Monday, February 17, 2014

That awkward moment when...

You discover everything you thought you knew...

Was wrong.

I heard a story on NPR last week and one sentence really struck a chord with me. It was something about how we're "photo-shopping our online lives" to appear happy and perfect. I've never meant to do that here on the blog. Especially since I know there are folks out there who have found hope and encouragement through Bella's story.

However, things have happened here at Casa de Bella over the fall and winter of which I have not yet spoken. It was not my intent to lie or mislead. I merely needed time to process everything, to deal with my crazy dog (and even crazier job) while also maintaining some balance in our lives through the holidays.

But first, let me calm your concerns up-front by saying everyone is fine. Better than fine. Good, even. Now.

That wasn't the case for quite some months and I hope to take you through the whole story. It may take a few 'episodes' to bring us up to date as there were many lessons learned and several points to cover.

I'll start with a recap that has some clues into what went wrong in it:

Bella re-injured her left shoulder while on vacation with us in September of 2012. (That would be the last actual, non-working vacation I have had, by the way. Just sayin'...)

Through the winter and spring, we saw numerous vets and made multiple attempts to identify and resolve the problem. All the while, we had our crazy dog on restricted activity.

When we finally found something that helped her shoulder (Metacam), we were immediately faced with battling the stomach upset it brought along with it.

Before this, back in the spring of 2013, our regular vet had prescribed Hill's Prescription Diet w/d (19% protein) for what he diagnosed as Colitis, a very common ailment among anxious dogs. Now that the Metacam was also turning Bella's insides upside down, the neurologist who prescribed it, told us we should be using Hill's Prescription Diet r/d (34.6%) protein to treat Colitis.

That was in July.

I don't know if you can see where this is going but we've now got my crazy dog whose shoulder is feeling loads better on a high-protein diet and regulated activity.

We started seeing signs of Bella feeling better in agility class when she began doing zoomies around the ring. We were slowly increasing her activity but, unsure of how much her shoulder could take, we were being careful, controlled. But she wanted to run and zoom and basically go nuts.

We continued to have troubles with her tummy and, per doctor's orders, were routinely stopping the Metacam until her bowel movements became normal and then starting it back up again until we saw signs of gastric distress at which point we'd stop it again. And so on. And so on.

And the hamsters spin the wheel.

Unsurprisingly, Bella lashed out at Jan again in August. It had been over a year since she had done so.

We made some changes to her meds, talked to and worked with our trainer and had plans to follow up with Dr. Dodman. But shortly before the holidays, Bella did something that threw everything we thought we knew out the window.

Do you see what's wrong with this picture?
At the time, I didn't.
I do now.
We had always approached treating Bella under the premise that she was generally anxious but specifically still nervous around Jan. It made sense: she had only ever bitten him, his beard, glasses, long hair and deep voice are factors many dogs find challenging, and her initial poor reaction to him seemed to stem from when I broke my arm.

But in December 2013 all that changed when Bella attacked me.

I will go into all of it in time but suffice it to say, I missed every piece of information Bella was sending me. Talk about trigger-stacking: high-protein diet, restricted activity, shoulder pain, upset stomach, general anxiety from the winter weather, a dark room, loud television, a couple of glasses of wine (mine, not hers) and a painfully egregious rookie dog-handler mistake ended up with me unable to use my hands for a few days and my right arm for a week. It could have been much worse. (It's of note that it wasn't.)

I've been trying to find a way to share this with you since it happened (and there is some very good news to come out of it all) but I want to give it the time and attention it requires.

We're using some big and scary words about our little girl now. Words like: post-traumatic stress disorder, anti-convulsants, neurotransmitters, neuropathic pain and paroxysmal fear. But we're also seeing tremendous progress and a remarkably calm and happy dog.

Along with Dr. Dodman who is helping us with Bella's behavioral complexities, we've started seeing a holistic vet who is going to try to help us with her Colitis and her shoulder problems. Bella's tummy has improved almost as much as her behavior and we are incredibly hopeful at this time that we will be able to give Bella the pain- and fear-free life she deserves.

