Benji

Hard to Believe It's Been a Year

How I remember Benji: surrounded by his favorite toys.

How I remember Benji: surrounded by his favorite toys.

It's 3:30 pm, Halloween afternoon. Last year at this time, I was at the vet, saying goodbye to Benji. Benji had been with me for just over sixteen years at that point. I'd known for weeks that the day was coming, but that didn't make the day any easier when it finally arrived, when it was time to help Benji cross the Rainbow Bridge. The house felt empty that night, despite the parade of trick-or-treaters outside, and it felt that way for months after, until I brought Duncan home Easter weekend.

Duncan decided he wanted to be wonton for Halloween.

Duncan decided he wanted to be wonton for Halloween.

Tonight I will again studiously avoid trick-or-treaters, just as I did that night a year ago. Instead, I will light a candle and sit with Duncan and tell him about the big brother he never knew. How Benji liked to sleep on the back of the sofa in the same place Duncan does. How Benji, like Duncan, couldn't hold his licker. How Benji--all 15 pounds of him--figured out how to take up an entire queen-sized mattress. How Benji loved his squeaky balls. How he "talked" whenever I was on the phone. How Benji purred and groomed himself like a cat. How, in his later years, he liked to sun himself on the deck. How Benji, from his place over the Rainbow Bridge, brought Duncan and I together. (How else to explain that Duncan's adoption began on what would have been Benji's 17th birthday?)

Rest in peace, my Benji boy. And thank you.

Farewell to a Faithful Friend

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.

Baby Benji supervising me as I wrote my Master's thesis

Baby Benji supervising me as I wrote my Master's thesis

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.)

Did I mention Benji had wicked separation anxiety?

Did I mention Benji had wicked separation anxiety?

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.

Benji with his favorite toys. Three guesses what he wants.

Benji with his favorite toys. Three guesses what he wants.

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.

Benji playing hide-and-seek with a friend's cat. Well, Benji was playing. I think the cat feared for its life.

Benji playing hide-and-seek with a friend's cat. Well, Benji was playing. I think the cat feared for its life.

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 on squirrel patrol

Benji on squirrel patrol

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 sending me telepathic messages across the coffee table.

Benji sending me telepathic messages across the coffee table.

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.

Benji wrapped in a warm, fresh-from-the-dryer towel on a cold autumn night, two nights before he died.

Benji wrapped in a warm, fresh-from-the-dryer towel on a cold autumn night, two nights before he died.

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.

Sweet 16

It's someone's birthday today. According to the calendar, he's 16. In dog years, he's 80.

 

Yes, Benji, you can have an extra treat. Happy Birthday, old man!

Dog Days

You know in the movie UP how the dogs had collars that translated their barks into human language? I want one. Desperately.

The last few weeks have been rather frustrating for me and el perro. It began with the indignity (for him) of a visit to the vet for his semi-annual senior exam. Everything checked out as expected except for one blood test, for an enzyme that measured heart function. A normal dog would have an enzyme count of about 900. A sick dog would have a count of 1800. My dog? A count of more than 3700. The vet and I were both shocked by the results. With a off-the-charts count like that, Benji should have a laundry list of symptoms, but when the vet ran through the list with me, I could honestly say Benji had not a single one. That left the dear doggy doctor scratching his head. What to do? What to do?

The answer, it seemed, was medication. Even though the dog was not acting sick, something was clearly wrong with his heart function. So, I went home with two medications and crossed fingers.

Things went well for about 24 hours. One of the meds--an antibiotic to knock out any possible infection--was supposed to be taken twice a day with food. Benji, at first, would only eat once a day. And then not at all. I kick myself for not anticipating this. He reacted the same way the last time I had to given him antibiotics. I ended up stopping the treatment that time just so he'd start eating again. I did the same this time, but now my dear beloved doggie won't eat dog food. At all. Last time, it took me two weeks to find a new brand of dog food that he'd eat. We're into week 3 this time and we're not even on the dog food continent.

But a dog has to eat. The question is, what? Turns out, my dog is a pickier eater than I am. So three or four times a day, we do this little dance over and over:

For the moment (i.e., until he changes his mind), he prefers freshly cooked ground beef. That's right: Freshly. Cooked. As in unless he watches me cook it and pour it from the pan into his bowl, he won't eat it. No cooking a whole bunch at once, storing it in the fridge, and doling it out as needed. Nope. Must be freshly cooked. I've spent more time at the stove for the dog than for myself. 

Also, I can't mix anything with the beef--which does not bode well for his kidneys. Because of his kidney failure, he's supposed to be on a reduced protein diet. That seems to have gone out the window. I tried mixing some rice with his beef. He ate the beef and picked out the rice kernels. I found them scattered around my kitchen floor.

I would give my right arm to be able to have a conversation with the dog, to find out what the heck is going on in his doggy head, and to explain why it's important for his health and my bank account for him to go back to his previous diet. Barring that, I'm thinking perhaps a personal canine chef might be the answer...