seven years ago, my life changed. i brought home this weird fat little miniature pinscher, not knowing that it was the start of true love.
dogs, generally, love me. i guess that’s probably why i love dogs. in my soul, i’m a cat person. but dogs adore me and you can’t just say no to all those good dogs. they seduced me into being a dog person. i’ve lived with a handful of dogs; 12/10, every one. they teach me how to be joyful and present in a way that neither cats nor humans can manage. dogs are immediate and genuine. they are love and appetite and energy.
bella was a surrender. her tiny frame carried 18 pounds of bored and neurotic fat. her original family kept her crated to keep her safe from their 85 pound bull breed. she hadn’t seen grass or liberty for months when she went to a foster home, a place in the suburbs where she went on leash walks and shed 2 of her many pounds.
i had never had (or even wanted) a toy breed. i like big, boisterous dogs who can lope for miles. but a little voice told me that i should inquire about this small pointy dog. the foster family brought her to a hobby farm to see how she behaved around chickens and livestock. she was a natural. they sent me videos of her looking askance at chickens. and so i pulled the trigger. filled out the paperwork. brought her home.
she and lola, my black lab, never really got to be friends. they’d both fuss if the other wasn’t around, but were always aloof with each other. they shared one passion pretty quickly: me. and bella’s passion quickly surpassed lola’s. within a week, bella had established me as her person. it broke lola’s heart a little bit. i’m not sure she every really healed from that. but bella never looked back.
that first week was a revelation to my tiny new friend. she got bonked by a horse, learned to fight chickens for bread scraps, found nasty things to roll in, learned about wild strawberries, and spent most of her time doing her ”grass dance”, rolling with joyful abandon in the grass as though she could never get enough of it. in the intervening seven years, she did stuff like that every day. her small life became so big and beautiful. we went on long walks and discovered frogs. she hopped after them through the grasses and forests. she learned the distinct caterwaul of a cat with a mouse or a bunny or a chipmunk and moved in to claim the kill. if it was a mouse, she could gulp it all down in one go. she added blueberries and raspberries and blackberries to her list of things that amazingly grew right out there in the woods! she protected the homestead with her fierce little bork, always looking to see that i was safe. when i fell and hurt my ankle, she wouldn’t leave my side so i could load up in the car and head to the ER. she had her nose on the wind, her ears pricked up, always, and her eyes on me. her eyes led directly to her heart and back again.
a few months ago, her vet diagnosed diabetes and had concerns about cushing’s disease. we began insulin injections and monitoring. 2 units became 5 units became 7 units. we never stabilized her blood glucose. and then, in a matter of days, she lost her sight entirely. on wednesday, she could see. by friday, she was blind. on wednesday, she was bella. by friday, she was some other dog entirely.
her enormous world became tiny and frightening. she got lost in the house, smacking into walls that she’d maneuvered nimbly around for years, tumbling down the front steps, wandering into the edge of the woods and getting stuck there by saplings. her ears and nose seemed to be as confounded as her eyes. my voice echoed off the trees. she’d wander in circles, unable to find me. i had to teach her a new command to take a treat, because she didn’t seem to be able to find one on the floor or in her dish. she didn’t adapt. she never developed coping mechanisms. three weeks later, she was just as likely to walk directly into a wall when aiming for the kitchen door as she was on the first day that she couldn’t see.
she was depressed, disoriented. i was, too. and i made the decision that we have to make when we love dogs: it was time for bella to sleep. her vet agreed and i arranged to have a last week with my best friend. she was going to eat all the things she wasn’t allowed to eat: cheese. bacon. ham. peanut butter. full-fat yogurt. i was going to slow down, sit still, and absorb the last days of her life.
the ‘last week’ is a perilous concept. every day, i see her do a thing and think to myself ”is she adjusting? is she adapting? was i too rash?” but if she is, it’s too slowly. and it’s overshadowed by diabetes and cushing’s and her inability to metabolize fats. realistically, there are too many pathologies for a good prognosis. i feel like the grim reaper, but my heart knows what is true.
here are the things you should know about bella:
she never met a food she didn’t like.
she loved big, squeezy hugs.
she would awoo late at night along with the coyote song that echoed off the hills.
the only thing she loved more than me and food were her precious feet.
she hated sweaters.
she hated goats. until the neighbor’s herd started visiting and she loved them so much that she followed them home, through coyote-infested woods.
scrolling through my photos, i realize that i don’t really have that many pictures of bella, given the tremendous bond that we shared. the simple explanation is this: she was almost always on me, near me, tucked into my blanket, squeezed into my sweatshirt, laid on my chest, trotting at my side, difficult to capture for posterity. and it strikes me that we loved each other very much in the moment. as it should be.
november 16, 2011-march 28, 2022
if you’re moved to honor bella’s memory, please consider a donation to Potter’s Angels Rescue. or give your own doggo a small piece of cheese and a big squeezy hug; bella would approve.