Benjamin, by Malcolm Bernstein
It was a glorious Saturday morning in early May 2000 when my wife Helen told me she had been speaking to shelters across the GTA, looking for a dog for my 50th birthday. In her exploring, the OSPCA in Newmarket told her “We have a little boy here. He’s not glamorous but is the most laid back dog we have ever seen”. She asked them to hold him for us. Within five minutes of Helen relating this to me, we were in the car en route to the shelter! The scene was pandemonium – cars and people everywhere, and the dogs in outdoor cages with a crescendo of barking. And there, in a cage at the end of a long aisle, was our little boy, lying on the floor of his cage, looking up at us with these beautiful big brown eyes, wagging his tail – and not a peep! We took him out for a walk on the massive property, and this began a love affair that lasted 13 wonderful years. He had no tags, fur down to here, and was considerably underweight when he was found running around Newmarket. Helen thought he was such a perfect little gentleman and wanted a distinguished name for him, and we decided on Benjamin. In short order, we discovered he was the smartest, happiest, most athletic, sensitive and wise dog you could imagine. And stunning, with a rich thick multi-hued coat and the sweetest grey terrier beard. We finally deter-mined he was part border terrier – his colour and markings were identical – mixed with something much bigger! Benjamin was tall, approximately 18 months old, and 43 pounds of solid muscle once he gained weight. There wasn’t anything that moved, especially another dog, that Benjamin didn’t love and vice-versa. And not a day went by that people didn’t stop and ask what kind of dog he was, and say how beautiful he was. Benjamin also had energy to burn and a gave us about two hours off between long walks and play times in the park before he was ready to go out again! Fortunately Helen was able to be at home and they were inseparable. Rain, snow or shine, they were out and he loved it. I started writing a book on Benjamin when he was about five. He was such an incredible dog I wanted to share the story of our lives together with the world. Helen and I also came up with the idea of The Benjamin Project, an initiative to raise funds for shelters and education on responsible pet steward-ship, with the book as the cornerstone of the fundraising effort. However, my workload being what it was, I couldn’t get around to finishing the story. In Benjamin’s 11th year, he began experiencing occasional seizures on his walks. We could never get a diagnosis as every time Dr. Bob examined him, Benjamin’s vital signs were perfect. And then, on the Friday before the Canada Day long weekend, he had another episode and we rushed him to the vet who found his lymph nodes were swollen. Dr. Bev suspected lymphoma, performed a biopsy, and sent it to the lab. Given the holiday weekend, we had to wait what seemed an eternity till Wednesday to receive confirmation of the preliminary diagnosis and our worst fears. Benjamin embarked upon a chemo treatment protocol lasting many months, during the hottest summer on record – the worst temperature for him. It was a very difficult time for him and stressful for us. I started writing the book again, chronicling his illness and treatment – the incredible highs and many lows; and then, Benjamin was proclaimed cancer-free! We had the best fall and winter ever; and yes, I set the book aside again. And then, as we were going out for a walk one evening, I reached down to pat Benjamin and felt an orange-sized growth on his neck. The cancer had returned. We embarked on a second round of chemo, which I am anguished about to this day; and I resumed the book, often writing in the middle of the night while sitting next to Benjamin if had moved from his bed to lie elsewhere. Benjamin passed away at home late at night July 17, 2013. My first book about Benjamin was published in the spring of 2014. I have since presented on his life to groups ranging from kids in school to seniors in residences, sold books and donated the proceeds. The book and presenta-tion are celebrations of Benjamin’s life, as is The Benjamin Project. Everyone who sees the presentation loves it and gets a Benjamin Booster certificate. I always wanted to write a children’s book about Benjamin and have his story and educational aspects of responsible pet care shared with children everywhere. We believe if kids grow up knowing about Benjamin’s endearing qualities and their role in a pet’s life, they will carry the story and a deep respect for companion and other animals with them throughout their lives. And make the world a better place. I met Lisa Browning, publisher of One Thousand Trees and Saplings, by virtue of a young author she had published who attended one of my presentations about Benjamin at Guelph Humane Society’s kids camp. Lisa was taken with The Benjamin Project and my desire to write a children’s book, graciously and generously embraced the effort in a way no words can adequately describe, introduced me to Shannon Tracey-Boggess, an illustrator, and has just concluded shepherding my book to print. The book is a beautifully illustrated, engaging and wonderful celebration of Benjamin’s life and we are so excited about its educational and fundraising potential. The book launch is being held at Purple Door Books and Gifts in Cambridge the morning of May 5th, five days before my birthday and the day we got our precious Benjamin from the OSPCA 18 years earlier.