I remember how I met Vinnie. It wasn’t under the best of circumstances. I had just graduated college, gotten married, and moved down state to look for work. My ex, who was still up at school to finish her graduate degree told me about this dog that was at the Copper Country Humane Society that she really wanted to get. We already had a dog and two cats at the time and I wasn’t so keen on getting another dog since it is a really big commitment to have one, let alone two, as well as the cats. A week or so later, she called me up to tell me she had gotten him anyway. I was mad at the time but I’d later find out that bringing that second dog home was one of the best things she had ever done for me.
A few weeks later, I took a trip back up to school to meet him. He was a hyperactive puppy with a giant bump on the back of his head from banging it on the underside of a desk. I didn’t really warm up to him at the time because of the circumstances, but I could tell he was really happy to have a home, a new friend, and humans to care for.
Once he moved downstate, I finally discovered just how great of a dog he was. He absolutely loved being at my parents house with their big backyard to play fetch in. Vinnie was so fast the ball would barely have a chance to bounce once before he would catch it, even when thrown over 100 feet away. Fetch was one of his favorite games back then and would remain one of his favorite activities. I recall my mom telling me when she would look after him while we were away that all he wanted to do all day long was play fetch and she was exhausted by it. When he would play fetch with other dogs, they didn’t have much of a chance to get the ball because he was so incredibly fast. Being what we think was a lab/greyhound mix made him a really fun dog. He had the speed and the will to chase of a greyhound, and the retrieving and catching skills of a labrador.
In November of that year, we moved into our new house and he got his own backyard to play in. He would run back and forth in our little yard for hours when it was nice outside. It is one of the bigger backyards in my area but it was never big enough for the amount of energy he had. He loved being outside.
He also loved playing chase with one of our cats. He would goad her into running away by sticking her whole head in his mouth and she would complain and eventually run away. He would give chase to the cat only to follow her somewhere and continue doing it until she stopped running away from him.
Fast forward a few years to around the time I was going through my divorce. I had been seeing my psychologist for a while during that process, she had taken the dogs and was living at her parents. I was unemployed and living alone in my house. I had nothing in my life worth living for. I had told him the story about how we had gotten him and told stories about how he loved playing and loved being around people and he made the suggestion to me to try to get him back from her to have something to care for and something to look forward to. She was more than willing to give him up- you may recall my mention of how much work having two dogs and cats was going to be. That dog saved my life. I had something to care about again.
It was still a difficult process for me. I had decided I was going to sell the house since it was too hard for me to live there alone with him and it was bringing back too many hard memories to deal with. Vinnie and I moved to an apartment in Ann Arbor, with one of my friends from college. I chose Ann Arbor because I had a few other friends that were in the area and being able to spend time with friends made it an easy decision.
During the process of moving in, I had decided to leave him in the apartment while I went back to the house to get more of my stuff, since without him in the car I could bring a lot more in one go. I left him in the apartment with the window cracked so he could get some fresh air. What a mistake that was. I arrived back to the apartment to find that he had somehow managed to shove the window open further and he had jumped through the window screen and shades to escape. He must have thought I was abandoning him in this unfamiliar place- perhaps he was reminded of being surrendered at the Humane Society back when he was a pup. I was a wreck. I was so worried that something was going to happen to him. It was the first time I can remember that he ran away.
About an hour later I had received a call from a girl that lived in the complex that she had found him and had brought him inside. She had her own dog and he was trying to make a new friend. Going through that really showed me how much I cared about that stupid dog and how important he was to me.
Vinnie always liked getting into things that had food in them when people weren’t around. That big schnoz of his seemed like it was always on the hunt. I woke up one morning in the apartment to a wobbly dog that was in a state I hadn’t seen him in before. I freaked out, I thought he was having some sort of seizure. It turned out that my flatmate had a friend over that night and his friend had brought an entire tray of “special” brownies over. I was not too concerned until they told me that they were dark chocolate brownies. They wouldn’t admit to anything else being in them. So thus began the first of his rather expensive vet visits.
I rushed him into the vet, they were very concerned about the quantity of chocolate he had ingested and of the other unknown substances. He ended up staying there the rest of the night on IV fluids after they had made him throw up. The next morning they called and said he was still acting strange so they kept him longer for more observation.
