In January of 2002, Andy said he was ready for another dog, after experiencing the loss of Kramer the previous fall. He missed the routine of taking care of a dog, he said. I agreed, and laid down my ground rules. Small dog, I demanded. Small and very low shedding.
We left the Humane Society shortly afterwards with a hairy 60-pound dog.
Who could blame us? After working our way through the younger dogs without bonding with any of them, we stopped at the kennel of a kind-looking 3-year-old. What the heck, we said. Let’s meet him, too. They took us into the “get acquainted” room and brought in the tan-and-white dog. One pat on the head and he flopped on his back, totally chill, wanting to snuggle. We’ll take him! we announced.
He was so excited and eager to please, that when we took him out to the car, he enthusiastically jumped up onto the hood. Oh wait, that probably wasn’t right, you could see him thinking, as he slooooowly slid back down to the parking lot. We guided him to the car’s back seat and went home to start our new life as a family.
The Humane Society listed him as part English Setter, part English Springer Spaniel. So we named him Bentley, not after the car, but the British neighbor on The Jeffersons. We later realized they were probably wrong, but never really figured out his breed (or mix of them). When we’d get the oh, he’s beautiful, what kind of dog is he comments, we’d answer, Fluffy.
Shortly after we got Bentley, we discovered that a) he needed knee surgery and b) we were moving from Champaign to Indianapolis. Had we known we were moving, we likely wouldn’t have adopted a new pet, and had the Humane Society known he had a torn meniscus, they might not have made him available. I’m forever grateful for our ignorance (and theirs).
We quickly settled into life with one another, most of our time together spent snuggling. Almost all of our early photos of him are with some family member, locked into some sort of embrace.
We’d never met a dog who was so loving, and laughed when he’d repeatedly nudge his nose under your arm if you stopped petting him. We’d also never met a dog who never barked. He’d occasionally bark in his sleep, and the noise would always startle me, to hear such a deep voice on such a sweet boy.
After our move to Indy, we felt guilty that Bentley was having to spend more time by himself, so we got him a companion, a little one-pound kitten we named Simon (middle name George, to complete the Jeffersons reference). We were told to keep them separate at first, to go slowly on the introductions. Our first day home with the cat, Simon jumped right over the baby gate to meet his new brother. They were best friends from day one.
2003 through 2007, the worst years of our lives, have been well documented here. What hasn’t been documented is how much Bentley and Simon got us through them. It seems melodramatic to say I don’t know how Andy and I would have survived without them, but it’s true. As our miserable days grew into years, some times the only reason to get out of bed in the morning was for a nose nudging under our arm, demanding love and giving unconditional love in return.
The day Sam and Emilie were born, Bentley was outside with my sister. When she opened the door to her car, Bentley hopped in and refused to leave. I don’t know how pets know, but they do.
When Henry and Eleanor came along, Bentley was of course wonderful with them. He had endless patience with their often toddler-rough attention, and endless patience with Andy and I as we frequently had less time for just him when a child or two needed our immediate care.
This summer his spells of heavy panting seemed to get more frequent. After a couple trips to the emergency vet in August, it was determined Bentley had laryngeal paralysis. He wasn’t a good candidate for surgery to correct it, so we started a new routine of limiting his activity. We knew at some point we’d have to make the decision to say good-bye, but it was tough. When he wasn’t struggling for breath, he was fine, the same happy Bentley we’ve always known. We hoped we could maintain the status quo and eke out as much time with him as we could.
Last week he started have more breathing spells. Late Friday night, apropos of nothing, he started having his third of the day. This one seemed worse than the others, and Andy and I huddled around him on the kitchen floor, watching him struggle for breath and quickly deciding that although we weren’t ready, the time to let him go had probably arrived. I sobbed a rushed good-bye, Andy whisked him off to the vet, and an hour later it was over.
He was our Bentley, Mr. B, Bentleyburger, B-man, Mr. Crossypaws.
He had the most expressive brown-rimmed eyes and a heart-shaped nose. He was deaf the last year or two of his life. He never really played with toys. He preferred the people at the dog park (and their attention) to the other dogs. He loved cold weather, it would make him prance on his winter walks. He got car sick until he grew out of it in his old age. He loved to run back and forth between Andy and me in the back yard. He never swam except to chase the ducks at Andy’s brother’s family’s house. He went to bed at 9:00 every night, and sighed before he went to sleep. He lounged in ridiculous ways, our favorite the “rock on Bentley” pose.
He was the kindest, gentlest, most unconditional-loving soul I’ve ever known. Despite the fact that I just wrote a novel, there aren’t enough words to describe how much Bentley meant to our family. And there aren’t enough words to describe how much we miss him.