SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – She stands arrow straight as a gold anchor adorned with a gold star is pinned to her pink collar. Her brown eyes are alert and her cold, wet nose sniffing out the treat awaiting her. It’s Onyx’s big day. She is the station dog for Coast Guard Station St. Ignace and on Friday, May 1, 2020, she was advanced to Senior Chief Petty Paw-fficer Officer for her service as a morale dog.
At 13 years old, Senior Chief Onyx is much more than the mascot at the Coast Guard station, she is also famous. Onyx is the star of several children’s books written by the Station’s Executive Petty Officer, Chief Petty Officer Tyler Benson.
Benson began writing stories about Onyx to teach his own children about the Coast Guard’s missions, and the work he does on the water, rescuing boaters and protecting the Northern Great Lakes.
“When I was first stationed here in 2005, my wife and I had just started our family, and my oldest daughter didn’t understand why I disappear for 48-hours at a time to stand duty,” said Benson.
After he showed a few people the stories and received some positive feedback, he submitted them to a publishing company. The Adventures of Onyx was born in August 2012. He said they sold their first books at the Coast Guard Festival in Grand Haven, Mich., and now they are sold in local bookstores in Northern Michigan and at Coast Guard Exchanges throughout the country.
Benson has published nine of the 10-book series. To date, about 60,000 books have been sold as well about 15,000 stuffed Onyx toys. And when her fans come to the visit the area, many stop at the Station to meet the famous dog and receive her autograph, her paw coated in ink and stamped on the book.
Onyx started from humble beginnings. She was born Feb. 1, 2007, and was twice returned to an animal shelter before she found her forever home at Coast Guard Station St. Ignace in June of 2008.
Benson said that the Station saved her because if she had been returned a third time, she would have been put down.
When she first got to the Station, she was about a year old and Benson could tell right away that she was special. He said that when crewmembers would return to the Station after working a long or difficult search and rescue case she would seek them out and provide them comfort.
“She is good reading the crew, reading their emotions,” he said. “She can tell when the crew is having a tough time.”
Onyx advancement to Senior Chief is credited to all the good work she has done, not just at the Station, but in the community as well. Coast Guard members take her to schools to help teach about boating safety and ice rescue, important lessons in an area surrounded by water.
In 2010, Benson left the station to serve in other parts of the Coast Guard. He said writing the books about Onyx was a great way to reconnect with his home in Michigan. Now he is back with her serving in his home in Northern Michigan and with his friend Onyx.
“It’s great to be with her in her golden years, and watch that story come full circle, both in the books and in real life,” said Benson.
Since the quarantine began last month as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Benson has been reading Onyx books to children via Facebook live on the official Coast Guard Exchange website. All to help bring a little joy to children during this disruptive time.
Onyx fans stretch far and wide and are spread out throughout the country. She is even followed on social media by John Grogan, author of the book Marley and Me, and actress Diane Neal, who plays a Coast Guard agent on the television show NCIS.
Onyx’s fame, however, does not protect her from the ravages of time. Her advancing age is evident by the white fur that covers her once all-black muzzle. Though not as spry as she once was, she still musters the energy to bark at oncoming visitors, she can still perform a few tricks for some tasty treats, and she stills serves her primary duty every day, to boost the morale for the crew at Station St. Ignace.