by Joseph Walker
This is dumb.
I mean, Ben was just a dog.† And he wasnít even my dog.† But something about Ben captured a big piece of my heart.
And now, today, that piece of my heart is broken.
Is that dumb, or what?
To be honest, I donít remember when or how I first became aware of Ben.† Iím not exactly what you would call a pet person.† Iíve always seen the dogs in the neighborhood as . . . well . . . dogs Ė something to be tolerated, not necessarily embraced.† But there was something about this big old yellow Lab that made me notice him Ė and eventually love him Ė despite my best efforts to remain indifferent.
I think he first captured my attention as the leader of our neighborhood doggy gang.† I know Ė you would normally call a group of dogs a pack.† But that would suggest more organization, structure and purpose than these guys had.† There were three or four of them, and they just sort of cruised the neighborhood, playing with children, yapping at cars and begging for food.† Ben was clearly the alpha leader of the gang because he was far and away the biggest of the dogs, but also because he had this powerful personality that seemed to permeate the entire gang . . . er . . . pack . . . er . . . whatever.
And that wasnít a bad thing. I quickly learned that Benís personality was something special.† Not to get too anthropomorphic or anything, but Ben was a gentle soul.† Sure, he was also playful, fun, loyal and good-natured Ė all of those things that are often attributed to beloved dogs.† But he was first and foremost gentle.† I donít remember ever hearing him growl or bare his teeth or act in an intimidating way Ė ever.† There was a basic goodness and sweetness about him that made you feel that he was . . . I donít know . . . kind.† And caring.† And compassionate.
Is that dumb?
Certainly Ben was special to my family, even though he wasnít ours.† When my daughter Andrea was living at home Ben would follow her when she would go out jogging.† I never feared for Andreaís safety because I knew Ben would take care of her.† My son Jon would love to have a dog, but since we donít (see above) I have often found him playing and wrestling on the lawn with Ben.† And even though she is allergic to dog hair, my wife Anita always carves out a piece of every pot roast and takes it outside to Ben, who seems to know when it is time to camp outside our back door and wait for his share of our dinner.
For my part, Ben has been my barbecue buddy.† I donít know if itís the smell of the propane or what, but 10 minutes after I fire up the barbecue heís there.† He doesnít beg, exactly.† He just stretches out on the grass in the shade of our backyard apple tree and patiently waits.† Occasionally he will lift up his head to look at me, in much the same way that Anita will occasionally poke her head out the back door to see how the grilling is coming.† When Ben gets up and saunters over to the grill, I know that itís time to eat.
Iíll probably burn our next barbecue because he wonít be there to tell me when itís done.
The last time we saw Ben was early last Friday morning.† We were packing the car to take a quick trip out of town.† Ben was just sitting there, watching me pack the car.† He wasnít frolicking like he used to when he was a pup.† But he sat there and I talked to him a little as I prepared to leave.† Then Jon came outside and scratched the back of Benís head.
ďHey, Buddy,Ē Jon said as Ben looked up at him with those adoring eyes of his.† ďDid you come to say good-bye?Ē
Evidently, he did.† When we got home Sunday night our neighbor tearfully told us that Ben had been peacefully put to sleep.† We knew that Ben was getting old, but we werenít aware of the health problems he was having that finally caught up to him that morning.† So it was startling to us.† We took our evening walk in silence.† We informed other neighbors of the loss in hushed tones.† Tears were shed by all of us who believe that our neighborhood is a kinder, gentler place because we knew and loved a dog named Ben.
Even if that sounds . . . you know . . . dumb.
ó © Joseph Walker
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please visit his SFPNN Featured Author page at: †http://www.sfpnn.com/joseph_walker1.htm
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