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 many targeted breed-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 targeted breeds of 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 parents of targeted breeds (or owners, 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.