She was only four months old when she picked my husband and stole his heart.
Sealing the deal, she left two parting gifts on the church’s gym floor.
“It’s what puppies do,” I said to her embarrassed tween caregiver.
All her littermates claimed a high price to go home with their new families. She was the runt with an umbilical hernia requiring surgery, and if she couldn’t be given away, her next stop; the local dog shelter.
Although adopting Belle-whom I called Bella Chocolat for long (from the french for Beautiful Chocolate)-wasn’t in our family’s five-year plan or budget when a furry friend does the choosing, Providence often makes a way.
Our family, like our nation, was still reeling and healing from the unthinkable attacks and horror from the year before.
Belle proved to be a welcome distraction from the residual social and emotional effects of the traumatic events of 9/11/2001.
In a dogvacay.com blog post, I learned:
10 Surprising Reasons Your Dog is Good for Your Health
- Boost Your Mood
- Better Than Medicine
- Help You Stay Active
- Help You Be More Social
- Help Relieve Stress
- Can Help Kids Grow Stronger
- Help Us Understand Cancer
- Can Help Treat Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Are Therapeutic For Kids With ADHD
- Can Make You A Better Person
From the day we brought her home, Belle would hysterically compete with me for the Alpha Female spot in our family with three males. If I was hugging my husband or two sons, she was right there, squeezing between us.
Even so, she earned my respect just two weeks from the time she became a Zylinski. On a family camping trip, when a stray wolfdog three times her size trotted near our site, she lunged at him, straining against her collar and leash to bark him away.
Like any dog, she brought equal parts of cheer and chagrin. She delighted us with her love for swimming and was soon dubbed, Belle of the River. She was known to swim with geese, play tag with beavers, and fetch a tennis ball for hours.
But a confining bathtub? Let the battle begin!
And like most Labrador Retrievers she stayed a puppy well into her fifth year. Digging holes in the lawn, chewing on chair legs and stairs and cedar siding of our house. Or inhaling a whole tub of Brummel and Brown/margarine snatched from a corner of the dining table.
One year, several neighbors gathered with me to make festive fall cookie wreaths. I had laid mine on a card table in our home to dry before hanging it on our front door.
The next morning all that was left was wire and pieces of cardboard on the floor! Belle wasn’t the only one with digestive problems…
My husband and I laughed often as she played eye tag with either of us to get our attention, or growled at her reflection in our large picture window scaring herself so as to launch herself on the closest lap; or whipped up a strong wind with her helicopter tail.
For some reason, I’ve measured life in increments. Holding on too long, or letting go too soon.
Belle taught me about living in the moment. And being content.
For years she played the escape artist rushing headlong out a door left ajar, if only for a second, by an unsuspecting bystander. Or lifting the latch on the fence gate to run away. Often in our searches for her, we didn’t know if we’d see her again.
It took much time and patience to train her to stay close to home and to the ones who loved her most.
Like it took God much time and patience to help me do the same. Although the next adventure and something “out there” seemed just the thing to fulfill a deeper longing, it never did.
At nearly thirteen hip dysplasia and a loss of appetite meant we had to say a hard goodbye.
Our vet sent us a pet sympathy card. A first for me. I’d never been taught that grieving the loss of an animal was okay.
Our Bella Chocolat has been gone 1 & 11/12 years now.
The only thing I have left of her I’m getting rid of today. Her sweet nose print on my writing room window.
It’s way past time.
A goodbye for good.
Bonhoeffer said it well, “There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so; one must simply endure it.”
But her memory will ever linger; her robust bark or standing on her hind legs hugs. The joy and delight she added to our family.
All 12 & 7/12 years.