Friday, September 26, 2008

Benson 1995-2008

Benson was born April 26, 1995 and was named after the Butler in the 70's US sitcom Soap. The original idea was to have two dogs, so we could have Benson and Hedges, but I guess it wasn't to be. We quickly realised that one was more than enough!

It wasn't that he was a disobedient dog - he wasn't. Quite the opposite, in fact. Just about anything you wanted to teach him you only needed to show him once or twice and he had it down pat. And most of the time he would do it too. But he was willful, and knew just how far he could push us, and he loved to test those boundaries whenever he could.

He learned from Colin the cat too, who had Benson house trained within a matter of days of his arrival. Colin showed Benson the cat flap. Colin showed Benson how it was impolite to crap in your own garden - you should always do it in a neighbour's. Colin taught Benson that to err is human, but to mark territory, that's down to us baby..... In fact, the only thing Benson seemed incapable of picking up quickly was that whenever Colin rolled over on his back and beckoned Benson in for a game - "no, honest, THIS time I just want to play" - he was walking into a world of hurt. Oh well.

Needless to say, the house training didn't exactly stick, either. We returned home one day when Benson was about 16 weeks old to find him wearing the cat flap, on the outside of the door, wondering how on earth he was supposed to get back in. If cats could shake their heads and roll their eyes, Colin would have been sat there shaking and rolling his. Benson looked sheepish, and promptly started to pee indoors now he could no longer get through the flap. Once he figured it out again, though, Colin's lessons stayed with him for life - Benson would NEVER do anything in the garden, let alone the house. When we moved to Wennington and had a garden with a gate which was permanently open and a grass verge right outside, Benson would sit by the gate crossing his legs until we would take him out to pee.

Unlike most dogs he loved loud noises. November 5th held no fears for Benson - he was the dog you see on TV who loves the fireworks so much he grabs the roman candle out of the ground and runs round the garden with it in his mouth while everyone else dives for cover. If Benson heard a gun, he would look up, waiting for the bird to fall. No bird was ever safe in the undergrowth along his walk. He had gun dog in his genes.

And footballer! He was a demon with a football, with lightning reflexes and amazing ball control skills. If you kept the ball on the floor or dog height, there was no way you could get it past him - why England didn't have him playing in goal was always beyond me.
When he was about a year old, I was foolish enough to take him with me to my Sunday morning 7-a-side football game to give Lynne a break. I thought we could tire him out by letting him join in the practice session first - there were about 6 of us all passing the ball between us with Benson in the middle. We couldn't keep it from him for more than 2 or 3 passes at a time. So one bright spark had the idea that there would be no way he could get to the ball if we kicked it high enough in the air over his head. He was right, of course. But what he failed to take into account was that, in the time it took for the ball to travel its increased trajectory, there was more than enough time for Benson to make sure he was at the point it was going to land. The poor lad had to sit out the first five minutes of the game nursing his clobbered shins.

Practice over, I secured Benson's heavy leather lead to a concrete fence post and left him to play. He never made a sound. No fuss. He just quietly set about chewing through his 30 quid leather lead before rushing onto the pitch and taking the ball. It took us all of five minutes to get it back from the little bugger.

He loved the water too. Sea, river, swimming pool, puddle - the deeper and faster flowing the better, but any old wetness would do. He carried an injury all his adult life due to shattered cartilege in his elbow, an injury sustained when he tried to jump from a rock into the sea when he was 6 months old, not realising the wave was on its way out leaving him to land hard. Many's the time we thought we had lost him in rivers swollen with flood water, only to watch him body surf happily through the rocks and emerge 50 yards further down stream with his precious stick in his mouth ready to go again. I think he inherited some of Colin's nine lives, actually!

He was the friendliest dog you could ever meet, and as willful as he could be at home, he was always impeccably behaved when we left him with anyone else. This made it very easy to find him lodgings when we went away, and even the kennel owners used to love him because they knew he would not only never pee or poo in his bed, but nor would he do it in his own little compound. The fact he was so good off the lead meant he would often get several walks a day as he was left to roam whilst other dogs were walked on their leads. In one kennel we turned up to pick him up and could not see him anywhere in the cages. The owner emerged from the house with his own two lab bitches, closely followed by a very contented Benson! Turned out he was so good that the owner had him living in the house with his own dogs! Yes we could leave him anywhere, with anyone - except in a room with a plate of prunes wrapped in bacon on a low coffee table, as we found to our cost one evening as we gave a dinner party.

And yet, as gentle as he was, he was a tough nut too. Never one to start a fight with any dog, I never saw him lose one after the first couple of times he got beat up by the local bully when he was 6 months old. Ask Jan and alex about the time the neighbouring German shepherd was intent on causing trouble with their dog, Max. Despite having a few kilos advantage on Benson, there was no way he was letting that dog put his towel on Max's sun bed. With Max looking on from behind, Benson saw it off in fine English style.

In his final years, the early injury and some bad breeding led to some severe arthritis and hip dysplasia problems, leaving him looking like he had only one good paw out of four. Even then, he was always the one who insisted on his daily walk, even when Harry (and we!) would have preferred to stay at home. Cancer added to his problems, and he had several tumours removed. The last one tested as malignant, and we knew it was a matter of time. We look back at those days when he had the first tumours removed and, fearing that he was on borrowed time, we went out and bought Harry to learn from the master and keep him company in his final days. That was over three years ago!

Recently, he had started to lose control of his rear end, leading to some messy accidents in the house. For a dog who was not even used to messing in the garden, you can imagine how mortified he was each morning when we came down to find it, despite our reassurances. Then he stopped eating, and his weight - always at around 35Kg at his peak - fell from 30Kg to just 27Kg in the last few weeks. Something was clearly wrong, and yet the little bugger was as bright and lively as ever, as keen as ever on his walk (even if it did take half an hour longer these days) and would still always manage to force a little pizza down even when he couldn't manage his own dinner!

We agonised over whether we should make the decision to take him to the vet for the last time. We didn't want him to suffer, and so we wanted to pre-empt the point where he had a major episode of some description. And yet he was still Benson - bright eyed and bushy tailed in almost all respects. The decision was impossible to make. Others told us we would "know when it was time".

And we did. This morning we came down to find he had not only crapped, but peed himself as well. He was mortified. He was subdued on his walk. Afterwards, he refused to eat yet again and he continually patrolled the perimeter of the garden, apparently looking for somewhere quiet to hide himself. Or maybe a way out so he could go away and.... who knows what?

If there were any lingering doubts about this, the most difficult decision we have ever had to make, then they were dispelled when we reached the vet.

Benson, never a big fan of vets and their painful and/or undignified procedures (expelling his anal glands probably ranking as his least favourite!) usually frets, drools and pants his way through the visit. This time he was calm, accepting, simply lying on the floor even when we took him into the examination room.

The vet was very good. There was no stress, no suffering. I held him tight in my arms as he passed, and I cried like a baby.

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