Ice hockey players have nothing on Benny the Ice Skating Dog. When this canine takes to the ice, he’s just as focused as any human player. With his front paws planted firmly in his custom-made ice skates, he carries the attitude of a pro hockey player with a stick—only his stick is in his mouth. Benny skates effortlessly around the rink, jumps over hurdles, and he even shows off with the perfect crossover. It’s the perfect hat trick!
So, how did this yellow Field Labrador rescued from death row at a shelter in Utah become such an ice skating sensation?
Let’s skate backward in time to seven years ago when Cheryl Del Sangro and her husband Flory decided it was time to adopt another rescue dog. They had two older dogs but wanted a playmate for Doodles, their third younger dog.
“I came across this picture online of a dog up in Salt Lake City, Utah,” said Del Sangro, a retired professional figure skater. “He was just staring into the camera with those big black pools of eyes.” After searching for more information she found out the dog had been previously adopted and returned. He sat at the shelter for six months and was scheduled to be euthanized the next day. No one wanted him. Except Del Sangro.
Springing Benny From the Shelter
She got to work fast. Time was running out for the dog she would name Benny. The only way to get him out was through a rescue. She contacted Las Vegas Labrador Rescue, which was able to pull Benny from the euthanasia list. His journey to the Del Sangros in Las Vegas began with help from volunteers who each offered to drive a leg.
When he arrived in St. George, Utah, he was picked up by a Las Vegas Labrador Rescue volunteer. Before arriving at his new home, Benny received a checkup at the vet while the Del Sangros were approved for adoption. He was finally welcomed with open arms by his new family. “He was just perfect from the day we got him,” Del Sangro said.
From the start Benny was different. He was very smart and not your average dog. Del Sangro started Benny with dog training sessions, and said the trainer was very impressed with his ability to learn. Today Benny knows roughly 100 tricks and commands while his vocabulary is approximately 300 words. “He knows what’s going on and knows what words mean,” Del Sangro said. Eventually she took Benny to do tricks for a variety of children’s events and charity fundraisers.
Ice, Ice Benny
In 2018, friend and dog photographer Rick Vierkandt of Bark Gallery, who is also involved with dog rescue, contacted Del Sangro about an idea: to take Benny out on the ice. Vierkandt knew of Del Sangro’s skating background and that it could be a great fit.
At the time most everyone in Las Vegas was excited about the Vegas Golden Knights NHL team making it to the playoffs in their first season. Vierkandt wanted to make a video to cheer them on that would include Benny. He got access to the local ice rink.
Benny quickly took to the ice. “I put my skates on and Benny just ran around,” said Del Sangro. He chased a toy puck and stood in front of the net and even caught the puck. He ran around the ice with a hockey stick in his mouth, chased Del Sangro, and had a blast. Vierkandt made the video and posted it for the Golden Knights. It received 40,000 views.
Since moving to Vegas Del Sangro hadn’t really been on the ice in years, but after being on the ice with Benny she realized she could combine her two passions: skating and Benny. “Afterward I started thinking that I could actually get him to skate,” she said. While everyone else thought she was losing her mind, Del Sangro crafted a pair of skates for Benny who could already skateboard.
“The first day we went, he actually got up and skated,” Del Sangro said. “It was incredible. We put two cones out and a hockey stick across them. When he skated up to it, he jumped over. We didn’t even teach that to him. That’s just kind of how he is.” These days Benny knows how to stop, do crossovers, jump, and he’s starting to skate backward. To ensure he doesn’t slip or fall, he skates on rough ice so it’s not too slippery.
The Crowds Go Wild
Benny is apparently the first dog to ever skate at an NHL game, which was for the Vegas Golden Knights first back in November 2019. “They’ve had him out there twice during intermission in front of 18,000 screaming people,” Del Sangro said, adding that it didn’t faze Benny one bit.
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) November 18, 2019
Benny has also skated with the UNLV hockey team as well as attended many events including Skate America, an international figure skating championship where he’s met top-level skaters. In January 2020 he was invited to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in North Carolina where he met retired figure skating champion and Olympic Gold medalist Brian Boitano.
At the championships, two Olympic figure skaters were signing autographs. “Benny walked over to the table, jumped up on it, sat down, and he looked at the crowd that was waiting to take his picture,” Del Sangro said.
With Del Sangro, Benny also gives back by helping with causes including skating with children in Spectrum on Ice, which provides ice skating opportunities for those with autism spectrum disorder. He has made appearances at animal organizations including The Animal Foundation and Nevada SPCA.
During the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Benny and Del Sangro weren’t able to skate. Benny hadn’t skated since early March 2020 but finally got the chance last July when the CW Network came to video tape him after being named one of the top 10 dogs of 2020. “It was like he never missed a day,” Del Sangro said.
A Special Bond
Although ice skating is Benny’s favorite sport, he also loves to swim, dock dive, skateboard, and do agility. He can even climb trees and bounce off walls! “You have to do stuff with him, otherwise he won’t leave you alone,” Del Sangro laughed. “He has an expectation that when we’re leaving the house, he’s coming with you.”
Benny has surely taken the ice skating world by storm. While he absolutely loves skating, he also enjoys doing anything with Del Sangro. She’s his person and they have a very special bond.
Through that connection she has learned that when it comes to Benny, the impossible is possible because everyone said it would be impossible to get Benny to skate, but look at him now.
From a dog who was slated for death row at a high kill shelter, Benny has come a long way. “I always say Benny is the poster pup for adoptable dogs,” Del Sangro said. “If Benny can come from six months living in a high-kill shelter, make it out, and get to the point of where he is now, it just shows you the possibilities that shelter dogs have. He’s a rescue dog who has come from his last day on earth to live his best life because he got a second chance.”