Does this describe your dog?
A mutt — mischievous, medium-size, scruffy but street-smart with soulful eyes. Comfortable as hero or underdog, yet likely to be a stray. Must be a fast learner, able to charm millions and willing to work for food.
Brandon Camp, whose father created the “Benji” movies nearly 40 years ago, and veteran animal trainer Mark Forbes have set out to find a new Benji in a nationwide search that includes online tools and sites that weren’t around when the first four Benjis were discovered.
A Facebook page has been set up so pet owners and shelter staffs can post pictures and videos of dogs they think could be the next Benji.
The original 1974 movie “Benji” is about a stray who helps save two kidnapped children. It was written, produced, directed and financed by Camp’s father, Joe Camp.
There have been four sequels, several TV specials, a Saturday morning TV series, a syndicated comic strip and all kinds of merchandizing deals. More than 73 million people have seen “Benji” at theaters, and more than a billion people around the world have watched it on television. Millions of DVDs have been sold.
The original Benji was Higgins, adopted in the early 1960s from a California animal shelter. He was 14 years old (that’s 98 in human years!) when he became Benji.
The second Benji was Higgins’s daughter, the third was a distant relative, and the fourth was adopted from the Humane Society of South Mississippi.
“I only have snapshot memories of the original,” said Brandon Camp, who was just 3 years old when “Benji” came out. “The second Benji is the one I grew up with and traveled with and knew and loved.”
The dog was so much a part of his life, he was nicknamed Benji at school. The two of them were constantly on the go — from White House Easter egg hunts to morning shows, late shows and show-and-tells. “I missed most of my first grade because I was traveling around with Benji,” Camp said.
The new movie will stay true to the heart of the original Benji, Camp said. “Parents and grandparents will recognize the spirit of Benji,” he said. “He was always a mutt and will always be a mutt. He is the everydog.”
Camp and Forbes say that when a dog stars in a movie, there is usually a rush to own a similar dog. They hope that a new “Benji” movie will prompt lots of shelter adoptions.
Now that’s a real happy ending.