When John Pointer shared his grief over losing his dog Benny, little did he realize how powerfully his words would resonate around the world.
He still cannot believe that it happened. Sadness overwhelms John Pointer at times, remembering the joy, happiness and fun that his dog Benny brought him for many years. Out of his grief over Benny’s dying on Jan. 28, 2016—one day before his ninth birthday—Pointer shared his view (through the eyes of Benny) with a few people on Facebook.
Then a few more shared it … and a few more … and now, much like Benny himself with his happy-go-lucky smile and friendly warmth, his story is bounding out into the world, touching people’s hearts.
No, not just a few hundred people. Hardly. We’re talking about an international phenomenon that has led people like actor Ashton Kutcher to share Benny’s story. It has been translated into at least seven different languages and has been shared and viewed more than 1 million times across Facebook and other websites, including Good Housekeeping, and read by more than 20-plus million people since it first appeared on Benny Pointer’s Facebook page.
A whirlwind of emotions have filled Pointer, a multi-talented musician, and businessman who splits time between Austin, Texas and Gainesville, Fla., where his wife Kelly is a graduate student.
These days, though, even after his death, it’s all Benny, all the time.
“Benny was a white boxer,” Pointer said while sitting outside under bright sunshine on a recent afternoon in Austin. “It’s kind of like from the book ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ in that when people ask what kind he is, I just want to say, ‘He’s an awesome dog.’ My old dog Creed was awesome, too. Benny and Creed overlapped one another by two weeks (in 2007). But genetically, they were both boxers.”
Pointer recalled the time as a busy one for him with work, so his idea was to have the older dog (Creed) keep up with the younger one (Benny) that was nipping at his heels. “As a service dog and transition element, I wanted Benny to learn from him.”
In many pictures of Benny, his facial expressions are amazing. “It’s a boxer trait, I think,” Pointer said. “Boxers seem to say a lot with their faces. The proportions are rather simian, and they look very human already. Creed also was a very smiley dog. I was a more complex character when I brought Creed home, so he was more complex, too. Dogs, as puppies, act like personality sponges from their owners. I was almost a decade older when I brought Benny home.”
Throughout his life, Pointer would look at Benny and reassure his pet with these words: “I gotcha covered.” He remembered starting that phrase while Creed was still alive. “It was the perfect phrase to describe how we felt about each other,” he said.
Benny knew how to love, and that love was returned one hundred fold. Back when he had first been diagnosed, the community rallied behind him. Pointer wasn’t sure what to do about the medical bills, and felt personally responsible for them, but Benny’s friends insisted on doing a concert—a “Bennyfit.”
“I was amazed,” Pointer said. “One-2-One Bar cleared their schedule, 20 or more of the best musicians in Austin came out to play, and 80-90 people attended.”
That was on Dec. 14, 2015, about five weeks after his first collapse at the park.
“I remember thinking I’d lost him then. He was limp. All I could do was pet him, look in his eyes, and say, ‘I gotcha buddy. I gotcha,’ but then he came back to life,” he said. “He had cardiomyopathy, and that was treated. He also had some type of cancer—his body had high levels of ionized calcium in it. I might have been able to do something but I’d already spent $4,300 on his health, and more than money, I had to think about what would happen to a 9-year-old dog losing his thyroid. I had to make sure it would cure him before I could justify cutting him open.” Pointer said there was a place up in Georgetown, Texas, just north of Austin, that was willing to do a free PET-CT scan for Benny. But the dog’s kidneys were too far out of range to safely sedate him by the time they could schedule his visit.
John and Benny, who had made road trips before, took their last one out to Florida and go see Kelly.
“He went up and down some,” Pointer said. “In Florida, I made the decision not to go after the cancer. I didn’t think exploratory surgery was a good idea without knowing we could clear it out completely, but I also had no idea he was so close to the end.”
When they returned to Austin, Benny’s health continued to decline. “In the last 24-plus hours of Benny’s life, I invited people to come love on him,” Pointer said. “Part of my closure process was to give others a chance to have closure, too.”
