It’s been almost a year and a half since my mom’s passing and the Jeep accident. If you’re not familiar with my story, check out the “About” page on the blog for a little background.
Since Bentley’s recovery there have been many questions about what happened any why. The whole story is immensely long with many branches and parties involved. I won’t be able to touch on every single detail, in fact, there will be entire chunks of very important information left out in an effort to condense, but here is my experience of bringing Bentley home.
As some of you might know, Bentley is my dog. He was my first ever “adult” purchase and responsibility I ever took on alone. I was actually studying abroad at the time, circa summer 2017, when I decided it was time I had a dog of my own. I’d had a pet my entire life, so now that I was out living on my own, I felt it was time to find a fur baby. I seriously applied for and purchased Bentley while I was on the other side of the world in Pau, France. 🙂 My peers thought I was kidding when I proudly announced I’d bought a dog–they quickly learned that was not a joke! I remember my mom begging me not to–she too was a dog-lover through and through, but she knew first hand just how much responsibility owning a pet is and felt that it wasn’t the right time for my life. Once I made it clear that this was happening, her only other plea was that I not get a boy dog! Owning two herself at the time, she urged me to consider how much more work male dogs are typically…
Well, you know how that story ended.
I picked him up the next day after I returned to the United States, and a week later, we left for his first Jeeping trip! We don’t waste any time initiating new comers into the family, okay? It was THE best little family trip. Bentley was so well behaved and adored by all we met.
Fast forward almost exactly a year.
It was round two of the annual Jeeping trip for him, he’d been around the block before. I remember that morning so clearly, and in hindsight, things were way off from our typical trail day. Normally we’re up and at ’em, pulling out of the campsite by 9am sharp, or earlier. And if you’re late? Too bad, no one’s waiting.
On this particular day, Tuesday, August 7th, 2018, none of us were in a hurry to get anywhere. My grandpa’s Jeep had a part broken, so a few of the guys had to run into town to grab what they needed to fix it. We all dilly dallied around waiting for them, most of us standing outside the cabin watching Bentley and another family’s dog play and wrestle. They were having the time of their furry lives!
Mom was inside, working away like the busy bee she was. I can remember coming in and chatting with her about how hectic things were at work–she was putting out fires left and right it seemed.
Eventually, grandpa’s Jeep was back in business and we were all loading up to hit the trail–Iron Chest Mine, an extreme 4×4 off road trail, one of my mom’s all time favorites to be exact. Little did we know, in just a couple hours, life would change entirely.
Around noon, our vehicle family would tumble 600 feet down the edge of a mountain, with Bentley, my mom, and I inside. In an effort to keep some of this experience sacred, I’ll spare the details of the accident itself. What I will say is, I can remember when the Jeep took it’s first roll. I got that feeling like you do on a roller coaster, where gravity is taking over and you can feel all the blood rushing to your head as you turn upside down. The soft top on the Jeep was open half way and I remember seeing my sweet Bentley go flying out above me.
While we were waiting for paramedics to arrive, I asked my family if they had Bentley or where he was. In an effort to not make the situation any worse than it already was, they assured me he was safely with our family members back up on the trail. I can remember saying to one of my cousins, whispering as to not risk upsetting my uncle who was tending to my mom, “Please make sure he is okay. As soon as we are off this mountain, I want him taken immediately to an animal hospital to be evaluated. Cost is no measure, please just make certain he is okay.” She nodded in agreement and said she understood completely. (I am so grateful I come from a family of so many compassionate animal lovers, otherwise I would’ve looked like a fool given the circumstances–which I would have been okay with, but still it helps to have people on your side.)
Later that day, when my family was finally able to meet me at the hospital, my uncle was explaining to me everything that happened after the paramedics took me away and he said something along the lines of, “…Oh, and the outreach of local people looking for Bentley is massive. They really think he’s going to be found…” My brain froze. What? What does he mean? “Found”? He’s safe with our family, right?
No. He was not. That’s when I learned that after being ejected from the vehicle, Bentley took off down the mountain, never to be seen again.
Fast forward two weeks. There’s still no sign of him. And quite frankly, he hadn’t even crossed my mind. I was so deep in the grief of my mother’s passing that my body physically could not endure any more suffering. I did not have the capacity to grieve him nor play an active role in the search.
This is where everyone else comes in. Some of the ladies from my mom’s neighborhood took the initiative to start a Facebook page to seek help from the world in finding Bentley. These women, some of whom are now my closest and dearest friends, got into contact with other women in Colorado who would become instrumental in his recovery. That is a whole other beautiful and amazing story of compassion and selflessness that one day I will tell also, but it deserves its very own story.
