Dogs need jobs. Some dogs herd sheep. Some lead the blind. Some do police work. Bentley, a Bernese Mountain Dog, volunteers with owner/handler Cheryl Pabich to help combat loneliness, promote self-confidence, and improve the quality of life for youth who have experienced trauma or may be developmentally delayed.
This sweet, friendly, well-mannered canine takes his job as a Therapy Dog very seriously. And his work in SaintA’s Short-Term Residential Program has been pretty remarkable. Bentley’s natural compassion has for three years helped at-risk youth develop empathy, self-esteem and other positive skills and behaviors that are critical to them transitioning successfully back to their communities.
For example, when one of our residents was distraught and unable to deal with his feelings, no one was able to get through to him. However, he agreed to a visit with Bentley. At first the boy was cocooned in his T-shirt. You couldn’t see his head or arms. He was not responding to anyone or anything.
Bentley sat beside him and started sniffing his head, and nudging him to give him a pet. Still no response. But Bentley persisted to try to coax him out of his cocoon. Then, lo and behold, an arm appeared from under the T-shirt. A short time later, out came the boy’s head. Finally he became so calm, that a discussion ensued about what had happened to get him so upset in the first place.
Then a wonderful thing happened. The other participant in the group with Bentley that night told the boy that he had been worried that his behavior could be unsafe, and that he cared about him and wanted to make sure that nothing happened to him. Then the first youth shared that he also was concerned about some of the antics of the other boy.
By the time they left, the two were laughing and happy. They had developed a sense of compassion and a feeling that they had each other’s back. This bond remained intact until both boys were discharged. They had agreed to watch for warning signs, and even came up with code words that would serve as a life preserver as things started to spiral downward or escalate their domineer.
And it all started with Bentley.
Bentley first donned the green vest of the Delta Society three years ago, and it was obvious that, with his mild temperament, he would make a top-notch therapy dog. His mellow disposition allowed him to sail through the rigorous screening process necessary to qualify to become a therapy dog.Working through Health Heelers, an animal assisted therapy volunteer organization, Bentley is a registered volunteer at two other facilities besides SaintA. At all of them, he is “all business” when he’s on duty — loving and gentle, with the patience of a saint.
“He really is an amazing dog,” Kathleen said. “The way our boys respond to him is quite remarkable.”
Our dog therapy groups are part of our focus on trauma informed care, which recognizes the impact that trauma and adverse experiences can have on the brain and behavior. The dog groups enable us to focus on the strengths and situations of each child in a paws-itive way.
Not only has Bentley helped kids with serious emotional and behavioral challenges, he also has changed Cheryl’s life.
“We have a near perfect relationship. He provides physical, psychological, and emotional fulfillment, and is doing meaningful public service — improving the lives of others.”
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