Wednesday, February 1st, 2023
Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

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Black Lab Ben still going at 15

I can tell you right now the lady at the drive-up window at
McDonald’s on Tuesday is going to be pretty confused. “Welcome to
McDonald’s, can I take your order please?” will be answered with
“Five plain cheeseburgers and a Coke.”

Not your usual ice cream and cake, but we’re having a party and
Ben is the guest of honor. And that’s what he likes. Steve, Maddie,
Hailey, Ben and I will munch on the burgers (the Coke is for me on
the ride home; think of it as a shipping and handling fee), and
wash them down with Frosty Paws – for the dogs, that is. Ben has
asked that we forgo the pointy birthday hats.

You hope for this day, then you hope he can celebrate. But at 15
years old, our black Labrador still runs (well, walks really fast;
almost to a trot) down the driveway and over the fairways at Cobble
Hill Golf Course. He climbs the steps numerous times each day to
take a nap or look for me. And he still can flush a grouse, even if
he doesn’t see it or hear it burst through the brush.

And as he turns 15 this week, I can see his heart and his soul
still pumping along, although his legs don’t often carry him as
well as he (or we) would like. And each day, he just keeps adding
to the memories.

Ben was, at first, Steve’s dog. I still had my yellow Lab, Brooks,
and black Lab Magic was the matriarch of the family, ignoring
everyone. Ben was going to hunt pheasants and the occasional
grouse. Out of good Latrobe, Pa., field trial stock, he did become
one of our best-ever pheasant dogs – a machine in the field. In a
newspaper column in the late ’90s, he was dubbed “Hurricane Ben”
for his never-ending, high-energy bursts that ultimately led me to
swear off another male dog. (Our youngest, Hailey, now has me
thinking twice about females, so obviously there’s a decision to be
made in the future.)

Then, as we had the privilege of welcoming my parents into our
home, Ben became my Mom’s dog. No matter where she went in the
house, he was there; getting toast in the morning or a treat in the
afternoon. He patrolled the backyard with her as they investigated
the gardens and slept at the foot of her bed each night.

When Mom passed, he moved on to me. Not bitter that I was the only
one left that he hadn’t sidled up to, it’s an honor to take my
mom’s place as his constant companion. And he follows me everywhere
– to the office, upstairs, downstairs, out to the driveway, back to
the compost pile, into the kitchen and, finally, on the couch at
night to enjoy a few minutes of downtime.

The memories are innumerable, but I still get down on the floor and
hug the stuffing out of him when I think we almost lost him six
years ago. (Has it really been that long?) Back when we thought he
was old – at 9 – he decided to go for a 16-hour stroll through the
Adirondack High Peaks. Frantic when he didn’t come back in from a 4
a.m. feeding, Steve and I took turns driving and walking the town
and this half of Essex County, knocking on doors, posting flyers,
calling the UPS man and the town highway crew to keep their eyes

Exhausted and with few, if any, tears left, I sat down by the front
door at about 8 that night, trying to push the thoughts out of my
mind, when a soft thump hit the screen door.

“He’s here!!!” I screamed and tore open the door to find a very
tired 9-year-old hurricane who had, no doubt seen the sights in the
past 16 hours. He couldn’t understand why Steve and I wouldn’t let
him just go lay down – which is all he wanted to do for the next
two days – and why we wouldn’t stop crying and hugging him.

I still don’t think he understands why I, seemingly out of the
blue, walk up to him and hug him, but I don’t think he minds.

So if you think of it, on Tuesday or any other day, give your best
friend a hug to celebrate Ben’s birthday. You don’t have to go to
McDonald’s for the five cheeseburgers. And please, no pointy
birthday hats.


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