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Don’t Ever Tell Me It’s “Just a Dog”

I used to make fun of people like me. I thought that people who shared a couch or, even worse, a bed with their dog were a little strange. I used to think that if you pet a dog, you’d better immediately wash your hands, and God forbid if a dog licked you, get out the sanitizer! And people who would limit their travel because they didn’t want to leave their dog were just pathetic!

That was before I had a dog and I became enlightened …

The only pets I ever had were tropical fish, which, needless to say, are not the cuddliest nor most interactive pets around. My dog Bella, a stunning, all-white American Staffordshire Terrier with a brown patch on her right eye, came into my life when my (now) husband Micheal came (back) into my life, when I was 35 years old. He told me from the start: “love me, accept my dog”. Clearly she was special for him to hold her in such high regard, so I made an effort to put my ignorant opinions aside and get to know Bella. At first, I still washed my hands after petting her, and definitely if she ever licked me, and I was constantly using a lint roller every time I left the house! But as I spent more time with her, I came to know and later understand the extraordinary bond between human and canine and now, I cannot imagine my life without her.

It was on an evening of great sadness in my life when Bella first showed me how empathetic she could be. That first night when she crawled up on my lap, all 62 pounds of her, I wondered “can she know what I’m feeling?” Well, as it turned out, yes, she can indeed. From that day on, things changed between her and me. Bella was a rescue but it’s true what they say: a rescue dog rescues you. The relationship between Bella and I changed dramatically when Micheal was involved in a serious workplace accident, in which he broke his leg. All of a sudden, I couldn’t go on walks with Micheal and Bella anymore – I had to walk Bella myself! It was a terrifying responsibility at first, especially knowing how much Bella meant to Micheal and knowing how obedient she was with him – he used to take her off leash and the minute he called for her, she came running. Little did I know that the day when I let her off leash and she listened to my commands, when that trust manifested, I would feel such a sense of pride. To have a dog trust you and respect you like that is really something. But when you are at a place in your life where you are trying to learn to trust yourself again, having a dog trust you will do a world of good for your self-esteem. Once you have really solidified the bond with your dog, when your dog can see and interpret your thoughts and, if you’re really lucky, your heart, it is something more extraordinary than can be put into words.

At the risk of sounding condescending, unless you have a dog, or perhaps if someone close to you has a dog, you likely cannot appreciate that they are members of the family. They lose their label of an animal and become one of your children. The unconditional and intense love that your dog can give you is like nothing else on earth. The person who said “until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened” was spot on (Anatole France).

A dog is the only being on the planet who will love you more than you love yourself, and completely unconditionally at that. When you get home, whether you’ve been out for 10 minutes or 10 hours, seeing you is the best thing that ever happened to your dog and their welcome is extraordinary! You may have had the worst day ever, but when your dog sees you, their enthusiasm at your arrival really puts your day in perspective. To be loved to that degree, with that level of intensity, touches your heart every day – it never gets old! Your dog can show love in more subtle ways too: when you pet your dog, it’s almost like a transference of energy – as you stroke their fur, you’re releasing all of your negativity and tension through your hands and your dog will just take it away, absorb it and let it dissolve. It’s incredibly cathartic and it’s one of your dog’s most selfless gifts to you. Bella’s fur feels like smooth velvet and she brings that gift to a whole new level. I try to enjoy this precious experience with her at least once a day. What’s more, your dog will never argue with you, your dog doesn’t always have to be right, your dog will give you so much and yet ask for so little in return. Your dog will protect you with all their heart, whether it be from serious harm or just the mailman! All a dog wants is to be loved and they have so very much love to give you in return.

