a periodic purgative

June 12, 2011

Don Vito 2/14/97 – 6/1/11

Posted by-- The Management @ 9:21 PM March 31, 2015

Don Vito 7 months old

We weren’t looking for each other. I think he was perfectly happy where he was and we were not looking for a dog. If we were, it certainly would not have been a pit-bull variety.

Our neighbor’s daughter’s boyfriend had this American Stafordshier puppy. It was summer and they were always hanging out on their front porch. The boyfriend worked with the neighbor’s son as a paver. He called the dog Tamp Shoe in honor of the implements they wore on their feet to tamp down hot asphalt. He lived in a small apartment in Revere and the dog was not a favorite of his landlord. His living situation had become problematic and he was looking for a new home for Tamp Shoe.

Few people had air conditioners in Jamaica Plain. Mid July in the city gets everyone out of their houses which would turn into sweltering ovens of torture in those hot summer months. Every day as we went out to enjoy our yard, there the neighbor’s daughter’s boyfriend would be, with Tamp Shoe, asking us if we wanted to buy his dog, always recounting his difficult story, insisting what a good dog he was, how he in fact he rescued him from an abusive situation where he was to be trained as a fight dog and how he was neglected for days on end in a stinking room with no food or water. I would smile and say “No we’re not looking for a dog, but thank you.” and try to go non-cahlauntly about my business.

Don Vito standing proud 2008

In 1997 Jamaica Plain was a sort of hot-bed for fighting pit-bull type dogs. Really it was a kind of fashion accessory for the young men of the neighborhood. Baby eating dogs and the culture of underground dog fighting rings were common news then. Despite his tales, I had assumed that the neighbor’s girlfriend’s boyfriend’s stories were at best a cover. The neighbor had several pittys on the premises. As far as I knew, they were a breeding house for fighting dogs. In truth, I think they just liked pit-bulls.

One day in early August, the 6th I think, I was saying goodbye to some friends that had come over for a visit. They had brought their dog, a sweet old lab who had the personality of a charming, wise old man.  As I waved them goodbye walking down the driveway, I thought to myself, “I would get a dog if I could have a dog like that.” They drove off. I looked to my left, still waving. Sure enough there he was, my neighbor’s daughter’s boyfriend, standing with his puppy, a smile on his face repeating that now familiar refrain. “Come on man, buy my dog.” I started with my usual response, but in a moment of weakness I stopped mid sentence and said as non-commital as possible, “…well let me see him.”

Don Vito 9 Months old

He was a sweet gangly puppy. And he was funny. I said that I’d take him for a test drive around the neighborhood to see how he was, but I still wasn’t making a commitment. That was the end of my resistance of course and he was with us from that moment on.

We couldn’t let him keep the name Tamp Shoe. It just wasn’t very dignified and he needed a name that fit his stature. He had this slight underbite and jowls that made him look like the Godfather, Don Vito Corleone. That’s how he got his name and he wore it well.

Always letting us know that he was our baby - 2009

Don Vito was our first born. We took him when he was 6 months old which put his birth in February. He paved the way for the rest of our children. He opened our stony little hearts and showed us what it was to love and care for another being. He was our greatest teacher and made us better people. That is why we declared February 14th as his birthday.

He was a gentle dog. He never hurt anyone or anything, other than the occasional window treatment or easily accessed trash receptacle. He did enjoy scaring people though. He thought it was great fun to use all of his pit-bullness to the greatest effect on people that he knew were afraid of him. But he was a lover, not a fighter. If he was ever in a fight with another dog, it was always the other dog that started it. And Don would never fight back. He was strong and tough and you would never know that he was hurt as a result of an encounter until the next day when he couldn’t use one of his legs, discovering that he had a tennis ball sized contusion on it. He still never complained.

Don and Terrence 11 days old

When Terrence came into our lives, Don Vito was there to greet him on Terrence’s first day home, sniffing and licking him, welcoming him. When Olivia joined us, Don was the first to welcome her home too. He was a part of their entire lives. He loved them and they him. When they were little, they used to ride him and Don would take it with a non-chalant stoicism. As the kids got older they would regularly ask for Don to sleep with them, which he would do until they settled, then he would come back out to be with us, lying  on his blanket as we watched TV.

Terrence age 11 months and Don age 3

Don spent his senior years on the Cape in an ideal neighborhood– a loop where everyone knew and loved him and he could roam free, except for those summer months when vacationers would stroll through, unsuspecting, offering a few last opportunities for Don to flex his bark, give a little charge, and see if he could get a rise out of the  tourists trespassing on his block. He was also fortunate that he was able to go to work with Shwana or I every day. He spent most of those days with me in a windowless basement on a hard floor, but he loved it and would rarely let me leave the house without him.

Don and Olivia 2009

He had been slowing down for the last few years. His joints hurt and he couldn’t play or walk like he used to without paying for it the next day. A couple months ago, a lump on his shoulder was discovered to be bone cancer. Because of his age and condition, the best treatment was to make him as comfortable as possible for as long as possible, managing the pain as best we could.

Don and Terrence snuggle 2010

It has been a wonderful and gut-wrenchingly last few months. Don was happy, determined, and tough as ever, right to the end. The day before he passed he was still insisting to me that it was time to go to work, even though he could barely walk. He followed me around that morning, limping and barking, telling me “It’s time to go! Let’s go!”

Don Vito left us on Wednesday, June 1, 2011. It’s hard to imagine that the hole left will ever fill or heal. I stopped counting the tears shed by us all after the first few hours. There have been countless thousands since. But Don is still our greatest teacher. He taught us the true meaning of love, joy, impartiality, and in the end, he was the first to show us the truth of impermanence.

He lived a noble life and we are certain that he purified lifetimes of karma while he was here. He accumulated oceans of merit, not just by his actions, but through the teachings he brought us. Those of you that have met him, spent time with him,  played or practiced with him can attest– he was a dog among dogs and a truly special being.

April 2006 during April vacation in the Hunter Mt. region of New York

Don Vito,
We love you with all our hearts. You were a friend, companion, example, and cherished member of this family. The hole you left will never be filled but remain a constant reminder for us to be the best people we can be, the way that you  were the best dog you could be.

May you be born in the Buddha realms and meet the dharma immediately.

Our hearts
Rich, Shawna, Terrence and Olivia