I'm about to venture into some delicate, perhaps even controversial, territory of Bella's history over the next few weeks and months. It won't always make her sound like a dog you want to take home and it'll probably make us seem like crazy people. Not everyone will agree with what we've done or will do but there's no sense in writing a blog about a fearful/anxious dog if I'm not going to be honest about all that fear and anxiety entails.
If nothing else, perhaps it can serve as a 'what not to do' for other folks who find themselves with an overly skittish and sensitive dog.
|Those were halcyon days...|
Quite a few people asked what happened between Bella and her BFF Maggie that ended their friendship. I've been wanting to talk about that, as well as what we're going through with Bella in present time, but it all needs a bit of set up to understand. In fact, only in putting together some of this timeline have I come to realize just how resilient Bella has been in her life with us here and wonder now how she's managed to not be any more screwed up than she is.
2010 was a very bad year
But first, let me tell you, in brief, about a very good year: 2009
- 2009 saw Bella making friends with our neighbor's Golden Retriever, Maggie, and engaging in daily playdates.
- 2009 is the year Bella met Gus (still her best boyfriend no matter how long they go without seeing each other)
- 2009 is the year we discovered Tufts Farm Field, 37-acres of fields and puddles and walking trails. Bella and Gus spent many Sunday mornings there playing and meeting other dogs and dog-folk.
Some things were brewing in the background in 2009 of which we weren't aware but overall it was a good year. Bella was beginning to come out of her shell with other dogs, she was getting good exercise and even the few mishaps she did face, like discovering a yellowjacket's nest and meeting her first skunk, didn't seem to set her too far back. Bella was still a crazy, scared-y pup but, aside from her increasing noise-phobias and thunderstorm fears, she appeared to be adjusting to her new home and family fairly well. Life was pretty good.
And then it all got blown to hell.
(Pardon my language. Also, please understand that some of what I'm about to talk about and how I choose to do so may come off as flippant and aloof. Suffice it to say I'm not really here to disect my feelings around these events. I'm just trying to provide context to some of what has happened in Bella's life with us so when I begin to discuss where she's at now, you'll have a reference point.)
So let's get the worst of it over with: Just before Christmas 2009, my father was re-diagnosed with a rare form of skin cancer for which he was given a very bleak prognosis. The following three months, I spent as many weekends as possible traveling to my family's home in Rhode Island to spend time with him. He passed away at the end of February. My father was my hero and his loss affected me deeply.
During this same time, my husband Jan, who had previously had a heart-attack and quadruple bypass surgery in 2007, began having issues with his heart and health. He was wearing a heart-monitor to try and identify what was triggering bouts of ventricular tachycardia while at the same time trying to help support my mom through some of the financial decisions surrounding my father's passing. Jan had two surgeries in about the span of a month right about the same time Bella and Maggie had their falling out.
2010 also saw the closing of the Tufts Farm Field due to some unsavory behavoir by pups and peeps so Bella lost her one real outlet to meet new dogs and get some great exercise.
Finally, I was also in the process of trying to leave a rather ugly job situation.
All in all this was turning out to be a very bad year and I'm sure, thinking back on it now, that Bella was feeling the strain it was putting on us, or more specifically, me. To be perfectly honest, I don't think I noticed at the time - I was just trying to get through every day.
What about the dog?
There was also one last piece of drama of which Jan and I were unaware happening in 2010. Something Bella was dealing with that we didn't understand at all until the following winter. This was concerning a neighbor's dog who was allowed to run loose despite the local leash laws.
We knew from our many altercations in our own yard with Bailey, our neighbor's rescued Black Lab, that she and Bella did not get along. We knew Bailey came into our yard routinely and we knew Bella felt the need to protect her people and her "territory" whenever she did.
What we didn't know until the winter of 2010 when we saw her footprints in the snow (and we finally caught her in the act), was that Bailey was approaching our house and "attacking" Bella through our sunroom windows.
Yes, Bella, your parents are oblivious
So my poor dog, who already had issues with other dogs, had lost her only socialization outlet, was feeling the strain of her mom's family's failing health, was also under siege in her own home and yard and we didn't even know about it. We would hear her bark (we can tell Bella's "Bailey bark" from Bella's "Oh look it's a squirrel" bark) but we didn't understand why Bella's "Bailey bark" was (is) so much more ferocious. Now we know.
At the time, however, we just thought Bella was being grumpy and over-anxious about Bailey. When we would get her together to play with Maggie, more and more Bella's attention was directed at the house behind us, Bailey's home, than towards her playmate.
Then one day in the early summer of 2010, while Bella and Maggie were playing and Bella was nervous about Bailey being out loose, the girls got tangled in their leashes and my neighbor moved to untangle them. Of course, Bella is also afraid of people, so when Ron reached for Bella's leg to untangle her, Bella freaked out and snapped at Maggie. (Thank dog, she snapped at Maggie and not at Ron!)
Maggie is a big, furry Golden Retriever with the thickest ruff I've ever seen so even if Bella had connected (she did not), she would have only come away with a mouthful of fuzz. And maybe a lesson that it doesn't pay to argue with fluffy dogs.
Understandably, our neighbors are now nervous of Bella and she and Maggie have not been able to get together successfully since.
So that's what happened to Bella and her BFF. We immediately signed her up for a Ruffians Class for Reactive Dogs at a local training center. We're blessed to have such a great variety of training options available to us. We've also made some big decisions and taken some creative action to help Bella adjust and live more comfortably in her own skin.
We're still hopeful that we'll get her and Maggie back together someday and Bella does, on occasion still see her sweetheart, Gus. The Tufts Farm Field has since re-opened with an off-leash, 'official' dog park. It's not an option for Bella any more but we still try to get her and Gus (and Gus's new Greyhound sister, Molly) together to walk around the field. It is good to see Bella enjoy the company of her old friend.
I've said from the start that we've done pretty much everything wrong with Bella. I consider it testing her resillience. ;) Please tell me we're not the only ones who feel we've messed up our dog with our own crazy lives. Do you have any regrets or things you'd like to "do over" with your dog? Do you think dogs are "fixable" when owners make mistakes?