Raymond Anthony Vint was born in Toronto on June 30, 1955. His father Ray was an entrepreneur with a knack for real estate, his mother Jackie a medical assistant who later became a real estate agent herself. Bright, with radiant blue eyes and wavy dark hair, Tony, as he was called, could have done well in school had he wanted to. Instead, with his childhood friend Jens Hansen or sister Carley, a year and a half his junior, as sidekick (and later still with much younger sister Josie), he basked in the freedom of mid-1960s Pickering, Ont., then still a small town, perfect for exploring by banana-seat bicycle and for Cub Scouting (an attractive kid, Tony’s big ears stuck insolently out from beneath his Cub cap). He fished in Frenchman’s Bay, played baseball, golfed and—always a dog lover—palled around with his boxer, Lady. “In a way we felt we had charmed lives,” says Carley.
He set the tone for his peripatetic life early, decamping to Brandon, Man., for a time with his father to run a beef farm. Back in Ontario, he married young, at 21, to Leonore, an au pair of Dutch extraction from London, Ont. Three years later the couple’s first daughter, Leonique, arrived, then Kristina and Matthew. Tony, outgoing, gab-gifted, was in his own way the consummate salesman—“he could sell ice to the Eskimos,” says Gary Player, a former co-worker—and worked in the early 1980s at a large, London-based stationery supplies outfit. Soon he established his own operation, specializing in supplying law firms. Meanwhile, he delighted in his kids, building an ice rink each winter—with its floodlights for nighttime fun it was a favourite hangout for neighbourhood children—and becoming a Beaver leader when his son joined a colony (Tony wore the uniform but refused to hide his thick hair in the standard-issue hat, a bucket-like affair he found ridiculous).
Briefly, he moved the family to a farm in Muncey, Ont., near London, with a plan to raise Christmas trees. Leonore and the kids found it too remote, and they returned to London without ever growing an evergreen. The detour signalled coming troubles: the couple split in the mid-1990s. Then, when a car accident shattered Tony’s health, he found himself unable to work. Later, at age 44, Tony, a heavy smoker, suffered a heart attack, undergoing a quadruple bypass (before the surgery he ripped the IV from his arm and demanded a smoke). Doctors warned him he might not survive his health woes. The challenges subdued him; he took up with a companion, Milly, whose daughter Heather he more or less adopted as his own, and recovered from his surgery at Milly’s Ajax home (Tony, a fierce Trivial Pursuit competitor, introduced Heather to crosswords—he did six a day). When his 71-year-old father died in a tractor mishap on his farm near Lindsay, Ont., Tony got the land, built a new home there and relocated in the early 2000s—no longer with Milly.
A few years ago, he sold the farm and moved to Prince Edward County, on Lake Ontario, purchasing the Cascades Pub and Grill in the village of Consecon. The pub offered Tony, a talented spinner of long tales—relatives called him “Tony Baloney”—the chance to showcase his outsized personality. But he found there was little money in it off-season, and soon sold, moving into a small flat in nearby Trenton. Increasingly, the local dog park where he unleashed his dog Mila became the centre of his universe. Tony relished calling Mila, a beagle-Jack Russell cross, a “bugle.” Yet she was tough, an alpha female who’d latch unstintingly onto the throats of larger dogs. Tony became the alpha male to Mila’s matriarch, leading a circle of dogs he began walking for friends. When Dana Sullivan, a bulldog owner, saw him so surrounded, she suggested he stop walking dogs “pro bono” (as he put it). He was soon handing out flyers for Sgt. Mila’s Dog Walking. He had never been so healthy, spending most of each day at the park or hiking Lake Ontario beaches, always with his dogs—“like the friggin’ Dog Whisperer,” says friend Carol Andrus. He dreamed of opening a canine recreation business.
One of his charges was Gibson, an 11-month-old boxer. Tony took particular joy in the dog—perhaps he reminded him of his boyhood boxer, Lady—sending photos to stepdaughter Heather with messages detailing his exploits. On the afternoon of March 3, Tony took Gibson for a walk at the Massassauga Point Conservation Area, on the Bay of Quinte. The dog apparently dashed out onto thin ice, breaking through the surface 20 m from shore. Tony must have attempted a rescue: police later discovered his submerged body; Gibson was never found.