When I became pregnant with our daughter, Bella became a whole new kind of loving and protective dog. She would put her paw across my big, round belly and cuddle with her sister before she even knew her. And once our daughter was born, Bella’s personality definitely changed. She became a guardian before all else, even cautiously watching dear friends of ours hold our newborn when they came to visit. She has become a stern protector of all of us, her baby sister most especially, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Subsequently, I became an even more passionate advocate for the loving nature of “pit bull” type dogs, on Bella’s behalf, having seen a whole new level of loyalty and love in her, through her relationship with her little sister. Our baby was just days old when they snuggled together on the couch. Bella fell asleep as our daughter lay across her warm belly. Now that she’s a year old, our daughter knows to respect Bella’s boundaries but when she does get a little …active, Bella shows nothing but patient compassion for her little sister. And when our daughter wakes in the night, Bella is always right on my tail to check on her too! We have never been shown any reason for concern whatsoever, but we knew that would be the case from day one. Children love Bella, and vice versa. One of my friends brought her young children over to play with Bella with the intention of helping them to overcome their fear of dogs, and it worked! Every day on our walk, we walk past the local elementary school and when the JK class is at recess, many of them run to the fence to see Bella, shouting hello to her. It’s the sweetest thing! To the person who asked “are you going to get rid of your dog now that you’re having a baby?”, I only wish you could see them together. You would feel ashamed of yourself for thinking something so preposterous.

Having had Bella in my life for nearly 4 years now, I have made it my mission to educate myself about the plight of “pit bull” type dogs and have become engaged in many forms of activism, through many groups on social media and political channels (Rebecca Corry is one of my heroes). Having such a loving, loyal, protective and truly good-natured dog in Bella makes all the mis-informed, negative generalizations that I read about “pit bull” type dogs and how they are perceived and/or mis-treated by those who are not educated all the more painful for me to swallow. Don’t get me started on Michael Vick! Breed Specific Legislation, commonly known as BSL, literally breaks my heart. How on earth could anyone ever believe that our Bella should be destroyed simply because of her appearance? She has never harmed anyone in her life. It is my personal opinion that “pit bull” type dogs’ parents (or guardians, as some prefer) seem to have something a little extra when it comes to a loving passion for our dogs, because we are always having to prove that our dogs are not the stereotype that the media would often like to you to believe. Everyone thinks they have the best dog, and everyone is right. Bella is the greatest dog that ever lived! And because she is so wonderful, so loving, loyal and protective, I have made it my mission to spread that positive image whenever possible, especially with our daughter. Just ask any of my Instagram or Facebook friends how often I feature photos of my girls in my feed! I have had several friends tell me that their own perceptions about these dogs have been improved thanks to my posts on social media. To me, there is no greater compliment. Bella has even inspired me to start writing a book about her influence on our lives.

I laugh when people call themselves “dog owners” because, 9 times out of 10, your dog owns you! And yes, I do call myself Bella’s Mumma (you have no right to judge!)

Micheal and I recently had an interesting conversation about the love we have for our two girls. Our love for both of them is different, yes, but the magnitude of the feeling of love itself is the same for both of our babies. Bella truly is my first child, in every sense of the word. I believe animals have souls. I was elated when Pope Francis was quoted as saying that recently, not that I needed his confirmation but it was nice to feel vindicated. And what is the difference between how you take care of your child versus your fur-child? I care and provide for both of my girls exactly the same – I feed them, clothe them (Bella needs sweaters in Canadian winters!), bathe them (much to Bella’s protest), provide them with a loving home, give them medical care, give them fresh air, dote on their every need … at the end of the day, their essential needs are the same: the needs of survival and love. I would do anything for either one of them.

I laugh at my former self now. I will offer Bella food sometimes and if she takes a lick and decides she doesn’t like the flavor, I’ll just eat it myself! She drowns me in wet kisses, even getting her tongue up my nose and in my mouth on many occasions, and I can’t get enough of her lovings! I miss Bella when I go to the grocery store, for goodness sake, and I can’t remember the last time I went on a trip without her! Micheal and I bought a king size bed long before our human daughter came along!! There is nothing I love more than to snuggle up in Bella’s warm, soft, velvety body and let all my troubles disappear. Even though her farts could land you in a coma, I cannot fall asleep at night without her in our bed. Bella genuinely delights my heart. When people ask me what my dog means to me, I answer “everything” and only I (and Micheal) really understand just what that means. She isn’t the third wheel in our relationship … she is the third soulmate! I can only hope that Bella knows how much she is loved and how much she has brought to our lives. She is so much more than “just a dog”. I cannot imagine my life without her.

