A lot of dogs have complicated feelings about the postal service, but Ben the black Lab is a big fan of mail. Having treats and toys delivered right to his doorstep is one of the perks of finally having a permanent home address.
“He loves to open packages,” says Ben’s human, Vicki Mann. “He sticks his little head in there and pulls the toys out.”
Some of the care packages Ben so enthusiastically unboxes come from the human who once delivered him from a fatal fate on a south Georgia highway. In March 2015, Karen Weideling was forced to switch lanes to avoid hitting a dark lump in the middle of the road. If it had been a garbage bag like she’d originally thought, Weideling wouldn’t have stopped — but when Ben’s eyes met her own, the commuter realized she wasn’t looking at litter, but a living creature who’d obviously been hit by a car.
Risking her own safety, Weideling pulled over and darted onto the highway to get to the bleeding Lab while desperately signalling other drivers to switch lanes. Somehow, she managed to divert a tractor trailer, pick up the 50 pound dog, rush back to her truck, and hoist Ben in before getting hit herself.
Ben’s rescuer would later recall the incident in one of the first posts ever written for the dog’s Facebook page. As she loaded Ben into her vehicle, Weideling felt a blast of air against her back and an intense vibration under her feet as two lanes of traffic roared past her.
“It was at that moment that I became aware of the dangerous position I had put myself in,” she wrote.
Perhaps Ben understood how selfless Weideling’s actions had been. While other dogs may have bitten a stranger under the same circumstances, Ben licked Weideling’s hand as he tried to make his broken body comfortable inside her truck.
A half hour later, Weideling was pulling into the parking lot of the Four Rivers Veterinary Center, where the dog she dubbed Gentle Ben would spend the next two and a half months recovering.
Unable to pay for mounting veterinary costs out of her own pocket, Weideling made up flyers and returned to the area where she’d found Ben in the hopes of finding someone who was missing him. When that didn’t work, she asked the internet for help, launching a Facebook page and a You Caring crowdfunding campaign, and eventually raising enough money to pay for the hip surgery Ben desperately needed.
After helping Ben heal, Weideling set out to find him a family, arranging meetings and trial adoptions, unfortunately without success. Her own home was out of the question — although she’d personally fallen in love with Ben, not everyone in the household felt the same, and she felt Ben deserved a home where he would be welcomed by all.
“She reached out to Atlanta Lab Rescue after trying to place him on her own,” explains Mann, who had previously fostered and adopted through the rescue. She offered to foster Ben after following his journey via Facebook.
Five months after he was saved from the highway, Ben moved in with Mann and her 4-year-old black Lab mix, Jessie. A couple of months and several adoption events later, Mann decided to keep Ben with her and Jessie forever. The two pups had quickly become best buddies. Their bond was obvious — Ben hadn’t been known to hop onto couches since his accident, but marked a new recovery milestone by jumping up onto the sofa to sleep beside Jessie.
Despite all he suffered after that terrible day on the highway, Mann says you’d never guess joyful Ben to be an orthopedic patient.
“He’s got a little bit of a hitch in his gait, but you don’t notice it unless you’re paying attention to it. He doesn’t have a limp, he plays all the time,” she explains, adding that the doctor has ordered lots of exercise to keep Ben’s hip from getting stiff. Happy to fill his days with swimming and hiking, it’s obvious this young dog doesn’t mind his prescription play time.
Mann says Ben’s propensity for play was certainly on display during an Atlanta Lab Rescue fundraising event last year. According to her, Ben stole the show by pretending to steal the donations.
“Someone dropped a 20 dollar bill in the can, and Ben took the money out and had it in his mouth,” she recalls. “He’s just a character.”
Perhaps Ben intended to use his stolen cash to pay back Weideling, who drove three hours to see Ben at the ALR event — the last time she was able to visit him in person.
“We’re going to keep in touch,” says Mann. “It’s unbelievable what she did to take care of this dog.”