This blog post is very image heavy and <trigger warning> also includes an account of the death of my beautiful dog Bella.
This isn’t a blog piece about clothes or consumerism; it’s a blog about the joy of spending 12 years with, and then the devastation of the loss of a beloved dog. On Friday we had to have our beautiful black Bella-dog put to sleep because she’d lost the use of her back legs. I am absolutely devastated by her death, so much so that I don’t know what to do with myself. Despite the fact that we have another dog, the house seems so empty. Bella was a noisy little dog who made her presence felt in so many different ways. Now she’s gone, it’s just not right.
I’ve spent the last 24 hours going through all the photos from the last 12 years and picking out pictures of Bella; this has eased my heart slightly, but then I resurface from the good memories and realise that she is gone forever. To lose a beloved dog we have cared for, for over 12 years who loved us completely unconditionally has left an enormous hole in our lives and hearts. Nothing will ever be the same again.
I need to write down how much she meant to me and express all my feelings about her, some of which are conflicted as maybe I didn’t love her as much as I could have done especially when she first came to us. But what I do know is that overall she brought immense joy into my life and I hope Dave and I brought love, care and a happy, stable home to hers.
Bella came into our lives in October 2003. I was walking Marley our border collie in a local field in town when I noticed a little black dog slinking along by a dry stone wall. I sent Marley over to say hello to her, and she took one look at me, and rushed over and started whining and crying at me. She was so thin, and her coat was matted and full of dreadlocks. I phoned Dave and asked him to come and meet me with a spare lead so that we could take her to the police station.
The police kept her over night, but phoned the next day to ask if we wanted to foster her for a few weeks. She had no collar and tag and no microchip. No-one ever came forward to claim her, and a few weeks turned into more than 12 years.
Bella was a difficult dog for the first few years. As we never knew her background, we had to cope as best we could with her issues and insecurities without knowing her past. She had physical issues to start with, her right hind leg and tail had been damaged at some point and she kept coming up lame for the first six months. He tail was always crooked having been broken, but didn’t appear to pain her. She had a real fear of traffic for a long time and would jump and cower when vehicles went past. We assumed that she’d been knocked over by a car.
She had obviously also been mistreated by people. She would sometimes duck away from a hand when we tried to stroke her head. She was frightened of plastic bags being shaken out, and a rolled up newspaper would completely terrify her. She was on a hair trigger at first and would bark at people walking past the house, at random noises or for no apparent reason at all that we could work out. She would also bark to find out where we were as then she’d come trotting up the stairs to find us when we told her to stop barking!
For understandable reasons she also had very bad separation anxiety and the doors in our house show the scars of a number of years of her scratching at them to get into the bedroom where we were sleeping, or to get out of the kitchen where she was put to stop her scratching at the bedroom door. She was very hard work at times. But, she was so, so worth it.
She taught my dog-fearing mother in law and also my niece and nephew and a number of other children that dogs could be friendly and loving. My niece was scared by Marley, our border collie because he was boisterous and bouncy whereas Bella showed immense patience with small children and would allow them to hold onto her fur or explore her face and ears or stroke her the wrong way.
She was really good with most people, but she especially loved Dave. For some reason, Dave became her person, and out of choice she would always spend her time as close to Dave as possible, lying under his feet when we were out at the pub, or sitting next to him in the evenings when we were away camping. She was also terribly protective of him, and would fight other dogs who came too close. This was an issue at times as we have lots of friends with dogs, and Bella was renowned for fighting them because they came too close to us. She ended up with nicknames like Bellazebub, Alien-teeth and Betty/Bete Noir (black beast) because of her habits of getting her teeth out or even fighting other dogs. She would often end up put in the car or camper van at parties where there were other dogs to remove her from the situation and reduce her stress (and ours!)
But she was a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde character as she also made a lot of human friends and was definitely a favourite dog amongst people who liked quiet, calm, and people-friendly dogs. She loved being fussed by people and was so responsive to kindness, making friends with so many.
She was a great dog for going on adventures with us and took to mountain climbing like a pro. Two months after she came to live with us, we took her and Marley to Scotland where she climbed her first Munro Stob Coire a Chairn in the Mamores. She was brilliant at mountain climbing and could do hard scrambles without any fear at all, compared to poor Marley who never really had a head for heights.
She came almost everywhere with us, and we had lovely holidays away in Scotland, Wales and England with both dogs. She swam and walked with us so many times, and would fearlessly jump into water to fetch a toy, and was a really good swimmer until she got too arthritic.
She would “frill up” in excitement when something was going on. If you asked her whether she wanted to go for a walk, she would cock her head to one side and look at you as if to say come on then. She had a very distinctive “I’m excited, I’m going for a walk” bark which was very different to her “someone has come near my house” bark. She was actually a really vocal little dog and would always yowl with what appeared to be relief when we got home.
She injured herself one holiday when we’d gone up Stac Pollaidh, a hill in the remote north west of Scotland. She and Marley were playing around near the summit in the snow and she put her foot into a hole and twisted her shoulder really badly. This meant a 120 mile round trip to the nearest vets in Inverness. Thankfully, she hadn’t broken anything, but I’m fairly sure that this is when her problems with arthritis started.
