I got Mike the summer after I graduated from college. My roommate, Jess, worked at a local vet and knew I wanted a Labrador. Jess came home one day and said someone had abandoned two dogs at the vet and the vet was in the process of getting legal custody of the dogs. The dogs had been there a couple of months and they were tired of the Lab howling for attention. I knew I wanted a dog.. never mind the expense and responsibility I was taking on fresh out of school.
I got Mike for $20 and a free neutering surgery. We also brought home the other dog Starlight. We walked the two of them from the vet to our house. It was clear Mike had some training because he would sit at each corner and wait for my signal to cross. We still thought Starlight was the brains of the duo and Mike was just the brawn. Mike was supposed to be an outdoor dog. It was southern California, so I figured he would be fine with that. He wasn’t. The first night Starlight got Mike all riled up so he ran back and forth from the gate to the sliding door banging so loud no one could sleep. I let them inside and both dogs and our 20 pound orange cat Smithers came into my room to sleep with me on my tiny futon.
On night 2 the same wildness happened but this time they seemed to quiet down eventually. The next morning we discovered that the quiet was because big brute Mike had destroyed the heavy duty wooden gate and both dogs were gone. I was distraught. My new dog was gone, no collar, and I hadn’t even had a chance to fall totally in love with him yet. I called all the local shelters and searched the area with no sign of them.
Later that morning, my roommate called from the vet. They found Mike. Poor Mikey… he ran away to the vet. He thought he lived there. When the first person arrived to work that morning, they found Mike sitting at the front door of the vet waiting to be let in. That must have been hilarious to anyone driving by to see a dog asking to go INTO the vet. We think Starlight ran to her previous home. After that, Mike knew he was mine and I was his.
He and Smithers the Cat became best friends, but always vied for the most attention. If I was petting Smithers, Mike would crawl up on the back of the couch and wrap himself around my shoulders like a shawl.
That summer I also learned that unlike a normal Lab, Mike was terrified of the water and didn’t have a clue how to play fetch. He never learned the fetch thing. Mike used to dig dirt baths to stay cool in the yard. He buried my stuffed animals in his dirt bath. He could also tell quality items from cheap ones. If my sunglasses and my roommates Oakleys were on the table, he chewed the Oakleys. My other roomie Lillian was waiting for her Noam Chompsky video to arrive for weeks. It arrived, and Mike ate it. She loved Mike enough to forgive him and figured out how to fix her tape.
Mike was there for all of the major events in my life. He drove across country with me from California to live in NYC. We camped along the way with my buddy Amy. Turns out he wasn’t a big fan of city living. He loved Riverside Park running off leash, but at $100 a ticket, that was a big risk for us. On one run, Mike saw a few other dogs off leash and started a game of chase where he led about 6 dogs weaving in and out of all the other runners and walkers in the park. Another time he saw a small animal, gave chase and disappeared. Another jogger stopped in his tracks and turned completely pale. I asked, “Did you see where my dog went?” He pointed to a 3 foot wall that guarded a 30 foot drop to the half-pipe skate park below. I looked over the wall and saw the skid marks where Mike landed. I called for him, but he didn’t come. Instead, a helpful homeless guy came out of his cave and pointed, “He went that way.” Just then, Mike came running back and looked 30 feet up at me like “reach down and get me mom.” The homeless guy told me were the stairs were and I got Mike out of the skate park. No harm done.
My ancient old lady neighbor (who made soup in her underwear in front of an open window) showed up to our apartment one day telling me I abused my dog. She said he cries all day “A wooo wooo wooo, a wooo wooo wooo!”. That was it. I felt so bad that Mike went to live with mom and dad. Mike fell in love with mom and dad immediately.
They taught him his manners and that if we gave him biscuits when we were leaving, that meant we would be back. Living with my parents helped calm Mike’s abandonment issues. Occasionally, Mike still took himself for walks in their neighborhood. My dad went looking for him once and had to drive slowly back while Mike trotted alongside the car because he didn’t want to get in.
When I decided to go to grad school, I lived with my parents for a year first. This was Mike’s ideal set up. Everyone he loves living together under one roof. When I left for Florida, Mike had to stay behind. But he took a road trip with mom to visit me at grad school. Mike loved a good road trip.
