HOW BENNY BECAME AN ANGEL
By Ron House
It might sound crazy for me to say this, but for the last two weeks of Benny's life, I watched as he transformed into an angel.
Benny and Scotty were my wife Gitie's and my two beautiful dogs. They were twins who had been with us since we adopted them as puppies thirteen years earlier. Three months before his death, we found out that Benny had cancer with only a short while to live. It seemed as if Benny would leave us at any time. But suddenly, Scotty developed symptoms. Within a week of our finding out about Benny's disease, Scotty had also passed away from cancer.
For his entire life Scotty had been a supremely happy and fun-loving dog, a complete clown. He didn't let us down even at the very end, using his absolute last ounce of strength to put on one of his clown faces that always made us laugh.
Scotty had always done everything before Benny. We jokingly assumed that, given his pattern, Scotty had jumped into the next world before Benny, mainly to keep us from breaking down under the grief of losing him. And we still had the sorrowful prospect of looking after Benny in his final days.
Gitie had a job in Sydney, a thousand miles away, and needed to be away from home a lot. But she managed to get back in time to return for Scotty's last day. Within a few short days, Benny was also sinking fast. To save him from more suffering, we at last called in our long-time veterinarian friend to help him.
But Benny had different ideas. No sooner had our friend arrived, than Benny got a second wind. He was obviously not ready yet to give up on life, notwithstanding the pain that he must have been in.
Many will say we should have put him out of his misery then and there, but we trusted Benny's judgment. We remembered that Benny had done something quite remarkable years earlier. He had been diagnosed with what the vet specialists had said was an inevitably fatal disease that would take away use of his hind legs. The vets had all given up hope of any recovery, and Benny was in great pain.
When we discussed euthanasia back then, Benny had listened to us. Then he got up and walked on his front legs alone. He held his rear legs high in the air to show us he hadn't given up.
We trusted him, and Benny had gone on to recover completely and live another seven happy years. So with that experience behind us, we had to let Benny make the decision again. For a second time, he seemed determined to hold on to life for a while.
It turned out that his remaining mission was to teach us about life and death. As the days passed, I watched his face. To me, it seemed that it was transforming. Slowly, it was changing from the face of an ordinary dog into that of one who understood a deep mystery. He appeared to be a dog full of love, whose mission, far from comforting his own pain, was to comfort us.
Gitie had to return to Sydney for a few days, and Benny and I spent a quiet time together each day. In the evening he would eat his bone outside the study door where I worked. I would bring him inside the study for a while. Then he would go out again to have bit more of his bone.
The neighbor's dog Rusty had discovered Benny wasn't his vigilant self and had taken to sneaking over and stealing Benny's bone. One night, after I brought Benny inside, I heard someone in the yard. I thought it must be Rusty. I decided to say boo and stop him from
pinching Benny's bone. But Benny had gone outside again without my knowing, and in fact it was him, not Rusty, chewing the bone.
I parted the blinds to look outside. It was pitch black with no streetlights. In that inky blackness, I saw an angel, shining brilliantly like fiery gold. Yes, actually shining, and illuminating his surroundings. The angel smiled at me with a smile so full of love and goodness that my heart felt as if it were bursting. I felt unable to hold so much love coming at me with such intensity.
I could no longer doubt that the transformation I thought I had detected was real. As Benny prepared for entering his next phase of life, he was also transforming. He was leaving the ordinary behind and becoming, for want of a better expression, a holy one.
I had never even had the idea enter my head before then that an animal could be an angel. Benny gave me no choice but to think about it, and eventually to accept it. But he hadn't finished teaching us yet.
When Gitie returned home, she noticed that the little magpie our two dogs had met some months earlier was still here and keeping Benny company. Benny let the magpie eat his bone and kept the big magpies from forcing his little friend away. He got the greatest happiness from watching over his tiny friend, whom we named Maggie. (You
can see the only photo we managed to take of the incident at our website, wingedhearts.org.)
Finally Benny's strength completely failed. It became obvious from his face that the pain was too much. He was now ready to go, so we called our vet friend again.
The next morning after Benny's passing, the neighbor's horses came to our fence and whinnied at us. They were offering condolences for losing their friend, who used to run up and down the fence-line to play with them.
Then Maggie, the little magpie, came to the clothesline and sat upon it. He looked into the window at me and called with a sharp, heart- rending cry. I knew he was saying how sad he was at losing Benny and Scotty.
It was then that we realized we had to get to know our dogs' friend. While I was at work, Gitie started feeding little Maggie and getting to know him. This led to Maggie's opening up for us the incredible world of birds, with their friendships, codes of conduct, families, care, and love.
We are documenting on our website all the wonderful things that Maggie has taught us since Benny and Scotty's passing. Instead of grief, our lives are filled with happiness and joy. This is the gift to us from our two angel animals who watch over us to this day and never let us feel that we are alone.
Ron House is an author and university teacher who has now unwittingly become a student of the native Australian birds around his home in southern Queensland, Australia. With Gitie House he co-founded the website wingedhearts.org devoted to understanding and friendship with wild birds. He writes on science, computing, ethical philosophy, nature, and many other topics. He is the author of a textbook on programming. Ron is one of the discoverers of the atmosphere of Pluto.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT:Has an animal become an angel in your life? Has one animal led you to meeting and appreciating another animal?