Benji comes home

Written by Sally Mendes-Pinto, Jacqui Loukakis and Philip Viljoen

Professional photography by Jacqui L. Photography

What a sad day May the 14th 2017 was. Whilst dropping my daughter and her friends off at the FNB Stadium for the Justin Bieber Concert, I spotted a dead dog lying right in the middle of Nasrec Road, Johannesburg, between the two lanes. I stopped and gently put his body on the pavement. Unbelievably, just a little further on by the Engen garage, we spotted another dog – a very bewildered and lost Jack Russell running in and out of traffic. Once again, I stopped; I tried to pick him up. Unfortunately, after trying to coax him to trust me enough to let me approach, he bolted across the road into the bushes.

A friend in need

I dropped the kids off and, on my way back, looked for the Jack Russell with no success. As I passed the dead doggy lying on the pavement I saw another dog lying next to him, licking him as if trying to wake him up. He must have been hiding somewhere when I’d first seen the deceased dog – he wouldn’t have been able to sit beside his friend in the middle of the road. I stopped and tried to approach him.

The sadness in the dog’s eyes was heart-wrenching. He was wary of me and sidled away when I got too close. I put down tinned dog food (I always carry dog and cat food with me for emergencies like this) and phoned my friend Dr Jeanine Joseph to see if she could help me.

I picked her up and, armed with a catch pole kindly lent to us by Dr Erasmus of Kibler Park Vet, we returned half an hour later to find him still next to his friend. With patience, we managed to catch him and, as soon as he was caught, he became totally submissive and just put his head down on Jeanine’s shoulder all the way to the vet.

A home for Benji

I was emotionally broken after having seen so much sadness in just over an hour. The dog had not been in a good condition; he was full of tar and oil, and had old callouses from sleeping on hard floors, scabs all over, and a broken tail, and he had a bloodshot eye. He was quite a big dog, just a little smaller than a Labrador, and not at all aggressive. I prayed that this baby would find a good home.

Jeanine and I took him to Kibler Park Vet, where he was checked out and then stayed; the fantastic Dr Erasmus even sterilised him at a much-reduced rate. Sally and Jeanine posted on the WhatsApp group S.A.F.E.looking for a foster, which was where Jacqui Loukakis saw it. She then shared the post to various Facebook pages and it was on one of those pages that Wayne Kritzinger saw the post and told his partner, Philip Viljoen, who offered the dog – now named Benji – a forever home.

On Saturday the 20th of May 2017, Jacqui, my daughter and I drove through to Waterkloof Ridge in Pretoria to do a home check and introduce Benji to the rest of the fur family, two dogs and a cat. Thankfully, everything went well. We all went for a walk together; Benji officially made himself a member of the pack and became the newest member to Philip and his partner’s wonderful family and home.

Jacqui Loukakis shares…

There was an amazing response to this dog’s plight; I honestly believe the tragic circumstances and his care for his friend appealed to humanity – and I’m so grateful it did and now he has found a wonderful forever home. Social media is a fantastic broadcast medium and Benji’s story went viral. We had a few offers and, after taking everything into consideration, Philip’s home sounded perfect for this boy.

When we drove through with Benji he was a little stressed in the car, as he had no idea what was happening; Kiara was a star – she massaged and calmed him and soon he was lying down having a snooze.

We arrived not really knowing what to expect. But as it turned out, we had nothing to worry about. Philip has a calm but assertive energy and that’s all that was needed; his two little rescues weren’t too perturbed, but they sure did a lot of leg-lifting to mark territories, including Benji. We took them for a nice little walk and by the time we returned, Benji didn’t want to be separated from the pack. It was clear: Benji was home.

And then the cat! We had no idea there was a cat, but Philip took it in his stride; the cat showed little interest and Benji flat-out ignored him – and all this within 40 minutes! 

There’s more to Benji than we will ever know. He howls occasionally; maybe he’s pining for his dead friend or for a long-lost human who didn’t or couldn’t keep him safe. The sad reality is that every animal in a shelter, on the street, or being abused is a tragedy, discarded and forgotten, as there are just too many. The positive spin to this is that dogs pretty much live in the moment and Benji really is having his moment.

Philip Viljoen shares…

When I saw a WhatsApp message containing a Facebook link from my partner, Wayne Kritzinger, I couldn’t have imagined what would happen next. Wayne had come across the story in his newsfeed and told me how awful it was. I clicked on the link and discovered that it was indeed a heartbreaking tale. It wasn’t long before I was on the phone to Jacqui asking about the stray who’d sat so loyally by his friend’s side.

Judging from the picture, I’d actually thought he was a Jack Russell, but Jacqui explained that he was more the size of a Labrador. I decided to give it a try, as I have a rescued female Africanis (three years old) who could match him in size. His age was no problem, as my male Jack Russell (also a rescue) is also seven years of age.

Benji, named after the courageous and lovable stray dog from the 80s TV series, has settled in very nicely. After the ladies left we had a walk again and, honestly, he was better behaved than the other two!

He still pines a bit, but, on the recommendation of the vet, I’ve put him on a calming medication and now it’s going better.

He has a huge bed in our bedroom – all the dogs have their own, but this one they can actually share, should they wish. He even had the doggy parlour come to the house to make ready for his shoot with a proper wash and a pedicure.

He is not a very active boy and loves to sleep, but every now and again I find him playing with our Africanis girl. Benji is the gentlest dog one could ever ask for. He’s already met many of our friends and family and is very chilled and relaxed; everyone who meets him loves him. Both Wayne (his “other dad”) and I are so proud to have him as part of our family.