Jake was featured on the cover of Bentley’s self-titled debut album in 2003 and appeared in at least three of his music videos: for debut single “What Was I Thinkin’,” “Up on the Ridge” and “Feel That Fire.” The dog also made the scene at parties celebrating Bentley’s successes, at tour rehearsals, at a performance or two at the Grand Ole Opry and even on an episode of The View.
In January 2013, when Jake hopped a fence at the family’s Nashville home after getting spooked during a storm, and Bentley took to social media asking for help, it seemed as though half the city was engaged in the ultimately successful 18-hour search for him.
At the opening of Bentley’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum exhibit in March, Jake was again by his side as the singer told the crowd, “Jake’s been with me through every phase of my career, before I had a publishing deal, before I even had a gig, really. He was there when I got my first gigs downtown. He’d be waiting there in the windowsill. He actually wore out a little spot in the couch where he’d wait for me. … I’d come home real late, and he’d be there sitting in the window, putting in his time. That was his years of grinding, sitting in the window for me.”
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“I haven’t told anyone this story, Bentley reveals to Billboard. “On my birthday, November 20 , I found this bump on his neck. I was like, ‘This doesn’t feel right. I’ve been petting this dog for 15 years. That’s new.’ I took him in and we found out he had lymphoma. We had to get that spot removed as part of the process.”
But after bringing Jake home following the surgery, the family discovered he could no longer walk. “Something had happened during the procedure [that] messed up his back,” he says. “My wife and I were very conscious [that] when his quality of life reaches a certain point, that’s it. We’re not going to watch him lose his dignity at the end. So we made a decision.”
After calling to arrange for a vet to come to their home and euthanize Jake, Bentley says, “We cried for 24 hours. It was so brutal.”
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But when the vet arrived, Bentley recalls, he looked Jake over, immediately realized the dog had a slipped disc in his back, and advised the family to crate him for two weeks of healing.
“It was the biggest 180 in my entire life,” Bentley says. “I went from thinking I was going to have to put Jake down in that moment to he’s going to be OK. It was crazy. We ended up getting an extra six months with him.”
And while he’s grateful for the additional time, Bentley is still gutted by Jake’s death in July. “It’s been rough,” he admits. “I try to be conscious of all the suffering and true sadness in the world. At the same time, I can’t deny how I feel, and it’s been tough.
“He’s been with me from my single days to getting married to all my kids coming along,” he says. “My life’s changed and he’s made those changes with me. That will definitely be my last dog. My kids might get another dog, but I’m done.” (The family does already have another dog, who Bentley refers to as “Georgie Boy,” but unlike Jake, he says that dog “likes to stay out of the limelight. He’s a little low-key.”)
On his current album, Black, Bentley included lyrics about a then-ailing Jake in the album-closing song, “Can’t Be Replaced,” on which he sings: “For 15 years right by my side/ From a single man to three kids and a wife/ Friends come and go, but when it comes to Jake/ There’s just some things that can’t be replaced.”
At some tour stops in July, Bentley paid further tribute to Jake with a photo montage that displayed behind him while he sang “Every Mile a Memory.”