There wasn’t a day that went by for the last 12 years that I didn’t say the words, “Bella is a good girl.” They were sometimes the first words I said in the morning, besides “I love you,” or “Good Morning,” or “Where are the covers?” I guess it is fitting that they were the last words I said to the sweetest dog ever as she slipped out of a world that had become painful and tired.
In October 2003, Parker and I went to the animal shelter. He was in the prolonged process of begging for a puppy of his own. He wanted the responsibility and the job of being a dog owner. He would clean up after her and feed her and walk her . . . we would never know she was there because he would be anticipating her every move. I looked down at my little bald-faced liar and smiled. I didn’t hold it against him. I knew full well that any addition to our dog family would mean that my wife and I would be the main caregivers, especially given that Parker spent half his time with his mom. But kids and dogs kind of go together.
We went to the shelter while my wife was at work. They had a brand new litter of puppies about 10 weeks old. The best the shelter staff could tell us was that the pups had some chow, shepherd and may be some Rottweiler. I was hesitant. Those breeds represented two strikes on my “Don’t Own” count with the shepherd being just off the plate low and outside. We watched the pups anyway. They were beautiful and fuzzy and funny. A fat boy dog kept knocking over his brothers and sisters. Parker pointed excitedly . . . “That one! That one!” I live by the credo that little and obnoxious becomes big and obnoxious. I looked in the back of the area that held the pups. A little brownish-red girl sat quietly and watched the scene in front of her. Her fat brother ran at her fully intending to bump her. She looked at him and raised an eyebrow and leveled her gaze. He stopped, yapped and then found somebody else to knockdown. “What about her?” I asked. She was sleeping in my jacket when my wife came by to “take a look.”
We brought Bella home to meet our other dogs Cody and Cali. Cody was a grouchy old yellow lab that I have mentioned before. Cali was a co-dependent Springer Spaniel. Cody celebrated his new sibling by belching and giving us side-eye. Cali immediately asserted her dominance. For her entire life Bella’s attitude about the canine pecking order was “Okay, you be dominant. I’m going to take a nap.” She pretty much ignored Cali’s desperate attempts at affirmation and acknowledgement.
Don’t get me wrong. Life was not one long Gregorian chant of “Bella is a good girl.” She had her moments. She once listened to a couple hundred dollars of CDs with her teeth while we were gone. We got home and found splintered disks and cases all over the family room floor. She chewed up my a large part of my classic rock CD collection including my Eric Clapton discs. She had very good taste in music . . . get it . . . taste in music? Many of my wife’s old law school books were consumed along with many of my Tom Clancy novels when Bella decided to move past music and take up the printed word. Like I said . . . she had her moments.
Bella’s first Christmas saw her develop her sweet tooth. It was our first Christmas in our new house and my wife was feeling festive. She put out candy dishes around the house and filled them with M&Ms. A little while later I heard a jangling sound. I didn’t think much of it. I went to the living room for an M&M and found nothing. Same in the other bowls. Nothing but disappointment . . . and dog slobber. Bella was sitting by the fireplace trying to act casual. It wasn’t working. I looked at her and realized the jangling sound was her tags hitting the candy dish. My wife panicked. Chocolate is supposed to be toxic to dogs . . . at least that is what we thought.
We called the veterinarian. She said it could be a problem and suggested we make Bella throw up by giving her hydrogen peroxide. Sure . . . just give her peroxide . . . piece of cake. I generally try not to give things with big teeth stuff in their mouths that they don’t want to eat. It’s not a philosophy or anything, just something I try to avoid. I managed to wrestle the first spoonful into her mouth. I was rallying for the next try when she reached over and licked the spoon. Seriously? I put the peroxide in the spoon and she licked it out. I gave her the prescribed dose. I put the cap on the bottle. Somewhere in the background I was hearing whale noises. You know . . . the melancholy moans and cries of whales deep in the tranquil sea. Except they weren’t coming from the tranquil sea, they were coming from Bella’s stomach.
