An unexpected journey
Traveling activist’s dog recuperating after surgery at Small Animal Hospital
By Sarah Carey
For Erik Bendl, known as “World Guy” for his countrywide treks pushing a canvas globe to promote diabetes awareness, the world’s weight got a little lighter after his dog, Nice, underwent knee surgery at the UF Small Animal Hospital in March.
“We think there’s a good chance Nice will make a full recovery over the next few months and be off to his long walks again,” said Caleb Hudson, D.V.M., a veterinary surgeon at UF who performed Nice’s two-and-a-half hour operation.
Bendl began walking with a mission — to promote diabetes awareness — after his mother, a former Kentucky alderman and state representative, died at 54 of complications from the disease. He has walked more than 6,000 miles in 41 states, in all kinds of weather, sharing his story and his motivational message — that Type 2 diabetes doesn’t have to be a death sentence. In many cases, it can be prevented through weight loss and exercise. Bendl says people should “love themselves and take a walk.” For the past six years, Nice, a 6-year-old blackmouth cur mix, has walked with him.
Nice began limping in Florida during Bendl’s latest journey, which began in Pensacola and was to end in Tampa. After getting caught in a storm, he hunkered down in Spring Hill, where a local business owner offered shelter. Nice’s limping became worse. He saw a veterinarian in the area, who suspected a problem involving either Nice’s hip or knee joints. Bendl sought a second opinion from veterinary specialists at UF.
When Bendl arrived at UF March 4, he wasn’t pushing the huge blue-and-green painted globe he’s usually seen with in photos. That was out in the parking lot in his weathered purple van, although he did offer to inflate the world for the staff’s amusement. With his wide smile, colorful stories and self-deprecating humor, Bendl did his best to remain positive while an orthopedic surgeon examined Nice and performed tests. But by day’s end, Bendl’s heart was heavy.
“I didn’t expect that Nice’s problems would be this severe or this expensive to deal with,” he said.
Nice was diagnosed as having torn cranial cruciate ligaments in both knees, requiring surgery to correct the problems. The cost was estimated at approximately $5,000. UF was able to subsidize part of the cost through its Pet Samaritan Fund, but Erik still had to come up with around $3,400 to cover the procedures and postoperative X-rays. The doctor recommended that the UF surgery team operate as soon as possible to have the best chance of a good outcome.
For a man with no credit and no regular income — Bendl supports himself and Nice through the support of friends, family members and strangers — the figure and the time frame were daunting.
Overwhelmed, Bendl headed back to Spring Hill to mull his options. The next morning, the 50-year-old Kentucky native was resolute — he’d do whatever he could to help his dog, relying on the resources at hand: his World Guy blog, his friends and his personal and public Facebook pages.
Within 10 days enough funds had been collected to cover Nice’s surgery and most of his postoperative tests.
With Nice now recuperating, Bendl said the two plan to lay low for now and take things as they come.
One step at a time.