The next few weeks were hard. There were so many people who pitched in to help, it’s truly overwhelming even to this day. But as one can expect when a reward is involved, some people tried to turn our vulnerability into a scamming opportunity. On my birthday, seriously, on my f’ing birthday, someone texted me saying they had him. I knew better and after just a few texts exchanged I could tell it was a scam. Unfortunately, this happened a few times, but it didn’t hold a candle to the outpouring of kindness I witnessed. News stations reached out to cover the story and spread the word, strangers and friends handed out flyers and posted them in the area, Facebook groups alerted each other, some people flew out to hike the trail themselves to look for him, we were mailing bags of my dirty laundry to CO to be carried by hikers and to be left at food stations for him. It was unbelievable.
Finally, on day 17, their efforts had paid off. A man that saw their postings about Bentley had spotted the dog way above the trail. Bentley was, what the man thought, hunting rock mice! Can you believe that? My “designer dog” was in full blown survival mode. It’s crazy to think that some of the animals in our homes, the ones we consider “family”, have the instincts to survive in the wild if the need should arise.
The crazy part of this news is, I was already in the car, on my way back to Colorado when I received the call. My grandpa had come out to help me with some estate things earlier in the week, with the plan that at the end of the week we would drive back together for my uncle’s 50th birthday that weekend and also the recovery of the Jeep.
This was a Thursday when I learned Bentley was alive. My uncle’s party was schedule for Friday, and the Jeep recovery on Saturday. If you’re confused about the Jeep recovery, the vehicle had fallen so far and on such a steep grade that it had to be specially removed by a recovery team nearly three weeks after the accident. Another amazing group of people that my family and I will be forever grateful for.
Everyone at home was shocked when I informed them that I would wait to search for Bentley until Saturday. And trust me, I understand why that seemed absolutely insane at the time. Let two more days go by unnecessarily?! It still feels like a touch of insanity when I look back. But here’s the deal. Listen to me when I say, I felt the whole experience that day was divinely designed. That entire weekend, in fact.
Let me illustrate: earlier that morning, before leaving for Colorado, my grandpa and I ate breakfast at one of my mom’s favorite spots in Wichita. When we got up to pay, the hostess informed us that a stranger had paid for our meal and wished us a great weekend. I thought my sweet grandpa was going to lose it right there at the hostess stand. And then, just a couple hours later to learn that Bentley was in fact alive… Things like that don’t just happen. I had the most serene sense of faith wash over me during that drive. And that is why I knew that waiting until Saturday was the right thing to do. I felt the presence of God, the love of my mother, and an overwhelming sense of gratitude.
For some context, in case you’re still thinking I might be crazy, the family members we were visiting live in Pueblo, CO–the accident occurred 3.5 hours away near Buena Vista, CO. So it’s not like Bentley was just down the block, waiting for me while I ate cake and sang Happy Birthday. He was in an entirely different area of the state. I knew that if God had the power to design this moment, I should trust in His plan and find the patience to wait until we were scheduled to go to the accident site as planned.
Friday, I spent the entire day with my aunt out running errands. I bought every supply I thought necessary for the laundry list of worse case scenarios running through my mind. I was prepared to camp out in the thick of the mountains, cook 100lbs of meat all night long hoping to coax Bentley, and withstand just about any obstacle I could dream up.
The next morning, a family member and I left for the trail at 4:30am, with me proudly in 3-day old clothing. I wanted to arrive with plenty of time before the recovery crew and with my odor literally radiating off of me. Seems extreme, I know. I feel bad for the folks I was traveling with but hey, a mom does what a mom’s gotta do. As for the timing, I didn’t want the noise and all the vehicles that would be necessary for the recovery spooking Bentley or hindering our ability to find him in any way.
The drive was beautiful. The sun coming up over the mountains is the most humbling sight. When we got closer to Mount Princeton, the number of Bentley posters I saw was overwhelming. I could barely contain my emotions, and could not believe the amount of support from people that had never met me nor my mother.
All the experts had told us that he would most likely have gone down in elevation–nothing lives that high and there’s a reason for it, apparently. Not my boy, he stayed put, keeping a watchful eye on his family’s vehicle thousands of feet below, waiting for me to return. Some of the Jeep recovery team had been out the day before to start prepping for their most difficult recovery yet. They said as they worked, Bentley barked down the mountain at them. There is not a doubt in my mind that he knew. He knew that was his family’s possession. And he knew I would be back for him.
I can remember seeing Bentley through a pair of binoculars for the first time in 19 days. I could hardly breath–partly because we stood at an elevation of 11,000 feet, but also because there he was, my fur baby. Propped up on a flat section of rocks, sunbathing with his front paws crossed, looking down over the mountain, the trail, and the wrecked Jeep.
