Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Story of Our Dog, Bella

Four years ago, in a class that I definitely should have paid more attention to, I was trolling through the classifieds looking for a dog. I knew I needed a portable, petite beast with a penchant for living indoors, since we were likely going to travel a lot. I'd settled on some sort of poo-mix, but wasn't too particular about whether the "poo" was preceded by a "cocka," "malti," "yorkie," or whatever other combo breeds exist. I'd been searching without much luck, when suddenly the clouds parted, the sun broke through, and a voice from above boomed out, "Click on that ad, stupid! Click on it now!" 

It was an ad for a 1 year old maltipoo. I saved the text for posterity. Here it is: 

There were several pictures of Bella included and, as I'm sure you can imagine, she looked like an animatronic, baby seal, teddy bear, puppy, angel. I'm not a big impulse buyer, but I wanted that dog. I immediately jumped out of my seat, and ran into an adjoining room to call the seller. 

Six hours later, we were on the road to this family's house. Phil had to drive because I was bouncing off the windows. He took a more reasoned, pragmatic approach. "We need to make sure she'll be a good fit. We shouldn't plan on coming home with a dog tonight. Let's just go look and see. We'll have a lot of opportunities to find a dog." "Oh, of course, Phil," I said, shoving a giant wad of cash into my pocket. "Of course we won't plan on coming home with her. We won't plan on bringing her home and letting her sleep right next to my bed tonight and every night for the rest of her life and loving her forever and ever. We'll just go look." 

The five year old answered the door, clearly excited to show her dog to new people. The two year old was there, too. She had no conception of what was going on, but was pleased to be included. Bella came bounding into the living room and froze. I reached out to pet her, and she shook in fear. We asked the seller a few questions, and in a very reasoned, pragmatic way, I pulled out $250 and offered it to her on the spot. 

Phil sort of rolled his eyes, but he let me have this one. The woman gave us a bit more information about Bella's routine, and the five year old told us that she likes to play with socks. I've since found out that she doesn't like to play with socks so much as she likes to play with achilles tendons that are covered by socks while they're walking down the hall in front of her, but I've decided not to sue for misrepresentation since she only seems to target my heels, and no one else's.

The woman took Bella downstairs to say goodbye to her husband, who wasn't present for any of the transaction. I got the sense that Bella was "their" dog, just as much as Bella was going to be "our" dog, meaning that this guy and Phil both lost a negotiation at some point.  We made it to the front door with Bella's stuff, and the woman started crying. "I didn't realize it was going to be this hard," she choked out, while hugging and kissing Bella repeatedly. Then the two year old figured out what was happening. "Bellllaaaaaaaa," she wailed, "Bellaaaaaaaaaaa." I started to panic. I wanted to comfort these people, but I also wanted to get the dog in my arms and out the door before they changed their minds. I can't remember if the husband came up at this point to facilitate the handoff, or if the woman had to redirect her attention to the two year old. At any rate, I clamped my arms around a terrified dog, and ran to the car ecstatically. 

The woman checked in with me once, a few days later, to see how things were going. Since then, I've thought about her and her family quite a bit. I've wondered if they ever wish they knew how she was doing. At one point, I briefly considered sending them a postcard but Phil rightly informed me that it would be extremely creepy. So on the four year anniversary of Bella becoming my dog, I thought I'd write this note to let her first family know how thankful I am that they let me adopt their dog. I realize it's incredibly naive to assume that they'll ever see this post, but I'm still putting it out there under the six degrees of separation theory, and maybe one of you will get the info to them.

Bella at Halloween, 2012.

Bella during a Virginia rainstorm, 2013.

Bella and her dog cousins, 2014.

Bella in her IKEA chair, a gift from a friend, 2015.

To Bella's First Family,

Four years ago, I took your dog from you. I'm just starting to believe she wouldn't immediately abandon me if you showed up at our front door. She had a hard time leaving you, and was very sad and quiet for a few weeks. Eventually, the quietness wore off. Now, she lets me know every time she sees, hears, smells, feels, or thinks she's experiencing anything suspicious, including: doors opening, doors closing, knocking sounds, disembodied voices, loud motorcycles, uppity birds, leaves, ceiling fans, other dogs, anyone she doesn't recognize right away, and wind.

Bella is still very disciplined. She likes having a routine and sticking to it. She stands by the door when she needs to go out, and only on the most exciting occasions will accidentally pee a little in the house. She puts herself in time out when it happens. Bella's still particular about what she likes to eat. I changed her food after we moved to Virginia and mixed the new stuff in with the old stuff to gradually acclimate her. On the first day, she picked out all the new food, and left the old food untouched in the bowl. She has little self-control when it comes to human food. She loves peanut butter, kiwis, watermelon, tomatoes, carrots, meat, and pieces of banana. She does not eat lettuce, onions, or oranges. She once managed to eat half a chocolate chip cookie, and didn't get sick enough to deter her from going after other chocolate crumbs, though I've thrown myself on the floor before to prevent it from happening.

Speaking of crumbs, Bella recognizes that as a command now. If I drop something in the kitchen, I can yell, "Crumbs!" and she'll come tearing into the room from across the house. She also knows how to sit, wait, roll over, shake, jump up, lie down, bark, go in her house, go quick (to pee), and go get her toy on command. She recognizes some names. She knows who "Phil" is, and she knows who "mommy" is. If you think "mommy" is me, you're wrong. My mommy is "mommy," and Bella loves her more than any other human. I don't think Bella has a name for me. I'm just her slave.

Bella's lived in four different apartments since we adopted her, in two different states, and two different countries. She's flown on an airplane at least 10 times. She's been to the West Coast, the East Coast, and the Mediterranean. She's been to the National Mall, the Shenandoah mountains, and to George Washington's front porch. She's peed on the Nebraskan plains, slept in the Paris airport, and walked by the Greek Parliament building. She's been to the Atlantic Ocean, and the Mediterranean Sea. She was not a fan of either. She loves to hike, and loved exploring the Wasatch mountains.

Bella's learned to share attention with her two dog cousins, and my human niece. Soon, she'll have to share with a baby boy. She's not overly fond of other dogs, but she loves babies and kids.

I'm glad Bella lived with you. You trained her so well. She's been the perfect dog for us. She has a big list of admirers among our friends. Several of them have told me they'll take her if I die, which I guess should be comforting. She has a huge following among strangers, too, and has been photographed in a variety of places by a variety of people without me being able to monetize it somehow.

Whenever people ask where we got Bella, I always describe you, your family, and the wonderful luck we had in running across your classified ad. There hasn't been a single day that I've regretted the decision to act on your ad. Even Phil is willing to begrudgingly admit that he likes our dog. Thank you for being Bella's first family. Thank you for letting us adopt her.

Wishing you the very best,
Jane, Phil, and Bella

Bella in Athens, 2016.


  1. You're so sweet, Jane. And witty. And smart. And adorable. And an overall "good egg" as my mom would say. Bella is a lucky pooch-you deserve each other.

    1. And beautiful. You forgot beautiful.

      Wendy, that is very nice of you to say. There are some people from school who I don't remember on accident, and some who I don't remember on purpose, but there are a few who I think of all the time, and you are one. I'm so happy to know you, and so happy for all the wonderful things that have happened for you since graduation.


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