Monday, October 1, 2012

Love Story: Bella the Great Dane

Three and a half years ago, after my sister moved back to California with her dog Fury, my mum was looking to adopt another dog, as her big house on the bay in Long Island felt lonely without one. She had always dreamed of owning a Great Dane, and after some searches found a couple looking to have their dog adopted because they were moving to a smaller place down south and didn’t think they would have enough room for her.

Bella arrived one Sunday afternoon in March 2009. A pure breed blue Great Dane, tall even for this species of dog, super skinny and extremely skittish. When her original owners left her at the house all she could do was run in circles around the couch and pee with fright whenever we tried to approach her. My mum spent months and months coaxing her out of her frightened shell, making her feel at home and safe, training her to walk on a leash (in the three years of her life she had never walked outside of a backyard on a leash), and trying to understand why she was so scared of everything. Ever tried to hold a scared Great Dane on a leash when the wind ruffles something in a bush, or a car honks suddenly? It’s like trying to hold down a bolting, non-broken colt. They jump in the air. High. Taking all of their 100+ pound weight with them. We realised that Bella had not been treated well, probably abused, and never loved and cared for in the way that she should have been. There were days when I know my mum was near to giving up, but she never did.

Three years down the line, Bella is a happy, 150+ pound dog who now lives in California with my mum, sister and brother, Fury and the fat cat Muffin. She is much loved and cared for, and spends her time following my mum around the garden, sleeping on her bed right by my mum’s desk while she is working and demanding cuddles and hugs whenever she can. There is not a sweeter, more docile and gentle dog in the world. I spent a lot of time with her on Long Island before my mum moved back to California too. I taught her to run in the snow after the blizzards at the end of 2010, let her use my bed as her own when I wasn’t in it, taught her how to jump on the couch and watch Lost with me, even though she wasn’t really allowed to, and helped my mum teach her that it was OK to be happy and be loved, and that she didn’t need to be scared of anything anymore. I obviously don’t get to see her much anymore, a couple of times a year when I am able to go and visit my family in California, but she always remembers my voice, always follows me around like a devoted friend, and always looks up at me with those big eyes full of love. It’s amazing what a lot of love and caring can do for an animal. It makes me happy to think that although her first three years were probably full of pain, fear and abuse, at least the three years after that were full of love and happiness.

A few weeks ago the vet diagnosed Bella with bone cancer. It started in her back leg, and although it hasn’t travelled to her lungs or other organs yet, it will. There is nothing anyone can do but make her feel comfortable until she is not comfortable anymore. Painkillers and muscle relaxers, and a lot of help walking around, as the lump in her leg is growing and jumping up on couches and running around aren’t really options anymore. From talks with my mum and the rest of the family I gather that her condition is worsening quite fast, and it breaks my heart to think that I may never get to run around the garden, cuddle her or just talk to her again. It breaks my heart even more to think of what my mum is going through right now, because even though she is putting on a tough face, I can hear her heart breaking across the thousands of miles that separate us. 

My mum, who also happens to be a wonderful photographer, has been documenting Bella’s life in our family from day 1, and it’s amazing to see how she has grown and changed over the years, from the skinny, scared shell of a dog, to the big, happy, mischievous dog that she is now. The collection of photos that she has put together can be found HERE. The first page also contains Bella’s story in my mum’s words.

"Little" Bellington - giant dog with a heart of gold <3>

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