Benny stopped for a second, looked back at me and then quickly glanced at the long road ahead. He knew he could take off and never be seen again. He's fast enough to do it.
He had a choice.
That cool Colorado morning, I had taken my family's dogs, Sam and Benny, for a walk.
Both dogs are adoptees of my family. Sam is a grumpy schnauzer, a dog loyal to my wife, Nan, and one who I've appointed as the official watchdog of our household. Benny, well, he's a point of debate in my family. I proudly argue he's a piebald dachshund; my wife and daughter, Elyse, always insist he's a beagle/dachshund mix.
Whatever he is, as my wife says, he's a wild man, a 2-year-old dog acting like a 2-year-old child racing and playing constantly, chewing up anything that looks remotely appetizing and barking at anything that comes close to him, including me.
One August day in 2011, Nan noticed a Facebook posting from a family friend about a 6-month-old dog named Oakley who had been found wandering at an Oklahoma lake. The family didn't like the dog because he had been attacking their two smaller dogs; no one else wanted him either, so he probably would be taken to the pound soon. Nan agreed to an evening tryout as his last hope.
When he arrived at our home in Edmond, Okla., he seemed unadoptable, scared of everything and not even remotely interested in letting me near him. He hid under the couch, then a bed, anywhere he could find. We had to crawl under the bed to retrieve him several times. As we retrieved him, we noticed that one of his front legs was bent awkwardly, as if he had broken it early in life. When he stood still, he seemed like a dog version of a ballerina doing a pirouette.
I was skeptical, but something in the dog's eyes gave me hope. Nan was skeptical because she wanted another Boston terrier after the recent loss of our beloved Pokie. Then Elyse came home, and we saw the pup respond as if he had found a long-lost friend. I was still skeptical because Elyse would soon go to college, and the dog would be our responsibility.
We had a choice. We kept him because of those eyes and Elyse's insistence.
His name was changed immediately because Oakley didn't seem to fit. We thought of Hershey because of his nearly perfect tan and brown markings. However, because of his quickness, speed and strange demeanor, he became Benny, named after Elton John's song "Bennie and the Jets" and "Benny the Jet" in the movie "The Sandlot."
For a year, the dog continued his erratic behavior, including barking at me wildly whenever I wore a suit and tie. He particularly seemed to hate the tie. We had to keep him on a leash because he would attack our other dogs and run off at the slightest notion. But we grew to love his crazy demeanor and zest for life. Just before we moved to Colorado Springs, he ate a whole towel. An expensive emergency surgery costing more than $1,200 was needed to save his life. We knew we had no other choice.
Benny recovered quickly and soon moved to our new home in Colorado Springs. His demeanor had seemed to change, still somewhat erratic but now he barked at me wildly when I had a suit and tie as if to say that I needed to take them off immediately. After I changed, he immediately leaped into my lap to demand attention, followed by climbing like a monkey on the back of the chair to peer into the kitchen to see if anything was enticing beyond the counter.
He loved his walks down Colorado Springs roads and tugged on his harness while springing back and forth wildly at any deer, rabbit, dog, cat or bird that drew near.
That morning, a rabbit darted across the road, and Benny lurched at it. I looked down and noticed his harness was loose. Knowing that he would flee, I lunged for him, scraping my knees in the process. I was on my knees as he raced toward the long road. I started calling his name while beginning to think how I would explain Benny's disappearance to Nan and Elyse.
Then he stopped.
I have no idea what goes through a dog's mind, but I wonder if Benny, as he looked down that long stretch of road, remembered running free but hungry at the lake. Then as he looked back at me whether he thought about how a family had taken him in when nobody wanted him. As I pleaded with him to come to me and Sam barked at him as if to scream the same, Benny looked one more time down the road.
He then made his choice. He returned to me.