Please bear with me over the next few weeks as I try to fill in all the gaps.

My little pumpkin turned 6 years old this week. Happy birthday, Bella. You are still my favorite little Valentine.


  1. Thank you for your honesty with your struggles. It is true that we do polish our lives before sharing them to the world (people are so judgemental). I am glad you were able to turn from bad to very good and look forward to hearing how this happened.

  2. Glad you're all okay and bravo for sharing a difficult experience. I can only imagine that this excercise will be liberating for you and helpful to many. Thank you for putting yourself out there. You are brave beyond measure and a true animal lover.

  3. I know I've pretty much disappeared from the blog world, but I want to say I have always admired your commitment to sharing both the good and the bad that comes from rescuing and caring for our canine companions. And sometimes, it takes a catastrophic event to make us look at a situation with new eyes, to let go of our assumptions and see the big picture as it exists now.
    While I am so sorry it took Bella attacking you, I am also so happy that this is leading to a breakthrough for Bella and for you.

  4. I seriously don't know what I'd do if my dog bit me. I don't think "holistic vet" is the first thing that would spring to mind. Bella is lucky to have people in her life who love the dog they have, and not dream of the dog they wish they had.

  5. Leslie, I am so glad you posted this. I had no idea that Bella had gone after you, but thank you for sharing about what happened and what's making it better. I sometimes struggle with noticing early warning signs of Riley being uncomfortable or anxious, so this is just a reminder for me to always be vigilant. I tend to gloss over things about Riley's quirks on my blog, but I may just be more open and honest about things in the future. Glad you are okay now and that Bella is calmer and happier now. Thank God that Bella has such loving "parents" and that you are not giving up on her (and haven't given up on her before this)! I think a lot of times we envision our lives with the "perfect" dog, but no dog (or person) can be perfect. Living with an "imperfect" dog has given me a whole new view on dogs, their behavior, and I have educated myself a lot more about dogs and their issues than in the past.

  6. Your openness is appreciated - especially for those of us with a dog who has had issues. I hope to learn from your experiences and share our own - that's how we all learn and become better at reading our own dogs.

  7. I am so glad you shared this and wish u had known sooner. Life with digs is not the fairytale some writers make it out to be. Your honesty and willingness to keep trying, keep living her despite everything that has happened is inspiring and life changing. I don't want to say much more because I will start to cry but I think you and Jan are some of the bravest people I have ever encountered. Usually I think the people are the lucky ones but in your case Bella struck gold when she found you.

    Thank you for not giving up. Thank you for continuing to love. Just, thank you.

  8. Don't worry - Dr. Dodman was our first thought, not the holistic vet. But there are reasons we chose the holistic vet that do factor into all of Bella's wellness and I will get into that in time.

    In the meantime, thank you, and everyone else, for the kind and supportive words. Not sure I am emotionally up to responding to all the comments today but I will over the next few days. Suffice it to say the support is overwhelming.

  9. I've missed you, Erin. I have been absent myself and understand how much your life has changed. Hope you are well and happy. And thank you for your kind words.

  10. Leslie, my heart goes out to you. I know how difficult this must've been to go through and then to make yourself vulnerable by blogging about it. But I have no doubt that your honesty will help others as they work with their own fear-reactive dogs. I admire you for your commitment to Bella. She is obviously loved very much and is so lucky to have you. At the same time, I know that you feel lucky to have her, too, as one of your greatest teachers in this life.

  11. Firstly, I completely agree with you about the comment you shared from NPR. I think that's why I can't stand Facebook. I know so many people who try to put on these fronts of "I am 100% content and happy 100% of the time, and isn't my life awesome, and doesn't yours suck by comparison." Neither here nor there, but just to say, I get your point. I never really thought about it in a blogging sense, but I can certainly see how that could happen. So I can see how it would take a lot of courage, but would also be something of a relief, to share it here. I am glad you're ok, and that Bella is doing better. I don't really know her story, but I gather she's been a challenge, which I can certainly relate to. I hope things continue to improve for all of you.

  12. That's a lot to take in and deal with. We're having our own struggles here, so I can relate and sympathize. I love that you're brave enough to talk about it all!

