My bio in the side column is incorrect: I'm not a full-time dog mom. Not anymore. Not since Halloween, when my beloved Benji passed away. But I can't bring myself to correct it. Not yet.
Benji came into my life sixteen years ago. I found him through an ad in the paper. He was six months old, and I became his fourth--and final--owner.
In our sixteen years together, he was a near-constant companion. Seriously. I lost count of how many times I stepped on him because he followed behind me so closely. Sometimes he followed so closely I could feel his cold, wet nose on my calf. (He did serve as an excellent foot warmer in winter, though.)
Perhaps because he'd been handed around so much in his first few months of life, Benji had wicked separation anxiety. He did mellow a bit once I started working from home, but even then, if I was out of the room for more than 30 seconds, he had to come find me. In his youth, whenever I was in the shower, he would line up his toys outside the tub, trying to find the right combination that would "unlock" the shower curtain. If I was in the bathroom, he would stick his nose at the base of the door, making sure I was, in fact, in there. If I hadn't shut the door completely, well, then, it was time to play ball. If I was sitting, it must be play time, right?
In his last months, he became nocturnal. He would sleep until about 2 in the afternoon. Eat at about 7 pm, and then want to go for a long walk at 11 pm--when I was ready for bed.
Still, I wouldn't trade a minute of the experience. Benji had a big personality in a small body. As a puppy, he had a tail that wouldn't quit. It was constantly in motion. He loved his squeaky balls and destroyed them with regularity. Thankfully, they were cheapo, 49-cent-a-pop squeaky balls. I bought them by the half-dozen. Surprisingly, a few have survived.
I swear, as a puppy he also had a species-identity crisis. He used to unroll toilet paper and string it around the condo like a cat would. He groomed himself, like a cat. He purred too. Just. Like. A. Cat.
Once I came out of the shower to find that a bag of Hanukkah gelt that I'd left on the kitchen table had been unwrapped and eaten. That's right: Benji had gotten on the table, peeled off the foil wrappers, and eaten all of the chocolate. Not bad for a little dog without opposable thumbs. Without drying off, I threw on sweats and rushed Benji to the vet. The vet told me not to worry--Benji would get sick to his stomach from the chocolate, but he hadn't eaten enough to do him any real harm. His best recommendation was to feed Benji some Metamucil crackers to ease the...distress...that Benji was about to experience (and make it easier for me to clean up). So, while Benji waited at the vet, I ran next door to the grocery store and bought the crackers. I collected Benji. We drove home. Benji got out of the car and threw up in the parking lot. Then he trotted off like nothing happened. The box of Metamucil crackers was never opened.
Benji was also fascinated by squirrels. When we first moved to Illinois, I rented a townhouse that backed to a green area. It was Squirrel Central. Benji sat stock-still at the sliding glass door every day watching the squirrels. The squirrels noticed him, too. They'd come up close to the door and I swear they would tease and make fun of him. Benji, of course, would oblige them by going crazy.
Like any self-respecting dog, Benji did bark, but usually when he wanted my attention, he would vocalize. Once, during a work phone call, my colleague asked how old my infant was. I had to explain that what she heard wasn't a child, it was my dog. As my family can testify, I was never on the phone alone. Benji had to make himself heard. It didn't matter if he'd been fast asleep before I picked up the phone. Phone time = Benji time, every time.
Benji claimed the bed, too. I never told him he could sleep on the bed with me, but I never told him he couldn't, either. Every night, he waited until he thought I was asleep. Then he'd come up on the bed and snuggle next to me. At his biggest, Benji weighed 16 lbs. Yet somehow, he took up 75% of the queen-sized mattress. I read somewhere that it's a "scientifically-proven" fact that, no matter the size of the dog, it will take up the majority of space on any mattress. If that study actually existed, Benji could have served as Exhibit A.
His favorite game, though, was to sit and stare at me and make me guess what he wanted. I had a 50/50 shot: he either wanted food or to go out. Problem is, the food stare and the out stare looked exactly the same. Inevitably, I would guess wrong. Still, he insisted on playing.
The house feels empty now. There's no life in it. I still look for Benji. I expect to see him staring at me over the coffee table. I expect to find him when I walk in the door. I'm disappointed when he's not there to greet me. I miss him watching me eat, ever hopeful that I would share half (or more) of whatever was on my plate. We were together for sixteen years. It's going to take a while before his absence stops feeling like a gaping hole. Still, as Thanksgiving approaches and my thoughts turn toward gratitude, Benji is one of the things for which I am most thankful.
Rest in peace, my faithful friend.