Benji’s Story — The Homecoming
ALWAYS IN OUR HEARTS
April 10, 1996 – October 4, 2012
Sweet Benji Bear….things just aren’t the same in the house since you left us 3 days ago. You were one of those “one in a million” dogs that we will never forget. In you we saw determination, courage, and the ability to fight for what you wanted until it was yours. You taught me so much, Ben.
Whenever I think of you, my first vision is of that night we first met you. There you were sitting up begging right in the middle of the road. You didn’t move an inch when our headlights caught you, sitting there in the dark. We had no choice but to pick you up and take you home with us.
Our lives were shattered a couple of weeks later when your family noticed you playing in the backyard with our other dogs and came to claim you. It turns out they lived at the end of the road, but we never saw you because they kept you tied on a chain in the backyard. At night we heard a little dog barking but never realized it was you calling for help.
Your “family” kept a big chain around your neck with the other end slipped through the hole on a big cinder block and secured with a padlock. Once you spent a couple of weeks with us, you were so determined to return to us that you actually dragged that big cinder block all the way down the road to your destination, which was to wait at our garage door for us to return from work. What a sight that must have been—A small 20-pound dog pulling that big cinder block down the street. It must have taken you all day. But you did it. When we got home, you’d get a good meal and then we’d have to call your family to let them know you were back. Usually it would take a couple days for them to get the message and come pick you up again. This continued for almost five years and you felt more at home with us than your own family. Then you moved away to another city and we didn’t think we’d ever see you again. But fate stepped in two years later and once again you came back to us.
Seeing you on your death bed in 2003 broke our hearts. The vet said you didn’t have much of a chance of survival after a vicious dog attack in your previous owner’s backyard. You just laid there with your eyes closed, unable to move. We spoke to you and you wagged your tail….the first sign of life since the attack. We visited you every single day and fed you by hand until you were well enough for your owner’s to pick you up and take you home. Again we were separated but only for about five months because your owners decided you would be better off living with us since the vet told them you’d have to be an “inside” dog with all your fresh wounds. You almost died but your strength and courage eventually brought you home to stay.
That same strength helped you fight for your life once again recently. You were diagnosed with cancer in March of 2012 and given only two months at the most to live. But you had other ideas and fought the “C” Monster to the bitter end, holding on for seven months. It was a good seven months with you loving your life just as you had since coming home to us. But cancer coupled with old age always wins, doesn’t it?
Bear, you’re a true inspiration to all of us. You wanted a life with us and you fought hard until you got it. Then you fought again to keep it. We will always think of you as the VERY SPECIAL ONE! You are special because you chose us. We will always love you.
Benji’s original story continues below
I met Benji (AKA Shaft) for the first time late one night in June of 1997. It was a Saturday night and John and I were returning home from a night at the movies. We drove into our subdivision, and it was very dark and quiet, the way it normally is late at night. As we got closer to our house, the headlights picked up a shadowy figure in the middle of the street. My first thought was that a dark colored bag of garbage had rolled into the street. As we got closer, there he was — a little terrier-type dog that closely resembled the dog that portrayed Benji in the early “Benji” movies.
What was very unusual about this first encounter was that this little dog was not just in the middle of the road. He was sitting up in a begging position, facing the car, and refusing to move. John and I just looked at each other thinking, “OK, what do we do now?” John got out of the car and walked over to him. Benji was so happy that his whole little body was wagging.
Because it was so late, we allowed Benji to sleep in our garage overnight. Since he was a stranger, I didn’t want to take any chances on having our other dogs exposed to something he may have been carrying. He was perfectly happy sleeping on a pile of blankets in the garage.
The next morning I put a collar and leash on him and took him for a long walk around the subdivision hoping someone would recognize him or that he would recognize his home. We walked around for more than an hour but no one had seen him before. I repeated this walk two more times during the day hoping to be able to catch more people outside. Still no one knew who he was. Our final conclusion at the end of the day was that someone who didn’t want him anymore just dropped him off in the subdivision where he might find a new home.
Monday morning I dropped Benji off at our vet’s office so he could get his shots and a thorough examination before I introduced him to the other dogs. After his day at the vet’s, he was given a clean bill of health except for having worms for which he received treatment. The introduction went really well and he was accepted by all.