Published in"Pit Bull" Advocacy

32 Comments

  1. Simon Simon

    Congrats on the blog, looking forward to more!

  2. Joyce Joyce

    You put your “everything” into whatever you do and I so look forward to reading more! I knew the minute I met you that you were an intensely passionate person and I am so proud and privileged to have met you! Keep up the great work you do!

  3. Amanda Amanda

    Wonderful Emily! you have a remarkable family xo
    Excited to read more

  4. Kathryn Astle Kathryn Astle

    This is a great blog! I love that quote by Anatole France. It is truly my favourite. Keep writing please

  5. What a wonderful blog and a great story. Your journey to become a dog Mom, and lover of dogs is heartwarming. Love you caring and empathy 🙂

  6. Andrea Coxworthy Andrea Coxworthy

    Awesome read….

  7. Patti Patti

    This was beautifully written. It so obviously came from your heart and I can totally relate. My Grand-Dog means the world to me as well. I can’t imagine how much I will miss him when Brad moves away with him. Keep on writing Emily! I can’t wait for the next one.

  8. Dianne Dianne

    Oh I love it! Congrats on the first, of what I know will be many entries you are so well spoken and written. Awesome!

  9. Brilliant. I can’t wait for more my friend. Makes me want to get a dog even more now.

  10. Lesley Lesley

    As Bella‘s “Grandmama” I wholeheartedly support this love for our darling Bella. Well done Emily, I couldn’t have written it better myself. Looking forward to so many more of your tales/tails!!! Hugs, M.

  11. Matt Matt

    Beautifully written 🙂

  12. Lola Olive Lola Olive

    Paraphrasing my favorite quote by Milan Kundera.

    PIT BULLS are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a PIT BULL on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring–it was peace.

    Emily,only a loving pit bull parent can describe the extraordinary love we feel for our pibble kids as perfectly as you did ! The purest form of love. Lucky you. Lucky Bella.

    Keep on loving. Keep on writing.

  13. Christine Cooper Christine Cooper

    Emily, I am so pleased that you finally put your fingers on the keyboard and took the time to fire your blog up. This is a wonderful start and I am looking forward to reading much more. While we don’t have a dog in our life, I did grow up surrounded by them and on those days when I just felt like the world was doing my head in, those beautiful fur babies could lift me up and make me feel like a champion. Now I’m surrounded by rescue kitties and I love them in the very same way you love Bella. Our home would never be complete without an animal in it. Much love & respect to you, Michael, the bubba and of course Bella.

  14. Aneik Aneik

    Just beautiful. I’m in tears. You guys are wonderful.

  15. Angella Angella

    This blog does a great job of articulating why and how most dog owners think of their dogs as family. It is especially compelling as it is written from someone who did not live with a dog until later in life so gives good pre and post dog experiences. Love it!

  16. Sara Andrews Sara Andrews

    I felt the love throughout your entire post, it was written from the heart without question. I have seen first hand the love that radiates from family. I am proud to stand behind the fight for any animal but this breed in particular holds a special place in my heart. I look forward to future editions.
    All my love

  17. Linda Linda

    Well said, that is exactly how I felt about my Shadow and any dogs I’ve had before or now. Shadow meant the world to me and yes, I scheduled vacations around her and we even bought an Suv that was more for her. We were taking her on a 2 day trip and needed an Suv with rear air-conditioning controls, so she would get plenty of air, and at that time, there were not that many, so when we trade that vehicle in on something else, I’m sure I will cry, because it was hers.

  18. When you come across someone that shares the same feelings and describes them as you would yourself you know you’ve met a friend. It’s amazing how people cross paths for a reason. Looking forward to reading your next blog.

