Ben: The greatest
Everyone thinks their dog is the greatest.
No matter what the size, the shape, the color, the age, they are all the best. And in their own ways they are. Different dogs are different things to different people at different times. They are all the greatest.
So when I say Ben was the greatest, I mean it, albeit with a bit (OK, a healthy dose) of bias. To me, he was the greatest – but much different in the way that Maddie or Hailey or Brooks or Magic were the greatest.
My memories of Ben are not necessarily those forged in the field, although we had some great pheasant hunts together. Of course, looking back, I never really got as much chance to hunt with him as I should have.
And they are not rooted in his puppy years; back then, he was “Steve’s dog.” He picked him out and brought him home, playing with him at 2 in the morning after Ben slept the hours-long ride home from Ligonier, Pa. My early impressions of this, our first male dog, was Hurricane Ben, who tore through the house for no particular reason other than to tear through the house. He gave “puppy-proofing” a whole new meaning.
Even into his middle age, our bond had not yet solidified. He was my mother’s dog then; following her around, staying close and knowing when she needed a gentle nuzzle after we lost my Dad.
When Mom passed on, he turned to me. Last but, I’d like to think, not least. I still see that as the ultimate compliment, that he would come to me when Mom was no longer there to give him that last piece of toast.
But what made Ben special – the greatest – in my eyes was something that he never asked for, that he never sought, but that he accepted with grace and an eagerness that only a Lab can show.
Ben (as are all of the members of our pack), is part of a three-year National Institutes of Health study at Cornell University. Researchers there are looking at 10 different canine diseases in the hopes of not only helping the most popular breed in the country, but many people who suffer from the same genetic problems. He was poked, prodded, pulled, pushed, walked, scoped, X-rayed and donated his DNA to the bank there that stores samples from healthy and sick dogs alike.
After closing the circle and giving him one last ride to Ithaca after he crossed the Rainbow Bridge, Dr. Marta, the researcher at Cornell, filled me in on Ben’s legacy and what he is still doing to help pets (and their owners). He’ll be part of a cancer study, using DNA and cells from the liver cancer that he would finally succumb to. He will also be part of a study of degenerative myleopathy, as they were able to confirm he was afflicted with that doggie-type of MS. His “good” DNA will continue to be used as a control for any number of diseases.
As any pet owner will tell you, they know when it’s time to let their friend go. We knew with Ben. When that voice inside was telling me it was time to let go, Steve and I did, giving him the best gift we could give the friend that had given us so much.
As he slipped away on May 8, I could see in his eyes a “thank you.”
No, Ben, thank you.