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Saying goodbye to Ace


He was a well-traveled dog who loved the road more than anything, except maybe you and me.

He was a survivor of Baltimore’s less tender side who was picked up as a stray, placed in a city shelter, found a home with some writer guy and went on to become a therapy dog and minor celebrity.

He was the subject of a five-part newspaper series examining his roots, a book (unpublished and unfinished), the inspiration for this website, and my reason for being.

SONY DSCHe was an ambassador for mutts, and, more particularly, for all those disrespected breeds his sweet, gentle self was made up of — Rottweiler, Akita, Chow and pit bull.

And now the hardest words I’ve ever written: Ace is dead.

Last week, he was frolicking in the woods. This week, he slowed down to a state near lethargy and showed little interest in eating, and in the past two days he began swelling up — mostly in the belly region.

Having recovered from his recent bladder surgery, he was the same dog he always was — until Monday night when he came inside showing no interest in his nightly treat.

The vet’s diagnosis was congestive heart failure and possible tumors — hemangiosarcoma.

Blood was not getting to his liver, and fluids were pooling up inside.

Based on Ace’s age (nearly 12, a good 90 in human years for a dog of his size), based on the poor outlook in either case, or the even worse outlook in the case of both, and based on his apparent discomfort, the vet recommended putting him down.

When I asked for some time to think about it, the vet said that wasn’t a good idea. When I asked to take Ace home and bring him back today, he said that wasn’t a good idea, either.

So we took an hour before the deed was to be done. We started walking. It started raining. It was taking all of his effort to keep up with me, and I (being a fellow member of the congestive heart failure club) walk pretty darn slow.

brendanfinnertyWe only walked a few hundred yards, yet in that time I was asked twice what kind of dog he was, and thanked four people who complimented him on his good looks.

We stopped at a Domino’s and sat on the pavement under an overhang. I bought him a small cheese pizza — his favorite food. He took two bites, but only because I insisted.

We stopped in the rain on the way back. I briefly debated whether I was doing the right thing. I held his head in my hands, rested my head on his and looked into his eyes. I could still see the love in them, but not the joy.

Back at the vet, on the floor with his head in my lap, the vet administered a sedative. Ace was soon snoring. Once the lethal injection was administered, his heartbeat slowed within minutes and then, around 6 p.m. Thursday, stopped.

I’ll get his ashes in a week or so, and I’ll spread them in Black Walnut Bottoms, the trail in Bethania he loved.

Having written a lot about dogs and death, I thought I’d be better prepared for this. But I’m a wreck.

In answer to one of the questions asked a lot over the years, no — a resounding NO! — he will not be cloned. Having written a book on dog cloning, people ask that of me. Clearly, they never read the book.

SONY DSCIn answer to another — whatever happened to that book you were writing about Ace? — well, 95 percent of it exists, but only on the Internet.

In 2011, Ace and I set off on a trip duplicating the route John Steinbeck took in “Travels with Charley.”

It ended up lasting a year, and covering 27,000 miles. I think I speak for both of us when I say it was the time of our lives.

Travels with Ace” didn’t interest any publishers, but it will hang around on the Internet — at least until my time comes.

I still need to finish the last chapter, but I can promise you this:

In the book, Ace won’t die.

(Photos: Top, Ace at Salvation Mountain in California; Ace at the Bandera County Courier in Texas; Ace and John (photo by Brendan Finnerty); Ace with a bust of John Steinbeck in Monterey, California)


Comment from Jo Bass
Time May 20, 2016 at 9:16 am

John, I’m so sorry to hear about Ace. His visits to the j-school always brought smiles to everyone he met. He was such a gentle soul wrapped in a big, loveable body. You did right by him during his time with you, and especially at the end. He will be missed.

Comment from Kelly
Time May 20, 2016 at 9:56 am

Bawling my eyes out in Baltimore. What a great dog Ace was. My heart is breaking for you, John. I know it’s hard to lose your best pal. Rest assured that you did the right thing for him, as you always did.