When I got my first Physical Therapy job in DC, Mike eventually came to live with me in Old Town Alexandria. Old Town is dog central. The other dogs at the dog park taught Mike to swim in the Potomac. He was still chicken to go by himself, and more often then not, he faked it by walking out on the jetty instead of going into the deep water. Mike was a regular at the Holiday Inn Doggy Happy Hour too. He took me running along the trails up and down the river. He fell in love with my roommate, Julie, one of my best buddies from grad school. I could count on her to walk him if I didn’t get home first. When Julie moved away, Mike tried to stuff himself into her car to go with her. He wanted everyone to live with him always.
One day our neighbors, The Coles, were having people over for a barbeque. Mike was invited too. Mike made a new friend that day. This really cute guy Henry was making sure Mike didn’t wag his tail into the flame of the outdoor stew pot. I’m pretty sure Henry was also giving Mike pieces of Keilbasa. Mike immediately liked Henry. He wasn’t protective or shy at all. If Mike could talk he would have said, “Hey, mom, this guy’s a keeper. Let’s date him.” So we did. Technically, I was dating Henry, but, Mike was a big part of everything we did together. We took him to the dog park, went on runs, went to Happy Hour. When Mike and I were in a car accident that totaled my X-Terra, Henry went out and bought him the best car harness available. Mike would never jump out onto the expressway again. Eventually, Mike got his own bowl at Henry’s apartment and commandeered an old blanket that came to be known as “Mike’s Blanket.”
When we got engaged, Mike moved to Groton with us. He was in our professional engagement photos. He was there for all the wedding planning, festivities and moving to Hawaii.
Mike liked Hawaii a lot. He spent most of his time basking in the sun on the lawn. He visited Lanaikai beach, hiked Tantalis, hiked to the lighthouse. His favorite place was Hickam dog beach on the air force base. He played with the other dogs and honed his swimming skills. He loved riding in Henry’s old beat up truck. When Henry deployed, Mike and I were regulars at Hickam. We threw water jugs and towels in the back of the truck and drove over almost weekly. Mike always rode in the cab. No one at the beach believed Mike was so old.
When the USS Honolulu changed home ports to Washington, Mike took a solo flight to Maryland to visit with my parents before I arrived on the mainland. Mike had a final cross country trek with my mom and I from Maryland to Washington. After a false start and a new timing belt, we were on our way. With that road trip, Mike increased his ownership of states to at least 44. (He peed on stuff – that’s doggy ownership.) Mike discovered that Holiday Inn Express is a dog friendly chain and highly recommends it to his doggy friends.
In Washington, Mike was an integral part of our search for our first house. Our Realtor, Norma, was sensitive to Mike’s needs and we got a great house. We bought Mike a designer bed (I never thought I would be one of ‘those people’), we bought him a new fence, and a new doggy door. Even to his last days, he LOVED that doggy door. He could get through it even when he was stumbling from weakness. Mike came full circle to his youth by digging a dirt bath in the yard behind the azaleas. This was one of his favorite resting spots. Mike had his own room too. He took over the guest bed as his own because it looked out of the best window in the house and he could watch the neighborhood in comfort.
Even though he seemed to be going deaf, he knew the sound of Henry’s sports car and would get excited as Henry arrived home each day. He was like Goldilocks. He moved around the house sleeping in all his favorite spots. Fancy doggy bed, guest bed, formal couch, casual couch, downstairs dog bed, garden, Persian carpet… over and over all day.
The most special thing Mike got to be a part of was finding out we were pregnant. We both wish Mike could be there to be the big brother of little Henry, but I guarantee our kids will hear all sorts of stories about the great Mike Roenke.
In his last month, Mike got to eat gourmet meals of homemade chicken, meatballs, bacon, cheese and whatever else we could get him to eat. His favorite was salami. He would eat it even with a pill wrapped inside. In his final hours we gave him water with a water bottle and kept him comfortable. The decision was so hard, but we have no doubt that Mike didn’t want to live unable to eat well and do all of his favorite fun doggy things.
We both miss Mike terribly. It gets easier each day. Mike was my doggy soul mate. I hope there are squirrels and salami in doggy heaven. I know that’s where he went. I just home some day they let me in too.
I just wanted to write down how great our dog was and share him with everyone. We have such great memories, I hope you enjoyed reading a few of them.
Love - Judy
Here is the link to Mike’s claim to fame on the Pill Pocket website. Scroll down a ways to see his testimonial. This is the artist who did Mike’s portrait (our wedding gift to each other was a painting of the dog!)