Exactly one year ago today, PAWS rescue dog Bentley ran away from his new adopted home. Over the next eight months, he would avoid capture time and time again. Kathleen Downey shares Bentley’s amazing story…
Bentley, a yellow Labrador, was first rescued as a stray in Tennessee and found safe haven in a Missouri sanctuary operated by PAWS New England. He was transported to a foster home in Massachusetts.
Joanne Hutchinson, Bentley’s foster parent, recalls the Lab as a “carefree, happy spirit” when he arrived at her home. She also fostered Sophie, Bentley’s sibling. From Hutchinson’s home, Bentley went to what was supposed to have been his forever-home in Rhode Island.
Bentley, however, had other ideas.
As soon as he had the opportunity, the precocious pup fled from the home of the older couple who had adopted him. It was the Fourth of July, 2011, and Bentley made a break for independence.
Nearly eight months would pass before Bentley would be rescued a second time.
The Search Begins
It was Hutchinson who sounded the alarm when Bentley went missing.
She remembers the sinking feeling in her heart and being overcome with dread after speaking with Bentley’s adopters.
“I had telephoned them the day after they adopted Bentley to find out how he was adjusting,” Hutchinson says. “I was horrified when they told me that Bentley had run away!”
Hutchinson did not hesitate. She jumped into her car, taking along Sophie, who she hoped would be her secret weapon, and drove from her home in Massachusetts to Rhode Island, with a mission to rescue Bentley.
“I walked around the neighborhood with Sophie for hours calling out Bentley’s name,” Hutchinson recalls.
Unfortunately, sibling attraction was not enough to lure Bentley out of hiding. Sophie and Hutchinson did, however, attract a group of sympathetic neighbors who offered their help.
Flyers went up in the neighborhood, asking anyone who sighted Bentley to contact Hutchinson. Hutchinson’s weekends would become devoted to searching for the Lab, while a small cadre of local volunteers searched for Bentley during the week.
“Those first couple of weeks, I received calls from people who had seen Bentley crossing through homeowners’ backyards. Once, he was seen rolling around in a churchyard,” says Hutchinson.
But then Bentley went off the grid. Weeks later, Bentley reappeared in a nearby neighborhood.
“I received a call from a woman who lived in Riverside and who had recognized Bentley from one of the flyers. ‘Oh my god! I’ve been seeing that dog every night when I walk my own dog!’ she told me.”
Riverside would become Bentley headquarters.
Alison Souza, a friend to PAWS and a proud dog-lover, was one of the RI volunteers committed to rescuing Bentley.
“Alison was instrumental in our getting Bentley,” says Hutchinson. She met Souza for the first time as the two women sat together one evening in Hutchinson’s parked car and waited for the dog to appear.
Countless evenings in folly and futility would follow.
“Alison was out there all the time when I could not be. Her boyfriend even built a drop trap,” says Hutchinson. Souza set the trap and baited it with food. She also installed a hunting camera to capture images of the wayward dog.
But the trap didn’t work. Bentley demonstrated his agility by getting himself out of the way before the boxed enclosure dropped over him.
A spring-loaded trap also failed. The camera, however, captured images of Bentley eating the food that had been spread around trap.
Through fall and the onset of winter a contest of wits ensued, with Bentley always besting his would-be rescuers.
A tasty meal carefully laden with tranquilizers failed to do the trick.
“He didn’t even yawn,” Hutchinson says. A net gun deployed by the local animal control officer (ACO) overshot the nimble Lab “by an inch.”
When the ACO showed up with a dart gun to tranquilize Bentley, the dog was nowhere to be found.
Hutchinson remembers the day she saw Bentley standing on the opposite side of the river. (The dog had made a practice of swimming back and forth.)
“We stared at each other for a good ten minutes before he ran off,” says Hutchinson.
As Bentley’s former foster parent, she was especially distressed. But Bentley had become wary of people, even of those who loved him.
In the meantime, PAWS had been posting updates of the Bentley drama to the group’s Facebook page.
Adam Chuman, a young RI firefighter who had adopted a dog named Dexter from PAWS, recognized Bentley through one of the uploaded images. As it happens, Chuman had seen an image of Bentley months before, on the PAWS adoption page.
“My wife Meg and I had been interested in adopting him as a playmate for Dexter, but we were too late. He was no longer available,” Chuman recalls.
Now, with Bentley lost in his neighborhood, he felt compelled to help.
“When I first got involved, I remember thinking, ‘This dog is too smart. He’s not just surviving – he’s thriving! How am I going to catch him?’” recalls Chuman.