It was around 9:30am when we began the ascent. The terrain was terrifying right off the bat. Only a few hundred feet in and my heart was racing. The rocks were so unstable, so steep. Even as I type this I can feel the anxiety reenter my body. We took many breaks along the way, zig zagging our way up the mountain. It was hard to breath, my Kansas lungs weren’t exactly conditioned for this strenuous activity, but I paid no mind. And even better, my footwear. I didn’t own a pair of hiking boots so I made this entire journey in a pair of Adidas tennis shoes. The man leading me up the mountain couldn’t believe it.
No picture will ever do the majesty of this area justice. The sheer grading, terrain, all of it is nearly impossible to illustrate in a photo. Of all the images I’ve seen, the shot shown below, captured via drone, comes the closest. The Jeep is out of sight, it lied even further below the trail than this shot has captured, but it does illustrate the ridge, thousands of feet above the trail, where Bentley spent his days.
Bentley would be out of sight for long stretches of the ascent. One family member, an avid mountaineer, went across the mountain from a different angle. He would yell down to us as to Bentley’s movements. Eventually, we were nearing the ridge (the top of the mountain), and I could finally see Bentley. He was a mere 50 feet away from me. I sobbed uncontrollably when I first saw him, but quickly attempted to compose myself as to not scare him any more than he was already. Bentley did not trust me. Every step I took, he took 5 up the mountain further from me. I stood still for a while, just talking to him and hoping my voice would eventually sound familiar. I snapped a picture while I waited, look closely as he’s easy to miss–blending into the mountain perfectly.
Eventually he’d had enough and started his way up to the ridge. He moved quickly and efficiently, but with what seemed like a sense of respect for the mountain. Though the terrain was tough and dangerous, you could tell he’d grown accustomed to it.
It took us a while to reach the ridge. Most of the climbing was flat on our bellies. It was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever willingly experienced. You might’ve heard me tell this before, but I laid there at one point, having to stop because I’d maxed out my anxiety to the point where I was physically shaking. I had to take a few minutes to just lie there and breath. This was one of those out of body experiences, where I was doing it, I was mountaineering 2,000 feet up an avalanche chute with a compressed vertebra and bruised ribs, but I had no idea how. I can remember looking down through a cliff near us and thinking, “I am going to have to be rescued off this mountain for a second fucking time.”
Slowly but surely we reached the ridge. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it was NOTHING like the climb we’d just endured. The ridge was absolutely breathtaking. It was wide, like a dirt road running across the top of the mountains. It was almost peaceful, minus the sheer cliff on the back side of the mountain. And I mean…make your stomach drop to your ass type cliff. But otherwise, hands down one of the most breathtaking sights I’ve ever seen.
Bentley was way ahead of me by this point. He’d moved all the way across the ridge and started up another. Now I was getting concerned. How was I supposed to regain his trust? How do you tell an animal to step outside of their survival instincts?
Over the weeks leading up to this moment a variety of resources had been sent my way and shared on the Facebook page by the ladies. One of which was how to interact with a dog in survival mode. It took everything in my body, but I turned around and started walking AWAY from Bentley. With my back towards him, I prayed this would spark some curiosity. And sure enough, after a while, every few minutes he would take a couple steps in my direction. Eventually, with my head down, I slowly worked my way back to the spot where I’d initially stopped. Pretending to ignore him completely, I sat down, took my backpack off, opened up a stinky snack, looked out across the mountain tops and took a much needed break.
I’m not sure how long went by, but he was intrigued. Don’t get me wrong, he was definitely taking his time. But I was patient and silent as he drew closer.
Having sat there for so long, reflecting on the climb I’d just experienced, and how much energy it took from others to get me to this point. I knew they deserved to be apart of this reunion as much as anyone.
Once Bentley was within a good 50 feet of me or so, I started recording what many refer to as “the Bentley video”. Viewed over 4.8 million times on Facebook, receiving 66,000 reactions, and 21,000 shares in counting. This video captures the raw emotion of our long overdue reunion and hit the hearts of so, so many people in the world. Two best friends, survivors. I know my mom was there in that moment. She was there with Bentley through God knows what over those 19 days he spent out there. I imagine her standing behind us, hands on our backs, joining in the most epic group hug on that mountaintop.
At about 1pm MST, Bentley was safely back in my arms.
