Missing everyone’s best friend

A local therapy dog that made hundreds of visits to children and adults in hospitals, schools, nursing homes and other settings has died.

Bentley, a Bernese Mountain dog, was put to sleep Sept. 15 after a short battle with cancer, his owner, Janet Myers said. He was nearly 8 years old.

The life expectancy for the breed is just seven years, Myers said.

“Since my gentle giant spent his entire life unselfishly giving himself to others and taking their pain away, on Friday, we unselfishly euthanized him to prevent him from further discomfort,” she said.

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Retired now from Schneck Medical Center, Myers acquired Bentley as an 8-week-old puppy and trained him to provide services to patients at the Seymour hospital.

“Bentley belonged to a Detroit breeder who also happened to be a nurse,” Myers said. “Large, beautiful male Bernese Mountain dogs are hard to come by, but fortunately, this breeder and nurse found value in therapy dogs.”

After obedience training, where he received Canine Good Citizen and Therapy Dog certifications, he began his career in health care alongside Myers.

“Bentley had many attributes that made him a successful therapy dog,” she said. “His patient, calm demeanor allowed him to be supportive of all ages and mental capabilities.”

But Bentley also had his playful side, she said.

Myers spent hours teaching Bentley tricks to entertain patients. He danced, had costumes, would answer the phone when it rang, would retrieve tissues if someone sneezed and would often end his visits with a bow.

“His humorous antics were entertaining at the bedside or onstage,” Myers said. “Even if he wasn’t asked to do any tricks, he would stand behind me and quickly get the attention of patients and families by bowing or waving hi with his large, fluffy paw.”

Bentley’s community appearances included local 4-H clubs, church groups, Lions clubs, a hospital board meeting, five television shows and 23 schools.

He was the subject of two books Myers wrote about their experiences in pet therapy, and the pair have been featured in many professional nursing and health care magazines and were mentioned in USA Today.

Proceeds from their book sales were donated to the Berner-Garde Foundation for research into the short lifespans of Bernese Mountain dogs.

They also traveled together to give presentations about pet therapy at medical and health care conferences across the country, including at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

“The hotel management awarded him his own Mickey Mouse ears for the work he had done in serving others,” Myers said.

Bentley captured the attention of 400 nurses when he and Myers were guest speakers at the national pediatric nurses conference, and they served as mentors in starting a pet therapy program at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.

He also was included in a graduating class of Leadership Jackson County and was recognized in Schneck’s Employee of the Month program.

Their goal was to educate, inspire and support pet therapy in health care, Myers said.

Whether at the bedside of a patient or presenting at a national conference, Bentley’s “consistent, attentive and intuitive” abilities made him a source of strength for everyone, Myers said.

Throughout his service to others, he assisted handicapped children as they learned to walk, mentally challenged children as they learned to talk and stroke patients as they resumed skills of daily living, Myers said.

He escorted scared children through procedures and assisted in waking previously sedated ventilator patients.

Bentley comforted dying patients and their families in their darkest hours and cheered up hospital employees in many departments.

He wore kids shoes, hats and masks, rode in wagons, sat in chairs and wore nebulizer masks, capes and Superman, cowboy and Princess Elsa costumes.

“We jokingly said it was probably a good thing that he couldn’t talk,” Myers said.

Aside from being a working therapy dog, Bentley served another important role during his life — that of family pet.

He enjoyed golf cart rides on the Myers farm, grabbing things and running through the house, riding in convertibles and wearing his sunglasses so everyone would laugh at him, Myers said.

“I will miss him dearly, but he will live on in the hearts of the individuals whose lives he touched so deeply, including mine,” she said. “Godspeed, your work here is done. My sweet Bentley, rest in peace.”