When Denali came into Ben Moon’s life in November 1999, Moon was 24 years old and had just moved west to Portland, Oregon. His girlfriend had convinced him to go to the shelter with her, though he had no intention of bringing home a dog that day. As Moon walked the halls of barking dogs, a puppy let out a small yip and cocked his head. Moon turned back to look at him – he had no choice but to bring him home.
After Moon’s relationship ended, Denali and him left the city and began a nomadic lifestyle in the high desert community of Bend, Oregon. They lived through an icy cold PNW winter in a Subaru wagon, later upgrading to a camper van the following spring. They traveled throughout the western states photographing climbers and surfers as Moon began his career as an adventure photographer.
Later the following year, Moon noticed the first signs that something was going awry with his health. In June 2004, a friend convinced him to visit the doctor. That friend saved his life – Moon was diagnosed with stage 3+ colorectal cancer that had just entered the lymph nodes. Denali was an incredible companion through the ordeal that ensued, and never took his eyes off Moon through all of the brutal chemo and radiation treatments. While in the hospital for surgery, the nurses allowed Denali in the room. He would jump on the bed ever so carefully and lie down gently beside Moon. To have a dog just willing to give everything and expect nothing in return was incredibly healing and key to Moon’s recovery.
Denali has been published many times in Moon’s work, landing magazine and catalog covers on his own. He endured his own battle with cancer later in life and Moon promised to never let him suffer. In early 2014, Denali was starting to weaken significantly, and Moon told him it was ok to go. But after production began for the Denali film a week later, Moon asked Denali if he could stick around for another month. Exactly one month later, at midnight on the eve on January 31st, Denali developed a bad cough. Moon and Denali played on the beach the next day, and the following morning he gave Moon the look – it was time to go. He was 14 1/2 years old.
“There was this really smart scientist guy who said that people can learn a lot from dogs. He said that when someone you love walks through the door, even if it happens five times a day, you should go totally insane with joy.”
Ben Moon / Moonhouse
Ben Knight / Felt Soul Media
Skip Armstrong / Wazee Motion Pictures