Mike Toma and his dog Puppy were always together, for 16 years.
Mike bought Puppy as a puppy, from the most reputable breeder he could find — he didn’t know, he says, about all the Pits filling shelters back then — and for a decade-and-a-half, he and the dog accompanied one another to parties, on camping trips, even to Mike’s work.
Last year, the two entered politics together, helping convince their city, Hazel Park, Michigan, to overturn a longstanding Pit Bull ban that Puppy and Mike had unwittingly and peacefully lived in violation of for all those years.
“I never went anywhere without him. He was my best friend,” Mike said.
Puppy died at the end of July — just a few months after Hazel Park decided he could stay. Mike was devastated.
I’m a 34-year-old tattoo guy from Detroit, and this has just been the most horrible experience for me.
In April, Mike decided that he would honor his lost dog with a special tattoo, inked by a childhood friend and tattoo artist, Christopher Kime
The tattoo is of an an anatomically-correct human heart, over Mike’s own heart, with Puppy’s paw print inside of it.
“Its like a metaphor that it’s my actual heart, and the impact Puppy had on my life. It’s like he’s engraved in my actual heart forever,” Mike said.
Puppy’s ashes are mixed into the ink, same as Mike did when he got another tattoo — his first — in honor of his little brother who died in his sleep, five years ago.
“We had used his ashes in that tattoo and that’s where I got the idea to do it for Puppy,” says Mike. “Since both Puppy and my brother meant so much to me I thought that it was fitting.”
Mike is still grieving for his lost companion. It helps a little that he has one of Puppy’s own puppies, Diesel, to spend time with — bred a few years ago, “before I knew of the issues of backyard breeding and how many Pit Bulls needed to be adopted,” he said.
He’s also cheered by a new girl in his life. Her name is Gemma.
In December, Mike adopted Gemma off the euthanasia list, at Detroit’s animal shelter.
Diesel is completely in love with her, and so is Mike — to the point that he even gives her the occasional pink pawdicure.
Mike is crazy about these dogs. But he will never get another dog tattoo.
It’s Puppy who has his heart.
“Don’t be sorry for me. Be happy for me that I got 16 years of nothing but pure joy and love out of it,” Mike says. “He lived a very very good life. He was spoiled rotten and he deserved every bit of it.”
All images via Mike Toma