She was the most accomplished snoozer I have ever met – anywhere that might possibly be warm and comfortable was a good candidate for having a kip.
She was a real scavenger which I put down to her being a stray; she’d been surviving on her own for at least a few weeks before she found me. She raided bins and was caught out on a number of occasions eating stuff off the table or the worksurface in the kitchen. One year we brought a tupperware box full of homemade mince pies home from Dave’s Mum and stupidly left them on the kitchen table. When we came back in it was to find the box with the lid off and the greaseproof paper neatly put to one side and empty of pies. There wasn’t a single toothmark anywhere. I don’t know how she did it.
In the last couple of years when she’d not been able to walk too far, she had some fun by raiding the waste paper bins in the house. We’d come home from work to find shredded tissues, wrappings and paper all over the floor. She even learnt how to get into the pedal bin in the bathroom, I think she took great delight in it. Last time Dave was away, Bella slept in the bedroom with me (a rare treat) and I woke to find her delicately taking things out of the bedroom bin at 3:30am.
In around 2010 she started losing her hearing, and rather than this being awful for her, I think it made her life a lot easier as she was no longer on a hair-trigger and so nervous about unexplained noises. She stopped barking so much and seemed to sleep better and be happier. Her door scratching also reduced significantly and it seemed that her separation anxiety was a lot less.
The last six years with Bella have mainly been incredibly rewarding. She became slower as her arthritis became worse, and was on Metacam (an anti-inflammatory) for the last five years. But up until two years ago she was still pretty active. Unfortunately one evening two years ago Marley knocked her down the stairs and her back was quite badly hurt by the way she twisted and fell trapping a nerve and slipping a disk. Since then she was not able to do the big walks any more and spent a lot more time at home whilst Dave and Marley have been walking. This is a real regret as she loved being outside so much and it was sad to see her reaction when they went off on a walk whilst she stayed at home with me.
The last long-ish walk she did at Easter 2014, we had to turn back early and she needed to be carried back to the car. We knew that the time had come for no more long walks. We still took Bella out with us as much as we could, but tailored our activities to suit her capacity like taking her up to the allotment on a sunny day or a short flat walk very near home.
She was managing fine up until last Thursday evening when she suddenly became very, very unsteady on her back legs. She hardly managed to go outside to do a wee. We hoped that it was something temporary, but unfortunately on Friday morning she was no better had to be lifted out of her bed and could hardly stand up and then kept falling over. The way she looked at us was heartrending. Dog owning friends had told us that we’d know when she’d had enough and whilst not wanting to acknowledge it, we both knew that she didn’t want to go on.
Dave had to go to work for a meeting Friday morning, so I spent the morning with Bella in our bed because it was the only place I could make her comfortable. I cried and kissed her and told her what a good dog she was and how much I loved her. I stroked her beautiful frilly, expressive ears and kissed her lovely black velvety nose. She relaxed against me and slept a little.
When Dave came home at lunchtime we made the decision to phone the vet and ask them to come to our house. Bella hated going to the vets, it stressed her out so much that I couldn’t bear to take her there. We had two hours between the phonecall and the vets arrival and spent it with Bella giving her as much love as we could, calling her all her silly pet names and remembering the good times we had with her, stroking her and making sure she knew that we were there with her.
When Liz the vet came, Dave brought Bella downstairs and put her on the floor. She staggered around and tried to get into her bed and had to be helped to do this. She then curled up. It was so obvious that she didn’t want to go on. Liz told us what would happen and explained about how the anaesthetic used was a massive overdose which would send her to sleep and then stop her heart. She said that this was the last and greatest thing that we could do for Bella as it would happen quickly and without pain. She wouldn’t suffer.
We gave consent and then cuddled Bella as the injection was given, telling her all the time how much we loved her, how we appreciated the time that she’d spent with us so much and that she’d been the best and most loving of little black dogs. She looked at us and then put her head on her paws in a tired way and life left her.
The vet had said beforehand that she may gasp or twitch, but she did none of these things. It seems her body was ready to go. It was very peaceful, her transition between life and death. She really did look like she was asleep, curled up in her bed like she had been every night for 12 years. I kept waiting for her to wake up.
We buried her on a hillside overlooking Scout Scar on some land belonging to kind friends of ours. We laid her in a nest of bracken, she looked like she was asleep. Covering her with the earth and leaving her behind was so, so incredibly hard. Leaving her behind because her time is finished whilst our lives continue, emptier and sadder without her.
Bella, my beautiful, funny, frilly, demanding, affectionate little black dog I will remember you and love you for the rest of my life. You brought such joy and love to our lives that I know that in the end this terrible pain I feel right now will be worth it and that Dave and I will eventually look back on your life without feeling the acute pain that we do now at its ending and see that you blessed us with uncomplicated, unconditional love and huge amounts of joy.
Goodbye my lovely dog.