He wasn’t supposed to make it.
He was abandoned as a pup, in the cruel, dry desolation of the desert. The fact that he was found by a living soul was a miracle. The fact that he was found by a loving soul was a gift.
He was taken home to a comfortable house and given love, attention and care. He didn’t want for anything, and his gratitude showed. He not only loved his home and his people, he also respected them. It was as if he knew he had been rescued from certain death and therefore took nothing for granted.
I first met him when he was “Best Dog” in a wedding. And I have to admit, he was pretty darned impressive. I rarely saw him after that event, but when I did, he was sublime company.
I remember visiting his Salt Lake City home and being quite nervous about a radio interview I was to do the next morning. He seemed to sense my jitters. He appeared at the door of my room, waiting for an invitation. I said hello and he sauntered on in. He slept on the bed with me half the night, and on the floor – beside the bed – the rest of the night. And so I managed to sleep. For I knew he was there, protecting me. Calming me. (For the record, I thanked him profusely.)
I took a walk with him once, down through his neighborhood and to a local shop. His people told me I didn’t need a leash, that he wouldn’t stray from my side. “What about at the store?” I asked. They told me he’d wait for me, outside, until I returned for the walk home. And he did. When we passed other dogs along the way, he simply looked up at me. He never left my side and he never gave me reason to worry. In fact, I remember being addressed by human residents of his neighborhood. They wanted to know just who I was and why was I out with Bender. When I told his people about that, they laughed and said Bender was well-known in the neighborhood. More-so than them. He kind of looked up at me then, as if to say, “Yeah, it’s true. But I don’t know what to tell ya.”
He was so inspirational, I painted his portrait. And now, I’m so glad I did.
Bender passed away this week. He was somewhere around 14 years old or so. 14 years he wasn’t supposed to have. 14 years of “fribee.” 14 years of happily destroying phone books. 14 years of chasing squirrels and hunting down tree limbs.
For his people, and for those of us who knew him, it was 14 years of one of the best damned dogs ever to come out of the desert. Or from anywhere, for that matter.