DeKALB – Diesel, Northern Illinois University’s beloved Siberian husky mascot , got to spend his last full day of life doing what he enjoyed most – hanging out at an NIU football game.
The 13-year-old pooch lost his battle with lymphoma Sunday. But on Saturday, he was with more than 15,000 other NIU football fans as the Huskies defeated UNLV, 38-30, to open the season.
“He loved being there with the fans. He loved NIU football,” said Tom Bonnevier, Diesel’s owner. “He was in his element on Saturday, just being with everybody. He just looked so happy.”
“I couldn’t have wished for a better last day for him,” Bonnevier added.
Diesel was the college’s living mascot for nine years but stepped aside at the end of the 2013 season to make way for Mission, the Huskies’ current mascot. He was given the title mascot emeritus and still regularly attended games. Bonnevier adopted Diesel from Free Spirit Husky Rescue in Harvard.
Diesel was diagnosed with lymphoma Aug. 25, and had been taking chemotherapy pills. He was doing fine Thursday and Friday, but his condition worsened Saturday, then took a tragic turn Sunday, Bonnevier said.
“(On Sunday) he got up but wasn’t too motivated to do anything,” he said. “I got him to go outside, then he laid outside on the patio like he normally does. That was pretty much it. He had no desire to move. When I tried to lift him up, he just collapsed.”
Bonnevier then took him to an emergency veterinarian in Buffalo Grove, and “it was just time.”
“He was having difficulty breathing,” he said. “He was in pain.”
Bonnevier said he plans to have Diesel privately cremated, and a plaster paw print will be made that he might donate to NIU.
Diesel was quite the handsome stud at nearly every NIU game during his career as mascot, Northern Illinois Athletic Director Sean Frazier said. In his better years, Diesel would run up and down the field to celebrate every time his team scored a touchdown.
Diesel gained national recognition after he appeared on ESPN in 2013 high-fiving a cheerleader.
“There aren’t a lot of living mascots out there, and he epitomized acting the part and getting fans engaged,” Frazier said. “He will be missed. Diesel is a part of our tradition and he’ll never be forgotten.”
Bob Smith, a friend of Bonnevier and NIU alumnus who now lives in Florida, said he traveled to away games with Diesel and Bonnevier, where Diesel was a “celebrity” even with the rival teams.
“I remember Purdue in 2009, it took a good hour to get back to the car because everyone wanted to get pictures and pet him,” Smith said. “That was the case at every road game. He was just a great representative of NIU. He was something that was instantly recognizable.”
There was also the time in January 2010 when the trio traveled to NIU’s appearance in the Toronto International Bowl through freezing temperatures and slick road conditions – not that the husky in the car had any issue.
“The colder the better for Diesel,” Smith said. “If it’s below zero, he’s even happier.”
In fact, the only thing that could have made Saturday any better would have been if it snowed, Bonnevier said.
“The thing he wanted just as much as going to the games was to play around in the snow,” he said. “If it was a snow game, it would have been icing on the cake.”