Meet Bentley: "My New Best Friend"


Tom Wilson, Ph.D.

"Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in
looking outward together in the same direction. There is no comradeship except
through union in the same effort."

                                                                                             -Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
In the last hours of 2008, I curled up on the couch and conducted a little gratitude inventory of the year. All the things one might expect: the gift of life; the miracle of this beautiful sky-blue watershed floating in space; the love shared by friends and family; connecting with those we meet on our journey; having work that can be called “a path with a heart.” At one point I held up my hands and looked at them, feeling such deep gratitude for being able to have these hands to touch other beings in my work. What a simple miracle we are: feet to walk the earth and hands to touch. Hands are an extension of the heart. The heart meridian runs directly from the heart to the hands, passing through acupressure point Heart-7, Spirit Gate, in the crease of the wrist. We touch from the heart. We connect with spirit.

As I thought of the people and animals I touched in the last year, the image of Bentley, a 144-pound English Mastiff, kept coming back and making me smile till I would burst out laughing. The consummate English gentleman in a fur coat. I’d love to celebrate him and share his story with you. From the perspective of massage and energy work, Bentley’s story encompasses virtually the complete spectrum of our work, filled with all the challenges attending a life-threatening illness. On the level of spirit, working with Bentley has been an incredible and precious heart connection for me.

Bentley’s Condition

Bentley suffered from a malformation of vertebrae in his lumbar spine, where the vertebrae were bulging and appeared to be deteriorating. Given his size and weight, Bentley’s back legs would give out on him; he would fall and not be able to get back up. His guardian took him to a number of veterinarian specialists who put him on large doses of prednisone to ease the inflammation and pain, which enabled him to regain control of his back legs. It would work for a while, but soon he would start falling again.

Prednisone in large doses is not a long-term solution, given its adverse effects on the body and immune system. It was simply the lesser of two evils, the other being to put Bentley down. The osteopathic vet recommended surgery, which included a $2,000 myelogram and a $5,000 surgery. Bentley’s guardian is on Social Security and could not afford the surgery. With no assurance that the surgery would work, Bentley’s guardian did not want to put him through the pain of surgery; nor did she want to have to euthanize him.

Looking for alternatives, Bentley’s guardian turned to a chiropractor, who worked with Bentley but felt that he wasn’t getting the needed results and recommended energy work with me. This is often the place we get called in with healing touch modalities such as acupressure, Jin Shin Jyutsu, craniosacral, Tui Na, Zen Shiatsu, Qigong and Reiki. And it is not because energy work is going to guarantee a miracle cure. Nor is it an either-or choice of Eastern and Western approaches to healing. Acupressure and other traditional Asian therapies offer a non-invasive approach, one that strengthens the body’s immune system, which may, depending on the nature of the disease, allow the body to heal itself naturally. By optimizing the immune system, energy work enhances the possibilities for healing. Even if a cure is not in an animal’s destiny, even if the body is not strong enough to overcome imbalances in its systems, energy work still holds the potential to improve the condition and reduce pain naturally, resulting in a better quality of life in the time remaining.

This was clearly the case with Bentley. Almost six years old, Bentley was well into middle age, given that the life expectancy of an English Mastiff is about ten years. Because of their size, weight, and breeding, English Mastiffs often suffer critical bone problems at Bentley’s age. Relying on the findings of Bentley’s vets, there appeared to be significant damage to the lumbar vertebrae, along with inflammation and pain. Bentley’s medical prognosis was not good. 

When conventional Western medicine has gone as far as it can, animal guardians may seek alternative healing modalities out of a hope for a cure; but more often it is out of a desire to take care of their animals in the most non-invasive and loving way possible. They want to know that they have done all they could possibly do. The truth, I believe, is that animal guardians don’t want their pet’s lives to end in a blur of medications, surgeries, and pain. My experience has taught me that loving animal guardians instinctively are seeking healing on levels beyond the physical.

Working With Bentley

When the door opened, there was Bentley and his guardian—and, oh, was he a giant of a dog! As always, the first thing I look for in reading an animal is Shen, which is spirit or soul, which manifests as radiance in the body—and the first place I look for that sparkle is in the eyes. According to an ancient Chinese text, if the Shen is there, the prognosis is good. Bentley eyes were bright. What I also perceived was an incredible sense of Bentley’s awareness, intelligence, and consciousness. The deepest truths may live in the realm of the unsayable, but I sensed that Bentley knew exactly what was going on and he was not ready to leave yet.

