A Tribue To My Best Friend

Let me start out by saying that this is a happy story. It has a sad ending, but the journey was full of so much love and joy. It’s been almost 1 month since I learned of the news and my heart is still breaking. I’ve never felt a love this strong or a loss this difficult. Let’s start at the beginning.

The Initial Meeting

Bella as a tiny puppy.

We had rescued an Australian Shepard (mix), named Roxy, recently but wanted a second dog. We were just leaving a pet store in South Florida with dog food when we saw a family with a black dachshund puppy. Curiously, my mother asked where they had gotten her and the family explained that she was a rescue. They gave us the information and we investigated to see if there was any more. Sure enough, there was. A small, chocolate dachshund was left. She was the runt of the litter and born to an abusive breeder. She had a skin condition where her fur was patchy and her skin was flaky. The end of her tail was a curled up little nub and she had a personality like no other. My parents and I went to see her on a rainy evening and my mom fell in love. My father and I weren’t so sure. “I mean, look at her,” I thought to myself back in 2005. “She barely has any fur. She looks more like a rat than a dog.”

Nonetheless, my mother insisted on getting her. So, with Roxy panting through the car window, we got into our old white Lincoln and drove to a Target to get her a collar. Roxy was more interested in her than I was. I would just stare at her from the corner of my eye, stubbornly thinking “This isn’t going to be fun.” Regardless, this small little dachshund looked up at me with her brown eyes and decided to make herself comfy on my lap. She curled up into a perfectly small ball and immediately fell asleep, despite her new Australian Shepard sister trying to sniff her. I sat there for a moment, staring at this brown animal peacefully curled on my lap, and knew that we would be best friends for life.

Growing Up

Not only was I growing up, but I had my best friend growing up right along side me. While she didn’t get too much bigger physically, her personality grew exponentially. She also got to experience a lot of new things with me. My family often joked about just how much she was able to experience.

She had gone camping with us and was secretly brought onto a canoe via a large waterproof bag. She rode bikes with me, skateboarded with me and was brought into department stores inside a purse despite there being strict “no dog” policies. She swam in our home pool, traveled to Michigan during a 14 hour road trip, and took many walks around Florida and Georgia. She was once bitten by a neighborhood dog and got all fixed up, thanks to my father and some super glue (I’m not kidding but don’t worry, her vet was fine with the procedure). She loved on many of my guinea pigs and had countless car rides. She was the definition of spoiled.

Bella and Roxy with some guinea pigs.

There was also a lot of help that she provided for me and we provided for her. Like I mentioned, her fur was very patchy and her skin had flakes. She also smelled really bad. It took some time to experiment, but we eventually found the right food that helped her fur grow back and that mixing Borax with vinegar helped with her flakes and smell. Then there’s the typical pet owner stuff like keeping her safe and vaccinated and keeping her warm and giving her medicine when she needed it and food. She also helped me. She could sense when I was sick and was at my side. She helped my depression. She helped motivate me on bad days. She encouraged me to learn ukulele by falling asleep every time I played. She helped shape me into who I am now.

She watched me go from elementary school into middle school, graduate middle school and start my first public high school, move from Florida to Georgia and start a Georgia high school, graduate from high school and start college. She was there for me at my highs and my lows. She slept in my bed with me every single night for her 14 years of life. She was there for every breakup, every new friend, every school project. She was there when I was kicked out of college and slept on my lap when I was filling out countless paperwork to fix my GPA and get back into school. She was there when family members died and new family members entered into the world. She was a constant in so many lives, but especially mine.

My Photography Guinea Pig

By the time I was in 8th grade, I started to get an interest in photography. I would use my guinea pigs and random objects around my room (books, stuffed animals, a guitar), but my best subject was Bella. She was so patient with me and allowed me to practice my hobby.

I learned about ISO and f stops and filters and shutter speed all because of her. The more photos I took of her, the better my photography became. It was also a bonding moment. I’d take her places so I could have interesting backgrounds but it was also just really nice to have time with her. No internet, no friends, no one but her and I. The older she got, the more patient she became and the more photos I took.

Her Senior Years

Bella in the sun.

She really started getting old around the time we move to Georgia in 2012. She got chunkier, furrier and had a grayer mustache. She slept more, was lazier, and quieter. However, she was always healthy. She never showed signs that her time was coming closer. That’s why I completely broke down when I heard the news of her passing.

I’m a college student, which means I’m rarely home. Prior to the news of her passing, I had come up during the summer of 2018 to spend two days with my Australian Shepard, Roxy, on her last day. While I hated to see her go, I was grateful to have gotten to spend her last day with her and have time to plan for her passing. With Bella, it was unexpected for everyone. She had passed in her sleep with no warning. My mom found her when she woke up, still in her dog bed.

