Cheese bowed his head into the cool grass, lay down, and ate a popsicle. On every side, children petted the 10-year-old pit bull. A parent read Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham aloud. Nearly a dozen people gathered that warm evening on August 30 to celebrate Cheese’s life. They knew that would be his last full day alive.
Cheese was first brought to the Louisville Metro Animal Services shelter in 2016. ‘Cheese’ was already his name at that point; the warts that pocked his golden-brown fur reminded shelter workers of moldy cheese, and the moniker stuck.
Metro Animal Services Foster Coordinator Stephanie Jackson doesn’t remember much about Cheese’s first owner. But his second owner — the one who initially adopted him — tried caring for Cheese and tried to figure out what was wrong with him. But that owner ran out of money and options, and brought Cheese back to the shelter in December of 2017. He was one of 1500 pets that year that were surrendered or returned to Louisville Metro Animal Services.
But that time around, during his second stint in the shelter, Cheese met Mikayla Pennington.
Pennington had promised herself she wouldn’t take home any pets from the Louisville Metro Animal Services shelter. She’s been working there since December, and is now an Animal Care Specialist there. She started taking care of Cheese in the shelter, bringing him extra blankets, toys, and a special toy dinosaur which he was upset to be without.
And then, in February, Cheese was diagnosed with skin cancer. He was given six months to live. That’s when Pennington and her partner, Crittenden Haywood, decided to foster him.
“When I told my mom I was bringing Cheese home, she was like, ‘Why are you bringing home a dog with cancer? Why are you setting yourself up for sadness?’” Pennington said. “But I didn’t. He’s made me the happiest person and a stronger person.”
Though Pennington and Haywood worked to test and care for him, Cheese’s cancer worsened and he developed neurological issues. So Metro Animal Services put out a call for volunteers to gather and give Cheese a goodbye party.
Jackson with Metro Animal Services says they haven’t thrown a party like this in the two years she’s worked at the shelter.
“[Cheese] hasn’t probably had the most spectacular life his entire life. The last six months have been pretty cool,” Jackson said. “[The party’s] really sad, but it’s also very nice because we’re able to prepare him and spoil him and let him go in a really happy, and as peaceful way, as we can.”
The shelter itself hasn’t euthanized pets for overcrowding issues since 2017 thanks in part to free adoption programs and workers who foster pets like Pennington did. But they do euthanize pets for behavior issues or illness.
For Pennington, Cheese has helped her save other pets at the shelter. She keeps a picture of him at her desk and shows it to people who consider leaving elderly dogs there. Sometimes it works, and they don’t.
She says Cheese will continue to inspire her, even after he’s gone.
“It’s been the happiest six months I could’ve ever asked for,” Pennington said. “I don’t know what I would’ve done without him, honestly. He inspires me to continue to do what I do every day, and some days I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without him.”
After eating his fill — including an entire package of Havarti cheese — Cheese the dog hopped into the car to spend his last night being lazy and relaxing with Pennington.
He died September 1 after a day of attention and loving, surrounded by his family.