Indeed, despite living outdoors for months, Bentley did appear to be thriving.
An unusually mild winter and a gracious family who allowed PAWS to use their property for meal drop-offs and trapping efforts helped Bentley remain unscathed and maintain good health. The family even purchased “squeak toys” for him so that they would be able to hear him on the property and report to Chuman the dog’s approximate location.
Not only did the family hear Bentley “squeaking,” they found torn bits of squeak-toy stuffing across their yard.
Bentley appeared to be flaunting his freedom, unaware of the worry he was causing. But he may have also been starting to miss human contact.
He began showing up at the edge of the family’s yard each evening. While the family who owned the property sat around a fire pit, Bentley positioned himself at the edge of the property, intently watching them. He also ate the sausages tossed his way.
After several failed efforts to capture Bentley with variously fashioned traps, and one “stand-off” with a fox over a rotisserie chicken that Chuman had hoped would lure Bentley – the fox got the chicken – Chuman took a different approach.
“I borrowed a 30-foot by 30-foot remote drop net from the Animal Rescue League,” Chuman says.
He set up the large net, suspended by four metal posts, seven feet off the ground. Each night, after baiting the area beneath the net, Chuman would hide in a small shed about 50 feet away, and wait there for Bentley to show up.
Waiting, and Waiting, and Waiting…
“I was a nervous wreck,” Chuman reveals.
“I am a firefighter. I run into burning buildings without a second thought. But knowing that I had to push the remote button, at just the right moment, in order to drop the net over Bentley completely unnerved me!”
Many uneventful evenings would pass. They included a few malfunctions with the remote and Chuman’s increasingly frazzled nerves.
“I wasn’t about to give up,” Chuman says. He’d been trying to capture Bentley for the last four of the seven-and-a-half months that Bentley had been on the lam.
Chuman knew what foods Bentley didn’t like. “He wouldn’t eat the carrots from Campbell’s Chunky Soup, and he wouldn’t eat the pickles in a McDonald’s cheeseburger,” Chuman laughs. “He’d spit them out!”
“One night, I cooked Bentley an entire package of bacon,” Chuman says. “My wife and I don’t even eat meat!”
On that fateful evening, Bentley stepped beneath the trap and Chuman pressed the remote button. He had his Bentley.
It was Valentine’s Day, 2012.
“He smelled awful!” Chuman recalls. But after a bath and a veterinary check up that confirmed Bentley’s robust health, Chuman took his dog home.
In the months Chuman spent trying to capture Bentley, he and his wife had adopted Sophie. So when Bentley finally arrived at his forever home with the Chumans, the yellow Lab was reunited with his sibling, making the occasion especially joyous.
Days after Bentley’s capture, the dog’s lair was discovered in thick brush, along with 50 tennis balls, a pair of Uggs, and seat cushions from an old sofa.
The Domestic Life
These days, Bentley sleeps on the sofa in Chuman’s living room.
“Seeing Bentley inside my home, as a member of my family, still feels a bit surreal to me,” Chuman says.
“Bentley’s favorite activity is to sit in front of you and get his face petted. He will sit there forever. He hates being alone and really hates doing anything without one of the other dogs. Bentley is a well behaved boy, though, and is very loved.”
PAWS New England would like to give a warm and special thanks to all of the amazing volunteers and supporters, many of whom were not mentioned in this article, that helped bring Bentley home. Have a happy and safe Independence Day!
How heartwarming to know there are folks out there who have such a heart of love and devotion for the rescue’s that those of us have adopted from PAWS! Thank you for your commitment to find forever homes, even for those stubborn puppy souls, who have not experienced the love and care that people can give them! God bless the volunteers of PAWS!!!
This is the most unnerving and heartwarming story I have ever read.
Glad you’re safe, warm, and loved
Thank you all for going above and beyond!
Amazing story! I love hearing about amazing people doing right by animals. Thank you for all you did and do everyday. You are heroes!
Wonderful happy ending story of perseverance, devotion and love to the
recapture of Bentley into a caring, loving family. And to be with his sibling
is just wonderful. This is a heart warming story to be sure.
Thank you for sharing with all pet owners out here!
This is such a great story! Thanks for sharing it in all the wonderful details. A pound of bacon! 50 tennis balls! Our “Mona” came through PAWS from Memphis. She’s a wonderful creature.
But when she runs off, she’s GONE…only for a half hour or so. This would have sent me to the ER. The beautiful picture of all three dogs curled up amongst each other is the final chapter!
BRAVO to all involved. The invisible layer of goodness of people reveals itself in a quick glimpse now and then. Thanks again for sharing this great story!
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