It’s been 1 month now. My heart is still aching, knowing that she’s no longer on this earth with me. It’s hard for me to ever remember a time where she wasn’t alive. It’s tempting to cry alone and wonder “did she know how much I loved her?” but I keep reminding myself that yes, she did.

I was lucky. I got 12 amazing years with her. I had her since I was around 9 years old. I’m 21 now, so I spent a good chunk of my life with her. Dogs die every day in all sorts of ways in all sorts of places. My dog isn’t some special case, but she was incredibly special to me. I wasn’t there on her last day, but I wrote this post so that her memory can live on a little longer. She deserves that, at the very least.

Rest in peace, my best friend.

River the Rescue

There are many stigmas held against rescue dogs that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Some of the stigmas people may believe is that, rescue dogs can not be trained and will have behavioral issues. Another is that rescue dogs can’t be purebreds. The final, and largest, stigma is that rescue dogs are given up because there is something wrong with them. In reality, most dogs are given up to shelters because of moving, personal issues, no room, financial reasons or even lack of time. Some of the dogs in shelters have lived a hard life and have a rough and abusive past, but that does not mean the dog is “broken”. Take River for example.

River’s Story

River waiting for treats.

River, a two-year-old Black Mouth Cur mix, was rescued by Jill and Jay Waddell, when she was just six months old. River had gone through some difficult things in her short life. River originally came from an abusive and neglectful situation, spending most of her life in a crate, without any bonds with humans or dogs. When she was rescued from that situation and brought to a shelter, she faced several families who adopted her and then quickly returned her. It can be assumed that it was due to the fact that River needed some extra time and attention.

Jill and Jay met River and ended up adopting her and renamed her River to stick the theme of their previous two dogs named Canoe and Kayak! They were a little wary at first after hearing how families had brought her back, as anyone would be. They soon realized why she had been brought back and started to fit the puzzle pieces of her past together.

River started out pretty aggressive. While she never hurt anyone, she would bite their clothes and pull or jump all over them. They observed this behavior mainly in the backyard. This led them to believe that her crate had been in the backyard. She would also start to panic whenever there was any sort of yard equipment in her rescuer’s hands, such as a rake. This led them to believe that River had been previously been abused with yard tools. River also liked to lick anything metal, which they assumed was a form of her self comforting, since most of her life at that point had been in a metal cage.

River  had no concept of how to be a “normal” domesticated pup. She didn’t know how to play and did not know how to act around people or dogs. Jill and Jay eventually went to a trainer for help with helping River. The approach of the first trainer was not a good fit, which involved reacting to the negative behavior in a negative/ punitive way.  Instead, they discovered the best way to deal with the aggressive behavior which was River’s fear reaction was through love. Whenever River got riled up, they would sit with her and just hold her tight–even when she would try to wiggle out, they showed River that, no matter what, she had a family who unconditionally loved her and would always be there for her. She would softly tell her nice things and showered her in love. She would do this as long as twenty minutes until River felt safe enough.

River Today

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River being patient.

Fast forward to now, River is a completely different dog, even though she is still a work in progress. She is only two years old, so she still has quite a bit of energy. She has even received the title of being the business partner in the organization of the Rescue Dog Olympics in Atlanta. “She doesn’t have any actual assistant responsibilities,” Jill had joked. However, River’s job does entail lots of emotional support and snuggles. She is constantly loving on her family as well as everyone else. She also loves to run, play with toys and now knows how to have fun with other dogs. Just by giving River the love that she so desperately wanted and some extra time and care, Jill and Jay were able to completely transform her into a beloved member of the family.

At the moment, Jill is training River to become a therapy dog for chronically ill children.  She says that because River has so much love to give to others that she would make a great therapy dog to those in need. River still has a lot of work to do, since she still has so much energy and loves to jump on people to show her love, but will still make a great therapy dog in time.

River’s Impact

River is just one example of the countless rescue dog stories being made every single day. Rescuing a dog from a shelter as opposed to buying one directly from a breeder has so many benefits. By rescuing a dog saves two lives: the life of the dog rescued and the life of another dog in need that can now come to the shelter due to the open space. Most rescues are already spayed or neutered and even microchipped. Most adult dogs are already potty-trained and with a rescue, the workers will be able to tell you about the dog’s unique personality. According to the ASPCA, about 3.3 million dogs are brought into rescue shelters while 1.6 million dogs are adopted each year. By adopting a rescue, you can help shelters bring in more dogs that are in need and keep the euthanization rates low.

Rescue dogs have so much potential that more people need to see, which is a reason Jill started the Rescue Dog Olympics in Atlanta. It’s a dog lovin’ festival and dog party on Sunday, March 10, 2019 in Piedmont Park.  It’s a chance for people to do something fun with their dogs and for families looking to adopt to meet some great rescue organizations and find their new family member. It’s a way to spread awareness to the greatness inside every rescue dog and to show just how much they deserve to be loved for their entire lives.