The initial sting and sorrow at losing our beloved Bella, the dachshund, on Friday has abated. And the house continues to seem unusually quiet. This probably stems from the lack of profanities being uttered as one of the occupants residing herein found a pile of puppy poop the hard way, if you know what I mean.
Many of you have followed her since we got her last year. Many of you don’t know the backstory of how she came to be such a huge part of our household and how she won our hearts. So for my own mental health and in an attempt to capture these memories, I’m going to tell you Bella’s story.
I was desperate.
Now that’s not something that’s really unusual for me. I’m desperate for a number of reasons, but just a year and a few weeks ago, I was really, REALLY desperate to come up with a birthday gift for the lovely, talented and buxom Beth Geyer, my dearest significant other. (And before you get all weird on me, she not only approves of the aforementioned description, some time ago she insisted on it and it stuck.) She had mentioned a few times that she was longing for a pet, namely a kitten.
I’m fine with cats. In fact, this is one of the few places I’ve lived in which I do not have a feline patrolling the premises. So I had been on the lookout for a kitten for a number of weeks, making it a point to hit up the PetSmarts and Petcos of the world in search of a small furry feline. I even scoped out the Prince William County animal shelter when I was in the area. But, as it was the tail end of winter, small kittens were in short supply.
I should have seen it coming. February 28, 2013 was upon me more quickly than I had anticipated, the invariable progress of time notwithstanding. Two days. I was down to two days and I was desperate.
I gathered Nate, the younger of Beth’s small humans, and departed for some such adventure, as was our routine in those days before permanent employment. Shortly after our departure, we found ourselves in the vicinity of the Prince William County Animal Shelter. I asked Nate if he wanted to stop in and he agreed.
Nate hadn’t been there before, but I had. So I knew where to guide him to have a look at the kittens and cats available for rescue. On our way past, I noticed a small cage sitting on the floor of the hall in which was a tiny brown furry creature of some sort. But since we were in search of a kitten, we both breezed past pretty quickly. Upon determining that there were no kittens that fit the bill, Nate and I turned around and headed back through the hall toward the kennels in which the dogs were housed.
There again on the floor of the hall was the same tiny brown furry creature but this time, it was facing us.
It was a very tiny dachshund. In a very tiny cage.
I should mention that I’m a sucker for a hard luck cases. This poor little puppy practically defined the term. She was clearly frightened, dejected and not at all well. Nate and I bent closer to have a look at this pup and she scooted over toward us. After determining that this little dear heart wasn’t in a defensive mood, we moved in even closer and the puppy started sniffing and licking our fingers through the cage as puppies do.
I don’t remember if her tail was wagging at all or not. She was still confined to the small wire-framed kennel in which she’d just been surrendered and didn’t have much room to maneuver.
Just then, one of the shelter’s employees happened by and I stopped her and asked if we could pet the new arrival. She gladly obliged my request and let the puppy out of her kennel.
Nate, of course, was excited but having not been around pets at all very much, he didn’t know exactly how to behave. It was hilarious to watch Nate! It was a classic approach-avoidance scenario. He wanted so badly to interact with the puppy, but when she tried to hop up and lick his face or sit on his lap, he was alternately welcoming and terrified. The more he tried to get away from her, the more she’d try to get close to him. And the more she tried to get close to him the more he’d wriggle away, not sure just what to do about this small creature.
I tried to tell him that the puppy wouldn’t hurt him — she just wanted to play with him. I instructed him to sit still and she’d come to him, but he wasn’t having any of that whatsoever! Their “I’m-going-to-get-you!-No,-you’re-not!” dance continued much to my delight.
This dance would define their relationship.
Here’s the big problem. This was a dachshund puppy. This was the one breed of dog that Beth mentioned as being her least favorite breed of dog. Not just that she didn’t like them. She specified that they were her least favorite.
Seeing Nate’s alternating joy and slowly abating horror at the puppy in his presence, I started to think that this could seriously solve the birthday present problem, but there was great potential to create a longer-term issue of bringing home to Beth a pet that she’d dislike.
The words “least” and “favorite” kept buzzing around my head like annoying, biting flies.
I asked the shelter employee about her backstory? Why was she surrendered to the shelter? Where did she come from? The dog had been given the name Rosie. As I recall it now, Rosie had lived with someone who was at first provided a loving home. They had paper-trained her for peeing, but she hadn’t completed the housebreaking process and still pooped somewhat indiscriminately.
