Benson is our Saint Bernard and I realize you’ve heard me mention him a lot. I’ve found myself thinking of him more often in recent weeks. Maybe it’s because I’ve been reminded lately that I need to have gratitude for both past and present, so I’m thinking back on all of our blessings. I realize this is true throughout the year but Thanksgiving time seems to slap me in the face with it every year. Maybe it’s because this is the holiday season and that too makes me think a bit deeper than my normal day-to-day thinking goes. It’s possibly much simpler than that. You see, I’ve mentioned before that we live in Arizona and during the summer I’m reminded that Arizona is located approximately 2.5 miles from hell which means no sitting outside. Therefore, in December when it’s 74 degrees out, I spend a lot of time outside with the dogs and Benson isn’t here. No matter the reason, I want to share Benson with you today.
I need to preface this story with a sort of disclaimer. We did rescue for a long time and then took a break. The first rescue we worked with didn’t do much educating. Therefore, I knew about the breed but very little if anything about breeders, puppy mills, pet stores, back yard breeders, and those types of things. The rescues I’m working with now (One Dog Arizona, M.A.I.N., & Cruz’s Crusaders) do a great deal of educating and I’ve learned quite a lot about those things I’ve mentioned.
With all of that said, Benson came from a pet store. I believe, in my own guiltless way, that we actually rescued him. At three months old he weighed 20 pounds and was in a tiny space that he was too big for. It was the same size that his neighbor, a lab, was in. When Alex and I walked through the store, just for fun, I saw Benson and absolutely fell in love with him. He was beautiful of course, but he had the best eyes ever; they were truly expressive. I told Alex he was going to be mine. We discussed having to talk Marc into it and maybe I mentioned that I’d say he was my graduation present (I was a week away from getting my Bachelor degree) or something like that but that’s not important. I told Alex, his name would be Benson. It just fit him and she agreed. I went home and researched the Saint Bernard breed and I loved what I read. They’re loyal, lazy, and usually food motivated. I felt like I was reading a description about myself! Benson and I would be perfect for each other.
The following day we went and paid for Benson (Marc was an easy target) but we couldn’t take him home because he had a virus that came with snotty eyes and green goo in his nose (sounds as nasty as it was). Marc and I visited him every day; literally. We brought him toys to play with and treats to eat. We sat on the floor (gross I know but we bleached ourselves when we left) and played with him for an hour or so. He came home three weeks later. He was already ginormous, beautiful, so loving, and those amazing eyes were still so expressive. He was my boy from the get go.
Benson grew daily, seriously, and his personality just kept getting better. He was loving to everyone and everything. I believe his motto was “pet me, feed me, love me, and I’ll be happy.” Again, something we had in common, other than the petting part of course. Everyone loved him. Usually they were baffled by his size but he was also beautiful. That’s not just me being bias, he definitely could’ve been in commercials and movies. His markings were absolutely perfect as was he. He did have a few quirks that were sometimes funny and sometimes not so much. For instance, Benson loved when Marc would play with him in the yard. He loved it so much that when Marc would kind of run Benson would kind of bite his pant leg. Now that was funny to watch. The not so funny part was when he’d miss and actually get Marc’s leg. Something else he did that was too damn cute was he’d lay on the floor by the sofa and rest his head on your leg to beg. Ok maybe that’s not cute but the fact that he’d fall asleep doing it actually was cute. The crazy thing was, he’d never had people food but that nose of his was always sniffing. Another quirky thing was that Benson loved ice. He’d go to the refrigerator if he heard one of us getting ice. He’d stand at the freezer drawer if he heard a bag of ice getting opened. Those things were always kind of funny. He learned though, that the ice most often went in cups. So, he started licking the bottom of your cup as you were drinking because he’d hear the ice clank. This wasn’t great if you weren’t prepared for that big tongue to connect with the bottom of your cup. Mostly, you’d ended up wearing whatever you were drinking. Not so fun. And lastly, not really a quirk but funny facts, Benson’s snout was enormous. He snored so loudly! He sounded a lot like a pig so we gave him the nickname Wilbur. When he panted, also loudly, he sounded like a train so we gave him a second nickname which was Thomas. And yes, when he was in trouble he got middle-named as in, Benson Wilbur Thomas! It made me feel better even though he had no clue what using a middle name meant.
Benson loved hanging outside during the winter and likely hated the Arizona summer. Again, common ground for me and him. He had his own floor fans around the house that were always on the, “Ready for take-off” setting and he would lay right in front of them. The tile floor was a great cooler for him too. We also invested in portable room air conditioners so that I could turn them in his direction. Of course he had unlimited water as well. We had one of those jugs that are upside down and the bowl stays full. We quickly found out that a long haired Saint Bernard was quite messy with that type of water source. I believe more water ended up on the floor than in his mouth. His odd way of drinking made the situation worse. When Benson drank, he stuck his nose down in the water. How he managed to drink like this I’ll never know. So, when he’d stick that humungous snout in that water bowl it overflowed and water went everywhere. We couldn’t be outsmarted though (stop laughing). First we put a doormat under the waterer. All that did was give the water more momentum to go further in the room. We put towels around the jug-quite unattractive-and ditto on the momentum situation. Then, we knew we had the solution. We took the “pan” that goes in the bottom of a large crate and put the water jug thing on it. That was a perfect solution because the living room didn’t flood every time he drank. Yea, that lasted about a week. Sure it caught the overflow which was our mission so, victory for us; but we were so excited that we thought of it and it worked, that we didn’t think it all the way through. Picture it, there we were with a pan that measured 30” x 48” full of water. Exactly; how the hell do you empty that without it spilling all over? Answer: you don’t. That made more of a mess than Benson’s snout submersion technique. We felt defeated. Benson had won and we were sentenced to forever cleaning up after the tsunami named Benson. I wouldn’t give up though. I’m a little competitive, yes even with our animals. Fine, truth is, I can’t stand losing. Then one day it happened, my brain must have been fully functional that afternoon because I finally figured it out. He needed a horse waterer. You know, the ones that are in horse’s stalls and fill automatically which also gives them a continuous supply of fresh water. YES! I did it. It was perfect. Marc installed it in the dog run, 12ish feet away from the dog door. This was genius because not only did it eliminate the flooding, it also gave Benson 12 feet to shake the excess water off his face and chin before coming in the house. Now that was victory!