In the summer, we took a trip together up to the UP to camp with some friends. I found out just how bad his fear of loud noises was when he ripped a hole in my tent in the middle of the night and ran away. I was worried sick for the next day until he returned in the next evening. I have no idea where that pup ran off to but I was so happy he came back.
I was still out of work at the time and was worried that Vinnie was getting bored just living in an apartment with no backyard and no friends to play with. I heard about being a puppy raiser for Leader Dogs for the Blind and decided that was a great thing to do with my free time and would help me feel like I had a purpose.
A few weeks later, they selected me to take care of a dog I would later name Chuckie. Vinnie finally got a dose of his own medicine about how annoying puppies can be for older dogs. He didn’t like Chuckie being around at first but warmed up to him quickly. He was never really as playful towards Chuckie as he was to the previous dog we had, but you could tell he still liked him. He was a bit jealous of all the attention Chuckie got, since Vinnie never really got to go into stores or other places with me like Chuckie did, being a Leader Dog in Training.
While I still had Chuckie, I ended up getting another job in the Auto Industry, and moving back into my house in Royal Oak. Some friends were living with parents that were losing their house to foreclosure and I offered to let them stay with me rent free while they got back on their feet. This job was also going to involve travel, but I didn’t really know how much yet so they were also my backup plan for dog care for Vinnie while I would be away.
They had their own dog at the time so there was now three dogs in my house. This got to be a bit much but it wasn’t as bad as when they were taking care of their sister’s dog also, which meant that there were four big dogs now, living in my house. They almost out numbered the humans if you count their 1 year old baby. It didn’t bug me too much to have that many dogs in the house at once, but the weird part for me was that when the dogs were all in the same room, moving around was nearly impossible. You’d try to get the dog closest to you to move out of the way and they would bump into another dog, then just look at you like “Sorry, I can’t move either”. It was quite the interesting experience to say the least. I’m not so sure Vinnie liked that much competition for attention.
Chuckie ended up going back to school shortly after I started that job, and they decided to ship me off to China for work. The timing was pretty good and with my friends to take care of Vinnie, I didn’t have to worry about him during that time away. Of course the happy puppy I came to know and love was waiting for me to get back home, so very excited to see me after those long trips. He reminded me of how happy my parents dog Coco used to get every day when my dad would come home from work.
Upon returning from my second trip from China, I met Diana when I was attempting to stay awake for 36 hours straight to reset my internal clock. We chatted a bit and she mentioned she just broke her phone and was trying to get it repaired. I mentioned I had a spare phone she could borrow and I ran home and got it, and brought Vinnie back with me. Obviously I brought him just to brag about how awesome of a dog he is. He was really excited to meet her but she wasn’t so sure about him yet. Her attitude quickly changed; Vinnie’s behavior was a lot better and more reserved than the other dogs she was used to.
Diana and I spent the Forth of July at my parents condo on the lake that year while my friends watched him at home. Well, maybe I shouldn’t say that. They had let him outside before some fireworks went off, and he freaked out from the loud noises and ran away. Again. The worst part about it was that he didn’t have his collar on. I thought he was a goner. I called the police and gave them a description of him, and spent the next several hours outside calling for him, but he never came. The next morning the police had called me back saying someone had found a dog that matched his description. I was so happy! His mouth was a little bit banged up, initially I thought he had been hit by a car, but later I noticed that he had pushed himself right through a skinny hole in the fence in the backyard. I don’t know why he didn’t think to jump over. The pads on his paws were also almost all torn off and raw, he must have been running for his life. That was the last time he ran away, we made sure that he was always in eyesight whenever we were somewhere with loud noises.
Around a year after her and I met, she moved in and my friends moved out. She got to really like Vinnie being around all the time, and especially liked his company when work sent me out of town. She felt safe with him there to protect her. His bark could be pretty scary but he would never hurt a fly.
Shortly after she moved in, my work sent me to France for what was originally supposed to be 2 months, but ended up being 6. Diana came with me for the first 3 months of the trip, and Vinnie was being cared for by Diana’s parents during that time. At the time, they had a dog named Mabel that he enjoyed playing with; he had some competition again. They really enjoyed having him around because he was very well behaved for them and a joy to play with, always full of energy.