At some point, Rosie’s original owners had to go away on vacation or some such event that forced them to be away and made arrangements for a third party to care for her. This continued for some time and the people never came back to claim her. I don’t know why or how someone could do this to any living creature, but in the days and weeks following, Rosie had been essentially ignored. By the time she arrived at the shelter, she was horribly underweight, she had infections in both of her ears, and a number of skin lesions.
She was a mess.
Remember when I told you I was a sucker for hard luck cases? Here’s where it’s becomes relevant.
I could not allow this poor defenseless puppy to be placed into the general population of shelter dogs. Even if she were only there for an overnight, it was unthinkable for such a sweet, small, sick puppy to bear such a thing. You’ve been to those places. You know what it’s like. The dogs are often stressed to the breaking point just from being in a strange, uncomfortable kennel with other dogs. The yelping and howling of other shelter dogs would undoubtedly unnerve poor baby Rosie were she to enter the general population. She was far too fragile and far too sweet and Nate was far too engaged with her for me to allow that to happen.
So we rescued her.
$45, I think was the adoption fee and that included shots. The shelter was sure to explain the contractual obligation to have her spayed through the shelter when she was healthy enough to tolerate the surgery. $140 for the surgery. $30 for post-operative pain meds. No problem.
I recall the staff at the shelter being such wonderful people and made the process as easy and as stress free as it could be. I really was delighted with the process though I found myself terrified about bringing home a wiener dog to Beth. That’s ok. I was committed to taking the ass chewing, if necessary. But there was no way I could allow Rosie to suffer any more injustice at the hands of an overburdened animal control facility.
Nate and I dashed over to the closest ATM, which was just a minute down the road. We got the cash for the adoption fee, drove quickly back to the shelter and sealed the deal.
I took Rosie and Nate home. Beth had been napping that day and so after putting Rosie in the living room with Nate, I proceeded upstairs and gently woke Beth.
“Your birthday present is downstairs and wants to meet you.”
It was love at first sight. And I was thrilled at the reception Beth gave her. Beth was all smiles and so very affectionate with Rosie that any sense of “least favorite” was gone.
Rosie was home.
That afternoon, I took her to the local veterinary clinic to address her health issues. When I got to the clinic, there were a few larger dogs there and to keep her calm, I held her close and rocked her gently from side to side as anyone who’s ever had children does almost instinctively. She snoozed a little, trembling at the loud noises but settling back into my arms with a relieved sigh when the immediate threat was gone.
After a long wait, we were escorted into the treatment room, she was examined and determined to be the mess I thought she was:
“Thank you for bringing Rosie in to see us today. She is such a sweet little lady and did great for her exam. We are sending home medication to treat Rosie’s skin and ears. Please monitor the mass on Rosie’s side for any change in size or character. If the mass hasn’t resolved in the next 4-6 weeks or were to increase in size we would recommend rechecking it.”
They gave me three prescriptions, a long list of instructions and some gentle shampoo for her skin.
By the time I got home, Garrett, the older of Beth’s boys, arrived home from school and greeted his new family member enthusiastically. The boys played with her, and Beth cuddled her. From that moment on and for the year or so she was with us, there wasn’t a moment that Rosie, who got the name Bella after a day or two, wasn’t engaged with one of her human family.
When Garrett woke up in the morning, Bella would stay with him on the couch watching cartoons snuggled up close by until it was time to go to school. Garrett would often say that Bella was in her dog nest when they were cuddling together. When Nate darted downstairs and around the house, Bella would chase him and growl at him playfully, reinvigorating the dance they’d started on the floor of the hall in the shelter the day they met. She’d grab at his pant legs and hang on for dear life. We always said that Nate was Bella’s own personal chew toy and Bella would never pass up a moment to engage him in raucous play. During the day, Beth and Bella would snuggle up and read or watch TV. Bella would accompany Beth around the house when she was doing housework. Rarely was Bella out of sight from at least one of us. And at night, Bella would demand to lick my face as we watched TV together, and after repeated refusals, would finally settle for falling asleep on my outstretched legs.
I’m out of words now. Writing this has made me laugh. It’s also made me sob. I miss Bella terribly. She spent all of 379 days in our world and I can’t remember a day in which her little brown face didn’t enrich me in some way.
379 days. How can someone so small who was with us for such a short time have affected our family and me so profoundly? I have no explanation nor am I really interested to find out. All I know is that I miss her. And as I move about the house, I’m filled with reminders of her presence. The baby gates that kept her and the carpets upstairs safe are gone. Her bowls are washed and stored away, her puppy food no longer nearby. Bella’s dog toys no longer adorn the living room floor. The dog spit she chose to deposit on my face with her boundless affection has been replaced with my tears.
Goodbye, sweet puppy. You made a difference in my life.