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Diesel, NIU's mascot emeritus, fighting lymphoma

Dog and owner will be at today's opener at Huskie Stadium

DeKALB – For years, Diesel the Siberian husky raised the spirits of community members on and off the field at Huskie Stadium, and now his owner is asking fans to return the favor.

When Tom Bonnevier first laid eyes on Diesel at the Free Spirit Husky Rescue in Harvard, the dog was smiling. From the very moment the two met, there was a palpable sweetness about the dog who would soon become Northern Illinois University’s mascot, Bonnevier said. Now, Bonnevier hopes that same, almost human, trait, will help Diesel fight a battle against B-cell lymphoma.

Despite his illness, Diesel will be out tailgating with Huskies fans today before NIU takes on UNLV at Huskie Stadium, Bonnevier said.

“And God willing, hopefully he’ll be around for homecoming,” Bonnevier said. “He’ll be on the field for the first quarter.”

Diesel was NIU’s living mascot for nine years, representing NIU at home and away games, bowl games and more. He was famously captured by an ESPN camera high-fiving a cheerleader on the sidelines in 2013.

At the end of the 2013 season, he stepped aside to make way for Mission, the Huskies’ current mascot, and was given the title mascot emeritus.

Diesel was diagnosed Aug. 25, but already seems to be responding to chemotherapy pills, Bonnevier said. In any case, Diesel’s condition will not prevent him from participating in his favorite time of the year – football season.

“He loves NIU fans and the NIU community,” Bonnevier said. “He looks forward to football season, believe it or not. When there’s no more games he actually does get depressed.”

However, the news came as a hard realization for Bonnevier, who has watched his mother battle three types of cancer, and received word Thursday that she has been diagnosed a fourth time.

“I saw what it did to my mom,” he said. “My mom has fought three battles of different kinds of cancer. I didn’t want him to go through all the stuff that chemo can do to you.”

Diesel took his first dose of chemotherapy pills this week, and will stay on the medication, and more, for the next 18 weeks. But Bonnevier was brought to tears when he saw a thread on a “bulletin board,” where community members suggested setting up a PayPal or GoFundMe account to alleviate the cost of Diesel’s medical bills.

“I think the fact that as far as the NIU community goes, he represents what’s good with college: the students, athletics everything,” Bonnevier said. “We’re one big family.”

On Thursday, Diesel turned 13.

“He’s fighting it, which is very encouraging,” Bonnevier said. “He’s trying to fight this. He’s not giving up.”

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