His beloved dog, Scrappy, had been struck by a car and killed on a street in Santa Rosa's Railroad Square when Vincent "Vinnie" Hase and I met last February. He was feeling like he'd been run over, too.

Vinnie had cared for that female blue heeler mix, and vice versa, for 17 years lived largely on the streets. "I think she saved my life," he told me.

People who work or live in that historic part of downtown or pass by the many homeless while visiting the restaurants and shops had found it bittersweet to see Vinnie, a merchant mariner far from his last ship but still riding harsh seas, push Scrappy around in an improvised shopping cart, like she was Cleopatra.

The two of them were crossing Wilson Street, not far from the St. Vincent de Paul kitchen and the Redwood Gospel Mission, and Scrappy was walking just behind Vinnie. When a car hit her and kept going, Vinnie hastened after it, pleading with the woman at the wheel to stop.

He told me he meant her no harm, he just felt he had to see and say something to the person who accidentally killed his dog.

The driver didn't come back. Friends, most notably Mary Quinn, who works constantly to serve and find homes for pets through her All Aboard Animal Rescue, helped Vinnie with cremation.

On Feb. 14, I wrote a few lines about Vinnie and his loss. Several people reached out to him and some offered to help him get another dog.

He thanked them and said he didn't want to rush into trying to fill the hole in his life left by Scrappy.

After that, I didn't see Vinnie again. The other day, an email arrived beneath the subject line, "An article you wrote may have saved my homeless uncle's life."

SAM BEE WROTE that his sister, Antioch resident Jean Taylor, was at her computer last month and thought to Google their uncle's name. Up came the little February story about Vinnie and Scrappy.

With Sam's help, I got on the phone with both Vinnie and Jean. She said that for the 20 years since her father's brother hit the streets she has hoped to have him back in her life and she has looked for him to no avail.

Jean, who's 43 and a mother of six, said Vinnie was like a second father to her decades ago. They had some of their best times, she said, at the farm that Robert and Alice Ford — his parents, her grandparents — worked in Santa Rosa.

Jean said a drunken driver killed both of the Fords 20 years ago and though Vince was in his mid-30s, the tragedy put him over the edge.

"He was a mama's boy," she said. "His life went into a spiral."

She said Vinnie took to the streets and was arrested shortly after the fatal crash. He didn't make it to the funeral. Jean's sense all these years was that he didn't think anyone in the family cared anything about him.

But not long after she came upon the story in November, she and her husband drove up to the Railroad Square neighborhood from Contra Costa County.

"It only took us 10 minutes to find him," she said. "Oh my God, my heart just dropped."

She embraced her uncle and asked him to come home with her, for good.

"I can't tell you how much I love having him back in my life," Jean said.

VINNIE CAME ON. "I'm doing good," he said.

"My niece came and found me. I was thinking they weren't interested in me."

Vinnie said Jean has a beautiful house and he's enjoyed adjusting to living in it. "I'm catching up on the TV," he said. "All I do is eat all day."

Vinnie reported that he wants to go back to work with the Merchant Marine. Oh, and his niece gave him an early Christmas gift.

It's a puppy, a little male pit bull. Though he's always been partial to female dogs, Vinnie is thinking the little guy will work out fine.

Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.