A Special Bond
In August, Mom and Dad packed our suitcases and loaded them into the trunk while my brother and I climbed into the backseat. We adjusted our pillows and organized our games in an attempt to get comfortable. It was a long trip from Calgary, Alberta to my Uncle’s farm outside Hodgeville, Saskatchewan, Canada.
I loved my Uncle’s farm. It was a place of adventure and a special time spent with my Grandma and my older first cousins. The one thing about the farm that my brother and I loved more than anything was the dogs! They always greeted us with loud barks, when we drove into the yard, as they circled the car.
My earliest memory of this, occurred when I was five, Dad had pulled into the farmyard, and I heard the dogs, but I couldn’t see them. I was too small to peer out of the side window. Dad opened the car door, and I struggled to get my tiny feet on the ground. My dark brown, leather orthopedic shoes created a puff of dust as I contacted the dirt. I grabbed onto the car door and held on tight until I regained my balance. As my eyes adjusted to the surrounding chaos, I noticed a big, fluffy white dog with ice-blue eyes running toward me. I glanced up at my Dad, and he and my Uncle were laughing over a joke. My Uncle had a keen sense of humor, and they were still laughing as they collected our suitcases.
I turned around and was immediately eye to eye with the big white dog. I wasn’t afraid at all, but I was curious. He stared at me for a moment and then sat down in front of me and lifted one of his front paws. I reached down with my tiny hand and gave his paw a little shake. It was a big paw. He licked my face in return.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my Dad move toward me, but my Uncle held him back.
“You have nothing to worry about with that dog. It looks like Ben has taken a liking to Heather!”
I turned to face the dog, “Hi Ben, my name is Heather.”
He barked and dipped his head as if nodding, everyone burst out laughing.
That was how Ben and I met. He was a Samoyed/Wolf Cross, though he looked more like a Samoyed. The shape of his ears and the color of his eyes were pure wolf. Ben stopped at the doorway of my Grandma’s trailer because farm dogs stayed outside. He was part of a five dog pack that guarded the farm, announced visitors and protected the livestock. The dogs were experts at dealing with both snakes and coyotes.
Each time I stepped outside the door of my Grandma’s trailer or the door of my Aunt’s house, Ben would be right there. He was always eager to start our adventures. In the morning, he accompanied me to the henhouse. My Aunt gave me the responsibility to gather the eggs and bring them back to her so she could make breakfast.
I remember the dry prairie grasses and the uneven ground. It covered my shoes in prairie dust in seconds. I struggled to maintain my balance while I walked in the deep, hard, dry ruts. They were the scars left from tractor tires that had plowed through the muddy yard after a thunderstorm. The ruts weren’t my only obstacle. The long thick “sticks” were bull snakes, which weren’t poisonous. They liked to lie around in the sun.
I find it difficult to walk because I have Spastic Cerebral Palsy. I was born very premature. My muscles spasm and make it very hard for me to move. I lose my balance a lot, and I fall. I have to be very careful. Sometimes, I fall with no warning; one minute I have my balance and the next second I’ve lost it.
With the hot prairie sun overhead, I made my way across the farmyard toward the barn. I looked up, to make sure I was heading the right way, so I didn’t see the bull snake in front of me. The toe of my heavy shoe rammed into it, and I pitched forward. A flash of white was the last thing I saw as I hit what I thought would be the hard ground. Instead, I landed on Ben’s white belly. He had thrown himself down in front of me to cushion my fall, and he licked me all over to make sure I was ok. I laughed until I cried. Then I struggled to my feet, using Ben as an anchor. He stayed still until I regained my balance and footing, then we continued to the barn.
I can’t count the number of times this scenario played out in one form or another. Ben had a special ability to sense when I was about to fall, and he would react and make sure I landed on him. It became so normal I didn’t think about falling as much as I did at home. I trusted Ben, and he never failed me. It was our little dance, and he always waited until I was ready before nudging me forward with his nose. He was my protector, and that made itself evident in other ways.
Farms have a lot of animals, and my Uncle had: chickens, a rooster, a small herd of cows, a few horses, two huge pigs, barn cats, the dogs, and a barn owl. I loved the barn filled with its smells and sounds. My uncle called us in whenever he was milking the cows. He could shoot milk straight into the waiting barn cats’ mouths, and he never missed.
In the barn, Ben stayed very vigilant and put himself between me and the cow’s hooves. I knew how to approach a cow and how to stay away from a direct line in which a cow could kick, but the danger remained. I remember one incident where Ben got the brunt of a kick I didn’t see coming because I had turned my back to the cow. That kick tossed him in the air, and he yelped and cried. I cried too, and my Uncle tried to calm both of us while he examined Ben for injuries. After a few minutes, he told me Ben was very bruised, but nothing was broken. I smiled through my tears.
Ben was sore and allowed to rest for a few days. We hung out together as I read stories to him from the books I had brought from the library. When that became boring, I colored beside him, and he pushed the runaway crayons back to me with his nose. It was peaceful and soothing for both of us. We were inseparable and grew even closer, while he recuperated in the warmth of my Uncle’s house.
One year, before summer arrived, Ben became sick. What I didn’t know, as an eight-year-old girl, was that farmers don’t allow their animals to suffer. Once the vet told my Uncle that Ben would not recover, my Uncle grabbed his shotgun and took him out behind the barn.
When I arrived that August, Ben wasn’t there to greet me. New dogs were there, and I greeted them, but I searched for my Ben. He was my dear friend, and we shared a special bond, that went beyond words. I loved him with all of my heart, and the news of his death broke my heart into a million pieces.
That eight-year-old girl grew into a 51-year-old woman. I still miss Ben and think of him often. When it’s my time to leave this world, I hope a white dog with ice-blue eyes will greet me at Heaven’s gates.