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Hi. My given name is “Bella,” but for a long while, I was an underdog.
About four years ago, I lived in a warm, supportive family. They taught me valuable life skills, like not barking over every little thing, how to be housebroken, and sitting and shaking hands and paws on command.
I liked people, especially my people, almost all other dogs, and most kitties too.
Things were simply great.
Then one day my family started using words I didn’t know yet, words like “foreclosure” and “eviction.” No longer was anyone, even the kids, playing with me much.
Soon after that, their belongings were all in boxes, and they ushered me into their sedan. They drove me to a “family friendly” neighborhood, opened the car door, and said “Good luck! Kiddo. Hope you’ll find a new home soon.”
Initially, I was stunned and I slunk off to wait for them to come back. But it didn’t happen.
“Family friendly” area or not, people yelled at me a lot. I became rather hungry and skinny as no one would let me approach their pets’ food and water bowls. Worse than that, packs of semi-wild dogs eagerly found me an easy target.
Have I mentioned yet that I am part pit bull? So although such rude canine behavior terrified me, I found I could give out even worse than I got.
Over the next several weeks, a station wagon would show up and two young people, armed with a long broom handle type of contraption, would chase after me. Now in addition to pit, I am also part border collie, so I easily could outrun these folks. Only one day when they showed up with a bit of steak attached to that contraption did they find out that I was an easy catch.
Naturally, I was scared, but they brought me to a local animal shelter. This place was warmer than the outdoors, and I got a doggy bunkmate named Buddy and an adoring staff to feed me all day long. They gave me the name I have now, Bella, and treated me like the princess I had longed to be.
So one day soon after my ASPCA capture, my new mom, Carol, was driving down the road. For three years, she had been looking for a large dog to complete her life. The internet was right there helping her. However, every time she thought she had located the right animal, she would go to that specific shelter to retrieve it only to discover he or she was already adopted.
This particular day in June 2015, she was driving along. A voice in her head stated calmly “Do a U-turn and get back to the ASPCA right now. Your dog is there waiting for you.”
I heard the reverse of that internal psychic message, so you better believe I was waiting in the very front of my kennel, cold nose pressed to the wire and my long tail wagging away, when the pet shelter volunteers escorted her in.
Within two days, I was moving into her home. I really loved her, and both she and the big guy with the strange beard often conversed about “love at first sight.” I think they meant me.
But I was not exactly what they expected. Although I had loved the shelter volunteers, I didn’t like most people. I had learned that people will kick you when you are down and out. They are apt to throw sticks and stones, and set their meanest big bad dogs upon you.
People act so cruelly that you end up starving, homeless and going without sleep. I still liked kids, as children are kind to even us homeless dogs. But adults are a different matter entirely. I knew now that when you see grown-up people, it is far better to cower and slink away than try to be friends.
In my case, this meant growling a little and hiding behind my mom. (A bit hard to do given that I now weighed 62 pounds.)
A month after being adopted, there was a smell of smoke in the air. My new family started loading boxes of their favorite things into the garage near their car. They acted nervous. But they still played with me, so maybe I had nothing to worry about.
However, my nervousness skyrocketed when I got woken from a nap and put in the car. I must have had a funny expression as Mom said, “You need to get out with people a bit more. You should realize there are people who are a lot like you. They are going through hard times and they need love. You don’t know this, but you have it in your heart to give them hope.”
We ended up at a place called “Moose Lodge,” in Clearlake, CA. Around 400 people who had been evacuated from a major fire were living in tents and RVs on this property. And now I was expected to show up every few days and be with kids who needed to be around me. These were kids who most likely had lost their homes and their pets.
The thing was, sometimes their moms and dads showed up too.
These grown-ups had an energy I felt was familiar. They were desperate like I had been. They had faith that was shot, and eyes that were tremendously sad. Often they needed to be cheered up more than their kids.
Carol would tell these adults to command me to sit and shake. They were so happy I could do that one trick that they would sometimes wipe a tear away from their eyes. Then I realized I could help them by licking their hands or even jumping up near them, but not on them. When an adult needed a ride to the doctor or to the grocery stores, or anywhere else that came up, they would be shown into our car.
I confess the first few times a stranger got in the car, I was upset. What would I do if they became mean like the adults had been in that family-friendly neighborhood area where I once had tried to live? How would I protect my mom and myself?
But Carol taught the passengers the “Bella Song” which had as the main words, “Bella, Bella, Bella, a Beauty of a dog, she makes everyone who knows her so happy and proud.” The words made the people laugh, and also made me relax. I was once again becoming a “people canine.”
Over the next several years, I was trained as a service animal. This allowed me to accompany my owner to her therapy sessions. The concept she would dwell on the most was this one: “Do feared things first.” (I have to say, there is wisdom there.) And sometimes her therapist would mention that “you can teach a troubled dog new tricks.”
So basically I am a re-created, renovated victim of PTSD. My mom admits she has her PTSD issues to overcome as well. But together we have learned to overcome this affliction for the most part, and then put it in the back of the wheel box should we feel it re-surfacing. Life is good, people are friendly, and I truly can bark that I look forward to each and every new day. Things seem to be getting better all the time.