The video has been an interesting social experiment in some ways. Exponentially more people have a very positive, emotional response to it. Thousands have commented their support, condolences for our loss, and so much more. Others, however, have entirely misunderstood the purpose of this video. I had so much time, prior to Bentley getting close enough to me (where the video begins) to think about how I would approach this. I knew it would be slow, I knew I would have to do my best to remain calm, and above all, I knew I had to let him do the work. HE had to come to me. I couldn’t risk jumping the gun, even just closing those few inches of gap that he and I have towards the end was not worth the risk of him darting away in fear. Because of the preparation time I had, I knew I could manage recording this and more importantly, I WANTED to document what I knew would be a miraculous moment. For me, for my family, and for every single person who had a hand in his recovery. I had no idea at the time it would blow up on the internet–this was about something so much bigger.
For a period of time, it did take a darker turn in my life that not many know about. I felt that the video began to act as as a buffer around my grief for others. It took some time and some therapy to work through my emotions around it. After Bentley’s return, I began to feel like people used it as a crutch to avoid talking about my mom’s passing. Instead of saying, “I’m so sorry for your loss, but I’m so glad you found Bentley.”, I more often heard only, “I’m so glad you found Bentley–that video was incredible.” Still so deep in my grief, that was really hard for me. In my world, despite the miraculous recovery of the dog, my mom was still the only thing that mattered. My love for Bentley didn’t hold a candle to the grief of my mother’s death–so when people made those comments, (which I have no doubt were filled with so much love and pure-intention) it just felt like they’d forgotten the reason he went missing in the first place. It was dark but I just wanted to scream, “who gives a shit about the dog?? My mom is DEAD.” I got to the point where I didn’t even want to talk about the video.
Since then, I have moved significantly further through my grief journey and can now talk about it plainly and without any feelings of offense or hurt. I also know that at no point did anyone ever intentionally disregard my mom’s passing to talk about the dog–it’s just a part of grief. Grief is hard, its ugly, and no one really knows how to talk about it. I understand that completely, as I did at the time too, it just hurt in the moment. I am so grateful that people know our story and can find some joy in such a dark time of our lives. One day I actually got a notification from a woman who is a professional in helping people recover lost dogs from accidents. She shared the video along with her own remarks about how many things I did correctly and that other owners should “commit this to memory” for how to handle dogs in survival mode. Seeing that this video could help others better prepare for their own experiences, just as I had prepared for mine, warmed my heart immensely and reinforced that posting it was absolutely the right thing.
The descent was much more tolerable. We went down a different side of the mountain, my legs felt like jello. Poor Bentley would stop every 50 feet and squat like he needed to pee, but never could. Once we were low enough where there was water, each puddle or stream we passed he would gulp so aggressively it broke my heart. Not knowing his health status, I would let him drink for a minute and then have to yank him away despite how much it hurt me. We made it back to the trail. As we came around a bend that opened up back at the accident site, we were welcomed with cheers, claps, and so many tears. The teams recovering the Jeep were overwhelmed with happiness for our family’s triumph. After so much horror and sadness, this was the most beautiful moment for everyone involved.
I couldn’t wait to tell my dad. My entire body was BURSTING. I didn’t have service for a good hour or longer once we got down the mountain. I’m thinking, gah he’s been safe in my arms for HOURS now and NO ONE knows!! It was horrible and amazing all at once! Finally, I was able to tell everyone the amazing news and post on Facebook to inform the people following.
I was so exhausted. Actually, I’m not sure if I have ever been more exhausted in my entire life. Physically, emotionally, the whole deal. When we got back to Pueblo, one of my aunts who works at a vet brought over food and an IV for Bentley. He and I sat on the kitchen floor together, him laying across my lap as I held the fluid bag above him, and finally, after 19 days, we rested.
Looking at that picture of him, draped over me in exhaustion brings tears to my eyes.
Nothing could cure the pain in my heart over the loss of my mom. But having him back was one less loss to endure and I will be forever grateful to have my mountain man safely at home. Sometimes I watch him sleeping, flopped over on his back without a care in the world and imagine what he must’ve seen and done during those days. I can’t even begin to guess, but I’m so, so proud of him.
Thank you to each and every single person who made his return possible. Without you, I would’ve lost him. Your enduring faith that he was alive, your willingness to go to the ends of the earth to help locate him, and your compassion towards our family will never be forgotten.
Since that day, Bentley has recovered entirely. He went through a phase where he was very possessive of food, but he worked through that quickly. We were blessed to learn that he was healthy from nose to tail, not an injury anyone could find. We’ve also added another fur baby to the family, “Buena”, his little sister named in honor of everything our family endured in Buena Vista, Colorado.
I wish my mom were here today to meet little miss Buena, she would absolutely steal my mother’s heart. And I know for damn sure my mom would so proud of Bentley and I. Jennifer Orr will be forever missed by many, even by hearts she may not have ever realized she touched.
Here’s to tackling your bad hair days head-on, no matter how scary. You never know, they might end up being some of your proudest.