  19. Christina Christina

    Beautiful & very well written. I loved reading this!

  20. Rafiki Emily, it’s clearly evident how your heartfelt, beautiful & eloquent words come from a place of genuine experience and loyalty to Bella and her fellow canines. I related to this post in a very personal way. As a self-professed and unashamed ‘crazy dog’ lady, I was likely one of those strange people you knew before Bella came along! lol So it’s very refreshing and inspiring to hear how someone very dear to me has had their life transformed through the love of a dog as well. I love how this ‘magic’ has taken over your soul (dogs will do that to you!:), to the point that Bella has become your ‘child’ just as your own biological daughter. I’ve always proudly claimed my 3 hairy hooligans to be my kids, and although dismissed by some as ‘not knowing better’ because I don’t have human children, laughed or scoffed at, but most often simply misunderstood, I’ve never changed my stance for one second. I love how you put it: ’what is the difference between how you take care of your child versus your fur-child?…. at the end of the day, their essential needs are the same: the needs of survival and love’. Here here to that! It takes individuals like yourself to speak out and stand up for the fierce devotion and love we ‘fur-baby mums’ have for our dogs. This kind of conviction will undoubtedly open minds and change perspectives. Who knows, maybe you’ll make some converts to the ‘odd world of dog-loving people’. 😉 For the rest of us who are already there and feel your passion, thank you for this wonderfully written post! AND congratulations on the launch of your well-designed and interesting blog! I’m sure I am not alone when I say I look forward to reading future posts and have a strong feeling that (as in real life), you’ll be changing a lot minds and inspiring a lot of hearts through your words!
    In solidarity of our love for dogs, our own fur babes and in changing the way people think, Miranda xo

  21. Amanda Amanda

    Beautiful to know so many others feel the love we do for our baby! She might be 45kg of brindle fur, and look nothing like either of us, but she IS and always will be our baby girl!
    We too had a recent addition to the family… Our beautiful little grandson. He’s 16 months old now, and he loves his furry ‘aunty’ as much as she loves him!

  22. Katrina Katrina

    Beautifully and perfectly written. What a good dog you have. An ambassador for the breed. Thank you for speaking out and helping change misconceptions.

  23. Diane Miller Diane Miller

    Emily, I so enjoyed reading your blog and how Bella changed both your life and perceptions through her unconditional love. Thank you for sharing your heart, your passion, your gift with words through this blog. Will look forward to your other posts.

  24. Ali Reeve Ali Reeve

    A truly beautiful piece, and as someone who falls asleep best with a giant gentle head on her legs, I appreciate every word. I am fortunate to not face the issues of my boys breeds but it is something I still support with a passion. Thank you to Bella and all the Bella’s in the world that make our lives so much richer

  25. Sharon Hull Sharon Hull

    So Eloquently written. I Agree with you Friend. Keep spreading the Truth about our Beloved Pitties…so misunderstood…so Loving…FAMILY.

  26. Frances Lawton Frances Lawton

    A very eloquent piece! Thank you so much for being a strong advocate for a wonderful breed that is often misunderstood.

  27. You did an absolutely exquisite job in this blog. You will be serving many, many people with your points, your writing passion, and your clarity of ideas. Thank you!

  28. Lynne La Plante Lynne La Plante

    Great job! Awesome reading! Finally… Glad to have you aboard !!

  29. Ann Paris Ann Paris

    What a beautiful post. Thank you for writing so beautifully about your love for your dog. I have a rescue dog – a fluffy white miniature poodle who is so smart, so affectionate, the best dog ever for me. Sometimes I am embarrassed because people don’t understand how much I adore my little dog. I have a painful chronic illness and he soothes me.

  30. Lynn Perrier Lynn Perrier

    What a wonderful writer you are. I can’t wait to follow Bella as she grows with your daughter.

  31. […] name. Please visit my blog if you’d like to read more about all that. May I recommend my post: “Don’t Ever Tell Me it’s Just a Dog” in […]

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