Stories, tips, and heartbreaks from a super puppy-mum
Meet Benny. Benny is the stolid, handsome straight-man in comedy duo Benny and Chica. Adopted at three in Alberta, Canada, he’s spent time in Florida and now resides in Palmerston North, New Zealand. He likes long walks on the beach and going for runs in the park. He hates flying, and he’s a bit of a mama’s boy. He has expressive and intense brown eyes and his salt-and-pepper scruff somehow just makes him all the more dashing as he shows his younger partner, the zany, plucky brunette Chica, the ways of the world. He’s an intelligent, can-do kind of guy who will just cover you in big, sloppy wet kisses. Also, he’s a border collie.
Benny and Chica aren’t — strictly speaking — a comedy duo. They’re the stars of Meagan van Dorland’s @becauseborder Instagram account, and studio companions for her Two Wet Noses studio. Meagan is a nurse who currently works in ophthalmology, but who has also worked in both maternity and as a NICU nurse. In addition to working as a nurse, Meagan also paints at what she describes as a “semi-serious” level, runs three instagram accounts (one for the dogs, one for her artwork, and a personal account), and stays extra busy walking, training, playing, and otherwise keeping two border collies healthy and happy.
The Benny and Meagan Show
Originally hailing from Alberta, Canada, Meagan first met Benny while finishing her licensure and coursework for her nursing degree. Around this time, she had jokingly told a friend that she wanted a puppy — not a real possibility, as she was consumed with college work and lived in a no-dogs apartment at the time. But her friend took Meagan seriously and arranged for Meagan to meet with an officer from the local pound, who had several dogs on their way to an animal adoption agency called Second Chance Animal Rescue Society (SCARS). Even though Meagan knew she couldn’t really take care of a dog yet (she was a month away from graduation), she went ahead and visited the adoption agency with her mom. There she met Benny.
“When I first got there, Benny was kind of off in a corner,” Meagan says. “But when I tapped my leg, he ran right over, sat down, and just looked up at me. So I walked a little ways away and he did it again. And again.” Even though she and Benny had made an immediate connection, she still couldn’t yet have a dog. She told the man at SCARS her situation. His response was clever and devious. He gave Meagan a collar, and told her that if she wasn’t going to take the dog, she’d have to come back and return the collar. If she took the dog, she could keep the collar.
In the car on the way home, Meagan’s mother offered to take care of Benny for the interval before Meagan finished with school and found an apartment that would let her keep a dog. “I blame my mum completely, and she’s happy to take that blame,” she says. “He’s been the best little buddy ever since. My shadow.” At first, Meagan was concerned that she wouldn’t be able to handle a border collie, especially living in an apartment. She found that with plenty of exercise and a little bit of training, however, that Benny was fine living in a smaller space.
Benny went everywhere with her, including on kayaking trips and even tobogganing (doggobogganing?) with her in the winter. After completing her NCLEX certification, Meagan decided to do some traveling nursing. She wound up finding a position at a great hospital in Orlando, Florida. When I ask about moving with a dog across national borders, she says that first move — from Canada to Florida — wasn’t too bad. She had to fill out some paperwork and get Benny his shots, and they were good to go.
While living in Florida, Meagan went on a European tour where she met her partner, Alex, who was on an Overseas Experience in London. Thus began a two-year long-distance relationship (she visiting him in London, him visiting her in Florida and then moving home to New Zealand, then her visiting him there) that was finally resolved when they decided it would probably be easier for everyone if they at least lived on the same continent. So in October, 2014, Meagan and Benny moved to Wellington.
This time, the relocation wasn’t so simple. “You can’t just book a dog on a flight,” Meagan laughs. She had to get Benny’s bloodwork done six months in advance, and find a vet who could sign off on all of the paperwork required to move a dog across the Pacific. Then she had to find a licensed pet transportation service. Quarantine, however, is less harsh these days than it used to be. “I heard people say that quarantine used to take six months,” Meagan says. Benny, on the other hand, only had to stay under observation for ten days before he was released. “He was so good. He really doesn’t like flying, and he doesn’t like being away from me, but he was so good.”
The Benny and Sika Show
Benny’s also a great big brother. “When he was nine, we started thinking, ‘we should get another dog.’” Benny has always been a little odd with other dogs. It’s not that he doesn’t like them, but he seems to find them to be chaotic beings in need of some organization, and he winds up herding them instead of playing with them. He’s very focused and attentive. When Meagan and Alex adopted Sika (not Chica — Chica comes along later), it took a little while for Benny to really warm up to her. “It took him about a week and a half before he was like ‘OK, this one is staying here.’” From that point on, Benny and Sika had lots of fun. “It was really interesting to see the puppy side of Benny come out again,” Meagan recalls. “He was like a babysitter, soaking up some of that puppy energy.” Meagan also remembers it being much easier to train Sika, since she had Benny around as an example and leader.
In contrast to Benny’s straight-man routine, Sika was a genuine love-bug, and a hard-core snuggler. “Sika was the big cuddler. Lots of kisses.” Meagan has a real talent for capturing the attitudes of her furry friends, and Sika’s easygoing affection and playfulness show just as clearly in her expressions and movements as Benny’s attentive loyalty and laser focus do in his.