Comment from Gari
Time May 20, 2016 at 10:02 am

The only feeling stronger than loss, is love. And Ace was so loved by so many.

Comment from Arnie Sherman
Time May 20, 2016 at 10:09 am

Dear John, I did not know either you or Ace for a long time but the times that we spent together have a special place in my heart. Ace will be well remembered and missed by all who have had the pleasure of spending time with him.

Comment from Debbie Williams
Time May 20, 2016 at 10:10 am

I am so sorry.πŸ’–

Comment from Fran
Time May 20, 2016 at 10:14 am

I am so, so sorry to hear about Ace. I’ve been a fan of both of you for many years and now that we live in Houston I always read your column and Facebook posts. Ace was loved by so many people and I know he will be missed. Thank you for sharing your adventures and your life with us. I, for one, will always be grateful. Sending you prayers and a big hug.

Ace, run free of pain at the Bridge. We will miss you.

Comment from Zoe Walsh
Time May 20, 2016 at 10:37 am

There are lots of words, none will help
What I offer is horribly inadequate but it is all I have
I am so very sorry
I’m crying for a dog I never met
He touched us all
And he will always be with you

Comment from Dale
Time May 20, 2016 at 10:39 am

John. I am so sorry to hear about Ace. I just put down Rosie , my cat of 18 years. I am still feeling sick about it. My dog. Murphy, is 15, and has problems getting up and walking at times. I often wonder how soon he will have to go. My heart is with you.

Comment from Tina Johnston
Time May 20, 2016 at 10:44 am

I am so sorry. Please accept my deepest sympathy and prayers. I have been through the pain and be glad that you were there for him when he crossed the Rainbow Bridge. I wasn’t so blessed. I truly enjoyed reading your stories about him and would often share them with my husband. RIP Ace.

Comment from Ariel
Time May 20, 2016 at 10:50 am

John, my heart breaks for you. Thank you for sharing Ace with all of us. <3

Comment from Laura Hudson
Time May 20, 2016 at 10:54 am

Very sorry for your loss!! I have had several pets over the years and they have all passed over that rainbow bridge! So sorry you have list your best friend! !!

Comment from Rose Ann
Time May 20, 2016 at 10:56 am

I am so very sorry for your loss. Having lost so many of my own, I have an idea how you are feeling. Sitting here teary eyed is bringing back so many memories of my own. RIP Ace!

Comment from Jen Walker-couchsurfing
Time May 20, 2016 at 11:13 am

I’m so sorry to hear about Ace’s passing, he really was an ambassador for his breeds and a wonderful dog!

Comment from Mel Tansill
Time May 20, 2016 at 11:50 am

I am so sorry, John. Ace was truly loved. He will always be in our hearts. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

Comment from Erin
Time May 20, 2016 at 12:13 pm

John, my heart is breaking for you. I am so, so sorry. I’ll never forget seeing you and Ace standing atop the hill of Riverside Park and being overcome with the visceral vision of Ace as a soldier; a true hero of war. Thank you for sharing with us your love and life with Ace. It’s been an honor and a gift. Much love and support, your friend, Erin

Comment from Will
Time May 20, 2016 at 12:19 pm

I am writing this through my tears. Ace was special, mostly because if he could talk, he would have said he wasn’t. He was so gentle, he made friends of those afraid of big dogs, hell, he made friends of everybody. I miss him. Big hug to you, friend.

Comment from robert
Time May 20, 2016 at 1:03 pm

So so sorry to hear this news. It never gets any easier for us dog parents. Just knowing we gave them the best life helps.

Comment from Cathy
Time May 20, 2016 at 1:59 pm

I am so very sorry for your loss. He will always be remembered. Thank you for sharing him with us. My Sammie will run free with you, Ace sweetheart!!!!

Comment from Kay S
Time May 20, 2016 at 2:09 pm

I have been following you and Ace online for years and send you my condolences – what great pals you two were!

