I wrote this column 13 years ago. It was based on a true story that was reported on every news outlet. Given the furor over gun control these days the column is as relevant as ever.
My favorite story of the week . . . no, make that my favorite story of the year . . . would you believe the decade? . . . is the story of Benji, the 60-pound poodle that shot and killed his master.
If you missed this in the newspapers and on television, here's what happened. It seems that Benji's owner had bought himself a new gun and was demonstrating how to use it to a friend. As he cocked the gun, Benji, who was stretched out semi-snoozing on the rug, looked up, came running across the room, and took a dive onto his master's lap. And that caused the gun to go off, killing his master instantly. This, of course, for those of us who follow police work, is technically known as a doggie "dive-by" shooting. Now, of course, the death of this man at the hands . . . er . . . er . . . paws of his dog will cause the NRA to change their slogan. Now it must read, "Guns don't shoot people – people and poodles shoot people."
I have a lot of questions about this killing. Was it premeditated? Did the dog plan it? Was the dog mistreated? And is this a case of justifiable homicide? Has the dog been acting strange lately (chasing his tail, cozying up to cats, etc.)? This could mean we have an insanity plea. Every day we have killer drug dealers walking free on technicalities. What about this poor pooch – after all, it was his first offense.
Does the dog have a lawyer? Is the dog going to claim that he didn't do it? How about this: Another dog wearing a ski mask did it and Benji is going to spend the rest of his life as a bloodhound tracking down the real killer.
Is this like the O.J. Simpson trial? You know: Benji's lawyer establishes that Benji was wearing a collar when the shooting occurred, but then when the case takes place on national television some dumb prosecutor insists on fitting the collar on Benji. In the end I can just hear Benji's lawyer screaming, "If the collar don't fit – you've got to acquit."
I know there are people like my wife, the beautiful Judy Licht, who will blame Benji's plight on his looking at too much television. The fact is there are no more wholesome dog shows anymore. I'll bet if Benji had seen "Lassie," who, back in the early days of television, week after week helped rescue that kid Timmy who was a clumsy little schmuck who was constantly falling into abandoned wells, he would have turned out to be a gentler, kinder dog.
But what does an innocent pooch see on television these days? Violence, nothing but violence. With movies like Pet Cemetery and Cujo as his guide, no wonder Benji went astray.
Although it happened in the year 2000 the story of Benji killing his master has had quite an effect on me over the years.
Even today, many years later, I treat my new dog Shlomo with great respect. When he jumps at a visitor I now say, "Nice dog . . . nice dog . . . sir, you don't know how lucky you are that Shlomo just jumped up in a friendly manner and hit you in the crotch with his head and his paws.
"I understand how a rap in the balls from a dog's paw and snout can be quite painful. But there are dogs that are a lot more dangerous. Do you remember that killer Benji, for example?
"Here, let me help you up from the floor. Sometimes screaming and groaning like you're doing now really helps with the pain."
I also do something that will probably show you just how paranoid I am. Every night when I come home, I frisk Shlomo. You never know, he could have a concealed weapon hidden in his thick fur coat. You won't believe how deep the scratches on my arms are. But I don't let that stop me, I just say the same thing night after night: "You wouldn't shoot me, would you?" Shlomo just endures the frisking with a little smile on his snout.
I think this treatment is backfiring. The other day at 3 AM I heard a noise in the kitchen and I creeped in and found Shlomo in the cutlery drawer, trying to figure out how to fit his little paw around a large knife.
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