently had her front leg amputated because of an old gunshot wound. There was no mistaking it—she was a spitting image of Dakota. Her puppy wasn’t killed by the gunshot­, just badly injured. I vowed to bring the three-legged puppy home to her mother.

As I learned throughout my journey to reunite mother and pup, they both needed each other. Back home, Dakota would go out on my deck and let out these downright mournful howls, like she was calling for her puppy to come back to her. And potential adopters for Indiana were required to have a six-foot fence because she kept trying to jump the one at her rescue in South Carolina.

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When I was finally able to adopt Indiana and bring her home to her mother, the reunion was magical. Dakota was ecstatic. She couldn’t stop licking her puppy’s face. The love between them is as heartwarming as their story is heartbreaking. Dakota has since stopped her mournful howls. Indiana has never tried to jump my fence.

two dogs sleeping next to each other on the porchCourtesy Nonnie Gerber

They play and run around nonstop. The puppy cameras in my house turn on in the middle of the night because the two of them are playing. They sleep entwined with their noses resting on the other. If one rolls over for a belly rub, the other rolls, too. They romp around on the beach and love to say “hi” to other dogs. When she’s tired, Dakota lets her pup rest her one front leg on her back. Every day I play the same good-morning song and they come running in and dance with me, jumping on their hind legs and giving me their front paws (or paw).

They are truly inseparable. Today, Indiana runs and plays with Dakota as if she still has four legs. When she’s tired, Dakota lets her pup rest her one front leg on her back.

These once feral dogs now jump on my bed, lay on the sofa by my side, curl up in my lap, and lick me constantly. Despite their having lived in the wild, there is no aggression whatsoever. I am constantly amazed by how sweet and gentle they are.