Comment from Nancy
Time May 20, 2016 at 2:18 pm

John.. There are no words, I am so sorry… He was wonderful and you were wonderful together…also bawling my eyes out in Baltimore..πŸ’”

Comment from Anonymous
Time May 20, 2016 at 2:51 pm

Really sorry to hear about ace, I followed your travels and I almost feel like I know him, my golden is 11 and a half now and I’m not looking forward to it. Sorry for your loss.

Comment from Lynn (in Louisiana)
Time May 20, 2016 at 3:18 pm

Please let me add my sincere condolences. What a shocking, sad headline. I burst into tears as though I knew Ace. But I guess in a way I did, having read your blog for several years now. My gosh. Of course there are no words except I’m sorry. John. And thank you, Ace. It was a pleasure to have known (about) you. Thanks for coming into my life.

Comment from Tammy
Time May 20, 2016 at 3:32 pm

Oh, John, I’m so saddened by your news and missing Ace already. Sitting here crying, thinking of your pain, but also thinking of all the fun Ace had in his life with you. Our little dog, my agility teammate and constant friend, has hemangiosarcoma — it is a heartbreaking cancer that leaves little time to come to grips with what’s happening. Big hug to you.

Comment from Tina
Time May 20, 2016 at 3:39 pm

What a great life with so much love you and Ace shared. I loved reading about your travels. I think I’ll go read them again. Our dogs are forever in our hearts. My tears flow with yours.

Comment from Sue
Time May 20, 2016 at 4:05 pm

I can’t find the words. Probably a good thing because I can hardly see the keyboard or pc screen because of the tears. I feel sucker punched and you must feel that way times ten or more. I am so, so very sorry for your loss and heartbreak.

Comment from David
Time May 20, 2016 at 4:20 pm

Condolences and empathy. I have lost a lot of pets over my half-century of adulthood, and it is always heartbreaking. Only had one dog, a shepherd, and losing her at age 10-plus was one of the hardest days of my life.

Comment from maeleska fletes
Time May 20, 2016 at 6:22 pm

So sorry for your loss. Thank goodness he had you! God’s Speed Ace!

Comment from Lois Wark
Time May 20, 2016 at 7:01 pm

John, please let us know when that final chapter is done. Good to know Ace survives all your travels and will live forever in your heart. In ours, too.

Comment from Mary
Time May 20, 2016 at 8:19 pm

Oh John, I’m so sorry to read this. I’m glad you and Ace had each other–what a good life you gave him. Thinking of you.

Comment from Cyndi
Time May 20, 2016 at 8:19 pm

I am so sorry for your loss. Stumpy and I have followed you and Ace for years. He’ll be
missed by many but will not be forgotten. Ace touched many, many lives.

I hope the memories you shared will bring you solace, in time

Comment from Ann
Time May 20, 2016 at 10:13 pm

John, I am so sorry to hear that Ace has died.

I have been following your blog for years, and was always grateful for a new Ace story. He has touched people worldwide, and your writing has brought joy to so many.

Thank you for sharing your love and your life with us.

Comment from Lisa
Time May 21, 2016 at 8:38 am

I first read your writings about Ace when you were at the Baltimore Sun. My true sympathy, I know how you’re feeling having gone through this three times so far. This poem from Catherine Young sums it up so well for me.

Things to do after your dog has died

Sweep the floor

Look out the window


Make a cup of tea and some toast

But then not eat them

Change the sheets on the bed

Try to sing

Start to cry

Forget what day it is

Stumble into a corner of the floor and hold your knees tightly


Pull yourself together

Make another cup of tea and this time drink it

Look out a different window

Stare at that spot on the floor where your dog used to stretch out, languid and happy, his paws twitching as he raced across sleep meadows and into dream ravines filled with moss and ferns and the scent of foxes