I realized what was happening just in time to push her out of the house and onto the deck. He looked at me sadly . . . hiccupped . . . and projectile vomited on the side of the house. I looked at the Technicolor mixture of half-digested M&Ms on the side of the house and started pushing her down the stairs. She made it to the drive way before the other end let loose. For a few crazy seconds she resembled a gross lawn sprinkler as she spun and flung M&Ms from both ends. I mentioned earlier this was around Christmas. This means it what cold enough for the foulness to freeze solid on the driveway. I told you . . . Bella had her moments.
As our family grew and changed, Bella went with the flow. Only twice did I ever hear her growl. Both times she was putting herself between her family and people who should not have been there. Once was with my wife and another time was with Charlie. In an instant she changed from mellow and sweet to menacing and dangerous. It was sudden, scary and, to me at least, beautiful. The only thing that could get her riled up was a perceived menace to her people. I can appreciate that.
Mostly she was simply part of our family. Both of our younger boys learned to walk holding on to her collar. When Parker left for college she sat on the couch near the big window and waited for him to come back. When I had my heart issues she sat next to my bed with Cody. Bella was a very good girl.
Slowly the years gained on her. Her auburn muzzle turned gray. We moved into our present house and she loved to romp in the woods. Not too long ago, her romps got shorter. We have lots of stairs in our house. I noticed that Bella wasn’t bounding up them anymore. Time was catching up with our girl.
The thing about time is, you always think you have more. It was pretty obvious Sunday that Bella’s time was running out. She hadn’t eaten since Wednesday and hadn’t peed in 24 hours. I tried to take her outside. She couldn’t stand up. I knelt next to her. My supervisor when I worked for the State of Alaska once told about the relationship between dogs and people. She was a serious dog person. She told me that when humans domesticated dogs there was a give-and-take in the relationship. Dogs gave up some of their freedom for warmth, comfort, love and companionship. One thing they gave up was their ability to control their own mortality. When a wolf or other wild canine is ready to pass, the separate themselves from their pack. The go off by themselves and let nature take its course. When they became domesticated, they lost that freedom. They can’t just leave so much anymore, because humans come and find them. They have to trust that their humans will know when it is time. The last time Bella went outside she found a spot next to our house almost under the porch. She nestled in and wouldn’t come out. Now she was looking up and telling me that it was time. I didn’t want to listen.
Today at the vet’s office we listened. I had to call Parker and tell him about his girl. He knew it was coming. We kept him in the loop over the weekend. He is a tough kid, but he isn’t that tough. He didn’t let me hear him cry on the phone. But I know him. Bella was his girl.
Charlie knew when we left this morning that we probably wouldn’t be bringing her back. He is trapped somewhere between child and man. He helped me get her in the car like a man and cried his eyes out while he was doing it. Later this afternoon, when Eli got home, Charlie sat next to his little brother. He put his arm around Eli’s shoulders and told him that Bella was gone. Eli asked when she was coming back and he tried to explain. Eli fought tears and said that he missed Bella. Charlie touched Eli’s chest.
“She’ll always be right here in your heart,” he told his brother. “You are always in her heart.” I don’t think I have ever been prouder.
My wife is a control person. However she is the good kind of control person. The kind that makes things happen for her family and the ones she loves. She can’t control this, so she’s taking it hard. She is also the purest type of dog person. She and Bella were best friends. She is now devoted herself to helping Abby, our pug mix get through this. Abby is sad and confused, like the rest of us. My wife will help her.
We will all miss her, but already there are smiles as Bella stories are told. There has even been some laughing tonight. Bella would be pleased. She brought a lifetime of love and happiness into our home and she took only a little when left. She wasn’t about sadness. She was about love and joy and her family.
Bella was a very good girl.
Thanks for reading folks. We’ll be back soon on This Side of the Diaper.