Belle was a shelter dog. Her story before she found her way to our home is just that...HER story. During the time that we got her, there were a lot of owner surrender dogs filing their way into the shelters all over New England as a result of the economy. People all over the country lost their jobs or had their pay cut or never found the good job that they thought they would have after graduation. Natural disasters in every season displaced people and destroyed homes, always leaving the family pet without a place to live. In New England, Hurricane Sandy left a whole large contingent of pets without the stability and safety that they had known and they all ended up in shelters. So from the cages of shelters come the pets that are victims of an unstable human world.
There are all kinds of other reasons why dogs end up in shelters, besides money. Pets that are discriminated against due to their breed, like Pit Bulls, lose their homes all the time. People move, people break up with their partners, people find new partners with new pets and new children, people get sick, get old, get injured, people pass on, they go to jail or rehab or the military. Sometimes, dogs do things that cause them to lose their homes, but a lot of times, humans live and change and the dogs lose their homes. It is their helpless humanized fate.
And so when each new shelter dog comes here, we look into their eyes and simply ask, "HOW are you?" NOT WHO are you, WHERE did you come from, WHY are you here or HOW did you get here. We simply ask each dog how they are, assuming that one of the many reasons why dogs end up in shelters is true for them, one of the stories are their story. By only asking them what they feel, what they need and what they want to do, we always find the answers to their past over time. Every dog reveals themselves in every moment with the decisions that they make. Every dog emanates the truth of who they are at their core through the reactions that they have to us, to other animals and to the world around them. There is no hiding their heart from us. We merely have to be able to understand the animal to be able to hear what their humans have done.
So shelter dog Belle came to us two years ago with no story save what we saw behind her eyes. Belle was old. When they arrive at a shelter so late in life, it is hard not to assume the worst, that inevitable disease and infirmity have left this dog less desirable to their owners and that they have been simply left to die out of sight. If they are healthy though, you then assume that the sad truth of life's circumstances have struck them or worse yet, that a complete lack of commitment from some human resulted in this elderly dog being discarded like yesterday's waste. You can't help but wonder what they have lacked and for how long. Did they ever know the benefits of being a beloved house pet? Did they live in a house at all? Elderly rescues come with lumps and scars and cloudy eyes. They come with failing systems and weakening joints and creaking bones. Elderly homeless dogs have managed to survive a decade of some kind of life only to lose it all in the end. They played the game of life and had their hand folded for them before it was over. In an instant life and death is a decision away, a decision that, perhaps like their whole life, was one they never had a say in. The voiceless aged discarded animal waits to see WHO if anyone, will offer them another lucky last chance at a more dignified last chapter in life.
Belle, from the jump, saw opportunity in everything we offered her. An easy choice when you consider that life itself was in a moment hanging in the balance. Every chance at a moment from that point on was a YES, resounding and without hesitation. Every dog that we ever introduced to her, she greeted them as a friend. Even the most dominant, hormonal, adolescent male Bully, Belle would muster all her strength and resolve and step her play up to their level.
I don't know how many times I was out in the yard with a pack and have heard the raucous sound of assertive canine exclamation and instinctively I turned to the noise, already uttering a stern, "Hey!" and there was Belle standing stiff, neck to neck with some pushy young male dog, with her tail straight up and stiff and tightly wagging, ears high and eyes bright, happy with the warning she had delivered and also daring her opponent to push his mounting antics further. Even though she was always a little slower and stiffer than her younger playmates, Belle could always join the largest and most energetic social pack of dogs of all breeds, sizes and ages and fit right in.
For Belle, every blade of grass was worth smelling, pawing, rolling in or running through with sweet abandon. Every plush bed and warm soft quilt was worth snuggling into for some uninterrupted, peaceful slumber. Every plush toy was worth gumming and squeezing and squeaking repeatedly like a young puppy. Every bone was worth the intense focus of determined gnawing, the teeth cleaning sensation so satisfying. Every treat was delicious and every meal was exactly what she desired in that moment. Every moment of affection from the loving hands of the humans who didn't let her life end because her fate deemed it so, was part of this bonus round of life that Belle always told us honestly was exactly what she needed.
Her devotion was never overbearing or anxious. She never acted like she felt the need to be on top of every situation around her. She was naturally independent and confident, but also found you in your quiet moments when the energy is just right to lay down by your side and rest her head by your foot or her chin on your hand. She knew a good thing when she felt it and yet, you could tell that she also knew the other side of that coin. The wisdom in Belle's aged eyes told us that she had seen a sadder side to life. She never hid that from us, but merely hoped in her trusting heart that we would not disappoint her like that. And we didn't.
Belle has left us. She has passed over the Rainbow Bridge to join the other adored elders that have gone before her. I see her standing tall and proud and running on nimble legs with a wide smile and tongue hanging out, running towards full days of freedom and comfort, sunshine and green grass and looking down knowing she had people who loved her and a real home. R.I.P Sweet Belle