Tissue (Boxes) Alert: ‘Denali’ a Touching Tribute to a Dying Dog

Denali and Ben Moon in van

“It could have gone cheesy or too sappy or too sad, so quickly,” Ben Moon told TODAY last week.

He was talking about the now-viral short film, “Denali,” a beautiful tribute to his dying Pit Bull/Husky mix. Although it is indeed sad (and even funny sometimes), it is never cheesy or sappy.

Moon, a photographer who lives in Portland, Ore., rescued Denali from an animal shelter in 1999.

“As soon as I passed him, he put his paw out, cocked his head and kind of looked at me,” Moon told TODAY. “He tore a lap around the room, and then laid on my feet, and rolled up on his back, and looked at me. It felt like he chose me.”

Five years later, Moon was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Nurses at the Bend, Ore., hospital where he was being treated allowed Denali to stay with Moon.

Denali and Ben Moon in hospital bed

“When he was in the hospital bed with me, he’d just sort of step up there so gently, it was kind of mind-blowing,” Moon told TODAY. “He made sure he wasn’t touching anything that was in pain and not invading my space.”

One year later, Moon was cancer free. He spent the next few years traveling around the country with Denali, snapping photos of their adventures together.

Early last year, Denali was diagnosed with cancer. Four tumors were removed, but the 14-year-old dog’s health continued to decline.

“That’s when I promised him, ‘Just let me know when it’s your time to go, man; I’m not going to let you suffer,'” Moon told TODAY. “It felt like this grand reciprocation, because he had been with me while I had gone through cancer.”

Knowing Denali’s days were numbered, Moon decided to have his final visit to the beach filmed.

Denali and Ben Moon

“Denali” was directed and written by Ben Knight of the production company Felt Soul Media, which, according to its website, strives to “cause the rare magical goose bump that occurs when pictures and sound are squished together just right.”

The film shows that last beach visit, as well as plenty of photos that show the incredible bond between Moon and his beloved dog. It is narrated from the point of view of Denali himself.

In April, “Denali” received the Best of Festival and People’s Choice awards at the 5Point Film Festival in Colorado. It was also an official selection at Telluride Mountainfilm. Posted on Vimeo two months ago, “Denali” has gotten millions of views.

“I was hoping it would resonate and connect with people, but when we passed a million views, it was mind-blowing,” Moon told Men’s Journal.

Denali crossed the Rainbow Bridge in early February 2014. Moon told TODAY he recognized the look in his dog’s eyes, and knew it was time to end his suffering.

“It’s impossible to put into words all that you were and will always be to me,” Moon wrote in a eulogy for Denali on Instagram. “I was always convinced you were more human than dog, and all of the countless lives you touched felt the same.

“Thank you for your unwavering belief in me. Happy trails, my friend!”

Photos via Instagram

Laura Goldman

I am a freelance writer and lifelong dog lover. For five years, I was a staff writer for i Love Dogs. When that site shut down, I started this blog...because I STILL Love Dogs!