I promised myself I wouldn’t write another post involving a dog for at least a year, but sometimes life overwhelms promises.
On Saturday morning I got a phone call from my mom telling me that Belle had died in her sleep. I’ve written about Belle before, and how I have a special affection for her because she’s been in our family since I was 14. However, I didn’t expect that affection to translate to unstoppable tears at her passing, but it did.
After writing several semi-heartless posts about not wanting to get a dog, it was surreal to feel absolutely heartbroken at the loss of one. I’ve heard people always say that their dogs aren’t just pets, they are family members, and on Saturday I really understood that.
Part of what is so special about Belle is that we always maintained that she was a good dog because she knew that we had rescued her. My parents were taking a walk around the neighborhood in 1998 and saw a very cute puppy being walked by its owner. They stopped to pet the dog and discovered that the owner wasn’t the owner at all, but rather someone who had found the puppy after it had been shoved under a fence from a neighbor’s yard. This person told my parents they were planning to take the puppy to a shelter since she couldn’t keep it, and instead my parents said they wanted her.
You can imagine our surprise when my parents walked up to our house after their short walk around the block and had a puppy in hand. None of us hesitated to say YES to this dog.
(I wish I could post a picture of her at that age, but this was 1998 and the only photos my parents have are on actual film. It’s so strange to think about not having a digital photo to post.)
Ever since that fated beginning, she was as loyal as they come. She was razor-sharp smart, fiercely protective of our family and home, and a freakishly skilled fetcher. She was the kind of dog of which all dog-lovers dream.
I didn’t realize the full extent of that protectiveness until part way through high school. I went to Homecoming with my date and we came back to my parent’s house after the dance. My parents had already gone to bed, so my date and I walked in the front door and turned to see Belle standing at the top of the staircase.
Like a lion, she slowly crept down the steps, one by one. She never took her eyes off of my date. He looked at me nervously and I reassured him Belle wouldn’t attack him, but actually I wasn’t so sure. As we walked further inside we heard a low, threatening growl and we froze in place.
My date said, “I don’t think, um…maybe I should just go.”
I couldn’t help but smile. Belle, despite being a lady, was the older brother I never had.
In the last two years she slowed down considerably, no longer able to fetch the ball across the yard. She also became somewhat incontinent, yet my parents never wavered in their care for her. I once commented that they were incredible in ways that so many pet owners might not be — they refused to put her to sleep because they honored her life no matter the inconvenience to themselves.
“I hope you remember this when I’m incontinent,” my mother joked, only half-joking.
Just last Thursday my mom was voicing her concern that Belle could die while they are in Israel next week. She was panicked at the thought of it happening when they couldn’t care for her. When my mom called and told me she had passed, she couldn’t help but note that this was Belle’s last act of loyalty; her last moment of grace that she would go when they could say goodbye.
I will say that I was absolutely stunned by the display of compassion from people in our lives. My mom and I both shared on Facebook and through texts that we had lost Belle, and our friends and family could not have been more sympathetic. I never expected people to care, especially about a pet many of them had never met.
It certainly jolted me out of my dog apathy, because before I lost Belle I would only have said, “I’m sorry” to hear that a friend had lost a dog, and not known the pain they were going through. I know better now.
In one of my more tearful moments, I turned to Mike and said, “Where is she?”
“Don’t you know?” he replied. “All dogs go to heaven.”
I smiled at the sweet remark, and couldn’t help feeling comforted. My mom glanced over at Griffey, her other dog, and said, “Just look at her. You can’t tell me dogs don’t have souls.”
Either way, I can guarantee you she had spirit.