On April 25th, Benjamin reached the truly remarkable milestone of 18 years. He has seen two centuries, three decades, two countries, two continents, five cities … and more than anything, he has seen me grow into the man I am today.
18 years … and 17½ of them with me.
No one in the world would have bet on this little dog rescued from the streets of Warsaw, Poland … but I’m glad, somehow, that I did.
To be clear, as you’ll read in my “Month of Benjamin” I started last year when he hit 17, I never expected him to enter my life at all and never, on that day or almost any other day in his long life, would I have bet that Ben would amount to having two dogs, back to back.
But, in someway, I did bet on him when he entered my life: I committed to my life with him. There have been days that were absolute hell, like when I was chasing him around Warsaw with fish heads in him mouth. There were days where I bundled his quivering dehydrated body in a blanket and rushed him to emergency. There was the day I cashed in my RRSP (retirement savings plan) to have his haemorrhaging right eye removed … and then replaced with the prosthetic he’s had for more than 10 years. There were the thousands of dollars that led to a diagnosis of Cushings’ disease … which was supposed to take him from me 4 years ago. There were days he destroyed property, days he nipped people’s feet … and days he bit mine and a handful of other hands that started or scared him. Days he was bullied by other dogs and left whimpering. There was the day a few weeks I ago I was left sobbing when I learned he was dying … that his kidneys were failing before his heart and spirit.
Then there was the day when he was around 4 years old, I was sleeping, and he crawled up the length of the bed, curled up next to my bare chest, and spooned into me for the first time. There was the time I found myself separated in my marriage and he jumped up next to me, put his legs around my neck, and licked the tears from my face. There was the 14 hour car ride where he rode shotgun the whole way as we left Yellowknife and headed to Calgary. There have been all the days he sat next to me in the kitchen while I worked my magic and he got hearts of broccoli, scraps of whatever … or just plain kept me company. There are 6,500 days of memories … not one I would give up.
Through all of it, I’ve never left his side … and he’s never left mine. We’ve been there for each other, through hell and through heaven. I will be there for him through the hard days ahead, the scary days … the scariest day. I will be there to hold him, to stroke his fur, to be the last thing he sees. I want it no other way. He’s my guy … my Benuszek. There is no choice in it any more than there is a choice in parent choosing to not love their child.
So tonight was Ben’s birthday … and what will almost certainly be his last birthday. But I wouldn’t bet against him. Everyone else who has bet against him has lost a lot of money by now. Still, the writing is on the wall — I’m not in denial but I wish I could erase those words and write “immortal” instead. But in lieu of that, I celebrated with Ben nonetheless. He’s now on a new diet, a low-protein, low phosphorus diet which I’ll detail in subsequent posts … and with new recipes. He doesn’t like it much and I don’t really blame him. But still, we’re going to fight this out and we’re going to give this our all. He’s going to have the best remaining days and months I can give him ….
What do you give a dog that has everything? Well, it’s what I give everyone I love: food. On his birthday, we said screw it … I said screw it. For a dog that loves food, loves my cooking, it was a day to celebrate. I only hope that someone reads this when I’m in a palliative condition and makes for me the same decision. I treated Ben the way I would want to be treated … and I made him duck tonight, a beautiful, rich, crispy duck magret … with a sour-cherry sauce and a side of ginger-apple sweet potatoes. As you can see, he loved it … and while not exactly a low-protein meal, it was his birthday and we celebrated our love together.
Tomorrow he returns to his diet, but tonight, he is 18 Forever, forever my friend, forever my dog … forever in my heart.