Bill Coates

Bill Coates

I left Benji home today. Maggie and I went for a walk without him.

It wasn’t an easy call. I put the harness and leash on Maggie. Benji stood near the door, waiting for his own walking gear. It’s the eyes that get to you. The big sad eyes that say, “Um, what about me?”

What about Benji?

Well, he has some health issues. His heart mainly. He’s panting before we even get out the door. After a few steps, he stops and isn’t inclined to start again. I wait, for a time. Then, with a tug, I say: “Come on, Benji.”

We don’t go far. Otherwise, I pretty much have to drag him around the block. It’s hard on him. But Maggie is ready, willing and able. She has bounce to her walk and likes to go places and see things.

So the compromise. Some days I take them both for a short stroll. Some days I just take Maggie. We both like the longer walks.

This is a new arrangement. They were a good match for the old arrangement, going out together every day. They’re best friends. In bygone days, they’d trot along side-by-side. Benji would sniff out the good spots, places where other dogs made their mark. Benji would add his two cents.

Together, they attracted an audience. They’re people dogs. They stop for attention and pets. “What cute dogs,” many would say. At least those who knew good dogs when they saw them.

Benji and Maggie aren’t the large, drooling type. They’re in the Shih Tzu category, we believe. They came without papers. Strays. We plucked Benji off the streets nearly 10 years ago. Maggie came through the door a year or two later. She had been running loose at a nearby Safeway. The store manager handed her over to Cindy. The daily special.

Maggie is no longer the puppy she was. But she’s still up for a good half-hour walk.

Over the past year, Benji began to slow down. We took him to a veterinary cardiologist last March. We hesitated at first. It sounded expensive. A lot of pet owners, I imagine, see their pets as priceless, then wonder about the cost of care.

Yes, it cost a few bucks, but we had a front-row seat on Benji’s ultrasound. It showed a heart pumping blood. The pump was a bit worn, the vet said, but still doing the job.

Benji, it happened, was in the first of three stages of heart disease, the vet said. No. 3 was congestive heart failure.

I think he’s somewhere on No. 2 now. He had a few rough nights a month or so back. Our regular vet prescribed some pills to help him out. I think they were diuretics, to help relieve the buildup of fluids.

He’s certainly not the young dog-about-town he used to be. He can no longer jump on the bed. He prefers the floor and dog beds now. It’s probably for the best. He used to sleep at Cindy’s feet. Every time she moved them, he’d bite her on the toe.

Benji had more teeth back then.

I have all my teeth, though a few have been saved by modern dentistry. But the dog and I share some of the same quirks of aging. We both walk into a room and stare. I’m wondering what I was looking for. Benji? Not sure. Looking for his lost youth perhaps.

He’s much the same on walks anymore. He doesn’t stop and sniff like he used to. He just stops and stares. I can relate. I do that a lot myself. But we have to move on, at some point.

So I pull and Benji does his best to keep up.

We still bring him on the occasional long walk. Two weeks ago, Cindy, the pups and I strolled about Boyce Thompson Arboretum. It was a walk in the woods, though Benji required a lot of encouragement.

I didn’t pick him up and carry him. Benji doesn’t like being picked up. Part of it is having a heft that prefers to stay earthbound. Cindy says he’s a cranky old man. I don’t have an issue with that. Seems natural for men of a certain age.

He does have his mellow side. He’s cool as a cucumber at the vet’s office. I’ve seen 3-year-olds pet him like he’s a stuffed animal. He takes it without a fuss. He’s got many good qualities.

And eyes you can’t say no to.

So tomorrow, I’ll slip on his harness and leash and take him and Maggie for a walk along a river park in Phoenix. We won’t go far.

But we’ll all go together, and that’s what counts.


Reach contributing writer Bill Coates at