Benji

Daughter Sarah takes Benji on a stroll in a buggy recommended by readers.

We buried Benji Thursday before last. He’s near Twinkie, beneath the cover of an old palo verde.

The two dogs never met. They led separate lives under one roof. They share something of an origin story, though.

We claimed them both from the streets of Phoenix. Strays. Twinkie shuffling across the road until a car knocked her down. Benji standing in a crosswalk, waiting for somebody to pull over and take him home.

I happened on Twinkie in the mid-1990s. It was morning. I was driving to work on a two-lane blacktop. The road, at the time, had little traffic. A little white dog sauntered out in front of me. I slowed, let her pass.

She was hit by a large station wagon headed the other direction. In my rearview mirror, I saw her come tumbling out from under the car. I pictured the next passing car making a mess of her.

I turned around and pulled off on a gravel shoulder. My plan: Move the dog off the road. Sure, dead was dead. But I’d spare her the indignity of looking like bad road kill.

I picked her up and felt a heartbeat. She had no tags. I took her to the vet. He patched her up. She became family. She was small, so we named her Twinkie. She was already 8 to 10 years old. She lived another five.

Twinkie was a gentle dog, shuffling around the house. Just as she shuffled onto a two-lane blacktop.

She wouldn’t stand a chance nowadays. Housing developments now line that same road. Traffic is steady. Heavy at rush hour, sometimes bumper to bumper.

Benji apparently didn’t get the memo. Stay off the busy streets. At least, he had the good sense not to wander onto Southern Avenue in Phoenix at rush hour. He chose a Sunday morning instead, 10 years ago this month.

My wife, Cindy, and I were stopped at a light. We saw him standing in the crosswalk, across the intersection. I think he was auditioning for a new home. “Hey, check me out. I’m a good boy.”

No takers, so he wandered off.

We followed him to a parking lot. Cindy opened the car door. He jumped in and began licking her. Just like that, he had a new home. His breeding was something on the order of a Shih Tzu. He came with hair mats, ticks and a full set of puppy-makers. A vet removed the puppy-makers. The groomer removed the mats. We dealt with the ticks.

We named him Benji. Not all that original, but it seemed to fit.

Benji had a heart condition. It didn’t appear to bother him much, until later last year. He began to slow down. He’d have trouble keeping up on walks. I wrote about it, and a couple of readers suggested I get a stroller. A baby buggy for dogs.

I wrote back, thanking them for the suggestion. I told Cindy what the readers advised. She said: “Order the stroller.”

I ordered the stroller. Benji took to it like a fish in water. It was just his size. He’d sit up and gaze over the edge as Maggie walked alongside. Maggie’s also something on the order of a Shih Tzu.

Hoisting Benji in and out of his stroller was always a bit tricky. What he lacked in size, he made up for in density. Sort of the neutron star of dogs. And his center of gravity was off center. You had to hold up his back end, to keep from losing him.

But I managed, until I broke my left wrist, two days before Christmas. Spiral fracture of the ulna. I didn’t know my ulna from my funny bone before I read the ER report.

Anyway, getting Benji in the baby buggy was a real pain, until our daughter came to the rescue. Sarah flew in from Massachusetts on Christmas Eve. She had a break from her graduate coursework.

We teamed up for dog walks. Sarah helped with the heavy lifting. That would be Benji. She pushed the buggy as he sat up and took in the scenery. I walked Maggie.

Sarah also gave Stitch, our aging cat, much needed attention.

She returned to her studies the second week in January. I handled Benji on my own. Once again, I managed, though Cindy helped. Benji got his buggy walks.

But he was in decline. He no longer sat up in the buggy. He lay on his stomach, staring out through a mesh window.

We had him on heart medicines. They helped for a while. They weren’t a cure, however. He stopped eating, then drinking. Then he couldn’t get off the floor. Maybe it sounds corny, but the shine had left his eyes.

It was time. Afterward, Cindy and I reminisced about Benji. And what a good boy he was.

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Reach contributing writer Bill Coates at bccoates@cox.net.

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