One of the unique pieces of their relationship was that wherever John went, Benny went, too. Any club owner who booked Pointer to play understood that there was a package deal … and that included Benny. The musicians knew Benny as they’d hung out with the friendly boxer, petting and loving him as much as he would on them.
“At One-2-One Bar, they let Benny wander around,” Pointer said. “He even inspired several people to get dogs.”
Pointer found that people who came out and saw him perform also would catch Benny sitting near the stage or simply lying down close by. He had to make a Facebook page just for Benny himself because “people were posting pictures of him at shows and tagging me.” To this day, Benny still has his own Facebook page up. When he died, he had 213 “likes” from people who actually knew him. He now has over 17,000, from the people who have heard his voice.
At times, Pointer finds himself wistfully, and tearfully, wishing that Benny were still around.
“Benny was something special. I knew my job was to be more like him. He had no grudges, no judgment and when I wrote that story … I was thinking about how confused I was,” he said. “Benny seemed unstoppable. The first shot would make him feel good. The second one would make him stop.
“Isn’t it just painfully ironic that with all the money I spent to take care of him, the miracle cure was to kill him? I just had to wonder what that story was like from his perspective.”
“That story” has touched many people indeed.
“I thought maybe 400-500 comments would come through like when my dad died,” he said, recalling when he wrote something in memory of his father. “When I woke up the next morning – it was kind of like surfing down an emotional avalanche.”
The story found its way quickly being shared by many people. It is a powerful testament not only to Pointer’s love for Benny but to how many people could tap into his own pain and sorrow.
“He never met anyone he didn’t love unless they were drunk or people that were ambling or shuffling,” he said. “Especially around extremely drunk people, he’d do a slight growl. But everyone else greeted with a smile. That dog was ridiculously social.
“He really got close to people, he was relaxed … a champion with little babies,” Pointer said. “His way was to make everything cool and comfortable for others. He knew he had nothing to fear and everybody loved him.”
Pointer stops talking for a few minutes. He puts his head down, tears coming to his eyes, and takes a couple of deep breaths.
“It’s a very strange grieving process,” he said. “That post went viral. It’s the first time in over 19 years that I am without a dog. But while I grieve, I also find myself called to comfort others.”
There is a part of him that is still in awe of how the social media post has made its way literally around the globe.
“It’s been really weird. The post has been translated into multiple languages,” he said. “The day after Benny died, my sister asked me how I was doing. I’m still processing it. I’m working to get rid of my baggage and open up like Benny. He could fully empathize, be compassionate, and didn’t really have sustained sadness in his emotional vocabulary.”
Pointer has been quite busy responding to the multitude of messages that he’s received. “All I’m trying to do is to keep up with the posts and see what’s going on,” he said. “I’ve been flooded by emails and I respond to all of them. If someone reached out, it’s insulting to me not to get back in touch with them. I’ve had people write and ask me about when they should let their dog go. In my response to them, I’ll ask a few questions like ‘Can they handle basic bodily functions?’ ‘Are they eating regularly?’ ‘Are they responding to their name or when petted?’
“If not, then you might be hanging on to them for your own selfish purposes. You have to be willing to trade your happiness for their comfort.”
Pointer admits that he’s thought of writing a series of posts that are written in Benny’s voice yet focus on his own pain. He also has a couple of book ideas kicking around inside, too.
“I’ve felt denial, anger and sadness,” he said. “I’ve not hit the bargaining stage yet. One of the starkest differences is that there is so much silence right now. I can hear everything else so clearly. It’s almost deafening sometimes. I think it was because my brain is forcing my ears to listen harder for signs of Benny nearby.”
In the end, Pointer comes back to his tenderhearted words that he shared with Benny many times. “I gotcha covered, buddy. I gotcha.”
From the outside, it feels like Benny has John covered, too.
In its entirety, here is Pointer’s beloved eulogy:
Yesterday was a weird day. I couldn’t get myself out of bed. The guy I live with lifted me up. I tried to get my legs under me, but they wouldn’t cooperate. He said, “Don’t worry, I gotcha buddy,” carried me downstairs, and out the front door. That was so nice of him. I needed to pee so badly, I just had to go right there where he put me down. Normally I wouldn’t, but we both decided to make an exception to the rule.
