Resting At Her Feet

Benny with Dad & Mom--his "bestest" friends
Benny with Dad & Mom--his "bestest" friends

By Stephen Rusiniak   (for Mom and for her Benny)

Dog owners have long since known that unconditional love is just one of the many benefits reaped when a puppy becomes a member of the family. Sometimes, however, the love doesn’t  always happen overnight—or in Benny’s case, even longer than that.

It wasn’t that he didn’t like her. It was more like Benny just didn’t care about her one way or the other. Maybe the only reason he paid any attention to her at all was because his best buddy did, and Benny was, after all, a one man dog. Besides, when it came right down to it, she simply wasn’t him.

In truth, Benny might have given her a few minutes of consideration around dinnertime. Only then would he acknowledge her presence and would continue doing so right up until the moment his dog tags would clink the sides of the big shiny bowl containing his evening allotment of puppy chow. And surprisingly, she didn’t mind being the recipient of this canine’s cold shoulder because she knew there existed a sacred bond between a boy and his puppy—even if at more than a year old, this puppy wasn’t quite a puppy anymore, and at 69 years young, this boy wasn’t quite a boy anymore.

Unfortunately, this bond didn’t last. One night Benny’s best friend became ill, and people that neither of them knew came to help. They took his buddy away, and Benny never saw him again. In the days and weeks that followed, he waited and he searched for him, and several times he thought he’d found him. After all, his scent was everywhere—like on his chair in the kitchen and his coat hanging by the stairs, and it was in his shoes—still waiting for him out on the breezeway. Benny became excited when he heard a car pull up the driveway or when he heard voices out on the street, but in the end, it wasn’t him.

For weeks he moped and refused to eat and then one day he realized something that previously had meant little to him: she was still there. That night, when they were alone, Benny slowly came over to where she was and sat at her feet. She gently began to stroke his shiny-golden hair, and then something totally unexpected happened: she hugged him. From that moment forward, their relationship changed, and for each of them, the healing had begun.

They would become inseparable companions who enjoyed taking long neighborhood walks and stopping to talk with everyone they met along the way. Whether watching Animal Planet on TV or doing nothing at all, they did it together—a team of two—her confidant and his new bestest friend. The proof of this relationship was revealed in the greeting cards she routinely sent to friends and family acknowledging holidays and special events. Depending on one’s relationship with her, the card was signed: “Love, Doris & Benny,” “Nana & Benny,” “Mom & Benny.”  And those of us receiving these cards understood the importance of the closing salutation. We knew their story was one of recovery and rebirth; of two needy souls who found each other, and of the enduring friendship that resulted. It was a good story too, but as in all stories, eventually, it had to end.

If Benny had one fault that clearly surpassed all others it was that he wasn’t immortal. As he approached his thirteenth year, his body began to reveal evidence indicating that the passage of time had begun taking its toll. The puppy-like prance that had long since defined the way he liked to lead her around by his leash on their long walks gave way to increasingly shorter excursions—a consequence of his new hip difficulties. Other issues developed and by early December she wondered if he’d make it through New Year’s. And then, as if to compound these concerns, she received a devastating diagnosis of her own.

They both survived the holidays, and for the next few months, as she suffered the procedures that ultimately sapped her strength and claimed her hair, Benny endured, and he continued to be, as was his job, her most faithful friend and supporter. It was as if he knew that she still needed him, and in truth, she did. Although rising from his rug and walking required increasingly more effort, when she returned home, exhausted from her daily treatments, he struggled to greet her; his puppy-heart still overflowing with unconditional love; his old body still ready to snuggle, and when exhaustion demanded she sit in her chair, Benny knew just where she needed him to be: resting at her feet.

Benny continued to provide his love and support throughout the duration of her treatments, and when they were over, he died. 

And sadly, her healthy reprieve didn’t last. For a second time she fought the good fight, but this time, when she knew the battle was lost, she gracefully accepted the inevitable and had but one request: the ashes of her beloved Benny be interred with her.

On a sunny November morning Mom was laid to rest with Dad. And just as she’d asked, Benny was with them, and he was just where she needed him to be: resting at her feet.

                               (Hey Mom & Dad, miss and love you both very much)
                ©2010 by Stephen Rusiniak. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved
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