Posts Tagged ‘family’

The Unrealized Benson

It became a tradition in my family to name pets after our favorite fictional characters, or after our favorite TV shows. We have a deep love for good television, and it has proven to be a great source for excellent pet names.

Felix was named after Felix King in “Road to Avonlea.” I was completely obsessed with that show at the age of 10, when we got Felix, and it turned out to be a wonderful dog’s name. Even if most people’s association with it has been from Felix the Cat.

My sister has had rats named Dundie (“The Office”), Bluth (“Arrested Development”), Arthur and Ford (“Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”), John Oliver (“The Daily Show”), Emerson (“Pushing Daisies”), Mosby (“How I Met Your Mother”), and Lewis and Davies (as in, Charlotte Lewis from “Lost” and Jeremy Davies, who played Faraday on “Lost”).

In addition, she had a number of mice, who were all named after assistants on “The West Wing.” When I met Kathryn Joosten, I couldn’t resist telling her that my sister had named one of her pets Delores after her character.

When my mom adopted Benson, she chose to keep the name that he came with, because he clearly knew his name, and she didn’t see any reason not to keep it. Also, I don’t think she felt as strongly about naming pets as my sister and I do.

But Benson was a fine name. For a while, we said that his full name was Benson-min Linus, after Ben Linus on “Lost,” also known as the best and sexiest character of all time. But obviously, that was a stretch. I understood that Benson was the name that he knew, and it was a FINE name, but it irked me the tiniest bit that all I could say when people asked me how he got his name was, “It was the name he came with.”

I was watching an episode of iCarly the other night, when they referred on the show to Freddie’s mom, Mrs. Benson.



Freddie Benson:


All along, Benson had a name that was a reference to one of our favorite TV shows. Without our even knowing it. For SIX MONTHS, without our even realizing it.

I must say, it’s unsettling that it took me six months to make the connection, but it is a relief that Benson is still in keeping with tradition.


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There is a new dog at my house.

Benson was actually adopted by my mom from a shelter, but for complicated reasons, he has wound up in my sister’s and my custody. He is somewhere around a year old. He is a Bichon Frise, like Felix, but my sister is pretty sure he also has some terrier relatives. He’s full grown, but he’s about half the size that Felix was.

Benson is very different from Felix. Where Felix would bark and growl, Benson will jump and lick your face. Where Felix did not want to be touched, Benson will curl up in your lap and snuggle against your arm. Where Felix was old and tired, Benson is full of energy and enthusiasm. Where Felix hated strangers, Benson welcomes them into the home (after a few initial warning barks). Where Felix would destroy dog toys in a matter of minutes, Benson will happily play with them for weeks. Where Felix was so smart he stayed anxious all the time, Benson is happily dumb.

I miss Felix.

After Felix died, it was initially so strange and sad to be in a house without a dog, yet the idea of having any dog other than Felix seemed abhorrent. Then, as time passed, the idea of having another dog seemed possible, even desirable. But my fear about getting a new dog was that I would unfairly compare the new dog to Felix, and have trouble bonding with the new dog in the midst of lingering sadness.

And that’s pretty much exactly what has happened. Benson is a great little dog, even though he can’t figure out that we don’t pee on the carpet. But much of the time, being around him just makes me miss Felix. It is so strange to have a dog in my house who is not Felix. Though Benson has been with me for over five weeks, I still hesitate every time I call his name, because it’s “Felix” that’s on my tongue. More than once, I actually have called him Felix. (And when I do, I feel bad about it, because I feel like I’m insulting Felix’s memory.)

When we first took Benson to the vet, everyone at the office was sort of amazed that we had a nice dog for once. For over 16 years, we had come in there with a dog who hated the world and hated being bothered. Now, we had a dog who will wag his tail no matter what you do to him. Our vet said, “You’ve had Benson just a few weeks, and he’s already better than Felix was!”

Oh, that stung. I know that it was hard for others to love Felix, when he so clearly had no love for them, but I still forget that not everyone could see how special Felix was, at least, to me. Even though Benson is a “better” dog than Felix, in that he doesn’t bite strangers, he honestly can’t compare in my mind. Benson is a sweet guy, and I like him a lot. Felix was a lot more than that to me.

But, I go through the motions. And it is really, really nice to have a dog in the house again. It makes it a lot less lonely. I am sure that I will love Benson a lot one day. It’ll just take some time. Time is what I had with Felix, and Benson just needs, I’m sure, his chance.

