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Akron pastor mourns clever dog who co-wrote weekly messages

By jim Published: July 2, 2009

By Jewell Cardwell
Beacon Journal staff writer

Vinnie was faithful until the end.

If you've had the pleasure of reading any of the sermons Vinnie co-wrote with his human owner, the Rev. Joseph Kraker, pastor of Akron's St. Vincent Catholic Church since 1994, you know he was full of faith.

Perhaps that was always part of his makeup.

Or it could have been all of the time that the 10-1/2-year-old black Lab mix put in at the church and the school that led him to grow in that direction.

Parishioners don't know that — only that they miss him terribly.

Vinnie died Saturday afternoon.

Probably no one feels that loss more than Kraker.

Vinnie had had two major surgeries since Thanksgiving ''and just never fully recovered,'' Kraker said of his loyal sidekick.

''He lived at the house with me. He was always at the church and the [elementary] school.

''At school, the kids would walk right past me, but they would always grab and hug Vinnie. Among the children especially, Vinnie was their dog.''

Vinnie came to be part of the St. Vincent church family when he was just 6 weeks old.

''He was a rescue, thrown out of a car window near Wadsworth,'' Kraker reminisced.

''Home At Last, a pet rescue group, recovered him. We made contact through our school secretary, Mary Belany, and adopted him.

''I was unprepared and told her I didn't want a dog,'' Kraker would later say. His
first dog, Timmie, acquired while he was the pastor at St. Timothy Church in Garfield Heights, had died after a 17-year partnership.

Ironically, the two dogs looked very much alike.

But the relationship between Vinnie and Father Kraker grew, as did the dog's relationship with the church and its parishioners.

The idea to use Vinnie as part of the pastor's message each week started shortly after the hugely popular book Marley and Me was published by John Grogan in 2005, Kraker said.

Marley — the story of a lovable and at times irreverent yellow Lab — climbed the best-seller list, and several other books and a movie followed.

''So that's where I got the idea of using Vinnie as part of my messages,'' Kraker noted.

That led to his weekly column — Krumbs From the Kraker Barrel.

''He wrote the first one all by himself,'' Kraker said. ''It was under the title Vinnie Here: Fanciful Conversations Between a Pastor and His Dog.

''After that went over so well, we kept it up. It turned into a dialogue with he and I carrying on a conversation. There was always a point to it. Not sure everyone always got the point . . . Then we turned it into book form with an introduction to each [sermon] indicating what the message was with questions before and reflections at the end.''

The spiritually rich and hilarious Vinnie Here was published in 2008.

Consider this banter between the two in a chapter called Unleashed:

''Hey, Vinnie, you ready to take a walk?''

''Is the Pope Catholic, boss?''

As the conversation goes on, Vinnie questions why he always has to wear a leash. Kraker answers that it's basically for his own good because of the times, especially with trucks and cars, when he is hard-pressed to control himself.

Vinnie goes on to say: ''Sometimes it doesn't seem fair, boss. I never see you wearing a leash. Don't you ever need one?''

''Of course I do, Vinnie, we all need one.''

''I've never seen your leash, boss.''

''That's because it's an invisible leash, but it's still very real.''

''No kidding, boss, how does it work?''

''Well, Vinnie, my leash is written in my heart. It's all the rules and laws I am expected to keep. They keep me from doing dumb things to myself or others.''

''Wow, does everybody have one of these leashes?''

''They do, Vinnie, but sometimes they don't pay attention to it, or they think they can get along without it . . . ''

At the time of Vinnie's death, Kraker said he was ready to publish a sequel, covering another year, with reflections based on the Gospel — ''It's my summer project.''

Kraker said he hopes to have the new book out by Christmas.

The first book is available at the church and at Grismer's for $15.

As for what the next chapter will hold for Kraker, he says it's too soon to tell.

''Everybody is encouraging me to get another dog,'' he said. ''But it's just too soon for me. I've got to give myself some time.

''In some ways it's too soon. In another it's too late. I am 71, after all. A young dog is a lot of responsibility . . . ''

A lot of love too.

Rest in peace, dear Vinnie.

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