If you’ve been through it then you know. The pain of losing your pet — it takes your breath away, brings you to your knees. This wasn’t the first dog I’ve lost and it won’t be the last. Every loss is unique. Every loss is hard. For me there is no other pain like it. But with every loss there is a story of the life behind it. This is the life of Benjamin Angelo.
I got my first maltese, Bijou Benny Lance when I was just 12 years old. Yes, he had 2 middle names. He was my first love. As a little girl he went in my book bag when I would ride my bike. He did a semester at college with me. He was with me when I bought my first home. After he passed, I felt an emptiness like nothing I had ever experienced. It was soon after that I added Benny to my life, named after Bijou of course.
Benny. He always had the chubbiest little body, trademark bear paws and the biggest eyes. Gosh to this day I’ve never seen a more beautiful maltese. He looked just like a teddy bear. That face it melted me each and every time I looked at it. He just got right into my soul. I remember how I fought loving him too hard. Maybe I felt guilty for loving again after Bijou. Maybe I was scared of becoming too attached. It didn’t matter though. Benny had other plans. He wrapped those trademark bear paws around my heart and never let go. Our love story was just beginning.
Benny was the reason I met some of my lifelong friends. After getting him I joined an online group for maltese owners that spread across the world. These friendships have spanned the past 13 years and some of these women have become mothers and sisters to me. Many years ago before my Grandfather passed away he made dozens of mini Benny’s that were sent to some of my dear friends around the world.
After about 8 months of having Benny we decided to add Emma to our family. The best thing I ever did was fly to Florida and bring her home. After one slight growl from Benny they were bonded after a 1/2 hour. Two peas in a pod, frick and frack, Bonnie and Clyde, however you want to say it. Benny and Emma became a thing. One was not complete without the other. They completed each other and they literally consumed my life. The past 13 years have been the Benny and Emma years.
Benny was always most attached to me while Emma was most attached to him. If I went to the bathroom he followed. When I showered he laid outside the shower door. When I slept he was glued to my side or laying on my head. He was my shadow. He was a mama’s boy.
He wasn’t easy by any means. He was grumpy. He was reactive to new people. We used to tell people don’t make eye contact with him. We laugh about it now but that was our Benny. He would let you in his approved club but it took time. But once you were in — that was it. You were in love with everything about him. And what a space cadet. His head was always in the clouds.
When I found out I was pregnant I cried. I was so scared Benny and Emma would struggle that I made a vow to make them a part of everything Summer. To this day they have their own dog beds in her room and their name plaques hang from her wall. I poured my heart and soul into making sure they would accept Summer and accept they did. My love for maltese didn’t begin till I was 12 but for Summer — it’s all she’ll ever know and I wouldn’t change that for anything. If there is one thing I passed onto Summer it’s the love for a maltese. Summer’s first word was “dog.” How appropriate coming from this household. As a baby she couldn’t pronounce Benny so she called him Bubby and that became his nickname for the past 7 years. Our Bubby boy.
Benny was the dog that EVERYTHING happened to. You know those people with bad luck? That was Benny. As a puppy a hawk tried to swoop on him when I was in the yard with him. Last year he ate a bowl of grapes and survived. He went blind in 1 eye. And then he suffered third degree burns from a heating pad used by a vet years ago after a dental surgery. His story was shared nationally. I realize now that he didn’t have bad luck. He had good luck for all that he endured and came out of. His story of getting burned — I can only hope he saved other dogs from going through that same thing.
And he was a handful. If I had a dollar for how many times in a day we said, “Benny NO!” “Benny stop!” “Benny leave it!” “Benny knock it off!” I’d be rich. He’d take Summer’s snacks. He would eat the bunny’s food. He would bark his head off.
But photogenic? Gosh he loved photos. Partly because he was always by my feet I would always grab him for photos. He was the face of countless campaigns. I am more grateful now than ever that I took that leap of faith to blog full time. Not only for the photos I have of him but for being home with him everyday for the past year and a 1/2. I was given so much extra time with him now that I think about it.
