Even though the rapid decline and death of Rachel Hayes’ dog, Vincent, was an emotionally wrenching time, and she still feels his loss deeply each day, she also noted the good it brought out in people around her.
“I remember, when I was going through this, it was nice when my friends would pick me up and just take me out to go get a piece of cake or ice cream,” she said. “That’s the stuff that I remember, what people did for me.”
That experience drove her to want to help other people who are going through the same experience as she had. She created Love, Vincent, a non-profit corporation that sends care packages to the families of dogs and cats who have cancer.
Hayes, 27, and a 2008 Brookfield High School graduate, said Vincent’s death has left such a lasting impact on her because he was unlike any other pet she has had.
For people who don’t understand a dog like Vincent, he could drive them crazy, which is what happened with Hayes at one point. He was always jumping and demanding attention.
But, as Hayes talked to more people about Vincent, she learned that the apparent Labrador retriever-pitbull terrier mix, was highly intelligent. He needed to keep busy and had a high energy level, which is why he was so good at agility exercises.
“Vincent would have been a good working dog,” said Hayes, who lives in Hartford. “He was a great retriever. Great at recall. I could trust him off of a leash, unlike any other dog I had ever had. He was amazing.”
Hayes had to spend more time with Vincent than she ever had with other pets, and took him with her just about anywhere that she could, “which is why I think I bonded with him differently than other pets that I’ve had,” Hayes said.
That bond was forged in a relatively short time. He was not quite 2 years old when he died of cancer in May 2016.
Vincent had a fast-growing tumor and his condition worsened rapidly, but the illness did not inhibit the personality traits that set him apart.
“He still ate and drank and never had an accident in the house and still did everything to make us happy, which killed me,” said Hayes, who teaches third-grade at Mesopotamia Elementary School.
Vincent died about a month after Hayes realized he might be sick.
The void that Vincent left in Hayes’ life pushed her in a new direction. She remembered talking to Jenny Falvi, owner of Dogsmartz Unleashed, a dog-training firm in Poland, Ohio, and telling her, “I feel like there’s something I need to do.”
What she did was form Love, Vincent.
The care packages are free and people can request them for someone else, or for themselves. A package includes a fleece blanket made by volunteers especially for Love, Vincent; toys; treats, if the animal is healthy enough for them and that meet the animal’s dietary needs; a picture frame; and a collar accessory.
The packages also have featured other items for humans, including body butters and perfume from GLOW for a Cause, a Colorado-based firm run by a woman who struck up an Instagram relationship with Hayes.
Pet supply company KONG also has donated a large supply of toys and treats, Hayes said.
Recipients have sent donations despite the packages being free, and Love, Vincent has run fundraisers, participated in events at which it collected money and items, and been the recipient of drives put on by animal advocacy groups.
“The most support has come from regular people who believe in what we do,” Hayes said.
Love, Vincent has sent about 85 care packages to families in 14 states. Hayes, the corporation’s president, said her goals for the organization including reaching more veterinarians, holding events and building its internet presence.
The organization also needs volunteers to make blankets. Love, Vincent provides the material.
“I want people to feel free to request packages,” Hayes said. “It’s not about money. It’s about sending a little cheer to somebody. I want people to feel encouraged that, if their friend’s animal has cancer, send them a care package. Feel free to use our service – that’s why we’re here.I know that it’s made a difference for a lot of people.”
People who have received care packages have shared their stories through Facebook posts and handwritten letters, “which always make me cry,” Hayes said.
“It’s pretty amazing,” she said of the stories people share with her. “It makes me feel that there are people out there who are like me. Ever since I was little, I‘ve always felt a deep connection with animals and I’ve almost felt, like, silly for it and not sure if that was OK or right, and then, after this, I realize there are so many more people out there who feel that way. It’s refreshing. It’s almost like I was meant to do this. Of course, I wouldn’t want to lose my dog.”
Information on Love, Vincent can be obtained at the web site lovevincent.org or the Facebook page @Lovevincent.org. The organization’s phone number is 330-979-0451 and its email address is email@example.com Monetary donations can be mailed to Love, Vincent, P.O. Box 31, Hartford, OH 44424.