WASHOUGAL, Wash. - His hind legs trembled uncontrollably, and everyone who saw him agreed he desperately needed a bath to wash the grime off his black and white coat. Yet Ben the border collie’s willingness to let Dea Taylor-West hold him Wednesday morning brought the woman to the verge of joyful tears.
“We’ve been worried about you for a long time,” she whispered, as she clutched him in a fenced area outside the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society building.
Ben went missing Dec. 7 after his owner, Steven Stanbary, killed his wife of 11 years, Leona Bolton-Stanbary, and her twin sister, Mona Daughtery, before committing suicide on his property at 3275 F Place in Washougal.
Stanbary had a history of espousing white supremacist views, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups. He was arrested and served 90 days in jail following a standoff with sheriff’s deputies in Bonner County in 1994. Authorities seized a weapons cache at his home, including a grenade launcher, a sawed-off shotgun and six AK-47 assault rifles.
In the weeks that followed the deaths, authorities rescued two dogs that belonged to Stanbary but were unable to locate Ben. He had avoided people, authorities said.
The Washougal Police Department’s animal control division recovered Ben Tuesday night with an assist from Taylor-West and her husband, Lyman, neighbors of Stanbary who lured Ben to their home across the street with a mix of dog food, sausage and bacon grease. Authorities delivered the frightened dog to the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society, which will place Ben in a new home in the coming weeks.
Humane society workers provided Ben with shots Wednesday. Next, workers planned to take him to a local veterinarian, where questions about the dog’s age and health would be answered, said Janet Waters, the nonprofit’s assistant manager. The humane society relies on donations, fundraisers and volunteers to operate.
“I’m relieved, for one thing,” Waters said of Ben’s retrieval. “Now, we know he’s safe and not wandering around. No harm’s going to come to him.”
Ben sightings were sporadic over recent weeks, said Rick Foster, an animal control officer with the Washougal Police Department. Tipsters who called police were unable to pin him down to a specific area, though.
The mystery surrounding Ben started to unravel two weeks ago, when Taylor-West discovered her garbage strewn about. At first, she and her husband thought raccoons were the culprits. Having a hunch it might instead be the missing dog, they left food for him in a bowl. Each morning, they found the bowl empty.
They started leaving the food at 5 p.m. each day. Ben trotted to their driveway each day at the same time, devoured the food and then crossed the street to the wreckage of his former owner’s home, where Stanbary had fired guns to keep emergency responders at bay while his home burned to the ground Dec. 7, authorities said. The property will be cleared soon.
One day after Ben’s rescue, Taylor-West and her husband considered adopting the dog. Stanbary’s family have already indicated they do not want Ben, Waters said.
Prospective owners must hold a meet-and-greet with humane society workers to determine whether they are the right fit for the dog. A family’s home and other pets will be taken into consideration, Waters said. Taylor-West and her husband own one other dog.
When the couple arrived to visit Wednesday, Ben had buried his head against his white bed. He had just received a shot. The sounds of five or six other dogs — his new neighbors — boomed around him. While his demeanor remained docile, he showed signs of accepting the couple’s offering of friendship.
Ben laid still while the couple stroked his head and rubbed his belly, walked around on a leash with Taylor-West at his side and stared at his surroundings with big chocolate-colored eyes. He did not adhere to commands to sit. He likely was not trained to do so, Waters said.
Ben’s hind legs shook when he stood still. Waters attributed this involuntary movement to fear, and noted it would go away as he became more comfortable in his new surroundings. Waters noted Ben probably had worms, if he was anything like Stanbary’s other rescued dogs, and had not been neutered.
Through it all, Taylor-West and her husband reassured Ben he was doing great and marveled at his calm demeanor. They pledged to visit again Thursday morning.
At first, the couple had reservations about adopting Ben because his presence could reawaken painful memories of Stanbary. Their concerns disappeared Wednesday morning. Perhaps Ben could help them heal, as much as they could help Ben.
“It wouldn’t be like I’m seeing Steve every day,” Taylor-West said. “I’d be caring for Ben. He deserves so much better.”