I've had to make difficult decision regarding animal friends I have had. Some I regret when I think about feelings of missing. All were necessary at the time. And the time of the decision would not have changed the decision, but in hindsight sometimes I forget that. Today I miss most particularly my cat Sage and my dog Bella, both of whom are no longer with me but still occupy a special place in my heart. Below is a piece I wrote about Bella in particular.
She came to me in the rain, the pouring rain, driven down from Berkeley, California by a former City Councilman who was looking for the right home for his beloved dog. He lived on a boat and the dog could not be kept on the boat any longer according to the rules of his marina. He owned her for year or so, after having adopted her from her previous owner who had died. When Bella arrived in the actual pouring rain, during the time of the metaphorical pouring rain in the months after my husband died, she was lead to my door, scratched on it with her paw and walked inside like she was home. Satisfied, the former council member thanked us, and got in his car to drive back to Berkeley. He loved this dog that much to drive over 700 miles to find her a good home. I soon learned how much I also would do for this dog.
He said she was housebroken, and she was not, we soon learned, but he also said she was a good dog, and good dog she was. Smart, too. An escape artist as well. At 65 pounds, not a small dog, she not only tried to dig under, but climb over ordinary barriers in the backyard. I placed bricks around the perimeter she she couldn’t tunnel under, and plywood around the tree, so she couldn’t climb in and jump over the fence. It took a while to figure out that escape route for me, I didn’t know dogs climbed trees. Although, I also acquired a cat that plays fetch, so my understanding of the animal world is imprecise at best.
Bella loved tennis balls which she buried like bones and dug up to chew until they were pulverized. She didn’t know fetch, only run and get the ball and guard it until she had time to bury it after I lost interest in seeing if she would give it to me. She talked to me with a howl when she was frustrated that I wasn’t paying attention. A gentle dog, she was fiercely protective of me until she knew I was okay with the person. A hunter in many ways, she caught several possums, rats, birds, and lizards.
The first time Bella caught a possum she delivered it to the back door in the middle of the night and stood barking. I awoke and climbed out of bed to see what she was barking at. As soon as I stepped outside, she picked the possum up, took it a few feet away, dropped it, and started barking at it. This is when I understood what “playing possum” meant. The possum would not move, Bella would not stop barking and trying to protect me from it. I learned, over the years, that when Bella caught a possum it was a two person operation to extract it from her. One person distracting Bella with a treat and the other person scooping the possum in a shovel and removing it from the area.
Bella was the queen of what became a menagerie, added bit by bit and introduced ever so gently, opening up Bella’s big heart even more. Bella got along well with other dogs outside of the house, but what would happen when a new dog came into her domain? About a year after we rescued Bella, who was then about four, we decided to add a puppy for Bella to play with, we hoped. Sadie, a purebred Golden Retriever pup, who we brought home when she was about four months old, still in downy fur, was the antithesis of the chill Bella. Sadie barked if there is a gopher three blocks down. When Bella barks, something is amiss. Sadie is wired. She runs, she jumps, she hops, she almost skips. Bella moves at the speed that is necessary, taking it all in. At their first meeting, Sadie ran under the table and when Bella headed for her, I had thoughts of possums. I picked Sadie up and introduced her nose to nose. The introduction was built up over days and after time, Bella became a ‘new’ dog. She and Sadie played and romped.
When, about a year later, we added two kittens, the introductions took longer, on both parts. But now they are animal friends, sisters all. With Bella as the grand old dame.
About a month ago, Bella developed an ear infection. Antibiotics and prednisone cleared that up. Then, a couple of weeks after, she contracted some sort of skin infection which left her smelling rank. When I trimmed off her fur to get to the source, I found a growth. A very large growth, just under her tail. When I took Bella to the vet this time I mentioned the growth. He said once the infection cleared up he wanted to remove the growth. He said she actually had two of them. He said they were melanomas. He said if they were in her mouth, he would be discussing euthanasia, but he said she could have some time still. I asked about how much it would be and the receptionist said $200 or $300. A lot, but for another year or two with Bella. Not a lot.
Today when I went to pick her up from surgery the Vet was more concerned. It was not good news, he said. The prognosis was hopefully two to four years unless the cancer had spread to other organs. I left the vet in tears. I love this dog. I do not want to lose this dog right now. I have lost many people that I have loved and yet I have never lost a dog that I have loved. Not loved as much as this dog. She has such heart. As she’s laying recovering from her surgery, I walk into the room. Her tail wags. Her tail always wags when she sees me looking at her. She is the dog that loves me without question. It’s not about the treats I give her or that I feed her or that I pet her. She is always focused on me. She is what people mean when they say a dog is a companion. With Bella I feel safe and protected. She came into my life at a time when I needed safety and protection. And now, I will protect her during the last time of her life, no matter how long, no matter the cost. She came to me in the rain and brought sunshine into my life, I love this dog. I love my Bella.
And I still do, even though she no longer lives with me and the menagerie which now consists only of Sadie. The cats needed to be rehomed, and Bella, my beloved Bella, with heart until the end, lived two more years before it was a difficult but right and kind gesture to offer her peace. One other day, I will also write about that decision that ended her pain but wracked my soul. I miss her.