Look for the Kleenex

Use toilet paper instead

Wander around the house, your heart like a damned anvil in your chest

Heat up leftovers

Push them around the plate before leaving the entire thing in the sink

Look for what is not there

Hear things

Feel the forgotten fur beneath your fingertips

Feel the forgetting begin

Hold a memory, any memory, bright and shining, soft and sad, smelling of wet fur and leaves, with a whisker there and muddy paw prints left on the stairs, of a walk of a hike of a trip to the park with a treat and a bone and a belly rub snacks stolen off the counter and tug of war and the squeaky toy a glance of complicity in play with your hand on head with tail wagging and breath misting in the morning light or the moon over the trees while an owl croons ears are pricked and nose to the ground sniffing, sniffing, sniffing following the invisible trail to its joyful finding

Put on your pajamas

Turn around three times before you curl up by the rope toy and find yourself chasing the echo of a bark into a night that will never end

Grow a tail

Comment from Miss Jan
Time May 21, 2016 at 11:32 am

I am so sorry. My deepest condolences. All of us who have outlived our dogs know what you are going through – truly, there are no words that can help. It is SO UNFAIR that they go before we do. You will feel his presence and “hear” his bark and even toenails clicking for probably a year or more. Take heart, he is still with you – as Josh Groban sang, “a breath is not too far from where you are.” That curtain is thin indeed.

Comment from Madeline Bambarger
Time May 21, 2016 at 7:04 pm

I’m so sorry for your loss. You gave Ace your love and a good life. I will keep you in my prayers. God bless you.

Comment from reddawg
Time May 22, 2016 at 11:21 am

Epitaph to a Dog

George Gordon Byron, 1788 – 1824

Near this Spot
are deposited the Remains of one
who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferosity,
and all the virtues of Man without his Vices.
This praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery
if inscribed over human Ashes,
is but a just tribute to the Memory of
who was born in Newfoundland May 1803
and died at Newstead Nov. 18th, 1808.

RIP Ace…..

Comment from diane
Time May 22, 2016 at 12:56 pm

So, so sorry to read this. I understand; am going through something similar right now. Ace had a great champion in you. Take care.

Comment from Amy
Time May 22, 2016 at 2:59 pm

Oh, John. I sit here and read your words, and sobbed like he was my very own. Travels With Ace was such a gift to me over the years after losing my own dog, Lou…who was Ace’s doppleganger. My heart aches for you and I know there is absolutely nothing anyone can say.

All I can do is thank you so so much….for taking in that handsome red stray, for your blog and for sharing Ace with us.

Much love to you,

Comment from Beth Gillin
Time May 22, 2016 at 4:34 pm

He was a good dog. And he was lucky to have a good companion.

Comment from kathryn
Time May 22, 2016 at 6:00 pm

Ace was likely the wisest, gentlest, most intuitive, loved & loving dog I ever saw. I believe he is still all those things and is apt to be pulling a few strings in favor of the future of his best friend even now. Keep your eyes and ears and hands and heart open to what lies ahead for you, Master John, because Ace knew and knows you well. He’ll never forget you or the journey you shared and his undying gratitude will always be with you.

Comment from TOS
Time May 22, 2016 at 9:55 pm

I’m so sorry. I’m crying for your loss.

Comment from Jen Gabbard
Time May 22, 2016 at 10:10 pm

I am so sorry to hear this, my thoughts are with you.

Comment from amy
Time May 23, 2016 at 9:41 am

so so sorry John, what a great dog Ace was. I’m not sure I understand why your vet would not go along with home for one more night, though i completely trust your instinct to agree with that, but I hope you will write more about the whole way our dogs die. my condolences.

Comment from pam
Time May 23, 2016 at 11:34 am

So very sorry for your loss. Please consider that in honor of Ace, you might go rescue another dog at a shelter who would definitely benefit from your love. Be well.

Comment from Jen Brighton
Time May 25, 2016 at 3:09 pm

My heartfelt condolences. I’ve followed you and Ace for many years now and he was a very special boy, most likely because he had a very special doggie guardian. And some dogs are just extra special, no matter what.

Comment from Debbie
Time December 8, 2016 at 4:56 am

What joy your gift of writing about your travels with Ace brought to me John. I cried, laughed and felt I traveled too with you and Ace through your stories.What a very special journey you both shared. May you always feel Ace’s special spirit close…