Megan Lawty's nickname for her 150 pound St. Bernard Bentley was "Sunshine" because the gentle giant was such a happy dog and made her smile every time he greeted her. He and her 160 pound English Mastiff Ty made quite a pair, she said.
"They were my boys," said Lawty. "Everybody knew my boys."
But this week, when Bentley wandered away from his rural Warren County home, someone shot and killed him.
"I feel like my child has been murdered," said Lawty. "I feel like somebody shot him for no reason just because they want to shoot an animal. He wasn't an animal… He was my best friend."
Bentley wandered away from home Sunday, setting Lawty on a frantic search. She traveled two counties putting up missing dog flyers, visited shelters and vets.
There was a momentary glimmer of hope when a woman saw a Facebook posting about Bentley and reported that her husband had spotted the St. Bernard but didn't realize he was missing. That sent Lawty on yet another daylong search, but when she returned home Wednesday evening, there was a message from a Warren County animal control deputy.
"He said, ‘I don’t know how to tell you this, but your dog's been shot,’” Lawty said.
A family who lives nearby found Bentley's body when they went to investigate a foul odor. The deputy said it appeared the bullet went through Bentley's body. Now an investigation is under way to try to determine what happened.
Bentley's body was picked up Thursday and taken to the Virginia Department of Agriculture lab in Warrenton, Deputy Walter Carper said. A necropsy will be performed to determine the exact cause of death.
Lawty said she doubts investigators will be able to track down her dog's killer, but if they do, she hopes the shooter will be prosecuted.
For now, she still finds herself waiting to hear Bentley's scratch at the door to come into the house.
"It feels so empty without Bentley here,” she said. “I feel my other half, the yin to my yang, is gone."