Whenever we would take vacations away from home, he would go over to the Skinner’s and he continued to enjoy their company, and they, his. Some times when I would go pick him up he didn’t want to come home, like a kid who didn’t want to leave somewhere because they were having too much fun. I didn’t come to have this realization until after he was gone.
In the summer of 2015, the three of us went down to North Carolina for a long weekend and we hiked up Mount Mitchell. It was perhaps a bit ambitious, both him and Diana were having a pretty hard time by the time we were most of the way back down the mountain. He was a real trooper though and kept us both going when it started to get dark outside. Him being with us assuaged any fear of wildlife that might be a danger to us in the area.
After that trip, during Labor Day his loud noise phobia got the best of him while we were away. The loud fireworks were too much. He was being kept in a metal kennel at home at the time due to misbehaving with the trash can while were weren’t there. He tried his best to get out, and broke some of his teeth on the metal bars doing it. I took him in to the vet, and the vet pointed out that his lymph nodes were enlarged. Not thinking about it too hard, we both just assumed he had gotten sick and was recovering from it. My vet just wanted to pull his broken teeth but I considered having them repaired. She referred me to another vet and his lymph nodes continued to get bigger.
The dental vet suggested to me that Vinnie may have something worse going on than just being sick. She wanted to take a sample of his lymph nodes to see if it was cancerous. She sent the sample in and we waited anxiously for the news. Then it came. He had lymphoma. We were referred to yet another vet, the Oakland Veterinary Referral Services. They had an oncology department there.
The day that we found out the news, Diana and I were headed out of town for a long weekend with her sister and her sister’s boyfriend. The Skinner’s graciously took him to the vet immediately and the vet there, Dr. Sauerbrey explained all of Vinnie’s options to them, and they forwarded them to me. If he did not receive treatment, he might have gotten another 4-6 weeks at that point. Best case scenario was 18 months while getting the best treatment, but it is rare for dogs to survive it that long.
I opted to take the course of chemo that was the most expensive and had the best chance of helping him fight it off. I thought hard about how important he was to me- he had saved my life once when I was going through severe depression, and now it was my time to step up to the plate and help him in return.
Having to take him to the vet so often, I decided to start bringing him to work on the days where we had to go, which was once a week during the treatment. Since the vet was so far away from home, it meant that I could stay at work another hour. The office staff grew to really enjoy having a dog to keep them company; he was a great morale booster.
After the treatment was over, several months later, I continued to bring him to work on occasion and when we had his monthly checkup. We also planned a trip in May to go up to the Porcupine Mountains. He and I are both yoopers at heart, him having been born there, and me having gone to school, but neither of us had ever gone to the Porkies. The weekend we chose to go ended up being around freezing the whole time, and with some blowing snow. You could tell Vinnie really enjoyed being in the great outdoors with us, something I wish we had done more often. Diana tolerated the cold and was happy to have his company. This would be the last real nice trip we took with him.
Unfortunately, his cancer eventually returned, the remission period only having lasted a few months. The vet told us that we could expect his cancer to stay in remission from this next treatment for about half as long as it lasted the first time. Again, I opted to go for the most expensive treatment, my Vinnie was a fighter and I wasn’t going to give up on him.
His trips to work got more frequent. I would bring him on days where I didn’t have other plans for after work, and on days where he didn’t have treatment. He continued to bark at and scare new people who came in the office, but was immediately friendly with them once we asked him to calm down. Since we’re not a retail store, visitors are not very frequent. Again, he was there just to protect us. He was no real threat to anyone but he sure sounded the part.
The second round of chemotherapy went as well as the first one, no real bad complications or side effects- Most people weren’t even aware there was anything wrong with him unless you told them. He certainly didn’t play the part at all. He was still my bouncing happy puppy, the same as he ever was.
However, he did start to become a little less playful during the second round of treatment. He wouldn’t play fetch for hours like he used to unless he was having a good day. I wasn’t sure if it was just from him becoming an old dog, or if it was the cancer starting to affect him in other ways. The second round came and went and he was in remission again. His playfulness returned a little, but he was still not the same dog he once was.
