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Friday, June 23, 2017

Saying Goodbye to Bella

My son's dog has passed away.

Bella was 15+, a basset mix rescued from a shelter in PA when my son was 9.

Hounds are outdoor dogs, not pets...
Or so this former country-girl thought. 

My old gal, Amanda, had passed in February. I'd been promising my son a dog for almost a year. In July I attended a writer's conference in the area and stopped in to the shelter where my friend had gotten her springer spaniel. I was hoping to find a similarly sweet and intelligent friend for my troubled son.
We'd already been on quite a journey. The tantrums started at about age 3. He was recently 9, and rather than diminishing with age, they'd grown worse. There was more to come, but we already knew something was wrong. We just didn't know what, or how far we'd have to go before the road would turn for him.

When I talked to the folks running the shelter, he asked me, "How do you feel about basset hounds?"

I rolled my eyes. I had hounds as a kid, and they were noisy, slobbery, boneheaded doofuses, better kept in outdoor kennels than in the house, due to the difficulty of housetraining. My experience with hounds told me they were hunting dogs, not pets. He told me that she'd been returned to the shelter by a family that didn't look after her properly, that she was shy and sweet. I relented and agreed to meet her, knowing I would be bringing my son back later to look at puppies. Smaller, fluffier, easier, trainable puppies.

She came into the visitor's room looking anxious. She went immediately to the windows, staring out as if looking for someone. Looking for her family to come back for her. The family that had returned her, bone thin and shaking. She still wanted them. And my heart melted a little.

I brought my son in, as planned, careful to explain that he was free to choose a PUPPY. That he should meet her, but he didn't have to choose her...
It was a lost cause. She was brought into the visitor's room and LAUNCHED herself at him. Wagging, wiggling, facelicking happiness embodied in a bony hound dog. "I want THIS one, Mom."

It took us SO long to get weight on her.

And so it began.
She came home, only to hide under the kitchen table and bark and growl at my husband. She managed, with her six-inch legs, to get on top of the kitchen table to raid the butter dish. She refused to eat at first, forcing us to get creative in concocting dishes she would nibble at, until she eventually decided to eat properly. She was so thin at first that the vet wouldn't spay her- and by the time we got enough weight on her, we discovered that my dog Charlie had been a bit frisky and there were pups on the way.

I was worried sick... She'd just gotten healthy, and the vet had revealed that her stated age of 3-4 years was inaccurate- by then she was close to 8.

She successfully delivered 11 pups, but 4 did not survive past the second day. Of the seven remaining, we were able to find homes for 5. Two of her girls remain with us to this day.

Bella with her girls.

In the past few months, I noticed a change. She was moving more slowly. Returning to her picky eating habits. Having more digestive upsets, which have been common with her, on and off, the entire time she's been with us. (We've consulted the vet before, and he told us there was nothing to be done; she simply had a sensitive digestive tract.)

A long story short... She was an old lady- past 15 now by our best guesstimate- and she was tired.

She loved the outdoors, even in winter, but summer sun on grass was her favorite.

She spent her last day lying in the sun in the grass. At some point she wandered out by the kennel to be near her girls, content to lie there. We brought her in that evening and she had cuddles on the porch and fell asleep in one of the recliners. Fearing the evening air would be too chilly for her old bones, I moved her inside that night, into her crate with a fresh blanket. When we got up in the morning, she was gone.

This has been a journey. She was with us when my son was expelled from school in the 5th grade. When he was throwing his tantrums (Which we know now were expressions of anxiety.) When he told me he never really wanted a dog anyway, but cried when, out of sheer frustration, I threatened to find her a new home.

She taught him that some tasks- like feeding the dog and taking her out- must be completed regardless of feelings or mood. That some things are more important than our own internal turmoil. That when someone, or something, is depending upon us, we must set aside our personal challenges and rise up.

She helped him grow, helped him mature, and helped teach him empathy. She was always there with her floppy, silky ears, and her sneaky way of climbing onto the couch when she knew she was supposed to go into her crate for the night.

She was slobbery and smelly and noisy and stubborn- everything a hound dog is. She was also, for 8 years of his life, my son's friend and companion. She was a good dog, and she will be missed.

Rest easy, old Girl. You've earned it. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Building Together

Whirlwind... That's our lives recently.

We're settling in, adjusting to a new family dynamic. My kids have gained a sibling and a stepfather. Beloved and Doolittle have gained two more kids and siblings. We're just getting past the "stepping lightly" polite stage of people getting to know one another and afraid to offend, and hurling into the sibling-arguments stage of "I know we haven't lived together long, but I'm not putting up with your crap" stage of security, knowing that this is here to stay. 

We're doing our best to build a lasting foundation.

Some days, I get tired of the bickering and nonsense, but most days, I'm warmed by it- knowing that the kids are secure enough in their relationships to start being jerks to one another. They know that they can fight, knowing that the relationship can take the abuse. That they'll make up later. That it'll be ok- that this family isn't going anywhere, and we're in this for the long haul. 

In the midst of all this, we're planning a wedding. And doing life... We just replaced our beater van with another pair of beaters- a rusty, banger of a Cherokee, and an F150 that was thrown into the deal upon agreement to let the seller have our old van (he'll scrap it out.) And life goes on. 

Among all this is a sense of contentment. A sense of settling in. A sense of security in the future that we're building together. Of foundations being laid. 

I don't know where this will all go. I'd love to say that I see a rosy future with his kids and mine walking linked arm in arm off into the sunset of our elder years, and us secure in the knowledge that they'll always have each other. 

I hope they'll always be together. Even if they do drive one another nuts.

As the children of mixed families, Beloved and I both know that may not happen. When step parents pass away, many times the children drift apart. The family created by marriage splinters in the absence of the glue that held them together. I pray that will not be the case with our children, but I know there are no guarantees. So, I welcome these days, the bickering and making up, the laughing and the goofing off and the going off together to do who-knows-what without Mom and Dad, because they are knitting their own foundations. I just pray it will hold for the long haul... that what we are building together as a family will become a shelter for our children, and our grandchildren. 

Life, love, and family are precious.