No collection of pet stories would be complete without a tribute to our loveable, cream Labrador Ben.
Ben entered our lives when we lived in coastal Torquay as an adorable puppy still growing into his skin; a seventh birthday present for Daniel, presented to him ceremoniously at Melbourne Airport, smuggled past the authorities wearing a big bright green bow, when young Dan was returning from yet another solo sojourn to visit nana and pa in Queensland.
Ben has been the light of our lives for six years. He has the irresistible charm and stunning good looks of a noble polar bear crossed with a cute harp seal and he uses it flagrantly to his advantage.
When those huge brown eyes look up at you from beneath a furrowed brow, whatever he wants he gets; be that the crunchiest bit of your toast, your chocolate biscuit, a hunk of choice steak from the barbecue or a big hug and wet kiss.
Ben is impossible to offend. You can growl at him for laying across the doorway and refusing to budge, parading around with your best shoe locked in his jaws or licking the suntan oil off your legs. But he never skulks off to sulk with feigned hurt; he just rebounds with his gums peeled back into a huge smile and his furry bum wagging. Our Ben has a face like it's Christmas every day of the week.
Ben has survived a savage dog fight in which his left ear was almost ripped off and had to be stitched extensively and his handsome head shaved. But the worse indignity was wearing a red bucket on his head to stop him scratching the wound.
He has also survived cross-country journeys to visit my parents, across the highway and through the creek and bush. He arrives, panting and muddy and proud, and padding around in circles switches on their automatic outside sensory light in the middle of the night! Much to my parents' surprise!
Where would a family be without a dog? Your sun lounge wouldn't stink, your patio wouldn't be covered in dog hair and your sweet little daisy bush wouldn't shrivel and die from canine whiss. You wouldn't have to be embarrassed when he greets guests with a barking frenzy and leaps and slobbers all over their new pants.
But you would never know the fun of frolicking with him on the beach or the comfort and having him lie, ever-faithful, at your feet in the home office. As you reach down to rub his tummy, he groans with contentment and looks up at you with love lights in his eyes.