  13. Oh wow. Well I'm very glad to hear everyone is doing well and hope you continue to. It's very courageous to put the speed bumps out there for the world to read about and I hope you receive nothing but support.

  14. I'm sorry to read about your struggles and I thank you for sharing. I honestly have been thinking about writing a post about how life isn't always as peachy as I may lead some to believe. We certainly have had our ups and downs lately and I've shared some but not all of it on the blog. I think it's fantastic that sometimes we share the struggles of living with our dogs. I think too much emphasis has been put on how to be a perfect dog owner or pet parent over the years and no one wants to come out in public and say, "hey we're never going to be perfect and here's the mistakes we've made. but we are doing the best we can." because they fear being ridiculed, which is just depressing.

    I'm glad that you are ok and that Bella is feeling better and Happy Birthday Bella :)

  15. Miss Bella looks so much more relaxed in that last picture. Looking forward to reading the full story. It may surprise you to learn that life is not always perfect with three rottweilers;-)

  16. My problem dog is picture on my avatar. Brut has problems with people and other dogs and has always been touchy, moody and sometimes just plain ruthless. He has come a long, long way. There is always hope if there is love. Sorry to hear Bella went after you. I had a close call a few years ago, trying to hep Brut out, he bit my hand. Nothing serious but it did hurt and I was shaken. It was my fault, but I missed the signs. Anyways I understand where you are coming from. You are not alone. :)

  17. I was going to say something similar. I have a hard time not taking things personally even though I know better, and I tend to obsess sometimes about "does my dog even like me?" that I would find this devastating. I was bitten in the face (very minor, really she snapped at me, not a true attack) by my childhood dog when I hugged her leaving for college (hugging hurt her, she was old and arthritic) and I was so upset by it. I agree that Bella is so lucky to have your unconditional love and devotion and I hope that things continue to look up for you both.

  18. You know, I've thought you've been more silent than usual, but I hadn't expected this. So sorry that you went through this with Bella, but glad that you say some good came out of it in the end. As for missing signs, we've all done it, so don't beat yourself up over it. I don't know if you remember this one: but I didn't see what was wrong until looking thru the photos afterward. Looking forward to seeing how this all turns out, especially since you say things are good now. :-)

  19. In general I think people are uncomfortable with adversity, conflict, unhappiness. Mostly because we feel a need to fix things or say something reassuring. Sort of how all movies have to have a happy ending, but that's not real life.

    I'm sorry you are going through such a tough thing with Bella, but I'm glad you feel comfortable enough to talk about it. And I'm super glad you aren't giving up on her. I don't have to tell you that many others would have handled her issues far differently than you and Jan have and I have to agree with Kristine, you are very brave. Both for continuing to fight for Bella and for sharing her story with others.

  20. Wow! Had no idea that was coming. It is hard to lay it all out on the blog as we like to be happy all the time and don't want others to judge us. We hope that with continued work Bella will come around and everything will be fine at your house.

  21. You are so amazing - one for just being honest (I personally don't enjoy sugar coating of any of life's journeys) but mostly you are awesome for your dedication and championing of Bella. Pet parenting at it's finest!

  22. You are one of the bravest people I know - both for writing this post and putting it all out there (which I'm sure wasn't exactly easy) and for all that you do for Bella. The perfect words are failing me at the moment, but know that I think you're amazing and will always be here, cheering you on and supporting you, no matter what else life throws your way.

  23. Oh, my goodness. First off, I'm SO glad that everyone's okay (and, perhaps better?). I can only imagine what all this has felt like, and my heart goes out to you and Jan, and to Bella. She is so lucky that she has such a wonderful family who cares so deeply to help her heal. Whatever support or help we can offer, please ask! Thinking of you!

  24. Since I too have a behaviorally challenged dog, it's helpful to hear what others go through. I listen carefully, root for you to make progress (yay, it sounds like you have), and I try to learn from your experiences. Thank you.

  25. Dogs
    have a quite mysterious life of their own. That is a great personal life
    experience that you have shared here with us. Dogs need the same amount of
    care as the humans need.