I started walking down the parking lot toward that place where all the dogs like me go to poop. I felt my paws dragging on the ground. “How strange,” I thought. Then suddenly, I just had to go, really badly. In the middle of the parking lot. Normally, I wouldn’t do that. It’s against the rules.
My person cleaned up the mess. He’s good at that. I felt embarrassed, looked at him, and he said, “Want to keep walking, buddy?” I did, but it was surprisingly tough. By the time we reached the end of the parking lot, my head was spinning. I tried to climb the little hill, and nearly fell over. I couldn’t figure out what was going on.
He reached down again, and ran his hands over me. That felt good. He picked me up, and carried me home. I was still confused, and my head was light, but I was glad not to have to walk all the way back. It suddenly seemed like an impossible distance.
I was so glad to lay down on my bed. My person petted me, saying, “I gotcha covered, buddy. I gotcha.” I love the way that makes me feel. I know he does. He makes everything better.
He felt my paws, and pulled up my lip. He said, “Oh buddy, are you cold?” I was. My face was cold, my paws were cold. He texted a few people, and came back to pet me.
A few minutes later, another person arrived. He’s one of my favorites, and his name is Jay. He petted me, and said to my person, “Do you want to get a blanket?” They put a blanket over me, and wow… that felt good. I relaxed, and they both petted me, but they both started to choke back tears.
I never want them to cry, it breaks my heart. It’s my job to make them feel better, and I was just a little tired, and cold. I drifted in and out of sleep, and they were always there, making sure I was okay, and chatting with each other.
Throughout the day, my person made some phone calls, and spent a lot of time with me. I heard him say, “9 am tomorrow… ok… yes… I’ll tell you if anything changes. Thank you Dr. MacDonald.” He called someone else, and said, “I’m sorry, I have to cancel tonight.” Then as I was drifting off to sleep, I think I heard him cry a little again.
In the evening, more of my favorite people came by. They were all so loving. I licked their tears away when they would get close enough to my face. They whispered sweet things in my ear, and told me I was a good boy.
Later in the evening, I felt well enough to stand up and walk to the door to see who was coming in. It was more exhausting than I’d remembered it being, but I loved seeing them all. I heard my person say something like, “That’s the first time he’s gotten up under his own power today.” Everyone seemed glad that I was out of bed. I was too, but wow… after the excitement wore off, it was so exhausting to move around.
After the last visitor left, my person took me outside to do what he called, “my business.” We went back inside and when we reached the bottom of the stairs, they looked twice as steep and ten times as long as I remembered them being. I looked at my person, and he looked at me. He said, “Don’t worry, I gotcha buddy,” and carried me up.
Then it got even better! Instead of sleeping in my bed, he called me up to sleep on *his* bed. Let me repeat: *I got to sleep in the bed with my person!* We normally have our own beds, but last night we snuggled, and it felt so good to be that close to him. I thought, “This is where I belong. I will never leave his side.” I didn’t feel very well though, and it was hard to breathe sometimes.
It seems like it started a few months ago. We were playing fetch and I just blacked out. I don’t know what happened, but I think I stopped breathing. I could hear my person calling my name. I couldn’t move a muscle. He lifted my head, and looked into my eyes. I could see him right there, but couldn’t lick his face. He said, “Benny, are you in there?” I couldn’t respond. He looked at me, and said, “Don’t worry buddy, I gotcha. I gotcha covered.” I started to spin into darkness, but then my lungs took in a deep breath, and I could see again.
We went to see some doctors, and since then I’ve heard a lot of words like, “cardiomyopathy,” “cancer,” and, “kidney failure.” All i know is that sometimes I feel okay, and sometimes… you know… I just don’t. My person gives me pills.
This morning, I heard my person get up and take a shower. He came back in the room, and smelled so nice. He helped me get up, but this time, I could do it on my own. We got to the top of the stairs, and wow… they looked long and steep again. He said, “I gotcha buddy,” and carried me down. I did my business, and we came back inside. He opened a can, a really, really delicious can of wet dog food. Oh man… I love that stuff!
