In Grand Junction, Bendu the dog finds his people despite terminal cancer and full shelters
Bendu just has one of those lovable, squishy faces.
Thought to be part Shar-Pei and part pitbull, the short-haired, brown-and-white dog has floppy jowls that hang down around his mouth, making him look sad even when he’s getting all the pets he wants.
His new foster parents, Grand Junction residents Sophia Sincevich and Kyle Chu, watch him with a mix of delight and pride, regardless of whether he’s slurping up some wet food or chewing on his beloved crinkly toy shaped like a fried egg.
Sincevich calls this “puppy love,” even though Bendu is estimated to be about 10 years old.
“Each little thing is so precious and so cute,” she said. “And I was telling Kyle that we feel like new parents.”
After just three days with him, their phones had already begun to fill up with Bendu photos, and their families had already heard many updates. Chu described how when Bendu’s “droopy, droopy” face flaps out the car window “you can almost make out a smile.”
It seems hard to believe this goofy boy, named after a “Star Wars” character, only has six to 12 months to live. Bendu was found running loose in Palisade on Thanksgiving Day. After being taken to the county animal shelter, he was diagnosed with cancer.
Senior and special-needs pets often have a hard time finding a home. Bendu’s both, but his story spoke so much to people that many lined up to take him. After a first foster home didn't work out, Sincevich saw an Instagram post about him.
“I looked at his face and that was it,” she said. “Like, I was lost.”
She calls it an instant “heart connection.” But she knew she wasn’t making this decision alone. Chu was nervous. He’d never had a dog. As kids, he and his brothers had some fish — until they forgot to feed them.
How would their two cats react to a dog, he wondered. What would happen if they had to go out of town?
But he told his partner to try to get a meet-and-greet with Bendu anyway.
“And one of the first things he did was he just sat right on my lap,” Chu said.
He did the same with Sincevich. In her words, Bendu “butt claimed.”
“Like, he just kind of decided, ‘Oh, these are my people,’” she said. “And he leaned into us and was just so sweet.”
She gave Chu veto power, but his fears went right out the window.
“In that moment, we're like, ‘Yes, this is happening. This feels good,’” he said.
It’s what people in the animal rescue world always hope for. But according to Nan McNees, president of Grand Rivers Humane Society, a storybook ending can be hard to find.
She sees a national crisis “all the way down to a local crisis.”
There’s a growing number of dogs and cats that are found lost or stray, she explained. Some are abandoned.
“And there's not enough adopters,” she said. “And as the price of all of our commodities went up, the adoptions went down.”
Her group has worked with Mesa County Animal Services since 2005, often with hard-luck cases like Bendu. With their help, the county has been able to stop euthanizing animals due to space. Grand Rivers adopts out up to 300 dogs a year. But McNees knows many local shelters are routinely too full to accept new animals.
“It’s awful because that's not how we're wired,” she said gravely. “We're wired to help.”
She stressed that the public can help by supporting their local, trusted rescue.
And of course, so many animals need a foster or forever home.
After only days in his new spot, Bendu already looked in his element, lounging at his family’s feet, sometimes getting up to give them kisses. While they’re still learning one another, it’s going well, and the couple knows they also have the community in their corner, cheering them on. Shortly after they brought Bendu home, they were approached at a local brewery by someone who had seen their photo online. Bendu wasn’t even with them when they were recognized. That’s how big his star shines in Grand Junction.
All the while, giving this dog a safe space holds extra meaning for them. Chu’s parents died of cancer. So did Sincevich’s dad.
She thinks having Bendu will help her process some of this grief. They’ve both given up the idea of hardening their heart against the impending heartbreak of losing him.
“I think this is helping us cherish every single moment, you know, with each other, but also with Bendu,” Chu said.
So, they’re trying to stay present, regardless of whether it’s Chu taking Bendu to the dog park or Sincevich snuggling with him on the couch.
“I don't have trouble worrying about the future when I'm with him,” she said.
Sharing this time together is a gift to all three of them, no matter how many days Bendu has left.
You want to know what is really going on these days, especially in Colorado. We can help you keep up. The Lookout is a free, daily email newsletter with news and happenings from all over Colorado. Sign up here and we will see you in the morning!