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Scars Eight Weeks Old

It’s been eight weeks since my dog died.

In the days immediately surrounding my dog’s death, I experienced three incidents that affected me physically.

On the Wednesday before he died, I pulled (or possibly tore) my hamstring during my dance recital. On the Friday before he died, I had two moles removed by a dermatologist–one on my back and one on my wrist. On the Sunday after he died, I burned my hand on a toaster oven.

Eight weeks later, nothing is completely healed. The muscle in my leg is still just as sore as it was the day after I injured it (likely aggravated by the fact that I refused to stop taking dance classes over the summer). The spots on my wrist and back from where I had moles removed are plainly scarred. The scar on my hand from the burn is starting to fade, but still visible. And I still miss my dog.

Because all of these injuries occurred within a period of five days that will forever be defined by the loss of my dog, I can’t help but associate them with his death. In my mind, they are inextricably related.

I can’t help but be soothed, in some ways, that none of these physical marks have completely healed. It’s as if it’s my body’s way of telling my mind that some things can’t be fixed in just eight weeks.

And because the injuries are so connected with the experience of losing my dog, I can’t help but think of them as my “Felix scars.”

I have actually gotten used to him not being in my house anymore. I don’t expect to see him when I go home, and I’m not surprised when his bed is missing from my room. I don’t have to stop myself from setting out food for him in the mornings. Strangely, the scars are some of the best reminders I have of what it was like to have him be part of my life.

Given that, do I even want to be fully healed? I’m not sure I want to give up these reminders of the last time I ever spent with such an important friend. I do wish that my leg would not be so uncomfortable, but I’m not sure I’d ever choose for my three Felix scars to fade. I know I’ll never forget him, but somehow the scars make it easier to remember.

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When I was eight or nine, someone broke into my house. We had so little of value that the would-be robber didn’t actually take anything, he just rifled through our things and left. The police officer told my mom that she shouldn’t be living in a house alone with two kids. “You need either a husband or a dog,” he told her.

First, my mom tried the husband. That was short lived. So then she tried a dog.

At the time, if you had asked, I would have told you that getting a dog was all my idea. I very much wanted a puppy of my own. I did my research and discovered that there was a hypo-allergenic breed of dog–the Bichon Frise–which would be perfect for me, considering my allergies.

My mom found a woman who was selling Bichon puppies, and we went to take a look. Almost all the puppies were, of course, rambunctious and adorable, but there was one very quiet little dog who was keeping to himself. Thinking that his calmness meant he would grow up to be a very even-tempered dog, we picked him. And he became Felix.

After a couple of years, we realized that we had confused “quiet” with “shy and socially anxious.” Rather than growing up to be a calm, sweet dog, Felix grew up to be a nutcase. It was as if Felix knew that my mom had gotten a dog as an extra source of protection, because Felix was determined to protect us WITH ALL HIS FURRY MIGHT. Felix would protect not only against robbers, but against ALL strangers. And friends. And family. And squirrels.

Felix was afraid of the world outside of me, my mom, and my sister. He was afraid of the dog house we built for him, and he was afraid of his dog bed. He hated water. He hated when people touched his paws. He hated cats. He hated other dogs. He hated when someone dared walk on the sidewalk in front of our house. Most of all, he hated when men dared come into our house, especially carpet cleaners or repairmen or the like. He bit a couple of people–some who had irresponsibly provoked him, and at least a few who were doing nothing but minding their own business. He barked and lunged and growled at strangers.

At the worst times, my mom thought that we weren’t going to be able to handle him. I remember, after one particularly bad incident (and I can’t even remember what the incident was, now), sobbing and pleading with my mom not to send Felix to the Humane Society. He was so much trouble, but he was so wonderful and so perfect, and so worth the trouble.

Eventually, the vet prescribed a daily dose of diazepam to help calm some of Felix’s boundless anxiety. While the diazepam did calm him some, his energy was unstoppable. Felix was notorious for running in large, impossibly fast circles in our backyard. He would chase his tail, then catch his tail, and then gnaw lightly on it. Any sort of stuffed dog toy we gave him would be destroyed in short order.

There were plenty of things that Felix loved. He loved going for walks more than anything. He loved sweet potatoes and potatoes. He loved treats so much that he didn’t get them too often, because he easily slipped into bad begging habits. He loved having his belly scratched.

