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Mike Shaw: Paying tribute to a Prince of a dog

For pet owners, saying goodbye to a beloved animal is a difficult, painful and emotional experience. The loss can be almost unbearable because our pets have such a special place in our lives and in our hearts. That day came for us on a warm, sunny October afternoon. At the age of 15, our dog, Prince, passed peacefully on the cool grass in our backyard under the care of a kind and compassionate veterinarian with Lap of Love, a hospice organization for pets.

Though still grieving his loss, we are comforted by some wonderful memories of a dog that was just days from being euthanized before we adopted him 13 years ago.

Over the years, our family has had six dogs, including Prince. We loved them all, but there was something different, something extraordinary about him.

A handsome and very intelligent dog, Prince was part husky, German shepherd and chow.

I first saw him in August 2002. We had lost our golden retriever several months earlier and were ready to adopt another dog. As I walked through the kennel area at the local SPCA, Prince sat watching me. Upon approaching his kennel, he jumped up and licked my hand. It was an easy decision.

After bringing him home, I realized he had never been trained to walk on a leash. After several weeks and family companion classes at the SPCA, Prince trotted happily beside me during our daily walks.

It took him awhile to feel comfortable in his new home, but as my wife, Michele, recalls, the night he fell asleep in a big soft chair in the family room, we knew he was going to be OK. Thereafter, that became Prince’s chair.

Emaciated when we adopted him, he soon became a strong and fit dog of 51 pounds and stayed that way until an illness and arthritis overtook him several months ago.

Memories? We have many. There was a time shortly after we adopted him that he somehow wriggled out of his collar and disappeared. I finally found him several blocks away emerging from the front door of a home where workmen were doing some renovations. They seemed to enjoy his visit.

Always vigilant, Prince would stand guard at our front window for hours watching the happenings in the neighborhood. If one or both of us left the house, he would be at the window when we returned.

On one occasion, I had a short meeting in a conference room at the church I attend and took him with me. Prince got restless and disappeared down a hallway. We found him a few minutes later in the church sanctuary. As one of my friends observed, “He walked down the aisle like he owned the place.”

What many people will remember most about Prince is the six and a half years he served as a pet volunteer at Niagara Hospice. He was a natural and never had any special training. We began visiting patients in 2009 when my late mother-in-law was at Hospice House in Lockport. Over the years, Prince visited more than 2,000 hospice patients and family members at Niagara Hospice House, in nursing homes and even patients’ homes.

He was always a big hit when he walked into a room. People would smile and comment on what a beautiful dog he was.

As might be expected, he developed a special bond with many patients during our weekly visits, and always enjoyed the treats they gave him. One patient referred to him as the “Princely Prince.”

His volunteer work did not go unnoticed. Earlier this year he was recognized as a Niagara Hospice volunteer of the month. He also was one of the featured pets on Niagara Hospice’s annual pet calendar for several years, and his photo is on the cover of the 2016 calendar.

Our beloved Prince is gone now, but we shall never forget that in his lifetime he touched the lives of so many people in such a special way while bringing so much happiness and love to our family. Prince. One of a kind.