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Like many of you, I've harbored a deep affection for dogs from childhood. Looking back, I recall Bubbles the beagle; Gretchen the schnauzer; Luke, Abby and Max the golden retrievers; and at least seven others across a lifetime.

My love and fond remembrances of each is rooted in the comfort, laughs, unconditional affection and the loyalty they provided. All those months of potty-training and responsibility for their care and feeding were ordinary human demands that pale in comparison with the love and trust they provided.

That said, Jeanetta and I agreed a few years back that we'd reached the age where the idea of owning another one was no longer in the cards. We enjoyed our freedom, and the memories of our previous pets was sufficient to remind us of the joys they brought. Besides, we still got our "doggie fix" from those owned by family, neighbors and friends--canines with names like Katy, Teddy, Leo, Toto, Buddy and Sparky.

Then one afternoon I felt strangely drawn to visit the Boone County Humane Society, and there they were, lined up in cages, staring forlornly, barking and wailing in appeals to unlock the doors and take them home. That was another tough experience with reality.

Inside, I left my name and asked them to call should a castoff small dog ever appear at their door. One day passed before the phone rang and a picture followed on my phone. Meet Benji, the 5-year-old 7-pound golden-haired terrier mix with floppy ears, ridiculously long unclipped nails, a lower back stripped bare from continuously gnawing at fleas, and a cute, foxlike face reflecting an expression of uncertainty.

Well, valued readers, $75 dollars later, Benji, who'd been discarded by an owner who could no longer keep him, was nestled in Jeanetta's arms and headed for his new home. We looked at each other with wide eyes, each of us reluctant to ask aloud: "What in the vet bills, food bills and renewed responsibility have we just done?"

En route she carefully picked nine fleas from his quivering body, and even discovered a few masses of soft black clusters that had to be flea eggs. In short, the little fella was in bad shape.

But man, oh, man, we'd soon discover: could he ever snuggle and cuddle and return affection.

It's now been five weeks since we met Benji. He's had his antibiotics, itch meds, rabies shot, lost his boyhood, shed those fleas, had nails trimmed and teeth cleaned. With good nutrition, the fur on his lower back is quickly catching up with the rest of his coat, and he has learned to play, maybe for the first time.

I should say the first few days were a tad difficult since the yet-collarless Benji, a naturally curious escape artist, found his way through the backyard fence on five occasions until we got wise enough to locate and block his escape routes.

When we'd locate and catch up with him, he usually rolled over on his back, smile (I swear) and wag his tail rather than sprinting away, playing catch-me-if-you-can. We couldn't. This canine sprints like a .22-caliber bullet.

Today, he has three mail-ordered costumes. One reads: "Yeah, I Work Out." Another claims he's the "Sheriff" (bald-faced lie). The third reads "Security." And Jeanetta, who enjoys walking fast for a couple of miles, has discovered she's met her match with this boy on a leash.

Her stride may be five times his, but she has trouble keeping up. It's as if he's seeing this wide world for the first time and he can't take it all in fast enough.

Most evenings consist of us in recliners separated by a table. Benji alternates the comfort of our laps by gingerly easing across the table to share affections equally. He especially cherishes the soft blanket Jeanetta keeps beside her and can't wait to snuggle into and beneath it, often burying his small but surprisingly long body.

It's apparent Benji's feeling more love and safety today than at any time in his life. And his addition to our lives has been a match that just feels meant to be. There are times when he lies atop me at my waist then literally drags himself up to lick my nose. His curled 7-inch tail is always standing straight up above his back as he trots, sometimes sprints, lickity-split across the backyard he's no longer anxious to escape.

With pooch friends fenced on two sides, Benji is content to run the fence lines with them. Friends Danny and Susan Timbrook bring their equally small and cute Toto (my nephew), also a terrier mix, over for romps. Either that, or we convene at Harrison's dog park where they tirelessly chase, romp, roll and leap.

Benji has come to anticipate nightfall because he identifies it with so much affection and attention. He leaps onto our bed and alternates cuddling close to either of us, depending on his mood. Then, when he's asleep, Jeanetta gently lifts and carries the boy to his kennel in the adjacent room where he spends each night. Lately, he gets his fill of us and heads for his home alone.

When I flip the light switch each morning, he comes crawling out with wagging tail, sleepy eyes and that smile. Surprisingly, Benji is not a yapper and seldom barks. The only serious barking we've heard from him was last week when he cornered a possum twice his size against the fence and wasn't giving the terrified hissing creature any quarter.

Well, that's not quite true. There were the two 100-plus-pound dogs named Sam and Walter who arrived the other day for a visit with their owner. When they initially jumped at Benji and growled, he didn't cower or flinch.

Instead, he quickly backed both down by barking, bearing his teeth and leaping toward them, I suspect making it clear in dog language, "You really want some of this?" Walter, the white Great Pyrenees, gulped out loud and left the room. After earning Sam's respect, those two became playful friends. Although even Sam stood six times taller and three times as wide with paws as wide as Benji's hips, the difference didn't matter to either boy.

Today, I just smile at this fiesty, lovable, happy and loving little dog and say: "Yep! That's my doggie son!" And we are both glad I enriched our lives by going against our original mindset and choosing to follow my instincts to the Humane Society that day (even though it cost a doggone $200 to have his teeth cleaned and another $103 to treat the yeast infection in his ears).

Some joys in life are just worth paying for, right?

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

Web only on 03/28/2020

Print Headline: Benji finds a home

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