But how was I going to help him? In energy work, we address the whole being, not just symptoms. So I knew I could give him a full body balancing with acupressure’s Extraordinary Vessel flows called the Central and the Regulator. Harmonize the system and see what happens. When we got down on the floor to work, what came to me in a flash was craniosacral and the relationship between the sacrum and the occipital bones. The occiput and sacrum reflex together. They breathe together. If one of the bones locks up, they can both lock up and the spine will lose its flexibility, its wave-like action—and everything stiffens, including individual vertebrae. A locked sacrum means a loss of motility, the spontaneous ability to move.

So I worked with craniosacral to restore the motility of the whole spine. Then I turned my attention to the hip joints and lower back with Jin Shin Jyutsu and acupressure points to address the relationship of the piriformis muscle to the sacrum and the psoas muscle to the lumbar spine. In my hands I could feel how surrendered Bentley was to the work. He was “zoning.” After this quiet work, I used Tui Na (Chinese Massage) to work all of the major muscle groups of the body to help relax his musculature and restore range of motion in his limbs. I also used Tui Na for a full acupressure massage to balance the meridians—and because Bentley seemed to love the more physical work. I ended with an Extraordinary Vessel Flow to regulate all of the body’s systems.

When the session was over, I raised myself to my knees beside Bentley. When Bentley stood up, we were at eye level. And that’s when he came over to me and put his head on top of mine and pulled me into his body at the heart level, hugging me. I had this sense of how perceptive and knowing he was about what we were doing together. My affectionate English gentleman was saying thank you.

After the session, Bentley was able to walk freely without limping. What we were doing was working effectively. But we were far from being out of the woods. He would walk well for a couple of days, and then have an episode of falling. So I kept coming back and working with him. When I arrived for sessions, Bentley would meet me in the long driveway, prancing up to me proudly, showing me how well he could walk. His gait was very balanced. Our sessions were wonderful. I sensed Bentley going very deep and felt the energy transformations in his body. After sessions, he always wanted to hug and cuddle up on the floor with me. Bentley and I were bonded at the heart. 

While we didn’t cure Bentley’s back problem, we came to a good place. Bentley’s guardian was sure now that she wasn’t going to do the surgery or anything invasive. She wanted him off prednisone because of its adverse side effects. When she cut back on it, however, Bentley would have more frequent episodes of falling. As energy-work practitioners, we don’t diagnose or tell guardians what to do with medications. It’s not ethical. We’re not medical practitioners. Medical decisions must stay with the guardian.

I did, however, help her research the prednisone issue. I spoke with a trusted physician I know well. He said that prednisone is a very toxic and problematic drug in high doses and least toxic in small doses. If Bentley couldn’t walk, he would be put down. Bentley’s guardian talked with her vet and they agreed on a very low dose of prednisone to be used in combination with acupressure treatments—a meeting of East and West. So the medication stayed in low dosage as the lesser of the two evils. Bentley had a life back. His spirits were high. There was no question about the sparkle in his eye and his love of life.

Bentley would have good days and some bad days; but on balance, his life was good. We were maintaining quality of life. Early on, I was coming every couple of days. As we continued working, I would come weekly or when Bentley hit a dicey patch. His guardian was now clear on what to do. Her fears about not taking good care of him and not doing the right thing were replaced by enjoying her time with him. I gave her acupressure points and flows to work on him, and taught her some Tui Na (Chinese Massage). On my visits, Bentley and I had our routine, meeting in the driveway, he showing me his stuff, bouncing around, me delighted and encouraging. We’d hang out together outside before going in. He’d stand up with his front paws on my shoulders and give me a big kiss. During the time I would work with Bentley, I cornered my friends and said, “Hey, have I told you about my new best friend, Bentley?”


Some months later, I was heading out to Philadelphia  to teach a class; and on the way to the airport something in me said I should have gone to see Bentley before I left—just in case. It was a foreboding, and I tried to shrug it off. It turned out to be true. When I returned, Bentley was gone.

I really miss him. I remember how he used to show me where to work on him. Once I positioned myself beside him to work on his hips and he turned around and laid his right shoulder across my leg, just as his guardian came into the room saying, “Oh, did I tell you he’s having a problem in his right shoulder today?” I’m grateful for Bentley. And I’m grateful for a work that not only addresses the possibilities for healing, but also deepens our connection and relationship to our animals. Bentley’s my vote for Time magazine’s Man of the Year. 

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© Copyright 2010 Tom Wilson, All Rights Reserved 



© Copyright 2010 Tom Wilson, All Rights Reserved
P.O. Box 2278 Nevada City, CA 95959-1945
Phone: (530) 913.1309