The Story of Benetton, The Wrong-Colored Dog

Does your dog match your drapes? It’s not a question many of us are ever asked, and if we were, we’d no doubt respond, ‘who cares?’

Not surprisingly, staff at Baldwin Park shelter were incredulous when a gorgeous eight-month-old black-and-white chihuahua was surrendered at the shelter as his owner felt he clashed with his color scheme at home. Not only that, but the couple wanted to adopt another dog as a replacement. They were promptly banned from the shelter and asked to leave.

Benny enjoying some SoCal shade.

As part of Baldwin Park’s regular networking efforts, volunteers take photos and videos of dogs and cats desperately seeking adoption and share them on Facebook. But Benetton’s case was so unique that the shelter’s head volunteer Ric Browde sent out a special plea for him. His YouTube clip soon caught the attention of little Nate Armistead of rural Virginia, who for months had been badgering his mother, Esther, to get him a dog.

Benetton’s plight struck a chord with Esther because Nate, who suffers from an inoperable brain tumor, had been cast aside by others for being ‘different,’ just like the dog.

She vowed to try to get Benetton to Nate in time for his seventh birthday.

Nate, a country boy at heart, was used to being surrounded by animals, as his family’s 20 acres were already home to two mini donkeys, two horses, two chickens, one ‘very mean’ rooster and several cats and dogs, including Inky, who Esther rescued the same week as Benetton. (She even nicknames her house ‘Dogville,’ thanks to all the canine comings and goings!)

However, once Esther realized how far away Baldwin Park was and how expensive it would be to get Benetton to Virginia, she began to give up hope of adopting him. But not before calling the shelter, where she was put in touch with Ric.

Baldwin Park is normally unable to arrange out-of-state adoptions, but Esther assured Ric that Benetton would still be loved if anything should happen to Nate and that he would always be treasured by the family as he would be a monument to the love Nate has for the world. Once he heard this, Ric immediately set the wheels in motion, reaching out to friends and colleagues for help, including United Hope for Animals and Michelle Johnson, a flight attendant with American Airlines.

Within a few days, it looked like Benetton was on his way to Virginia! Unfortunately, Mother Nature intervened in the form of Hurricane Irene, so while flights to the east coast were suspended, Benetton was fostered by some UHA volunteers, who were glad to have him, regardless of his color. One of them described Benetton as ‘the happiest dog I ever met.’

Finally, one day in September, Esther took Nate on a trip to Richmond airport, keeping mum about who they were going to meet there. He grew restless and wanted to return home, and, typical of Nate with his mischievous sense of humor, he began sticking his tongue out at Esther while they waited. However, Esther insisted they stay.

Nate couldn’t believe his eyes when out came Benetton, wagging his tail and eager to get his paws on his new owners. We caught up with Esther a week or so after the arrival of Benetton, aka Benny. She told us he was settling in really well and making a wonderful companion for Nate, who talks to them like they were his brother and sister, telling them stories and bossing them around!

Nate, Benny and Michelle at the airport.

And, just like all the other critters, Benny has been a great source of comfort to the young boy. He’s even going on his first family vacation, a camping trip to northern Virginia, where he’ll run and play with Inky and Nate.

We also spoke with Laura Knighten, Director of UHA’s Shelter Support Program, who commented, ‘UHA’s volunteers were very moved by both Benny’s and Nate’s stories, and we are thrilled to have played a part in bringing them together. It’s inspiring to see so many people rally round to rescue a discarded puppy and help a little boy’s dream come true.’

But the last word goes to Esther, who is eternally grateful for the way people went out of their way in order to help find Benny a loving new home with Nate.

As she puts it, ‘So many people that I don’t know helped us get Benny to Nate. I’d love to hug and kiss each and every one of them.’