Ben: A Very Special Setter

     Fenella had passed over that Rainbow Bridge and the house was deathly quiet. Our Big, Barking Girl had gone. That left just Flossie, and she went into a decline and threatened to join her sister.  With constant nursing and lots of TLC she recovered to a point, but was very frail.  It was obvious that we would not have her much longer. We had said 'no more' not because our love of English Setters had dwindled, but the opposite - because of the dreaded pain of losing them.  However I could bear it no longer: the silence, the sadness and the inevitability of soon having no canine companion.  Besides, I had made a rash promise to Fenella as she lay dying.  The details are between her and me, but she showed me in her own way - and unmistakeably - that she understood and approved.  The pact was made.  Suffice it to say it had something to do with new life and continuity!  Secretly I contacted Lorna at Moorbrook Setters in Garstang where Flossie and Fenella were bred. Lorna told me they had a three-day old litter of eight and persuaded me to stop by that evening on my way from the family business to our home in the Lakes.  On my arrival, Lorna explained that she only had one girl available, but she could let me have a boy. He was 'pick of the litter' and they had decided to keep him, but she would let me have him. I said I couldn't take a boy - I only did girls! 'Just hold this pup a minute will you', she said pushing one into my arms. It immediately suckled my nose, snuggled into my cleavage and fell fast asleep. You've guessed it! That was the little boy! We bonded from that moment and that was our Mr. D'Arcy. His sister was to be called Destiny and they would be ready to take home in January.  


     I was missing Fenella so much, so before leaving I asked to see the mature dogs to cheer me up.  I was taken outside and the floodlights went on and the kennel doors opened. About fourteen setters milled around, tails waving and feathers swaying; each one parading round and clamouring for attention! But one stood still at the centre. He was big and dark, just like a male Fenella with the same beautiful oval eyes.. Our eyes met and locked and that was that. I stared at him through a mist of tears. There was a strong sense of recognition; a person inside him that I already knew. I'm not going to try and explain what happened between Ben and me because I cannot. I only knew we were meant to be together. Lorna however explained that he was their show champion and top stud dog. More than that he was her own special dog and she would never part with him. That should have been the end of it. I drove home feeling sad, elated, confused and worried in turn! Excited and happy about the two puppies now waiting for me, worried about how I (and Flossie) would cope, but deeply sad about Ben. I couldn't get him out of my mind.   


     I was invited to call in each week to see how my pups were growing and bond with them. They were beautiful and I was so excited to see them developing, but I always asked to see Ben. We made contact, in the truest sense of the word. As Lorna put it 'you and Ben have clicked' - and that summed it up. I dropped hints that fell through the floor they were so heavy, and pestered for anecdotes about Ben and his life. My sensible side told me it was madness: he was a show dog who had never lived in and so wasn't house trained. He was a stud dog too with many prodigy to his name and I had never dealt with a male before - not even a neutered one! But it made no difference, that other intuitive and impulsive side just yearned for Ben and felt incomplete without him. 


     My obsession and persistence finally paid off! There came the unforgettable day when Lorna said she couldn't stand between Ben and myself any longer! He was to be retired to me! I drove home on cloud nine, scarcely able to believe itI hadn't reckoned on the opposition though. Both husband Jim and our vet said it was madness! I reluctantly agreed not to take Ben for another six months, until the pups were settled and we knew Flossie was coping with them. I was far from happy. I knew they thought once the pups came I would forget about Ben.  The day we went for our darling pups I wept - because I was not bringing Ben home with them. 


     The pups - D'Acy and Destiny - turned our home and life upside down! After two elderly girls it was an assault on our comfort zone! But they made us laugh again, and they were adorable. Flossie coped and we gave her lots of privacy from the pups. But the day came when I could stand it no longer. I had gone to visit Lorna - and of course Ben! I whispered in his ear that I was coming for him very soon. And he understood!  Easter was early that year, and Jim was working away. I called Lorna to arrange it, and snook off to Garstang. A sad and tearful day for Lorna, but a wonderful one for me. Ben was mine! I was so proud driving home with him sitting next to me, a day I shall always remember. But how would Flossie react?  I took Ben into the room and Flossie stared, did a double take (he did look so like Fenella!) then shifted over on her bed and made it clear she expected him to join her! Ben went over, said 'Hi Babe' and joined her in bed! They were inseparable after that. Miraculously, Flossie began eating two full meals a day again, gained weight, and grew stronger by the day. I was able to enjoy the pure pleasure of having Ben without feeling guilty about her. Ben and I went for daily walks together and were never far apart. That love at first sight just grew and matured and was all the stronger. Sadly Flossie could not stay for ever, but had those wonderful happy months with Ben before going to join her sister. I missed her dreadfully, but told myself not to be selfish: my girls were together again - for ever..


     Ben however pined for her as he was now without a mature female companion. He was sick after every meal and nibbled his tail so that it permanently bled. I was at my wits end. I asked Lorna if I could have Miss Tickle, a six year old Orange Belton bitch who had been Ben's companion and had his puppies. It took a bit of negotiating but then it was settled and I called in to collect Miss Tickle on the way home. Ben was over the moon and so was she! And she instantly became 'Nanny Tickle' to the pups. We had a happy Setter family once more.


     But then in 2005 came one of the worst days of my life. Ben was diagnosed with cancer.  It was very quick. Like Fenella, within three weeks, despite intensive nursing, tests and treatment, he was gone. I'm not gong to dwell on this as it is still far too painful. Suffice it to say I have never stopped thinking about him for a day. There will never be another Ben, but I am lucky enough to have his son, grandsons, granddaughters and now great granddaughters - and being line bred they all resemble their sire/grandsire! This apart, I have to say I feel him with me still, and talk to him just as I used to.


     I shall always thank Lorna in my heart for letting us be together for that short but wonderful time. 




                                                                                            I love you as much now Ben, as I ever did.

   Till we meet again......  


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