I occasionally share exploits with our 12-pound pound pup Benji, and how he has enriched our lives beyond measure. I do that in tribute to him and all members of his canine clan and the many ways they make our lives so much better.
He can be fascinating to watch, plus he's become a devoted caregiver to me while I'm recovering from squamous cell cancer treatments.
Those with dogs as family members know how readily they pick up on the most subtle clues from our actions, expressions and tone of voice.
I suppose you could say they join our pack. And while their days of hunting and gathering are long gone, they rely on us to make certain they remain regularly watered, fed and cared for.
Benji not only recognizes this but regularly expresses appreciation from the tip of his tail to his unique expressions.
When I initially began treatments, I had to leave our bedroom for the guest room because the suction machine I rely upon to relieve me of all the phlegm created by radiation is loud and would keep him and Jeanetta up much of the night. He seemed to become confused that perhaps my absence had something to do with him.
I could tell he didn't understand why, all of a sudden, ol' Dad wasn't alongside them at night anymore. As time passed, he studied the situation and came to understand that this had become our new normal. Before too long, he was trading time between rooms; it was another way he showed concern.
Now, he'll come into the guest room and nestle close beside me because he cares what's going on, even though he can't understand. The other evening, he hopped up alongside me and began licking my arm to show affection and empathy. Then he pulled back and looked me squarely in the eyes as if to say, "I'm here for you, Dad."
There are times on the back deck when I study him in an attempt, I suppose, to "mind-meld" into his perspective of this world.
As with every dog, Benji gets his news through his nose and ears. And while his nostrils are far stronger than mine and constantly at work, I'll sometimes close my eyes and began sniffing to see what, if anything, I can detect about what's happening across the neighborhood.
I surprised myself. First, I detected a faint whiff of smoke followed by subtle sweetness from one of the flowers Jeanetta has planted. As I sat there with him in my lap, I could smell vague exhaust fumes from the garbage truck busily loading trash one street over. And somewhere around here, someone was cooking hamburgers.
That prompted me to wonder just how much more, with far more powerful scent glands, he can determine through his dime-sized nostrils.
Next, with eyes still closed I strained to hear every sound around us. Other than that garbage truck going about its rounds, there were people carrying on a conversation, a single-engine airplane miles away was droning over the mountains, tunes played from three doors down, two cars passed by one street over from us, the patio clock ticked steadily, and a dog barked several blocks away.
Trying to be like Benji led me to wonder how many of us every really pause from our phones, TV sets and busy lives long enough to become more aware. I venture to say very few.
From watching Benji and wondering how he observes life, I realized how little I actually do about it.
I've also learned from studying him and his reactions to virtually everything, including other dogs (I once read that the only thing dogs like better than human companionship is the company of other dogs).
All it takes is for one neighbor dog (of the five that surround us) to begin barking at anything for Benji to go tearing into the backyard as if he has to immediately become involved in the ongoing melee.
Now, that part of his little psyche has me puzzled, since it never seems that even the lead barker knows what set them off. So they all stand at their respective fences and mindlessly bark together.
I sat watching the spectacle for several minutes the other day just to see if the nonstop chorus of yips and yaps seemed to be aimed at anything in particular. Nope. It felt like this was some call-of-the wild primal gathering to see who could outbark the other.
Afterwards, Benji came bounding back to the deck as if to ask, "So, Dad, in the overall scheme of random, nonsensical group barking, how did I do?"
While the boy and I, over the past three years since we met at the Ozark Humane Society and Shelter, have become attached through a mutual bond of affection and understanding, I harbor no illusions: He has become a complete momma's boy.
That's just fine with me. He follows Jeanetta around like she birthed him. And what dog wouldn't when she's the one who feeds him supper, walks him daily and seemingly can't go a night without brushing him?
As dog owners owners know, if you've got those bases covered, a devoted and grateful dog is yours in heart and soul.
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 email@example.com.