Benji was with us for about 2 weeks when there was a knock on the door one night. The people lived at the far end of the subdivision and happened to be driving by on their way home and saw Benji playing in the backyard. Their only comment was, “we wondered what happened to him”. He didn’t really seem that anxious to leave with them, but he did.
A few weeks later, I arrived home from work and was happily greeted by Benji, who had been waiting by the garage door for someone to get home. He seemed so happy to be back. We phoned his owners to let them know he was back, and they came down to pick him up the next day. This routine continued. Whenever Benji could slip off his collar or break his chain, he would come down to our house and wait for us to let him in.
His owners even got a second dog, thinking maybe he was lonely and needed company. This made no impression on Benji. He still preferred his doggie buddies at our house. On one occasion his “people” even tried tying his chain to a heavy cinder block. The poor little guy must have struggled all day long to drag that cinder block to our house. When we got home, there he was — cinder block and all.
His folks started taking longer and longer to come pick him up. It was not unusual for Benji to be at our house for 2 weeks at a time. This continued until September of 2002 when they came to pick him up and announced that they were moving to another city about 45 minutes away. It was Labor Day, 2002, when we said our final goodbye to Benji.
Over the next year we thought of him often and wondered how he was doing and if he ever thought about us. The biggest fear was that he might try and run away again to find his way home. We could only hope that he was fine and adjusting well in his new surroundings.
Just before Christmas 2003 I was invited to a “Candle Party” given by one of the techs at my vet’s office. I usually don’t attend these functions because I end up spending way too much money. For some reason, something inside of me was telling me I should go to this party. Even John kept telling me I should go, which is not normal either. So this particular Sunday afternoon, I attended the party.
There were about 6 or 7 of us at the party, sitting around the table clucking like a bunch of hens. The subject eventually turned to animals and life at the veterinarian’s office. The girl who worked at the clinic started speaking about the “poor little dog who was brutally torn apart by three large stray dogs that were roaming around in his neighborhood.” His owners just happened to take him to my vet’s office because apparently they never had a vet in their new neighborhood. Benji hadn’t been to a vet since we took him in 1997. The conversation continued and she told about this poor dog actually “dying” twice on the operating table. My vet was able to resuscitate him each time. I listened to the story with great interest, wondering how this dog’s owners could let this happen — keeping him tied outside with no means of defending himself.
Then, as we were talking about the incident, the little dog’s name was mentioned — SHAFT. My heart skipped a beat, and I stopped the conversation and started asking questions. What did the dog look like, the owner’s name, etc. After all, how many dogs are there named SHAFT? Sure enough, it was my Benji and it suddenly became clear why I decided to go to that party. It was meant to be.
Sharon (the tech) had a key to the vet’s office and it was her turn to check on the animals that Sunday. I called John and told him what had happened. We all immediately headed for the clinic. My heart just broke when I saw him. All his hair had to be shaved off and there was not one square inch of his body that wasn’t stitched up. There were deep puncture wounds all over him. In spite of this and in spite of the severe pain he was in, he opened his eyes, looked at us, and wagged his tail.
We visited Benji at the clinic every day. He got stronger and regained the will to live. At first we had to hand feed him, but later he started eating on his own again. After about 10 days, he was well enough to return home on the condition that he be kept indoors. We told the vet to speak to his owners and tell them we would take him, but they still didn’t want to give him up. So, once again we were separated.
Benji had to go to the vet’s for periodic checkups after the attack, and I would always receive progress reports on him. He was healing nicely, but it was discovered that he had an active case of heartworm. He had never received heartworm preventative medication. So once again, his life was in danger.
The weeks since he was attacked turned to months, and again we lost touch. Then on May 2, 2004, there was a knock at the door late at night. It was Shaft’s owners. They told us they were in the old neighborhood visiting friends and decided that they would stop by and ask us if we were still interested in providing a home for Shaft. Keeping him indoors was hard because they were gone so much of the time and had to find a “dog sitter”. They finally came to the conclusion that he would be better off with us where he would have playmates and a fenced yard to play in. We were overjoyed and agreed to take him.
They dropped him off at our vet’s office the following Tuesday. He was given his shots and a checkup, and we picked him up Tuesday night. On Thursday, he received his heartworm treatment as the first step to curing this disease.
Shaft’s name has officially been changed to Benji. He is very happy to finally be living with us permanently after seven long years of waiting. We are very happy knowing he will never have to leave us again. He will always have scars on his body from the attack last December, but those scars will be a reminder to all of how Benji finally came home for good.
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