Around this time (early 2017), Meagan created an Instagram account for Benny and Sika. Soon after, she started using the 1 Second Everyday app to record the daily adventures of the dogs. She’d seen a friend post an annual 1SE compilation on Facebook, and wanted to give it a shot. “I tried to start in February, and I think I got about five snippets that month. So when March came around, I wanted to give it another try.” Her second attempt worked, and Meagan has used the app consistently since then, posting each month to the pups’ Instagram channel.
Meagan loves watching the dogs grow and develop month-by-month. “I love seeing the month come together, she says. When the end of a month is rainy or she otherwise feels down, it’s great to be able to look back on the good times from that month and realize how much fun she’s had with the dogs. She also likes that her 1 Second Everyday posts allow her family in Canada to experience her life in New Zealand — even if Meagan herself rarely appears in the videos. “I post on a whim if I can think of something fun to share or something cute to show people, but I try to get in a couple of posts each week. I always have a load of photos.” Meagan says of the images she posts of her dogs. The one constant seems to be that at the beginning of every month, she posts her 1SE compilation for the previous month. Even when it hurts.
In November of 2018, a day after her second birthday, Sika passed away, following a round of chemotherapy that shredded her immune system and left her open to secondary infection. Sika had been struck as a puppy by a rare bone disorder that caused periodic soreness and inflammation. Meagan suspects that Sika’s condition so early in life set the stage for the lymphoma that precipitated her passing. Meagan is convinced that Benny understood that Sika was sick, as he began to play more gently and patiently with her in her last weeks. The final infection struck quickly. Meagan was devastated. “I was working that night, and I got the call from the vet. I got to their office just in time. They always say ‘oh, she waited for you.’ She passed within minutes of me arriving. She recognized me and passed away.”
Note: The video below is Meagan’s monthly compilation for the month that Sika passed. Be warned — the 19th through the 21st in particular are really tough to watch.
To add to the stress, the family was in the middle of moving from Auckland, at one end of New Zealand’s northern island to Palmerston North, at the other end, and Alex was hours away. “He was on the phone, and I was there. It was intense. I was there for about a half an hour, and they let me come back with Benny. He came over to her and sniffed at her a little and then went and sat by the door, like, ‘Ok, that’s enough. I’m good.’ The next day Benny and I made the six-hour drive to Palmerston North. It was good to be moving.”
It wasn’t until they arrived at the new place and unpacked the car that it really seemed to sink in to Benny. When they returned to Auckland for the next load and came back into the house where Sika had grown up, “It was like… ok, this is really happening. He was really mellow for a while after that. He was still happy to go for a walk, but he didn’t really want to play with his toys. I had to sit with him to get him to eat for about a week or so.” He got better, but he mourned as well.
Meagan says that even though she loves going back through her month-long video compilations, she hasn’t yet been able to get through that November video. “I’ll start it, but I end up stopping about ten days in. But even though I can’t watch it, I love having it.” She says she wasn’t sure that she wanted to continue making the 1SE compilations after Sika’s passing, but that taking the snippets of video every day had become a habit, and so at the end of December, she had another video. “I’m very happy that I stuck with it. It’s good to have those happy memories.”
The Benny and Chica Show
Ten weeks after Sika’s death, Meagan and Alex found a new puppy. Chica, a chocolate border collie, came home with them at 8 weeks. “We needed two dogs. And Benny was so gentle, so careful with her. Like, ‘I don’t have my puppy, but now I have a new puppy.’” At first, Chica wasn’t so sure about the “grumpy old man,” but Benny would bring her toys and encourage her to play. It wasn’t long before the puppy side of Benny came right back out, and they were playing tug of war in the back yard.
Chica quickly established herself as a real clown. Meagan discovered quickly that the “ring-the-bell-to-go-out” technique was going to be problematic. It took Chica one day to drive them all crazy. And she hates bath time. But Meagan is discovering that she’s a pretty great dog-trainer, and with Benny’s assistance, she’s been able to turn Chica, bundle of furry energy that she is, into a well-behaved little lady. She’s now taller than Benny, but still lanky and a little awkward.
In the past nine months, Chica has gone from an adorable pupy to a beautiful young dog, but it doesn’t hurt that Meagan is really good at capturing her dogs on camera. “Get down on their level and take a lot of shots. If you take a bunch, you’ll miss a bunch, but one will hit the mark,” she says when asked for tips on capturing the perfect dog moment. “Just be ready for anything and have fun with it. Don’t force it.” She says that enjoying being in the moment with the dogs is the most important part — if you have fun with your dogs, those photo-friendly moments will come.
But of course, having fun (and a nice camera) isn’t enough on its own. “Train your dogs,” she says. She suggests getting them used to sitting before each treat or throw of the ball. “Benny’s really well trained, but to get him to perk up his ears, it helps to have a ball ready to go. Then, after I take his picture, he gets to chase the ball.” When filming them for 1SE snippets, she uses the same mindset. She takes a lot of footage, gets the camera down to their level, and has fun. And she has one other tip for getting great shots of beautiful dogs:
Adopt a border collie.