It was out of the corner of my eye. I saw my elegant and mischievous feline, Circe, wander up to Bella and sniff her. I am not sure if Circe wanted to make sure that Bella didn't have something good in that water bowl that she might like to partake of, or whether it just seemed like another opportune moment to cop a sniff. Either way, as Circe turned away to leave the room, Bella moved her big head slowly toward Circe and sniffed her butt! This was the first time Bella has ever responded to Circe! My jaw dropped open and I felt something warm filling me. Hope. Bella is finally emerging. Did the stimulation of the visiting Bernese help open her up? Or is it just that I have been paying a lot of attention to her today? By waiting to see if Bella would come to me have I made her feel ignored? Perhaps my approach has been all wrong. Or it is simply that she is now ready for more. No matter. I'm onto a new plan, now. Bella, you are going to be getting more touch, more challenge, and, at Lisa's suggestion, more food.
This morning Lisa came with her very well trained Bernese boy. I brought Bella outdoors to meet him, and she was fine with it! She even sniffed him a few times, acting perky, unafraid and even a little bit interested. We were able to walk our dogs, in a new direction outside of Bella's OCD route. Sometimes Bell pulled to go home, but when she saw that I wasn't yielding, she adapted and seemed to enjoy the walk. Maybe I'm part of the problem after all! I have been too solicitous toward Bella, often feeling sorry for her. Lisa suggested two practices for Bella, both of which we did today. One is to walk on a different route every other day, and the second is to keep Bella from going back to her safe place for an hour each day. Bella will need to become braver. For me, the practice is to be upbeat. So game on!
Bella needs a dog. She needs the right dog.
Today Queenie's owner dropped her off for an extended visit at 7:30 am. Queenie was sweet, and cooperative and curious, like you might expect from a puppy with a good home. I tried a few things to see if Bella would interact with her. Outside of specific efforts, I let Queenie wander freely in the house during the seven hours she was here. Sometimes she chose to be with me, experimenting with laying down next to me. More often, however, she chose to stay in the foyer, as if patiently awaiting her owner's return. The patience was illusory, and easily interrupted by attempts to sample the cat food on the table, and efforts to see if the cardboard I put down to soak the water off damp paws was edible.
Queenie seemed to know to give Bella some space. Although she approached Bella's bed (which Bella never left except when I put her leash on her for a walk) Queenie left a respectful foot between herself and the edge of the bed. I offered treats to Queenie and Bella in Bella's room. As before, Queenie accepted enthusiastically. Bella acted concerned and a bit reluctant. She accepted the treats from me in slow motion, and sometimes would not take them from my hand, in what seemed like a sort of regression. I dropped those treats in front of her and she ate them when I turned away.
In Queenie's presence, Bella mostly looked at me. I imagined a faint accusation in her face, or at least a worried inquiry. Sometimes she glanced at Queenie doubtfully. Later in the day, I took Bella on a walk. She cooperatively got up from her bed when I put the leash on her, again in a sort of slow motion, and moved cautiously down the hall with me to the front door. In the foyer, I snapped Queenie's leash on her, too, and tried to give her enough rope not to crowd Bella. Queenie sniffed Bella's hind end a few times, and looked at her expectantly. Bella, however, kept her nose low and focused on the business at hand. A quick march up the road, business, then a quick march back, Queenie or no Queenie.
While there was very little interaction between the dogs, with the limit on Bella's side, the cats had a strong opinion about Queenie. Imja spent the entire visit in the box high up on their cat tree. Braver Circe made several halloween cat postures, and then decided to ignore Queenie with great dignity, making a show of her refusal to alter her routines.
So, I am sorry to say, I once again succumbed to disappointment. Bella seems like she is under water. Somewhere in there is a dog, or at least I think so. I am calling into a tunnel, hello, hello, are you there?
My friend, Elisabeth, arrived with a smile on her face and something hidden behind her back. She wanted to visit Bella, to which I agreed, and headed back to the bedroom, present in hand, along with a cheery greeting. Elisabeth is certain that Bella will respond to her love, and determined to make friends. She showed Bella the bone, and described its virtues-yummy, stinky, messy and very good. After waving it teasingly under Bella's nose and offering the instruction to Bella that she enjoy it, Elisabeth left it about six feet from Bella near her water bowl. Bella eyed her with concern. Elisabeth rejoined me in the living room so that we could talk. I was a bit concerned. Elisabeth wants nothing to do with the recommendation to avoid eye contact with Bella. She is all about warmth, and enthusiasm and being undaunted by sadness. Nevertheless, some 15 minutes later, we heard crunch, crunch, crunch. Sure enough, Bella had retrieved the bone and followed instructions. By the time we had finished our talk, the only traces of the big, smelly bone were tiny specks here and there that dappled Bella's bed. Thank-you, Elisabeth!
