This is Ben, or Gentle Ben as we began calling him in the first 5 minutes of having him out in the play yard at the local animal shelter.
Ben is unique, a genuine shelter success and here is his story.
In my life before children and owning a photography business I was deeply committed to volunteering at our local animal shelter the Sacramento Animal Care and Regulation (not to be confused with the SPCA). I spent weeknights and weekends walking dogs, bathing dogs, socializing them and giving them some much needed love. I counseled for adoptions and photographed them to later do a write-up on the internet in hopes of finding a perfect family to adopt them (checkout Petfinder.com when looking for your next pet).
At that time there was a committed, but small group of volunteers and in our limited availability our time spent at the shelter had to maximized. For most of us our goal when we came in was to get each adoptable dog out for a walk and potty break, but time didn’t always allow us to get every dog out. For this reason, we mainly concentrated on getting the large dogs out and frequently left the dogs in the Small Dogs/Puppies kennel alone as they were adopted much quicker and oftentimes were adopted the day they became available. There were a couple of dogs though in the summer of 2004 that were older puppies and didn’t get adopted so quickly. Sadly we still didn’t have the time to get to walking them. I remember a specific Friday afternoon that I was there with another volunteer and we just happened to have a few extra minutes so we went into the Small Dog/Puppy kennel and took out these two older pups who had been at the shelter, but had not been taken out for walks for weeks. The other volunteer took out this beautiful Brindle dog she named “Rocky” and I took out a peach colored pup I named “Tanga”.
Fast-forward a couple of days to the first Sunday of June when the shelter was open for special adoption-only hours and staffed primarily by volunteers. I spent every first Sunday of the month with the dogs at that time and my poor neglected husband decided to come visit me. When he arrived he asked if we could take out a particular dog that had caught his eye – it was “Rocky” that older pup that had been at the shelter by that time for a month and a half.
We took him out to a play yard and had a BLAST with him! He was so energetic after being pent up in his cage for so long, but more than running around and sniffing everything, he just wanted to be cuddled. He would take one run around the yard then come up and crawl in your lab. He’d roll over for belly rubs and had no hesitation at all with letting us do whatever we wanted with him – thus he earned the name “Gentle Ben” from us that day. My husband and I both loved him, but we weren’t sure we were ready to take on a second dog and didn’t know how he’d get along with our other dog Callie.
Now I don’t mean to be a downer, but the reality of animal shelters is that there are too many animals and not enough homes or space for them all. The staff and volunteers do all they can to care for the animals and help them find homes, but many animals have to be euthanized for lack of space. When the shelter fills up, those animals that have been there the longest are often the first to be euthanized. I didn’t want to pressure my husband too bad, but Ben had been there for a month and a half and the next day was Monday. Monday is the day the shelter is closed to the public and when they usually would have to go through and euthanize the dogs to make space for all of the new animals brought in over the weekend. It’s horrible and so hard on the staff, but part of the job created by over-breeding of animals and the over-population of animals due to a lack of being spayed or neutered. I had to warn my husband that if we wanted to adopted Ben we had to act NOW, because he may not be there on Tuesday. We went ahead and made the decision to adopt him and fortunately he and Callie got along amazingly! They were the PERFECT brother and sister pair. She was the older sister who kept him in line and would preen him with licks to the face. They spent hour running and wrestling together in the back yard and loved to go for walks together and to the park. They would sometimes even be found sharing the same bed.
You may have noticed from the pictures (or maybe not) that Ben was an American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT) mix. Oh how I’d love to know what he was mixed with, but the only noticeable differences he had from that of a typical APBT were his slighter longer snout and his looser skin that was much thicker and dense than most APBTs. His temperament was that of a typical pit bull, he was loving, very loyal and loved to have fun. I’ll say it again, these are behaviors that are typical for Amercian Pit Bull Terriers, NOT the viscious blood-thirsty persona the media has attached to their name. In fact, just an added FYI for you, American Pit Bull Terriers perform better on the temperament test than the “family friendly” Golden Retriever! Of course thanks to the media our family was not too thrilled to hear we had adopted a pit bull. Fortunately Ben quickly put all of their concerns to bed, winning them over with his affectionate, happy and gentle personality.
Once we had kids Ben (and Callie) were great with the kids, but Ben was really the one interested in laying by the baby on the floor cuddling or playing outside with Myles when he started crawling and walking. When I laid on my bed to read or take a nap, Ben would jump up and form his body to me in a perfect snuggle, often with his head tucked under my chin and resting on the pillow. We didn’t allow the dogs to sleep with us, but I always welcomed his company for naps or reading. He was a great running partner for my husband and I (on occasion) and the kids loved when we would let them leash the dogs up for runs around our court.
Last Friday after a difficult week watching Ben stop eating and having trouble breathing and finding out his body was riddled with cancer, we made the decision to put him out of his misery. He was such a good dog trying to hold on for us. He would lay in his bed trying to breathe, but wagging his tail if either of us came near him. He went to doggy heaven with his head on my lap and my husband and I petting him and loving on him. I can’t believe we have gone a week without him. He is everywhere we look around our house and I know it has been a tough week for our family without him here.
My nephews, niece and our kids wanted to put on a memorial service for him, so last Saturday they had a time of sharing and it was fun hearing all of the different things each person loved about Ben. Our son loved how Ben would come up and great him each day when he came home from school and he giggled as he told the story he’d heard from his dad about how when Ben first came into our house he walked into our bedroom and barked at the other dog he saw in the mirror. It was a good day of remembering and my son also asked me to put together a slideshow of pictures of Ben, so I thought I’d share some of them here.
Ben was an incredible dog and I’m so thankful we had the chance to have him as part of our family for awhile. I recently heard a quote from a friend and it totally applies for our family, “To a dog we are their whole life, but for us, they make our lives whole.” We’ll miss you Ben!
Many photographers like to end posts with a call-to-action of sorts. Well my call-to-action for you (if anybody reads this) is tri-fold:
1) please spay/neuter your pet so that you don’t contribute to the overpopulation of animals and subsequent death of many
2) adopt a shelter pet when looking for the next addition to your family and volunteer at your local shelter if you have a love for pets
3) please don’t give in to the media hype about pit bulls and how terrible they are, take the time to get to know some pit bulls and you’ll see how wonderful they are
You can find more information on pit bulls and animal overpopulation here and here. Also I’m happy to say that since my time volunteering at the shelter from 2003-2008, Sacramento County has built the beautiful new shelter facility and through hard work and efforts by the shelter staff and volunteers, the rate of euthanasia has decreased considerably. There are still way too many animals and too many that have to die, so I would encourage you to spay/neuter your pet, adopt a shelter pet or volunteer if you feel led at all to help in the fight against animal overpopulation.