And we loved him. Felix was almost always sweet with us. How can you not love someone who is so hell-bent on protecting you from the threats posed by mailmen, cats, and close friends? With us, he was nothing but a typical, excited, faithful friend. He was a constant presence. On the rare occasions when he had to go to the groomer for the day, the house was strange and sad and empty without him. A cliche, sure, but the house wasn’t home without Felix there.

He was a constant during our turbulent teenage years. He was company for my mom when both my sister and I went off to college. When I came home from college, I struggled with the adjustment. Being in school gave me an identity, and without school, I felt lost. During that time, Felix and I both latched on a little closer to each other. Even when my days felt pointless and I felt like my life was going nowhere, I still made sure that Felix got his food and his medicine and got outside, and he made sure that every night, he curled up next to my bed and kept me company. He was my pal, my buddy boy, my baby, and an excellent conversationalist.

I loved his doggy smell, and I loved how he snored, and I couldn’t help but feel loved when Felix wanted to be wherever I was. I could never feel completely lonely when Felix was there. I could never feel completely worthless when he needed me to take care of him.

The past few years, Felix calmed considerably. Did he have a stroke that caused a personality change? Was he so blind and deaf that he didn’t know what was going on around him? Did he finally understand that the world wasn’t out to get him (or us)? Was he just too tired to care? We don’t know. But instead of the crazed protector, he became the calm, quiet version of himself that we saw as a puppy. We took him off the diazepam. I could have small groups of people over to my house, and he would barely blink an eye.

Felix would have turned 17 on September 2. Despite his age, he always seemed to be in great health. I knew, intellectually, that he was aging, but maybe because I saw him every day, I didn’t realize how much. I thought he had another year. Maybe two years. Maybe more. Dogs live to the age of 20 all the time, right?

In the past, whenever we tried to have Felix sleep on a dog bed, he would do nothing but bark at it and try to attack it. When I moved into my new house, we tried again, knowing that ceramic tile would not be comfortable for his old joints. For a few days, Felix thought his new dog bed was the biggest and best toy from the pet store. He tried to throw it around and play with it. Finally, though, we taught him that it was a bed, and it was not for playing, and he came to love his bed. Throughout the course of a day, I would move his bed all over the house, so he could be close to me, and still be comfortable.

Felix had to have a minor surgery a few weeks ago to remove a benign cyst from his head that was draining and causing some problems. He did very well during the procedure, but afterward, the strain of being under anesthesia was too much for his tired heart. We went back to the vet and discovered that there was fluid in his heart and lungs. We brought him home from the vet with medicine that was supposed to try and clear some of that fluid out. Then, I laid him down on his bed, and with my mom and I sitting by his side, he died.

He lasted a lot longer than that husband did, and he meant a thousand times more to all of us. Thank you, Felix, for being a best friend to me for almost 17 years. I miss you every single day.

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Since my sister/roommate has left for her internship, I have been the only human living in my house. It occurred to me recently that, on many days, the vast majority of my spoken conversation is with animals.

Charlie, the very aged mouse, is always eager to see me and to hear what I have to say. My conversations with Charlie mostly consist of my saying, “Hey there, Charlie! Look at you! You’re still alive! Good job!”

My discussions with the fish are pretty similar. They usually begin with my counting the fish, “One… two… three… …. … four! Four fish! You guys are all still alive! Good job!”

And tonight, for example, I delivered a friendly lecture to my sister’s rats, in which I asked them to please, please not die while they are under my care for the next four months. I could tell they were listening to me from the way they were gripping the bars of their cage and looking at me, but I couldn’t really figure out whether or not I had their buy-in.

They’re not as good at conversation as my deaf dog.

I should give my dog some credit and say that he isn’t completely deaf. If you say his name in a very loud, high-pitched voice, he will swivel his head around and try to figure out where that weird noise is coming from. It seems like he can also hear very sharp, low pitched noises based on the way he jumps whenever I drop something on the floor. It’s just all sounds within a normal range that he can’t hear. But, given that he’s 16 and a half years old, and still quite spry, his hearing loss is a pretty minor issue.

Felix is the only one of the animals that doesn’t live in a cage and is, thus, able to follow me around the house. He follows me quite faithfully. This means that he’s always around to discuss important issues.

After an episode of Lost, Felix is always just as confused by everything as I am. Felix doesn’t know how they’re going to be able to wrap it all up in 10 more episodes, either. He is eager to hear about my day at work. He is always extremely interested when I am cooking or baking something new. He also gets frequent updates on how all the other animals are fairing. And of course, he gets his own regular encouragement to stay alive, just a little bit longer, please please please.