Benson weighed in at 205 pounds and was by no means fat. He was just a huge boy. We took him for walks but he was not a fan. It’s a quarter mile around our block. By the time we’d get three-quarters around, he’d use the full extension of his leash because he was lagging behind. He didn’t pull on his leash due to excitement. Nope, not my boy. He pulled in reverse due to tiredness. Yes, you guessed it, this was yet another thing Benson and I agreed on–walks were not fun. He got a lot of exercise in the back yard though. We have a nice sized yard and he would chase the other dogs for as long as we had them out there. He always loved Crispie and Zoey. Crispie would play with him whenever he wanted and sometimes when he didn’t. I think he and Zoey had a bond simply because they were the same breed. I know that sounds crazy but I have so many pictures of them touching paws or heads.
Benson, being a Saint Bernard, meant endless sliming. He was our first experience with flying slime too. We shaved his chin to help with the continuous wetness under his mouth but it only helped a little. Benson slime was different than all other slimes. He would get slime in places that you just can’t imagine. This was due to those flying ones. When he shook, you literally covered your head as if someone had just yelled “fore” on a golf course. There was no telling where the boogery drool would end up. It might go a foot, it might land on the other side of the room but obviously it had to land and all you could do was hope it wasn’t in your hair, on your face, or in your food; yea it happened. Now those were “normal” places for slime to land. Some abnormal places were ten feet up the wall, on clothing that was hanging in the closet, on the ceiling fan that was turning, honestly the stuff got everywhere. We had “spit towels” all over the house but obviously that only helped with the slimes we actually saw coming and were prepared for. Benson’s generosity with his slimy spit is precisely why we upgraded to very good paint when we repainted the inside of the house. Crappy paint would come right off when I cleaned the wall slimes and if I didn’t notice a wall slime immediately the spit would eat through the paint. Yes, that’s some industrial strength bodily fluid!
In May of 2013, over the short span of six days and Benson being only five-years-old, everything changed. Benson, who had always been quite food motivated, started eating less. The first meal that this happened we just figured it was a fluke but the same happened with his dinner. Marc made boiled burger and rice for him; the standard I don’t feel good diet for dogs. But, the next day he not only didn’t want to eat much, he didn’t want to play or really do anything. On the third day we took him to the vet. He did an exam and a heart ultrasound, and took blood. The ultrasound showed that Benson’s heart was much too small for his body and had been working triple time since birth but was now tired. We kept up with the bland food as we waited for the blood results. On day four it came back that something was wrong with his blood too; honestly I cannot remember what it was. Those six days seemed to all blend together through anxiety, sadness, fear, and tears. On day four and five we gave him medication the vet prescribed. The evening of day five Benson started deteriorating quickly. He was suddenly having trouble walking. We had to go outside with him so he didn’t fall down. We could also see a rapid weight loss. We had him at the vet first thing in the morning of day six. He’d lost 18 pounds in six days. I had known two days earlier what our vet was about to tell us but I desperately wanted to believe I was wrong. Unfortunately, I wasn’t. Benson had cancer. I can’t remember what kind and to be honest, I didn’t care. Once we were told that it was the most aggressive K9 cancer in existence and that it was in his organs, I knew what we had to do but I sat there waiting for the doctor to tell me there was some super treatment to stop the cancer. It didn’t happen. I was already sitting on the floor with Benson so I did the same thing I did on that first day five years earlier; I just looked into his eyes. The answer was there. He didn’t feel good. His body was eating itself. He wasn’t the happy boy he had been for the five previous years. He was in pain and so very tired; and I could see that in him. Call it ridiculous if you will but I knew at that very moment that he wanted to move on. We told the vet we wanted to be with him when he was released from his body that was now failing him.
I can’t begin to guess if we stayed with Benson for one or two hours afterwards. I only know it wasn’t long enough to tell him everything that I wanted to. He’d been so much more to me than just a dog. He kept me company. He was my buddy. He was always my companion. He loved me when I was crabby and sat with me when I was sad. He never judged me. He never got mad at me and I never saw disappointment in those amazing eyes; only love and admiration. He made me laugh more times than I can count. And yes, he was my best friend in all things. I said earlier I felt that we rescued him from the pet store but he rescued me too. At the time he came into my life, I’d recently had my third failed back surgery which worsened my chronic pain rather than fixing it and five months later I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Benson helped get me through the adjustments that came with those, life altering, times. I know I’ll always remember what he was to me and how he came to me at the perfect time in my life. I will never have another Saint Bernard as I’ll feel that I’m trying to replace my boy Benson and that would never be fair because Benson is irreplaceable. However, I needed another dog to try to fill the part of my heart that is reserved for only them. I need a dog in my life as I believe they’re therapy for me. So now we have my boy Jax, an English Mastiff, and I’m thankful for him. He too is part of the “Gentle Giant” circle but like Benson, he’s in a class all his own.
Benson Wilbur Thomas
January 28, 2008 ~ May 15, 2013