Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sad Story for a Trick Shot Artist

Dennis Walters is a paraplegic trick shot artist. He is about to win the 2008 Distinguished Service Award from the PGA of America. I've had him as a guest on The 19th Hole before and he is a fascinating, talented, and inspiring man. To see his show is a delight. It has always been highlighted with his mastery of many shots and the help of his pal and dog Benji Hogan. Unfortunately, though, Walters now has to continue his shows and career without his long time friend. Randall Mell reports.

Two weeks ago, Walters had to put Benji Hogan to sleep.

He cuddled the 13-year-old dog in his lap when a veterinarian in Atlanta administered the drug that would end the suffering that cancer was causing.

"That dog's favorite place in the world was sitting in Dennis' lap," said Barbara Herman, Walters' sister. "He was happiest there."

After his dog's last breath, Walters was reminded that the loneliest place in the world can be the space between the metal bars of a wheelchair.

Walters was reminded again a few days later when he sat at the Quad Cities airport in Iowa waiting to fly to Los Angeles to do a show. It was his first flight without his dog.

Over the years, Walters has noticed how people often avoid the handicapped, how they'll avoid the awkwardness of connecting to someone bound to a wheelchair.

"It was different with Benji Hogan in my lap," Walters said. "If 100 people walked by me in an airport, 99 would either stop and want to pet him, or stop and talk, or just smile."
Benji did some really cool stuff in the show, including:
Asked by Walters where errant tee shots were most likely to end up, he would bark "ruff." Asked how many green jackets Nicklaus won at The Masters, he would bark six times. Asked how many points the Dolphins got for a touchdown, he would bark six times. How many for an extra point? He'd bark once. He could answer math questions, too.

Benji Hogan once beat Tiger Woods in a footrace, barked the chorus of How Much is That Doggie in the Window while performing a duet with country singer Vince Gill, appeared in eight Kmart television commercials and starred in an episode of Animal Planet's Pet Star.
Obviously, though, Benji was more important because he was a companion and friend for Walters. While this is not Walters' first dog - he has two others - it never is painful to lose a pet like Benji.

If you do get a chance, I highly recommend seeing Walters' show. Here's his website.

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