Walking inside Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, Bentley met an 8-year-old girl who looked very sick.
Bentley started doing tricks to make the girl laugh so she wouldn’t think about her ailment.
The girl then said she wanted to tell Bentley a secret, and she also asked Bentley if he ever gets scared. The girl said she was scared because she had been in the hospital for a couple of months and was waiting for a new heart.
She then gave Bentley a hug, and he snuggled up next to her. At that point, she was smiling and laughing, not even thinking about her troubles.
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For the past six years, as a therapy dog, it has been Bentley’s job to help people and make them feel better. When the 120-pound Bernese mountain dog enters a room, he provides a comfort to everyone, according to his handler, Janet Myers.
“It has been a gratifying and worthwhile journey to observe Bentley providing comfort and compassion to those he encounters,” Myers said. “Bentley’s interventions can support healing in a variety of health care settings and patient ages. He’s such a role model in focusing on the needs of others. After all, isn’t that what life is about?”
Myers has worked with Bentley for the past six years. Before that, she worked with her first therapy dog, Maggie, also a Bernese mountain dog. Both have served Schneck Medical Center in Seymour, where Myers is director of risk and safety.
As a former pediatric nurse, Myers said she always noticed while caring for children that one of the biggest challenges is dealing with their anxiety. That’s how therapy dogs can help, no matter the person’s age.
“All therapy dogs are a great resource for lowering that anxiety so that we can do the proper interventions to promote healing,” Myers said.
Maggie was Schneck’s first therapy dog, and she lived to the life expectancy of Bernese mountain dogs, which is 7½ years.
Myers then obtained Bentley and had him certified through Therapy Dogs International. He’s now one of two therapy dogs at the hospital.
‘Silly, funny, entertaining’
Dogs of any size can serve as a therapy dog as long as they have the proper training, including learning how to behave, follow commands and assist people in a variety of ways, Myers said.“I take them to a training setting because that exposes them to different challenges that they might encounter in the hospital versus just working with them at home,” Myers said.
The dog also must like being around people.
“Bentley seems to really enjoy his job. He loves being around people,” Myers said. “A good therapy dog has great intuitive skills. They can determine when they need to be very loving and nurturing or whether they should be silly and funny and entertaining.”
The dogs are volunteers at the hospital and work a day or two per week.
Myers and Bentley also like stepping outside the hospital and presenting programs for community organizations and schools. They recently shared what they do with first-graders at Brownstown Elementary School.
When Myers gave a command for Bentley to come out to the children, Bentley immediately had their attention.
Myers talked about the value of therapy dogs and shared stories about how Bentley has helped people. They also had fun by demonstrating some tricks and putting on a skit based on the popular Disney movie “Frozen,” in which Bentley wore costumes of the various characters.
Myers said she likes seeing the young children’s reactions.
“I love it,” she said. “It just shows you the power of the animals in the lives of humans. He has made such a positive impact on the children of this community. I’m very thankful. Hopefully, it has lowered their anxiety about health care.”
Boo-boos and Band-Aids
Myers said she also hopes Bentley inspires students to be kind to others and help them whenever possible.“I want you to think, when you go home and tell your parents Bentley the therapy dog helps a lot of people, ‘How am I going to help people?’ because you all have very special things about you that you can share with others,” Myers said to the students.The program was a neat opportunity for the students because they all recently read the book Myers wrote called “Booboos, Band-aids and Bentley: The True Story of a Hospital Therapy Dog.” The program allowed them to meet the book’s character.
“The book has a lot of kids in it that they know, so a lot of them can recognize a friend or a classmate or a cousin from another school,” first-grade teacher Anna Spencer said. “There are not very many opportunities that you get to meet such a cool dog that comes into your school.”
Spencer said Bentley has visited the school for the past three years to go with a story in their reading series about community workers. Bentley is a unique type of community worker, Spencer said.
“I think it’s nice for (students) to see the different aspects of our community and bring it down to a level that they can relate to,” Spencer said. “Friendly dogs are always a bonus when it comes to a little perk for the kids.”
First-grader Wyatt Mann said he liked seeing Bentley do tricks and dance, and he thought it was good that Bentley helps people in the hospital.
Classmate Claire Brock said she also enjoyed the dog’s visit.
“We learned that he has helped a lot of people because he’s making people smile,” she said.
‘Ride of my life’
“Booboos, Band-aids and Bentley” is the second book that Myers has written. Her first one, “The Visit: Healing Moments in Pet Therapy,” came out in 2011 and is based on Maggie’s work.“The first book I wrote for three reasons,” Myers said. “I wrote it to encourage pet owners to get involved in pet therapy, to educate health care workers of what a great resource therapy dogs can be for their patients and to build awareness with families whose loved ones might benefit from pet therapy.”Her second book was released in 2012. Myers said she was inspired to write it after learning therapy dogs aren’t available to children in all hospital settings.
“I think it is such a value to the children that I wrote this book so that it could be available to children,” she said. “Every child is going to have health care needs some time or other … either to visit the emergency department or stay all night at the hospital. The intent of this was to help them through those challenges and situations.”
Myers said she uses proceeds from the books to support research of the health of Bernese mountain dogs.
She and Bentley also have presented programs to health care organizations regarding the startup of therapy dog programs. They also presented a program at a national conference for pediatric nurses.
“We’ve had some wonderful opportunities to spread the word of how animals can help us,” she said. “When we go to schools, we also extend that message to explain not only how animals can help us through our lives but how we can help others through life.”
During her career, Myers has worked in several areas of the hospital. But she said her work with therapy dogs tops them all.
“I can just say that being in health care for over 30 years, this is the most rewarding type of bedside care I have ever been involved with,” she said. “To see an immediate change in the demeanor of a patient in a more positive way is very gratifying.”
Myers plans to retire in the spring, but she plans to continue volunteering with Bentley.
“We have been blessed with opportunities,” she said. “This has been the ride of my life.”