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Dog survives hit from TCAT bus in Enfield Center

When a 12‑ton bus strikes an 18‑pound dog, well, the prognosis is never good.But then again, a combination of canine resiliency and human big‑heartedness saved the day for Benji, a 1‑year‑old gray poodle mix.At around 1 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 30, Benji, owned by Randi Denmark, somehow escaped his house near Enfield Center where Randi and her children were recovering from strep throat. Benji ran right out in front of a TCAT Route 20 bus that was traveling nearby. It appeared Benji was being chased by another dog or perhaps a coyote, said Raymond Knuutila, who was driving his car behind the bus.“I saw this flash go across the ditch underneath the bus and out flew this furry thing,” said Knuutila, a longtime truck driver with the City of Ithaca Department of Public Works. “At first, I thought it was a cat.”TCAT bus operator Jason June pulled over immediately and he and Knuutila, both very upset, assumed the dog was dead as the little critter was bloody and not moving. They moved Benji off the yellow line, where he had landed, and on to the side of the road and both men began knocking on doors. They finally located Denmark and informed her that her dog was dead.In between the time he and June were taking to comfort a distraught Denmark, Knuutila walked over to the dog where he got a huge surprise.“I saw him breathing and the little guy was trying to get up,” he said. “I screamed to Jason, ‘he’s alive. ’ ’’As a TCAT transit supervisor and emergency personnel gathered at the scene to assist, Knuutila told Denmark to gather some blankets and hot water bottles and he bundled him up to protect him from the cold to transport him to the vet.Like many people in these trying economic times, Denmark didn’t have the money upfront to pay for what would be a tremendous vet bill nor did she have a payment arrangement plan with a veterinarian. Knuutila, a perfect stranger to her but a Good Samaritan nonetheless, told Denmark not to worry. He told her he would find a way pay for Benji’s treatment at his own cat’s veterinarian where he could make payment arrangements. A desperate Denmark signed ownership of Benji over to Knuutila so that Knuutila, in turn, could sign a monthly payment plan for what would be in excess of $1,500 worth of bills. But Knuutila said he didn’t care about the money, particularly after witnessing Benji’s stunning revival alongside the road. “That slapped me hard,” he said.After first examining Benji, veterinarians didn’t hold out much hope for his survival. Nonetheless they did everything to stabilize him and make him comfortable with pain medication. The night of the accident, Benji suffered several seizures and his condition deteriorated. The next day Randy called Knuutila and asked him to meet her at the vets to euthanize Benji.Up to this point, there was a lot of uncertainty about Benji’s condition, Knuutila said. But he expected the worst. He showed up at the vets to meet Denmark and said initially he didn’t have the heart to even look at Benji as he lay on a table in a treatment room.But he did look. And what a surprise.“His eyes were open, his fur was all clean, he turned his head, and I thought this little guy is far from being put down,” he said.As it turned out, Benji didn’t suffer any broken bones. However, he did suffer neurological damage that temporarily paralyzed one leg. “It’s so incredible, I am just blown away,” Knuutila said. Knuutila said he hasn’t owned a dog in 30 years and he favors cats over dogs. Nonetheless, Benji has won his heart for good.Benji arrived home a few days after the accident and now continues his recovery. He is going to need physical therapy to make a complete recovery, Knuutila and Denmark said. “It’s amazing, it’s beyond amazing,” said Knuutila, who will sign Benji back over to Denmark, but intends to visit him from time to time. Denmark said she and her children feel blessed and very grateful to Knuutila and are thrilled to have Benji back at home. “I didn’t even know him and he stopped and helped,” she said of Knuutila. She said she fully intends to pay Knuutila back through some kind of a payment plan. Meantime, Benji, though not a 100 percent back to normal, is playful again.“He is definitely a special, one‑of‑a‑kind boy,” said Denmark, who adopted Benji six months ago as a stray.Bus operator June was very relieved to hear the good news. TCAT bus operators face a number of incidents on the roadways and one of the hardest of all is injuring any creature great or small.“They take it very much to heart when these accidents happen,” said TCAT’s Operations Manager Nancy Oltz. “We were so relieved and happy at TCAT to learn that Benji is doing well.”TCAT Transit Supervisor Stuart Douglas, who investigated the accident, applauded June’s professional and compassionate handling of the situation and for helping find the dog’s owner as well as providing comfort to Denmark and her family.“There are so many things our bus operators face that are out of their control,” Douglas said. “That’s when their skills and humanity are really called into play.”

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