Through the last six years of his life, Parley Nichols, 81, never left his Hartville, Ohio, home without his dog Lady. The two were best friends, soul mates and constant companions who took care of each other.
So when Parley, who had developed dementia, went missing on April 8, it was no surprise that Lady, his 6-year-old golden retriever that he bought as a puppy, was also gone.
"Dad had been wandering around, and we kept looking for him for a solid week, sending out flyers, doing whatever we could," Terry Nichols, one of Parley's two sons, tells PEOPLEPets.com. "With his dementia, he would struggle to hear you talk to him, then four hours later he seemed okay. We were very worried."
Finally, a neighbor called saying someone had driven by a field outside of town and heard a dog barking, trying to attract attention. But when Nichols and other family members drove to the area, they found nothing.
"When we went a second time to a different place by a creek, we found Lady and my dad, who was already dead," Nichols tells PEOPLEPets.com. "Lady was standing by his side protecting him. We are sure that she never left my dad for seven days, staying alive by drinking water from the creek."
Lady didn't know what to do when she saw other members of the Nichols family arrive at the scene on April 14. They had to pull her away from her master and place her in the back of their pickup truck.
"I don't know how dogs perceive things but she knew she had to stay with dad no matter what," says Nichols. "And she did."
Lady may not have eaten for a week, but the sturdy dog (who weighed 75 pounds before the incident) was in great condition.
The preliminary autopsy conducted by the Stark County coroner found that Parley Nichols, whose story was first reported by WKYC-TV, passed away from heart failure. He could have been dead for the full week.
With the sad loss of her owner now behind her, Lady has been able to move on. She is living with other Nichols family members in the immediate area, enjoying a similar lifestyle that she had with Parley.
"Lady seems fine now ... she is a friendly, happy dog," Nichols tells PEOPLEPets.com. "I don't know if she misses my dad, but she is responding well to the rest of us. She did the right thing for dad, and we will always be comforted by that."