How One Military Veteran and Her Disabled Service Dog Are One Another’s Support Systems

Not your average “who rescued who.”

Editor’s Note: America’s Best Pet Pals is a nationwide search for the animal friendships that make you laugh, cry, and purr. Reader’s Digest will be honoring the best in pet friendship in print, online, and on social media. This is a finalist in our “Rescued Animals” category. Scroll to the bottom to cast your vote for Benji. To see our full list of finalists, go to rd.com/petpals and vote in each category.

Benji was named for his feet. When he looked up at me, his big brown eyes screamed “Benjamin,” but his huge front paws screamed “Big.” They turned outward like a bloodhound which made me think of McGruff, whose trench coat brings to mind Sherlock Holmes. Holmes leads to England, and Big Ben. His Christian name is Benjamin (when he hears this one, he knows he is in trouble). His nickname is Benji.

Benji was a rescue, but hand-selected by my mother, as he was the only dog ever to nibble on her fingers in all her life. I woke up before dawn and sat in the parking lot of the adoption center, waiting for them to open. It’s first come, first serve on adoption day.

When another car pulled up, I got out and waited by the door in sub-zero temperatures to ensure I would be first in line to adopt him when they opened in an hour. Turned out that family was there for a cat.

The staff inside kindly let me come in and sit down. Benji needed a bath before he could leave the shelter, so his paws were a bit wet when we were getting ready to go home. I told him there was no way he should walk in the snow with wet feet, so I wrapped him in a towel, tucked him in my coat, and hurried to the car. I held him the entire way home while he snuck peeks out of my jacket here and there.

dog laying among pillowsCourtesy Sovereign Odell

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At one point, I took Benji to a veterinarian who used a human product rather than the animal version on Benji’s leg, severing the blood flow and resulting in a gangrene infection. He needed two blood transfusions. He was going to lose the leg. But he survived.

Things were going pretty well post-amputation, and we were adjusting. Three years after, he got a stroller (which he loves) and a wheelchair (which he hates) so we could go for walks in the park. About a year after that, he went fully lame and could barely make it outside to relieve himself. It was heartbreaking to realize a 100-pound dog could no longer help himself and didn’t want my help in this regard either. Fortunately, Benji slowly began recovering from that too, methodically getting better at staying on his feet longer. He’s still not at 100 percent, but we’re back to going out in the stroller.

dog sitting in doghouse next to dog strollerCourtesy Sovereign Odell

I am a disabled veteran and Benji is my service dog. He gives me his all and I give him mine. I have PTSD, Horner’s syndrome, blepharospasm, and suffer from migraines from Co2 poisoning. Benji is my rock—he is my service animal and to a large extent I am his. And that’s one of the coolest parts of our relationship.