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It seems only right that I keep valued readers abreast of the trials and tribulations of Benji, the 8-pound Taco Terrier who came to live with us more than two months ago.

Dog owners in particular will understand.

Although Jeanetta and I each have raised many dogs over our lives, we agree none has been anything like this loving yet independent little pooch from Harrison's Humane Society.

The golden hairy ball of enthusiasm is proof that an abandoned dog rescued (even in shameful physical condition) from your local shelter can infuse so much affection, joy and laughter into one's life.

And if you prefer not to fuss with the cleanup, feeding, boarding and vet bills of your own, you can sit back with your cup of coffee and live vicariously through our adventures. I'll make it easy.

We've come to realize how much this little fella truly loves people. Unlike a lot of naturally territorial dogs, Benji greets everyone at the door. Then he immediately stretches his paws and awaits the pats to his head.

He craves human touch on his long, wispy cream-colored topknot that, as one visitor observed, resembles Donald Trump's mane. Truth be told, it kinda sorta does.

In the latest chapter of our budding relationship, we've discovered that Benji enjoys assuming command over larger dogs. I suspect he feels a lot like Napoleon must have in his heyday. Only his commands for them to attack unseen outside forces often come in bird-like little chirps more than full-throated barks.

Last week Jeanetta's daughter visited with her three larger dogs and, within an hour, Benji was leading them on frontal barking assaults on who knows what was in the backyard. He'd stand and chirp authoritatively from his wing-backed chair (throne), then off they'd all charge, woofing wildly out the door. A few minutes later, here they'd all return with Benji still leading the way.

Walks are not actual "walks" with this little fella. They are full-out sprints on skinny legs that measure all of five and a half inches. Jeanetta connects his harness, slides into her tennis shoes, and off they go like the start of a cross-country meet. Accustomed to walking over three miles an hour, she can hardly keep up.

That sprint continues until he hits a wall at about two miles. That's when he finds grass, plops onto his belly and begins crawling a few yards and rolling over and over to wind up with his belly facing the sky as if to say, "OK, I'm done now." That's when she carries him the rest of the way.

One of their favorite trails winds along Crooked Creek near the dog park on the southern end of town. It quickly became obvious he didn't much care for wading, but he's beyond fascinated by all the smells of life that flourish around the stream. He can hardly lift his nose off the ground.

Speaking of that dime-sized nose, back at home both halves are constantly in motion as he gets the news of the day from distant yards.

Most of his friends who visit for backyard play dates are at least five time his size. I've studied his tactics at play as he races pell-mell with a buddy in close pursuit, only to immediately skid to a halt, roll over several times and cut back beneath them, always smiling as if to say "Gotcha again!" These tag matches go on and on.

He's got moves traveling at full speed that Darren McFadden couldn't match. And other than nimble, he's downright clever.

For instance, his girlfriend Mya, a part golden Labrador from across the street, came to play the other afternoon. Soon the tag races were again underway. Just when she was about to nip his tail, he disappeared like a rabbit into a 20-foot-long patch of knee-high landscaping grass.

Confused, Mya sniffed and roamed the perimeter, obviously trying to catch him off-guard. After 30 seconds with no luck, Benji suddenly sprung his trap by leaping out of the grass. He playfully nipped her in the soft fold of skin beneath her shoulder and took off again, sprinting in large circles with Mya in pursuit.

We've learned a couple of things about Benji when it comes to eating and leisure. His bowl of food can sit all day until he decides it's time to eat.

We still can't figure out, short of a smattering of bacon grease, what gets his appetite revved. Yet he's always eager for a Pup-Peroni treat.

Benji has selected at least seven places inside where he likes curling up in a ball no larger than a large cantaloupe.

There's the red wingback we've labeled his throne, followed by the high ground on the back of the couch, the couch itself, my recliner, Jeanetta's recliner, the puffy soft pillow in my office, a second pillow in front of the fireplace, and the foot of our bed.

Many times, he assumes a spot across the room and shifts his gaze back and forth, staring intently at each of us for 10 minutes before closing his eyes for a nap. Wish we could know what's going through that round little head when he's doing all that contemplating.

Have I mentioned what a remarkably short time it took for us to spoil him to the core? A better way to say that might be to say for him to train us.

The other afternoon, I caught Benji wailing like a wolf at the sound of a passing police siren. From another room, I could hear a drawn-out mournful cry that was something new to me.

"What the heck is that, a dying animal?" I thought. Then I peered onto the back deck where Benji sat, nostrils to the heavens, bearing his heart and soul to the neighborhood. Sirens have that effect on canines.

We decided upon bringing him home that Benji would sleep in his enclosed portable kennel in my office rather than our bed, where in his mind he'd much rather be bedded down with his new "pack."

In a compromise of sorts, we take him to bed with us each evening where he spreads out, usually on his back, at the foot of the mattress until lights out. That's when Jeanetta snatches him up and carries him to his kennel. He's come to know when bedtime is at hand before a word is spoken and predictably crawls over to me in hopes ol' Dad will let him stay.

Each day when I arise, doggie son and I have established a ritual. I slowly open the door and let him out with tail wagging, whereupon he reaches up to my knees for a stretch as I rub his back and pet him good morning.

Next comes his full-bodied shake that begins with his ears and travels through his tiny body to the tip of his tail, followed by several licks to my hand.

Afterwards, we spend five or 10 minutes in the recliner playing what I call romp and tickle as he flips and flops all over my lap and the chair.

Sometimes we look into his dark little eyes and wonder about his life before we met him at the Humane Society, back when his sharp claws had grown to over an inch long, and fleas had ravaged him badly enough for him to lose half his back coat.

He always stares back unflinchingly, which is uncharacteristic of most dogs who perceive prolonged eye contact as a threat. He seems to know what we are thinking, while we supposedly higher-functioning animals with senses far short of his continue to wonder what is going through his mind.

Having a long-nosed child (of sorts) in our 70s isn't nearly as challenging as we'd imagined.

Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.

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

Editorial on 05/30/2020

Print Headline: MASTERSON ONLINE: Settling in with Benji


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