A local therapist and animal rescue volunteer who recently learned her beloved foster dog doesn’t have much longer to live has turned tragedy into triumph, creating a bucket list for her terminally ill companion and capturing the hearts of numerous followers in the process.
Dana Freidly, a Philadelphia-area therapist who has also volunteered at animal shelters and rescues for several years, first met Bentley, a 12-year-old shelter dog, in January. Pibbles & More Animal Rescue, based in Binghamton, New York, wanted to pull him from his shelter in Manhattan, giving Freidly the opportunity to provide a foster home for him.
“We volunteered and the Mayor's Alliance delivered him to my front door within a few days,” Freidly said. “We pledged to save him on the day he was to be euthanized. He, unfortunately, wasn't given much time. Animals that are surrendered by their owners are only given a brief window to be rescued.”
Bentley was dealing with several medical issues when Freidly first took him in.
“The only issue we were aware of upon rescuing him was a small mass on his right eyelid,” Freidly said. “We wished to take care of that right away, but he kept getting sick. We have nursed him back from kennel cough, pneumonia and an upper respiratory infection and he did not have them all at the same time. It was just one illness after another for him.”
A surgery for Bentley was finally scheduled for April 25. That’s when Freidly learned the tragic news. She found out Bentley had Third-degree atrioventricular block (AV block) and not much time left to live.
“Atria and ventricles are chambers in the heart,” Freidly said. “AV block means the electrical conduction does not pass normally through his heart muscle. This creates a very slow heart rate and his heart does not pump out enough blood. This will lead to episodes of syncope (collapse or passing out), dizziness, and weakness.”
Freidly was devastated.
“A fellow rescuer and I were crying on the phone together while I was at work,” she said. “I am actually a therapist and, through my tears, I told my fellow rescuer, ‘I have to do therapy in 20 minutes,’ and she said, ‘Get it together, girl!’”
To make matters worse, Bentley’s terminal illness would impact his adoption status.
“It was so disheartening because we believed he would finally have his eye mass addressed and then be available for adoption, after suffering from so many ailments,” Freidly said. “However, within a few hours of dropping him off with the vet, I learned that he would be hospice and not adoptable. I have always had an interest in hospice foster but it's different when it was not in the initial plan. He was not supposed to be hospice so I have needed to reframe everything. I am no longer searching for his perfect home. Instead, I am seeking to BE his perfect home.”
Knowing that Bentley’s time was limited and seeking a way to keep him calm, Freidly took her friend’s advice and created a bucket list for him. She made a Facebook page showing the 26 items on the list and has been documenting his progress. So far Bentley has accomplished four tasks on the list; becoming a therapy dog, meeting fans, becoming a professional plate licker and receiving a massage.
“His wish to be a therapy dog is my favorite,” Freidly said. “I literally took him to work, taped an inkblot from the Rorschach test to his harness, and my coworkers sat in a circle, pretending to be his patients in group therapy. Another rescue friend provided him with a lavender doggie massage.”
Freidly told NBC10 the bucket list has provided comfort to both her and Bentley during a difficult time.
“It is proving to be a nice focus for my husband and me,” she said. “Without the bucket list, I would likely be in Bentley's dog bed with him, crying all the time.”
Since Freidly created the Facebook page, Bentley has gained hundreds of fans on social media.
“It's drawing attention to dog rescue, showing off the amazing rescue organization that saved him and many people are offering to help out,” Freidly said. “Strangers have offered to send him home-made treats. Others are buying him toys. He is getting photo shoot offers. Bentley doesn't know he is terminal. He is still acting like a normal dog so I am trying to treat him like one, as cliché as that statement sounds.”
Freidly says she’s not surprised by the following the page has gotten so far or the amount of people who are touched by Bentley’s story.
“Grief and losing a loved one is an experience to which everyone can relate,” Freidly said. “I am sure the bucket list also resonates with feelings of regret that many individuals express as they age. Both sentiments--grief and regret-- can really impact someone at any point in their lives but when expressed through the perspective of a dog, it just seems less painful, safe and manageable. I pretend Bentley is talking in all the posts so it seems uplifting and cute and funny even though, in actuality, his time is coming to an end.”
Freidly hopes the bucket list can bring comfort and inspiration to other people with a loved one, whether human or animal, who is dealing with a terminal illness.
“Try not to fight feeling the grief, allow the natural process to occur and not feel embarrassed or ashamed by any feelings of devastation and struggles that coincide with the grief,” she said. “The rest of me would remind an individual that their loved one isn't gone yet so please don't act like they already are.”