Her link to joy on Earth

Published March 7, 2007

LAND O'LAKES - Dotte David never asked what people liked - she just noticed. She knew if guests preferred Diet Coke to regular, orange juice with or without pulp, a special tea, a special coffee. With Dotte, all of the things you liked just happened to be there.

Dotte grew up in Michigan, the daughter of a family who owned a large canning plant and employed most folks in the county. But she wasn't uppity. She was studious and pretty, dark hair, ivory skin and smart, too. Dotte was a National Merit Scholar and went to Northwestern University, where she dropped out to marry a handsome Navy man.

They lived the Navy life, base to base, for a few years until her husband left to go into the business world. After 20 years and two children together, they divorced in the 1980s.

It was then that Dotte blossomed.

She bought a small 100-year-old house in Hancock, N.H., fixed it up and made it her sanctuary. She gardened and had intimate dinner parties - lobster feasts and shrimp and grits so good it could have been on the cover of Southern Living magazine. She worked part time as a veterinary technician and became a nationally recognized dog breeder - Labrador retrievers and then French bulldogs. Her dogs were not just a business to her - they were like her children. She stayed up all night to help them give birth. She once gave CPR to a languishing pup, who survived. Dotte placed dogs with friends - many of whom are now breeders or, at the least, avid dog lovers because of Dotte.

She had no qualms about taking back a puppy from a customer, if she felt that person wasn't treating the dog right. She actually had few qualms about saying what was on her mind, though she wasn't abrasive. Just honest in her opinions. And people seemed to respect her for it.

Dotte's friends worried she'd never find someone in that small town. But Dotte wasn't looking. She was content.

Then she met Ray.

Ray David, a Canadian in the bird show business, was a friend of one of Dotte's friends. He was divorced, with two children the same ages as Dotte's. He wasn't looking for anyone, either. And he was allergic to dogs. At the time, Dotte had a dozen.

They met a few times, but didn't think much of it. Ray felt like Dotte was guarded. "She knew no fear," he said. She gave off the air that she didn't need anyone, which is what happens when you go through heartache and change and renewal and get comfortable with yourself and your life. And maybe scared.

With their mutual friend and his wife, Dotte and Ray went line dancing a few times. Then one night, Ray wanted to see a movie and figured he'd call up Dotte and see if she wanted to go.

That night changed everything.

She opened up. They talked and talked. It was like something from a movie.

"You know we're going to get married one day," Ray said.

"I know," she said.

That was March. Ray started taking Benadryl every day for his dog allergies. Friends were pleasantly puzzled to see the two giggling like teenagers. Dotte was radiant. They kept their plans secret for a few months, just to give their kids and friends time to get used to them being together. They were married in December 1994.

"My mom found the person she was supposed to be with," her daughter, Laura Patracuollo said.

People tend to go all gooey over love. But every friend, every relative and business associate of theirs uses words like "soul mates" and "fairy tale" when talking about Dotte and Ray.

Maybe it was that both had been through hard times, never thinking they'd find love again, that made this match so perfect - for them and for everyone else to see them so happy and content.

They worked together and founded Birding Business, a trade magazine. They saw it go from a newsletter to a glossy 15,000-circulation publication. Somehow, working together worked for them. They didn't fight. They were partners.

In 2002, they moved to Florida to be closer to Dotte's parents and sister. They bought a house in Pasco Trails in central Pasco County with large windows that let in the sun. She could watch birds and the deer who came into the yard. Dotte loved nature and was passionate about the environment. She grew orchids, which takes talent. She talked with her children several times a week and doted on her grandchildren.

In 2006, a dream of Dotte's came true. One of her French bulldogs, Darryl, was accepted to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden in New York City - the oldest and most elite show in the country. She screamed when she got the news.

Dotte's abdomen had been bothering her, but she wasn't about to miss the show. She was in pain, but she powered through and showed Darryl. He did well, making a final cut, but won no large prizes.

When Dotte got back, she went to a doctor.

She had a tumor the size of a cantaloupe in her colon. It was cancerous.

She had surgery, and then complications. She went through chemotherapy. She kept working and showing her dogs and growing her orchids and telling everyone she was fine. But, as her emotional strength remained, her body grew weak and emaciated quickly.

Ray spent the year doting on her. Tending her wounds. Cleaning up her sickness.

Cooking her food every day that she tried to eat, but could only manage a few spoonfuls. At night, they still sat on the couch together, Dotte with her dogs on her lap or sidled up next to her; Ray next to the dogs; a view of the orchids hanging in pots by the glass back door.

She wouldn't talk about death, even after hospice was called in to their home. She wanted to live.

On the night of Feb. 4, Ray could hear her breathing change beside him. He stayed there with her and held her as she died. She was 59 years old.

Ray sent Dotte's two French bulldogs, Darryl and Delores, to live with a friend up north who is in the dog show circuit. But he's keeping their Labrador retriever, Ada, even though he still has to take Benadryl every day.

Dotte would be proud.

Life Stories is an occasional feature taken from Pasco obituaries. Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or 813 909-4609.