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We picked up Benson from the RSPCA in November 2000, a week after we lost Bruno our first rescue ridgeback who we had adopted 3 years earlier at the age of 8.1/2. Our vet called Bruno "a lovely old gentleman" which was the perfect description. He had settled in with us immediately demanding no more than company, gentle strolls and the fire on constantly!

Benson was a stray, approximately 5 years old, who had been picked up a couple of miles from our home and we believe it was fate that brought us together. He was desperately thin and had scars on all his pressure points, probably from sleeping on concrete. Despite this, someone once loved him enough to teach him basic commands, although he still pretends not to understand unless food is readily available!

It has not always been easy, but not for one minute have we regretted sharing our home with him - even though we have probably encountered most of the usual problems it is possible to encounter with any dog at some time or another!

We started with separation anxiety but this was largely cured quickly with help from the vet. Even so, I will never forget coming home after our first 20 minute separation to see Benson standing with all four paws on the window sill like a giant ornament looking out for us!

To begin with he was possessive with his food, which wasn't surprising when you consider he had been starving. This problem was quickly solved when he realized food would never be in short supply again but, unfortunately, this led to too much weight gain and weekly "Weigh-in Club", visits to the vet. It was hard for all of us but we all benefited, as we couldn't bring ourselves to eat biscuits in front of him! He has now learnt that if he stays on his bed whilst we are eating he will get a reward once we've finished and this cured an initial food stealing problem.

We called in a behaviourist to try to stop him excitedly jumping up visitors and learned that he is afraid of watering cans, hose pipes and running water generally - we dread to imagine why - but again, over time, he has learned that these pose no real threat any more.

His only real problem now is "vet phobia", but luckily we have got a wonderful vet who, three years on, is still spending a lot of time helping him overcome this.

He is a very affectionate dog and loves company so follows us from room to room, which was a problem after spinal surgery in September. We tried to confine him with a baby gate but it didn't take long for him to work out how to open it! He had been forbidden from going upstairs for 6 weeks by his surgeon so after spending a couple of nights downstairs with him we tried sneaking up to bed quietly when he was asleep (we thought!). It did soon became obvious none of us would get any sleep for 6 weeks this way and our vet gave permission for one trip upstairs a day so he could sleep with us!

We're always amazed by the amount of attention he attracts when we're out - total strangers telling him how gorgeous he is and getting around places such as Chatsworth Show is a impossible as everyone seems to want to pat him, talk to him or feed him! We don't mind because we're so proud of him and his lovely nature, even one of the kennel maids was in tears when we picked him up after our last holiday!

Although it sounds as though we have had a lot of problems we wouldn't swap him for the world. The rewards of seeing how he has progressed, not to mention the love and devotion he gives us, are immeasurable and on top of all this he will be achieving his lifetime ambition of appearing at Crufts (in Discover Dogs) in March.

Helen Pettingell

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