The past few years he did slow down. He lost eyesight in one of his eyes a few years ago. He was aging faster than Emma. But I never expected to lose him as quickly as I did. He had collapsed in front of Summer the other night. Summer and I were home alone and it was late. Erik was working. I stayed calm and got him to stable. I was going to rush him to the vet but by this time it was so late and he seemed better. He laid peacefully on my chest that night. A long moment I will never forget. On Saturday he seemed better. He was eating and although quiet I did not feel at that time I needed to bring him to the vet. I slept in late with him Sunday morning and brought him downstairs to eat. After he ate I noticed how labored his breathing was and we rushed him to the vet. They put him on oxygen and took an x-ray of his heart. They discovered his heart was extremely enlarged. Benny had a dental done in 2018 and there was no murmur. Having lost my first maltese to CHF I was always aware of the signs of that horrible disease. The vet gave us options of hospitalizing him and having an echo done and having the cardiologist team see him. But with such a fast onset of heart issues the prognosis wasn’t good. Erik and I asked to see him. Once they brought him out to me and I saw him — we just knew. His breathing was so labored and he was so weak. I couldn’t make him fight. I looked at him and could see no fight even in him. He fought off burns. He fought off grapes. This he could not fight off. I couldn’t put him through tests to what? Maybe give us some more time with him to only have him deteriorate over the next few, days, weeks or months. I couldn’t do that to my beautiful boy.
They say you just know when the time is right. He was weak. He wasn’t breathing well. Would he would have fought to stay with me longer? Of course he would have. Our dogs will fight till they have nothing left in them to stay with us. But he was sick. His heart was slowly giving out. Maybe he loved me too hard and his heart couldn’t take anymore. I don’t know. But I do know my beautiful boy was suffering. I’ve always said the greatest last gift we can give to our pets is take their pain and suffering away. I would have done anything, paid any amount to have him stay, but it wasn’t fair to do that to his little body.
And so Erik and I made the decision together. I held him in my arms, sobbing tears all over his precious head and as he drifted away I just kept kissing his head and saying I love you, I love you, I love you over and over. I felt his heart sail away. My teddy bear asleep in my arms.
Many believe all dogs go to The Rainbow Bridge. Not our dogs. Our dogs go to Unicorn Land. Summer has been going there in her dreams for about a year now. She tells me all her loved ones are there and the only ones allowed there are she and I. We stay with them till morning and then we leave them behind to only return the next night in our dreams. A little white dog showed up to Unicorn Land the other night, soaked in his Mommy’s tears but ready to be restored to his youthful self again. I tried to go to Unicorn Land to see you Benny but I don’t think I was ready. Summer said she saw you and you were happy. I know in time I’ll see you there. But until my heart is strong enough to go promise me you’ll look over me and your darling sister Emma.
They say everyone has a heart dog. Benny was mine. I didn’t love Benny more than Emma but he was just always so needy of me. I think every relationship with a dog is different and unique. Benny needed me to live and Emma needed him to live. My heart breaks looking at Emma now. I know how much she must be hurting without her Benny. I promised her that she will go everywhere with me now. We will grieve the loss of our beloved Benny together. We will learn to live life without Benny. We will learn to live in the silence you left behind. What I would give for one more “no, knock it off, stop it.” What I would give for one more cuddle, one more bear paw handshake, one more late morning with you.
My Bubby. I can still see your face so crisply. I can still feel every curve of your chubby little body. I know that will fade as it did with Bijou. But I will hold on for as long as I can.
Benny led me to a community of women who love their dogs the way I do. We love hard. Really hard. I need those sisters and mothers now more than ever. Thank you Benny for bringing them into my life. Dust your mini Benny’s off for me and display them in his honor.
He wasn’t the first dog that drifted from my arms and he won’t be the last. That is the price we pay for opening our hearts to the love of a dog. “It’s better to have loved and lost then to never have loved at all.” This is the vow that dog owners take. The loss is so heavy but it’s all worth it. Every tear is worth the years of love shared between an owner and a dog. Till I see you in Unicorn Land my sweet love. Rest sweetly.
Benjamin Angelo Leopaldi 8/24/06 to 10/27/19