Remembering Ben, or Why Adopting a Shelter Dog Can Be a Good Thing

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Memorial Day 2009 is just around the corner, and the beginning of May always brings my friend, Ben, close to mind. I’ll tell you the story of Ben, and maybe you, too, will consider adopting a shelter dog for your family.

One May day in 1993 I decided our family needed a new dog. Our last dog, Shady, a tiny black Pekingese, had been tragically killed by a neighbor’s dog. We’d since moved and my boys thought they should have a new dog to play with and I thought that was a good idea.

I decided I would go to the local shelter for a suitable rescue dog—some breed of high energy dog that would play with two high energy boys. Maybe an Australian Shepherd or a Blue Heeler. Maybe a Lab. The shelter was full of dogs up for adoption. Mostly purebred dogs that looked pretty good. They all needed a home. The metal building reverberated with barks bouncing off the walls. It was hard to hear myself think!

I walked around long rows of fairly large, comfortable looking kennels. The dogs were excited to have a chance for a home. Their faces and their barks were the embodiment of “Take me home with you—Please!”

Blue Heelers and Cockers, Labs and Shelties, Schnauzers and poodles, a Doberman and a couple of curly haired mixed breeds all vied for my attention at beyond comfortable decibel levels. All were barking, except one.

In the very last kennel of the very last row, sat a sad, sorry looking reddish gold dog. Completely silent. He was so thin you could count all his ribs. His coat was clean, but very short and in very poor condition. As I walked past his kennel to start around the rows again, he turned with me as he sat in the very middle of his kennel space. Still vocally silent, his beautiful eyes never left mine for an instant. I walked around again, not really thinking too much about the silent dog. The other dogs kept it loud enough without his contribution.

I stopped into to see the Doberman, one of the Shelties, and the best looking Heeler. All seemed like pretty decent dogs. I wasn’t sure about the Heeler, the attendant said she thought he had never been around kids. The Doberman hated cats, the Sheltie was deaf. It just didn’t seem like any of the dogs I was interested in fit the total bill. So I made another round. And saw the sorry, gaunt, sad-looking dog again. Still sitting in the middle, still silent.

Hhmmm … so I asked the attendant what his story was … she told me he’d been rescued by someone’s neighbor who noticed that the dog had a collar so tight around his neck he could barely breathe and was almost starved to death. The collar had cut into his skin and the shelter vet said he had serious damage to his throat. The dog was a purebred Golden Retriever, although he didn’t look it, and he was about eighteen months old. And he weighed maybe thirty pounds.

Mercy! The poor dog had been at the shelter for more than two weeks and no one had shown any interest in adopting him. Hhhmm … She said he would probably be put down in a few days since they had only a three week adoption policy because so many dogs were at the shelter. Most people didn’t want a dog that couldn’t bark. She was certain he would be put down soon.

Hhhmmm … of course I had to ask her to let me in to meet this silent dog. As I walked in, he made no move, just sat there, looking at me. I walked up to him, holding my hand out, and speaking low and slow to him. He still never moved. I walked up beside him and knelt down. As soon as I started to pet him, he, in a classic Goldie move,  lifted his front paw and laid it on my knee, turning his head to look me in the eye as he softly touched his nose to my cheek.

A voice spoke in my mind and said, “This is the dog.” So of course I had a few more questions for the attendant, filled out some paper work, and took him home. His name became Bender, because I had gone out on a limb for an emaciated dog that could not bark.

Turned out it was one of the best decisions of my life.

Within six months, Ben was the beautiful, golden dog he should have always been. His hair was long and silky, his confidence high, his entire being full of joy at his doggy life. But still silent. Ben never barked.

Ben became our best family friend ever. In all the time we knew Ben, there were only two times he ever growled at any one, both times being a warning well-deserved, as he was guarding his boys. Ben never cost our family a penny at the vet, other than for regular check-ups and shots. He was the most gentle, tolerant, well-behaved, intelligent dog I have ever had the pleasure to know.

On Memorial Day, 2005, a little more than thirteen years after becoming a member of our family, we made the difficult decision to help Ben leave his aged, failing body behind, and allowed him to become our friend in memory and spirit. We laid him to rest right here at home, as is only right.

Ben, our silent and faithful friend, I salute your loving spirit. I miss you dearly.

So I encourage you—if you are looking for a dog for your family, a dog to play with your children, a dog to become your best friend—visit a shelter or a rescue—the right dog is just waiting for you!



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