As I wrote in a previous post, we were anticipating having to put our dear dog, Bella, down this week. We did it this morning, under a grey and raining California sky.
Bella found us almost 11 years ago, only a few months after my husband and I got married. I had gone to our local shopping center for my morning bagel and there she was, darting between cars in the parking lot. I suppose someone had dumped her there. A friend managed to get her onto the sidewalk and I said I would take her in my van to the animal shelter. I reached down to pet her and found myself looking into her very frightened brown eyes. There was kind of this instant connection between us, as of she were saying to me, “Where were you? I need you.” I just knew in that one instant that she was a very special animal and that we needed to be together.
It turned out to be the luckiest day of both our lives. When no one claimed her at the shelter, she became our second dog. It took her some time to come to terms with our first dog, Shadow, but once she did, she settled right in. Many animals pick a person to be “theirs,” and I was very definitely hers. For 11 years, she has followed me from room to room, from inside the house to outside, and just about anywhere else I would let her go. When I would take a bath, she would walk right in, stick her nose over the side of the tub to check I was still there, then give me a lick or two and click-click back out into the bedroom to wait for me to come to my senses and get out of the water. She also routinely followed me into the closet, sure that there might be some secret escape route, I guess.
Bella gave us some good times. Once, she ate our couch. We needed a new couch anyway, and she was just trying to help. Once, while we were out to dinner, she slipped out of the backyard and disappeared. Two very frantic days I would not want to relive for anything followed – and then we found that she had been picked up by the dog catcher perhaps a whole 20 minutes after leaving the yard. Apparently, she walked right up to his truck and said, “Hi, Mr. Man, can I go for a ride with you?” After a weekend in dog jail, she was very happy to be home. Once, Terry and I took her on a hike along the Bolinas Ridge in Marin County that took us through a cow pasture. A young black bull – I would say at least 1,000 lbs, snorted at us from about 40 yards away and pawed the ground. I got really scared and started to panic, my voice rising. Bella took one look at that bull and gave two barks – “Woof, WOOF!!” and I’ll be damned if he didn’t turn on his hoof and run away! Bella was like that – she had no idea she was a dog and not a bull or a person.
On Sept. 11, 2001, she kept sticking her wet nose into my hand as I sat in front of the television with tears running down my face. When I had my miscarriages, each time I came home from the hospital, she was there, sticking her nose over the top of the bed to check I was there and okay – I think she could smell is I was okay. Then she’d kiss me. She always knew when I was upset and a cold, wet nose and a lick or two were her favored remedy.
Since 1998, everything I have written has been done with Bella lying on my foot or close enough to touch me. She was there when I finished my first book, my second and my third. I have written this whole blog with her nearby. I couldn’t even begin to count the stories I have written that she has been part of, snoozing by the computer as I interviewed people and typed away.
Things Bella loved – sharing a Popsicle with mama, a lick for me, a lick for her. Scrambled eggs, pancakes, purple grapes, bananas, peanut butter,people who came to the house to see her, a scratch behind the ears, going away for a weekend with mom and dad, chasing squirrels, putting her head on daddy’s shorts, helping tear the wrapping paper off packages. Things she did not love – a camera flash, a flickering candle, going outside in the rain, other dogs. Cats were not high on her list, either.
The trip to the vet was uneventful. We loaded her into the back of the van on her bed and wrapped in her blanket. I rode the quarter mile in the back with her. At the vet, they took us right in. We place her bed on the examining table, laid her on the bed and held her as they gave her the shot. She just drifted of to sleep in a matter of minutes. The doctor – a wonderfully gifted vet who has cared for her all her life and helped our other animals make the transition – said we should not feel guilty about the decision because her quality of life had declined. He listened to her heart, which beat longer than he expected, I think, and said she was stubborn. That she was. We liked to joke that she had no reverse. She was always moving forward.
In preparing for the moment she would leave us, I asked if people would send me some prayers for their animals. You all sent some great prayers, which you can see in the comments of my last post (see link above). But when the moment came, every thought left my head. I just sat there, staring at her face, repeating “God be with you, God keep you” into her ear over and over again. That didn’t seem enough, so I finally said the 23rd Psalm. I trust in its promise – the Lord is now her shepherd and I know she shall not want. I know she is in a beautiful place where there are lots of squirrels and the purple grapes hang at snout level. I know she will eat her fill and run and play like she has not been able to do for more than a year.
So she is gone. We cried, very hard, as we held on to her and each other. My husband and I both commented that once she was gone her body relaxed more completely than we had seen her relax in months. Then we came home to a very quiet house. After a couple of hours of sort of just sitting here in silence, I reached for Women’s Uncommon Prayers on my bookshelf. Here is a prayer I found for Bella written by Madelyn A. Stella, which I will say tonight on my Anglican rosary:
O God, our maker , we pray for all the pets of the world that they may have good homes.
Grant that all pet owners may provide living care for your creatures.
We (I) pray for all who serve our pets, that they recognize our pets as truly members of our family.
Grant us (me) the wisdom to recognize the blessing of having had Bella with is in our family.
May Bella’s friends and family receive comfort and peace from the knowledge of your eternal love and grace.
We (I) praise you for the pets of the saints, who have gone before: for Dame Julian’s cat, for the dolphins who led St Brendan safely to land, for the wolf tamed by St Brigid, for all the animals who loved St. Francis and for all animals everywhere.
Dear God, I give thanks to you for the life of Bella and the love and companionship we shared. We (I) will miss her, but in the midst of our (my) sorrow we (I) recognize the blessings she brought to us. Just as you are aware of every sparrow that falls, be with Bella at this time. Amen.
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