Jay showed up again. What a nice surprise! He and my person seemed concerned, but everyone was petting me. It seemed a little like a play, where all the actors were sad, but pretending to be happy. Pretty soon after that, another person showed up. She was wearing doctor pants, and I leaned on her.
I heard them talk. Everyone looked at my gums, and felt my paws. I heard the doctor pants lady say, “It’s your decision, but he’s definitely in that window. I don’t want to push you, but looking at his lack of color, I am honestly shocked he’s even standing up. In addition to the paws and jowls, look here…” she pointed at my face, “This should be pink. It’s almost white, and verging toward yellow.”
My person and Jay went inside to talk about something. When they came back out, I heard my person say, “I agree. I don’t want to wait till he’s in absolute agony.” So we went inside. Truth be told, I was feeling pretty badly, even though I was up and walking. It seemed like my whole head was cold, my paws were freezing, and my back legs weren’t working right.
The doctor pants lady said, “I’ll just put this into his muscle. It’s a sedative. Then I’ll come back over here, and you can just love on him till he’s asleep.” My person kissed my face, and looked in my eyes. He was trying not to cry. Doctor pants lady gave me a shot of something in the leg. I just looked at my person. He is so awesome. I will always be right by his side.
He and Jay petted me, and said the nicest things – what a good dog I am, what a good job I’ve done, how thankful they are to have me in their lives. After a while, my mind started buzzing. FOCUS! I looked back at my person. I love him so much.
I drifted again. FOCUS! I can see my person. I love him so much. I will always be right by his side. He knows that. Am I sleepy? FOCUS! I’ll always look at him with my whole heart…
Doctor pants lady said, “He must have an incredible will to stay with you. He is really powering through. That’s impressive.” My person choked back tears and said, “I know. This guy lives for me. He is the most devoted soul I’ve ever met…” We put our heads together, and closed our eyes. I felt good. I can’t really describe it. We looked at each other again. I just felt like riding that buzz, but maybe lying down was better. My person helped me down. Man, that felt gooooooood.
I felt him and Jay petting me, and heard them talking to me. They love me so much. How lucky am I? Then I felt thousands of hands petting me. Everyone I’d ever known and loved was there, petting me, scratching my ears, and that spot under my collar that makes my leg move. Everyone should try this. It’s just amazing!
Then I felt the doctor pants lady touch my leg. Did I tell you that my person had to have both of my knees repaired? They’re titanium, and have served me well, but you know… I’ve been feeling a little creaky lately.
With everyone petting me, the doctor pants lady put another needle in my leg, but this time, as the fluid went in, my legs were healed! My knees were perfect! And as I felt it move through my body, my cancer disappeared! And then my kidneys felt better! And finally, even my heart was whole, and healthy! I felt like I had sprung away from all of my sickness. Amazing!
I saw my person, and Jay, and the lady who lives at our house, Shelly. They seemed to be huddling over something. I walked over to look. It seemed like… I don’t know. It kind of looked like me, but the way I looked when I was feeling really sick, or exhausted. The face was blurred out, so I couldn’t really tell, but that poor guy looked like he had been suffering.
I could tell my person was both relieved and very, very sad. I love him so much. I looked at that me-shaped shell, and I looked at him… I think he was sad about that shell. I jumped around the room, like a clown, but it seemed like they wanted to be somber, and focus on whatever that thing was they were petting and kissing.
But my person was definitely sad. I leaned on him, like I’ve done a million times before, but it wasn’t quite the same. It felt like his body was a cloud and I passed right through him. So I walked up next to him, sat like a good boy, and my heart whispered to his, “Don’t worry, buddy. I gotcha covered.”
I will never leave his side. He knows that.
A closing note:Help tell Benny’s story, and support animal non-profits and service organizations, by becoming a sustaining patron at http://patronism.com/benny, and keep your eyes peeled for a Kickstarter coming soon to turn the post into an illustrated short story.