2016-01-15 / Community

More than puppy love sustains legacy

Gentle Ben lives on through a fund to help other beloved pets
By Molly Lovell-Keely Managing Editor

Clients will be able to learn about donating to Ben’s Fund from items posted on the walls at Southern Maine Veterinary Clinic in Lyman. Staff, including John Boucher Sr., left, Jocelyn Layman and Dr. Chris Lynch, who’s holding Pistol, will distribute money from the fund to help clients pay for veterinary care. (Molly Lovell-Keely photo)

Clients will be able to learn about donating to Ben’s Fund from items posted on the walls at Southern Maine Veterinary Clinic in Lyman. Staff, including John Boucher Sr., left, Jocelyn Layman and Dr. Chris Lynch, who’s holding Pistol, will distribute money from the fund to help clients pay for veterinary care. (Molly Lovell-Keely photo)

BIDDEFORD – A local animal lover is channeling grief from the loss of his dog into a program designed to help other companion animals, their owners, and the stray and unwanted animal population in southern Maine and beyond.

Biddeford resident John Boucher Sr. created Ben’s Fund at Southern Maine Veterinary Care in Lyman after the loss of his 11-year-old black lab, Ben, or “Gentle Ben,” as Boucher called him.

The fund will be used to help clients pay for services they receive at Southern Maine Veterinary Care. Funds will be distributed by clinic staff at their discretion and will be kept confidential.

“To run diagnostics to really find out what’s going on with an animal is expensive for owners, and it’s expensive for us to be able to offer it,” said Dr. Chris Lynch, a veterinarian and the clinic’s owner. “When you get a blood test from your doctor, you don’t see what it actually costs because of insurance. This is different.”

The clinic offers CareCredit, a credit card that can be used to pay for health treatments for both humans and animals, but Lynch said not everyone qualifies for it. Still, Lynch said he and his staff will work with clients to come up with plans they can afford for the services that are required.

Lynch and office manger Jocelyn Layman said they embraced Boucher’s idea when he came to them with it only weeks ago. Last week they hung two plaques in the clinic’s lobby explaining the fund and its purpose, hoping to collect initial donations for the program.

“We’re pushing for donations,” Layman said. “It’ll provide a solid base to work with.”

Boucher is working with the state to make Ben’s Fund a nonprofit organization so contributions can be tax deductible.

On one of the plaques honoring Ben is another reason the fund aims to help animals. It reads: “The fund will also help curb the stray population due to abandonment and help ease the burden placed on our animal shelters that are so overcrowded. Owners love their pets, but are sometimes scared or embarrassed to ask for help and don’t know what to do.”

In addition, shelters across the country, especially in the South, euthanize animals they are unable to care for, Boucher said.

Boucher describes Ben in a number of ways – loving, caring, alert, smart and, of course, gentle.

“Losing Ben was tough. Ben was my bud, he was a phenomenal dog. It’s the only way to put it,” Boucher said.

Boucher and his dog’s nightly ritual of watching “Wheel of Fortune” is something Boucher won’t soon forget.

“Ben knew, he knew, when the evening news ended and he’d be sitting on the couch waiting for the ‘Wheel’ to come on. At five or 10 of, he’d come get me if I wasn’t there yet. When I came in, he’d wait until I sat down, lay down with his head on my thigh and look directly at that TV and not take his eyes off the ‘Wheel’ until that show was over,” Boucher said. “At 7:30 when ‘Jeopardy’ came on, he’d leave – he didn’t like Alex.”

Before Boucher lost Ben on July 6, the dog had developed cancer a year earlier and his body had produced a number of fatty tumors.

“Ben never yelped or whimpered. You could stick him with a needle or step on his paw. That’s how he got his nickname, Gentle Ben. But that morning when Dr. Lynch checked him, he was hurting,” Boucher said.

“I felt sort of guilty,” Boucher said, about putting Ben down. “Chris assured me that Ben was telling me he was ready.”

Lynch said being a veterinarian can be like being a counselor at times.

“It’s easier, in a way, when the owners know it’s time, when there’s a clear difference in the animal’s behavior – you can usually see it in their eyes. It makes it easier for the clients, too,” he said.

Boucher said he’s never had a dog like Ben and doubts he ever will again.

When Ben wanted to go outside, his routine was to bark twice.

“When asked, ‘Do you want to go out?’ He’d bark three times – woof, woof, woof,” Boucher said. “No matter what it was you asked him – to play, anything – he’d answer with three barks.”

Ben also communicated clearly when he wanted water. “He would bark once and lick his chops,” Boucher said. “He was smart. If you ignored him when he asked for water, he would go get his stainless steel bowl and bring it to you in his mouth. He’d sit right in front of you. If you still didn’t pay attention to him, he would drop it right on the floor in front of you like, ‘Have I got your attention now?’ ”

Boucher and his wife, Ruth, still have another dog, Flash, who was rescued from the South. They’re also watching their daughter’s dog while she’s in Spain, where her husband is stationed in the Navy.

“I can never say never, but I doubt seriously that I could ever replace Ben. I’ve had a lot of dogs but he was so smart and so special.”

To contribute

Checks can be made to Southern Maine Veterinary Care and sent to 1445 Alfred Road, Lyman, 04002.

For more information, call 499-7244.

Managing Editor Molly Lovell-Keely can be reached at editor@inthecourier.com.

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