I know most wouldn’t eulogize a pet, but a stranger said to us recently, “Anyone who says, ‘It’s just a dog’ has never experienced the unconditional love they bring.” And those who met her know how loving Bella was and how much we valued her as a family member, so it seems fitting to write a little something for her.
Bella was adopted from the Nevada Humane Society in Reno by my partner Rick and his girlfriend at the time. The story goes that Bella had run away from her first home so many times that animal control brought her in to find a new family that she wouldn’t flee from. Rick told me that she was an anxious six-month-old puppy who would chew and destroy everything, including his $400 headphones, and would run along the fence to bark at strangers so much that she ended up making a trench in the yard. Her professional trainers declared that she was “untrainable” and that they had “no idea what was going on in her head.” She had also stopped getting along with the other dog Rick had, so for her safety she had to be crated for half the day, and when Rick’s ex tried to rehome Bella, she apparently broke through a wall to get out. So when Rick informed me that Bella would move in with us in our first apartment together, roughly five years later, I was a little nervous.
It turns out that I had absolutely nothing to fear.
The Bella I met was quiet, only giving a few barks when someone knocked on our front door and immediately ceasing when the door was opened and the person greeted. The Bella I met was so clever, performing commands without a treat incentive, doing them just because I had asked. The Bella I met never destroyed anything, except for the hundreds of dog stuffies (her favorite) we bought her. The Bella I met still didn’t like her fellow dogs, but at the time, I wasn’t a fan of my fellow humans so we figured out how to navigate the world safely for us and others.
But above all, the Bella I met did not care that I had been diagnosed with depression and anxiety. The Bella I met did not care that I was unemployed due to my mental illness. And the Bella I met did not care that I was at one of my lowest points when she moved in.
As John Green said of his own mental health struggles in his ode to his former dog Willy, “...people can love you, and they can listen to you, but they cannot share this feeling because they know it to be irrational. But Willy doesn’t know. All he knows is that I’m scared….He takes me seriously, in a way that no human can, and I’m grateful for that.”
Like John with Willy, I can’t claim to know what life was like for Bella, but I know that during our time together, Bella knew when my fear had reached an all-consuming level and she knew when that numbness became overwhelming. Rick swears that in those moments, Bella was the only one who could help—stopping my spirals by licking my face and bringing me her favorite toys. And even in the day-to-day with depression’s blanket of gray, Bella was there, with no judgment, to remind me to eat, to walk, to rest, and to laugh.
Even towards the end when the cancer and the treatments started taking its toll on her, Bella was still there to stubbornly remind me to keep to a routine, one that she had set but a routine nonetheless. And when her final moments approached ever closer, despite her own physical pain, Bella still tried to be there to comfort me in my sadness.
Bella was not just a dog, nor was she a good dog—she was the best dog. I’m beyond grateful for her, and I hope she knew how much I loved (and still love) her.
Enjoy all the sunshine and strawberries, Bella, and we’ll see you some day on the other side.
For anyone who needs end-of-life care for their pets, we can’t recommend Compassion 4 Paws enough, and we’re so thankful to Dr. Danielle Hagen for being there for Bella and us at the end.
Artwork of Bella by All Dog Kind.