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The INK PENN

Opinion: A sad farewell to a beloved companion

Kathy Manos Penn and Banjo

Kathy and Banjo stand in front of a promotional poster for “Lord Banjo the Royal Pooch.” 

It is with a heavy heart that I share this sad news about Banjo, the dog who has been my constant companion for twelve years. At age fourteen, my boy crossed the rainbow bridge. His easy-going, cheerful demeanor brought joy to all who met him—whether he was out walking in the neighborhood, getting belly rubs at book signings, or traveling with us to mountain cabins.

During our time together, we developed a routine. He and I were the first ones up every morning, and Banjo went outside to inspect our wooded backyard while I started the coffee. Accompanied by Puddin’ the cat, we relaxed on the porch or in the living room and then traipsed upstairs to my office. Picture Banjo getting his daily greenie and snoozing on his bed beneath my desk while Puddin’ nibbled her treats. My boy was multi-talented and especially good at imitating a footrest.

With his dad, Banjo returned downstairs for his arthritis chew, a belly rub, and the opportunity to lick the yogurt dish. He could be counted on to appear upstairs around three or four looking for the special treats for his liver. The best spot for belly rubs was beside his dad’s recliner, and that’s where Banjo spent his evenings while we watched TV. At bedtime, he shifted to the master bath where we carefully stepped over him until it was time for the morning routine to begin again. There’s no doubt he had us trained. Goodness, how we loved da boy, as his father called him.

We had dogs before Banjo, and they were all special, but he was the first and only one that I trained. I’m convinced that experience sparked our special bond. When he embarked on his career as a canine author, we became inseparable.

Banjo was my muse. Though I’ve long been a columnist and blogger, it was Banjo who inspired me to tackle fiction. It all started with his DNA analysis. When I sat down to share those results, the story unfolded in his voice instead of mine—pure serendipity. He was quite beside himself to learn that he had Great Pyrenees ancestors and that those majestic creatures were once the royal dogs of France.

Thus began Banjo’s writing career as Lord Banjo, penning blogs and the occasional guest column for me. Encouraged by the reaction to his tales, “we” published a collection of his blogs—“Lord Banjo, the Royal Pooch.”

Local shops carried his books, and we spent many a happy day at book signings. Dressed in a purple velvet cape, he was a hit wherever we went. Trust me, I knew from the get-go that my sweet boy was the attraction—not me. Folks came to see milord and rub his royal belly. That they sometimes bought a book was a bonus.

Additional Lord Banjo blogs followed as well as an invitation for da boy to have a column in the “Highlands Newspaper.” According to my editor, who kindly allowed me to continue writing columns too, readers clamored to hear more from Banjo. Appearing at festivals in Highlands was a special treat because we regularly heard exclamations of “Oh! It’s Lord Banjo. I love your columns.” To Banjo, that meant it was time to assume the royal belly rub position, and he happily obliged. I’m pretty sure, though, that his favorite appearances were those at Camp Flashback in Dunwoody, where the young campers adored him.

Fast forward to pulling together a second Lord Banjo book and connecting with a marketing consultant who suggested I write a very different book. When she uttered those fateful words, “You should write a cozy mystery,” I was flabbergasted but gave it a whirl. Cozies often feature pets, so I included a cat and dog—who talk to their pet parent. Now, five books in, readers are quite taken with Dickens & Christie. The lines for Dickens are a joy to write because his words come straight from Banjo. It’s not a stretch to say that I would never have written cozy mysteries if it weren’t for my lovable boy.

This fall, he enjoyed one last trip to the mountains, complete with a walk around the lake and a glimpse of the geese. A few days later, he began to fail, and when he ceased climbing the stairs, we knew his time was near. We helped him to his feet so he could walk to his dish or go outside, but beyond that, he barely moved. Our hearts broke when he cut those big brown eyes at us. And, when he could no longer climb the three steps to the porch and we had to carry him inside, we made the hard decision to let him go.

I’m sure you can hear the huge sigh emanating from my office and see me wiping tears from my eyes. I cried when the vet came to send him on his way to doggy heaven, and I had a major meltdown the next day. There are sure to be more tears in the days ahead. As I write more words for Dickens, I’ll sense Banjo beneath my desk, and I’ll be channeling his happy-go-lucky thoughts. Can you hear my boy? He’s saying, “Keep it up, Mum. I love you.”

P.S. Many, many thanks to the staff at the Animal Hospital of Dunwoody Village, who loved and cared for Banjo all these years, and to Dr. McReynolds at Transitions, for lovingly helping Banjo make his final journey.

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Award-winning author Kathy Manos Penn is a Sandy Springs resident. Find her cozy mysteries locally at The Enchanted Forest and Robin Groomingdales and on Amazon. Contact her at inkpenn119@gmail.com, and follow her on Facebook, www.facebook.com/KathyManosPennAuthor/.