Felix also likes to initiate conversations. Most nights, if I am downstairs watching TV or reading past 9:00 or so, Felix will go to the bottom of the stairs, look at me, and tell me quite clearly that it is time for bed, and would I please wrap up my downstairs activities and follow him upstairs so he can get some sleep?

Felix manages to say a lot, and to listen quite well for a deaf dog. I am really lucky to have such excellent company. Sometimes I just want to sing the Golden Girls theme song to him.

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How My Dog Hurt My Feelings

If we had been older and wiser when we first got my now-16 year old dog, we might have seen the warning signs that he is a Crazy Lunatic. He had anxiety problems from the start, which meant he could virtually never be around people he didn’t know, and he needed to take doggy valium to keep from completely FREAKING OUT.

Still, I tend to anthropomorphize my dog in such a way that leads me to believe that he loves me. He certainly has a sort of devotion to me, be it loving or not. I’m the one that feeds him and walks him. He sleeps in my room. I give him little pieces of sweet potato, which may be his favorite food in the world. This devotion means that he follows me around the house, sometimes lying so close to me that his nose is touching my foot.

I love my dog. I’ve had him for 16 years and I am attached to my buddy boy. He kind of makes my room smell like dog, and instead of caring, I think to myself, “My room smells like Felix–how comforting.” So in my fantasy universe, it’s hard not to pretend like he doesn’t like me too, at least just a little. He’s also become a lot calmer in his old age. I can even have company over without fearing he will try to attack everyone in sight! So it’s been hard not to think, hey, maybe my dog is turning normal in his old age!

This was until he hurt my feelings.

My sister leaves after I do in the mornings, and she had been telling me how resistant Felix was to leaving the spot in my room where he sleeps at night. She had told me that he would freak out and she’d have to go get his leash and make it into a slip lead to get him to go downstairs, which is where he stays during the day when we’re not here.

I didn’t think much of it, until one night we were leaving for dance class, and I went up to my room to bring him downstairs. And then he freaked out on me. He writhed and twisted in an attempt to get away from me, while still staying put in the spot where he sleeps. And then he tried to bite me, and actually managed to nip me a little bit on the hand.


However irrational it may be, it hurt my feelings. For at least a week after that incident, I looked at him differently, even though my rational brain knows that he has been a crazy dog since birth.

I have mostly gotten over it now, but I do still look at him the tiniest bit differently. I want to ask him WHY he did such a thing. And then I remember. It’s because he’s a dog, and not a person. Also, he can’t talk. When we brought him home as a puppy, my family chose to love for him and take care of him no matter what, even when he turned out to be a jerkface. He’s a dog, and I’m sure in his anxious mind, he had very legitimate doggy reasons for freaking out on me.

This is why we should not anthropomorphize our animals.

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(I am walking my dog down the street one over from mine. There are two houses next to one another, with people sitting on the front porches. One house has a old man sitting on the porch. The other house has a young couple sitting on the porch.)

Old Man: THAT… is a nice poodle you have got there.

Me: (not wanting to get into conversation about how it’s actually a bichon frise) Thank you!

(I smile in a “Hello, there!” type of way to the couple in the house next door.)

Old Man: I will give you a hundred dollars for that poodle.

(I try to determine whether or not the old man is joking or serious. As best I can tell, he is serious.)

Me: Oh, this dog is pretty cranky with people he doesn’t know! You’d end up paying me to take him back!

Guy From The Young Couple: Hey, that could be a great deal for you!

Me: You’re right, it could work out really well for me!

(I walk away, feeling that there has been a natural conclusion to the conversation. I am several houses away before I hear…)


* * * * *


(I am walking down the sidewalk on my street. I see two small kids, a boy and a girl, run out into the middle of the sidewalk. They are staring at me and Felix excitedly as we approach. I dread, because I know what they want, and I hate telling kids that they can’t pet my cute, fluffy dog.)

Kids: CAN WE PET YOUR DOG?!?!?!?!?!

Me: Oh, I’m sorry. He’s really shy with people he doesn’t know. I’m afraid that’s not a good idea.

(The kids stare at me in silence, as kids always do after I tell them they can’t pet my dog.)

Kids’ Dad, standing on the porch: See? I told you.

Little Girl: But that’s why we asked.

Kids’ Dad: No, I don’t understand why you’re so hung up on DOGS. You don’t have to pet EVERY DOG. It’s just a DOG.

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