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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Herb Benham

A few weeks ago Gennie, the black Lab mix, refused to jump in the back of the truck for our walk on the other side of Yokuts Park, a destination we drive to.

Gennie positioned herself behind the tailgate like she always does. She crouched. She rose to the top of her paws and then sank down.

Gennie looked like a basketball player poised to jump after a free throw who realizes the free-throw shooter has a second one coming.

Gennie looked at me. Her expression seemed to say: "I'm not trying to be difficult here. I want to go for a walk but do I have to jump on the tailgate in order to do that?"

Gennie is not difficult. She does not have a fussy bone in her 90-pound frame. She is the dog equivalent of Wilbur, the pig in "Charlotte's Web," about which Charlotte, when trying to save Wilbur's life, spins "Humble" into her web.

Strays are like that. They seem to know that finding a home is no sure thing and that theirs was a close call and could have gone either way.

Strays can be patient. Appreciative. Gennie is grateful for her dog bed, or I imagine this to be true when I see her lift her head from the soft brown bed on the back deck.

When a dog finds you and you don't mind being found, friendship begins. One that leads to daily greetings no matter the weather, temperature or mood and walks on the other side of the river.

"Come on, Gennie, give it a try," I said.

Poco was already in, an impressive feat for a blind dog. Once Gennie joined her, we were on our way to the skate park. On our way to open fields, a dry river bottom, downed trees, bunches of sticks, bushes and old skunk smells. In other words, dog heaven.

Gennie crouched again for a second go at it, then relaxed and returned to the at-ease stance.

How old was Gennie? We got her when Thomas was 12 and in the sixth grade. He's 24 now.

I knew I was done 12 years ago when I arrived at Earl Warren Junior High for Thomas' basketball game and Sue had a black puppy in her arms wrapped in a towel.

We were down to one dog. Gennie made a matching pair.

It's almost impossible for a puppy not to be cute. Gennie continued the winning streak. Then she grew and grew and grew.

Lately, I've noticed lots of white and gray hair in her muzzle. Gennie lags behind on the walks. When Poco and I turn back, rather than meet us halfway, she'll wait until we come where she is.

Gennie looked at me and I at her. It was a standoff, albeit a peaceful one. Poco gazed sightlessly out of the back of the truck as if to say, "What's the holdup?"

I did the math. According to, Gennie was 65. Could I blame her for not jumping?

If somebody asked me to run the 110-meter hurdles and clear 42 inches -- 10 times -- would I do anything other than run through every hurdle or skirt them when the judges weren't looking?

I closed the tailgate and opened the door on the driver's side. Gennie and I looked at each other. Her expression, which was all sweet stray, seemed to say, "Is it OK?"

Yes, it's OK. You've earned a front-seat ride. Earned it the moment I saw you in Sue's arms.

Gennie stepped in. We drove to the park. The dogs ran free on the empty dirt road on the other side of the river.