That treatment lasted about half as long as the previous one, it was as advertised. The worst thing possible happened, his cancer had returned again. Under the guidance of my vet, we opted for him to have an oral chemo this time. The risk of severe side effects was much less, and it would not give him much less time than the more expensive options.
Diana and I had taken up biking quite a while ago, and I was feeling bad about leaving him home alone all the time to go have fun ourselves. I purchased a dog trailer to pull and for him to ride along in. He was hesitant at first but calmed down quickly. One day we took a trip to Lake St. Clair Metropark with Diana’s dad so he could ride his new recumbent trike around. I brought Vinnie and the trailer. He seemed to enjoy it for a little while until the trail started to get too bumpy. I made the mistake of going up a wooden ramp too quickly and he got pretty upset about it. I continued to ride while attempting to calm him down but he had had enough. He leapt out of the trailer, still attached by his collar to the inside of the trailer, just long enough for his body to flail out. I slammed on the brakes immediately but I could no-longer keep him calm about the trailer. It was a nice thought but didn’t end up working out.
I started bringing him to work every day. People at work still loved having an office dog, and he continued to bark at strangers that came. You could tell he was, again, slowing down a bit more. He spent more time sleeping on the ground than he would before, didn’t seem to enjoy coming to work as much as he used to, but for a while he was still waiting at the door in the morning to go to work. He loved when I asked him if he wanted to go to work.
The third treatment went on for about two months. We didn’t really do a whole lot during these two months because we wanted to spend as much time with him as we could. In this period, it was becoming evident that the treatment was no-longer effective. His cancer was returning and his lymph nodes enlarging. We kept him on the oral pills because they were still helping to a degree. He continued coming to work every day. We stayed in town with him for the Holidays and had a really nice time with him around. Normally we would go on vacation but having paid for all of his cancer treatments, it was no longer something we could afford, and we wanted to spend as much time with him as we could. It was the right decision.
After the holidays, in his last week, his demeanor took a turn for the worst. You could tell that he wasn’t happy anymore, he lost most of the joy he had about coming to work and spending time there. He was still occasionally playful, but it was no longer hours, or even minutes. He would run out of energy very fast. His musculature was starting to atrophy, and he started having difficulty getting up and down the stairs at home.
He had a few good days in his last week, but they were mostly bad days. We knew it was going to be time very soon. Upon waking Saturday, January 7th, he was no longer the pup I had come to know and love. He was refusing to eat. We decided to invite Diana’s parents over on Sunday for dinner. By around 2:30pm he decided to finally eat his breakfast. A little while later he seemed to be in a good mood and have some energy, so I took him on what would be his last walk- about 3/4 of a mile. Sunday morning, Vinnie started to have even more symptoms. We took him to the vet and they told us what we already knew, that it was time.
Since Diana’s parents were coming over, I knew there was no way we could have done it then. Call it selfish if you’d like but he was happy that they had to come visit one last time, but they didn’t know it would be their last visit. They rang the doorbell when they arrived, and Vinnie barked twice. That would be the last time he barked. After they left, he continued to deteriorate. I had set up a bed downstairs so he and I could sleep and reminisce about the good old days when he was allowed in the bed.
At around 1am, Vinnie woke me up. He was in the worst condition I had ever seen him in. Diana and I had previously talked about making the decision in the morning but at that time I knew. There was no other choice. He was starting to suffer and it was killing me inside to see my best friend of the last 8 years go through that. We took him to the vet, petted him a lot. It was hard to tell if he enjoyed it anymore but I would think he liked the company. The vet administered the first syringe and he looked happy for a brief moment as the medicine kicked in. At that moment I knew it was the right thing to do. He was able to be happy again for the last time. Then, the second syringe was administered. Seconds later, while we were still giving him the best pets in the world, the tension in his muscles just ceased.
All of his suffering was over. I would never see my best friend again. It was a tough decision to make, but the right decision. He was not the playful puppy he once was, he found no joy out of life anymore and was not eating normally. He would still react to his favorite squeaky toy but would not do more than that. He still took treats because he was such a good boy. I’m convinced he did it just because of how happy it made us.
I miss my best friend.
I love you Vinnie, you will forever be in my heart and thoughts.