It was 1994 and Mike Lingenfelter expected his life to end soon. Two serious heart attacks and open-heart surgery had stripped away most of the pleasure he had in his life. His doctors still held out hope for him, however. Their vision was that an energetic dog on a leash might motivate Mike to get out of the house and exercise. And so it was that a golden retriever named Dakota, who had been rescued from death himself, came to live with Mike and help him and his rehabilitative therapy. Dakota became Mike's protector and his best friend saving Mike's life many times after somehow learning how to forewarn him of oncoming heart crises. Dakota gave Mike back his dignity, his pride, and his life.
Dakota was named Service Animal of the Year in 1999 by Delta Society, in 2000 he was named to the Texas Animal Hall of Fame and the National SERTOMA Club presented him with their Service of Mankind Award. Dakota has appeared on many national TV shows including Good Morning America, Lifetime, Discovery, Animal Planet, USA Networks and Canada National TV. He was honored by the Westminster Kennel Club as their special award animal of the year in 2001.
Dr. Marty Becker DVM wrote on Dakota's behalf to the Alabama Animal Hall of Fame the following:
"Hey, this wasn't a dog, Dakota was a heeler and healer, anxiety reliever and angel, trusted medical sentinel and teacher, fur-covered hot water bottle and friend. Dakota brought all his gifts to bear on behalf of Mike's health and well-being. Dakota jolted Mike out a sedentary lifestyle and kept him physically and socially active. Dakota provided much-needed comfort and calm to Mike, who was always nervously waiting for the next "cardiac shoe" to drop. Dakota used a gifted sensory system to predict Mike's heart attacks before they occurred, thus allowing Mike a period of grace to find safety or comfort. Last but not least, Dakota provided comfort for the soul to Mike and the rest of his human family.
In Dakota's case, "human family" numbered in the millions, as Dakota became a spokesdog of sorts for the positive effect of pets on human health and well-being. From top television shows and magazines, human hospitals to veterinary clinic waiting rooms, corporate boardrooms to street corners, Dakota was a competent confident, compassionate messenger for the amazing ability of pets to impact human health in a way that is significant, lasting, and measurable."
Dakota's life is chronicled in the book "The Angel by My Side" and web-site "Angelbymyside.com."
Dakota's work continues worldwide to this day. His work is the basis for two new service foundations, "The Animal Cancer Research Center" and "The Companion Animal Foundation." Many international service organizations have been established and funded through Dakota's work and influence.