Live Your Dream (EP8): The Healing Paw

Benji is a therapy dog and a cancer survivor. In its 14 years, it brought much laughter into people’s lives. What dream does it have?

SINGAPORE - As the saying goes: “Your dog might only be part of your life, but to him, you are everything.”

Dogs are man’s best friends. To 58-year-old Evelyn Chiang, her dog Benji is more than that. It gave her the strength to live.
 
In 2009, Ms Chiang felt like her entire world was crashing down when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She recalled: “It was one of the worst periods of my life.”

She fought through six cycles of chemotherapy and one month of radiotherapy before she was on her way to recovery. 
 
All this would not have been possible without her special friend and family member, Benji.
 
Benji is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. It came into Ms Chiang’s life when it was just two months old. 
 
Whenever she cries, Benji will be there to lick her tears dry. “Benji will stare at me whenever I feel sad; it seems as though it is trying to comfort me and tell me that everything will be alright.” 
 
Unfortunately, three years later, cancer found its way back into Ms Chiang’s life when a veterinarian found a tumour near Benji's stomach. Having undergone chemotherapy herself, Ms Chiang was fully aware of the distress it can cause and the uncertainty of recovery. After seeing Benji running around happily, she chose not to put it through the trauma of treatment and let nature take its course.

Benji survived, and it has been five years and counting.

Today, Benji’s tiny figure is well-known across hospitals, orphanages and even old folks’ homes. Clad in a mini fedora and a bright blue scarf, it visits people of all ages and keeps them company, showering them with the love and support they need. 

Benji is a certified therapy dog. 

It all happened when Ms Chiang came across Pet-Assisted Therapy (PAT) two years ago and made the decision to share the same support Benji gave her with the socially disadvantaged.

To qualify as a certified therapy dog, Benji had to undergo a series of tests focusing on his temperament and ability to follow instructions. 

As a therapy dog, it is his duty is to provide people with physical, social and emotional support.

Benji has been going around and lighting up faces for the past two years.

The Dream

At 14 years old, Benji is well past his prime. In recent years, its health has been deteriorating. Dogs of Benji's breed are expected to have a lifespan of less than 10 years.
 
Ms Chiang’s dream is to adopt a potential therapy dog to accompany Benji during its remaining days, and also to inherit Benji's legacy.
 
She has come to realise how PAT can make a difference in others’ lives, and she hopes that through PAT, she can do her part and contribute to society.

The Challenge

A therapy dog is born, not made. One can teach a dog to behave, but it is almost impossible to alter a dog’s inherent temperament. This means finding a dog with a suitable temperament for therapy poses a challenge. 
 
Most dogs end up in shelters because of abuse, abandonment or neglect, which means that many of them suffer from psychological trauma and this affects how they can be trained in future. This makes Ms Chiang's already challenging quest in finding a potential therapy dog even more difficult. 
 
So far, Benji has met a total of four furry friends from the shelter. Can one of them pass the therapy dog test and become Benji’s companion? Watch the video to find out.
 
For more stories on "Live Your Dream", please visit:  www.zaobao.com/zvideos/live-your-dream
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About "Live Your Dream"
 
"Live Your Dream"(完成一个梦) is one of 10 SPH-produced short-form digital video series as part of a pilot Public Service Broadcast initiative. In this 13-episode series, host Ken Low Yong Kian (Digital Content Producer, Chinese Media Group Digital) will try his best to fulfil people's dreams no matter how challenging it may be. All episodes come with English subtitles.
 
This series is also available on zaobao.sg website, as well as the mobile app.