Dr. Sarah came to my home on Monday to draw blood from Bella. Although it is unlikely that there is a health issue, it seemed wise to rule out anything underlying that might be contributing to Bella's seeming lethargy. Of course 4 1/2 years in a cage might be responsible, but not every former puppy mill dog is like Bella.
Sarah was very gentle with Bella. She and I spoke for a while in the living room first so that Bella could hear her voice and not be shocked when she came back into her room. As Sarah drew the blood, I stroked Bella's head and comforted her. Bella was 100% cooperative as she always is. Sarah obtained her vials without incident. We already know that the blood work came back normal aside from the thyroid panel. We are still awaiting those results.
Generally, Bella seems better to me. She is alert and seems to even enjoy some pets. I have been told that if she is stiff when I pet her, she doesn't want it, whereas if she is floppy, she does. Bella is somewhere in between, but definitely not stiff. I feel that she enjoys it a bit, and certainly enjoys the treat that comes after.
I also think that the composure pro suggested and offered by Susan Wiser from the Cayuga Dog Rescue might be helping. Each little movement toward doggy-ness is welcomed.
Perhaps the best news of all is that her pet sitter, Valerie, and I were able to give Bella half a bath! (We just did the top and rear of the girl.) Most dogs don't love baths, of course, and Bella is no different, but she tolerated our gentle ministrations on the warm, warm day we chose. Thank you, Valerie, Sarah and Susan!
Many people have shared their thoughts, experiences and philosophies in connection to my effort with Bella. I am grateful to each of them. Several people have offered jewels from personal experiences. Some have implied their own impatience with Bella's progress by saying in exasperation, can't you just put her in the car, or close the door to her safe place so she has to learn? The answer is no, I won't force her. Nor will I stop urging her to try something new, gently tugging her leash so that we walk a new direction, or petting her softly even if it challenges her. She likes the treats I give her afterwards, and I have to believe that the gentle pressure I exert helps her form new neural pathways. But throughout this process the most helpful reflections I have been offered are simply the ones that are optimistic and encouraging. This optimism trickles down to my moments with Bella. When I feel hopeful, or better yet, unattached to outcomes, I think Bella can tell. She studies me with those big brown eyes of hers, learning the language of my moods, perhaps attempting to decipher them and anticipate what it will mean for her.
With human illness, I have often felt that a necessary optimism should inform the efforts of healer and patient alike. We don't know what pattern the future will hold, and our attitude will play a part in its unfolding. To what degree, we may never know. There are times, of course, when a graceful surrender may be necessary. But not today, Bella, not today. Today we will try to take a longer walk, and then stand next to the car to practice feeling calm by the big, scary vehicle. We'll see if you will take a treat in the living room, or at least eat your breakfast further from your bed. Who knows, maybe this time next year we'll be walking the gorge.
I invited Megan over with her pup, Queenie, to meet Bella. I wanted to get an idea of how Bella would behave around a puppy. Megan kindly brought Queenie into the house and let her wander at my request. We humans sat and talked for a little while before going into Bella's room. I've learned to let Bella get an initial read of what is transpiring in the outer rooms before I bring someone back. I know she listens intently. After several minutes, Megan and I went into the bedroom. Megan then sat in a chair just out of Bella's sight and avoided making eye contact with her. I sat in a chair where Bella could see me, while Queenie, a 4 1/2 month old rotty/shepard/lab mix female, explored. I spoke reassuringly to Bella, and and offered treats to each dog in turn. The treats were no problem for enthusiastic Queenie, who inhaled them from my finger tips. Happily, Bella also accepted treats from her safe position on her bed. Sometimes Bella looked at Queenie, but at no time did she move from her spot, wag her tail or show any signs of actually trying to interact with the puppy. I felt pleased when Queenie bounded over to me with puppy enthusiasm. See Bella, dogs love people. You can, too, sweetie.
Bella didn't hide, or pull her body away from the action. On the other hand, she made no attempt to touch noses or tails with Queenie. But I did learn that Bella can tolerate a pup, or at least this particular pup, for a brief period. There were no negative consequences from the visit later that day; Bella had no problem coming out for a walk immediately after Queenie's departure. When she is strongly displeased or fearful, Bella won't come out for a walk without urging and reassurance.
Bella, my dear, we need to figure this out! How can I help you be a happier dog? Sometimes you remind me of humans; the way you still think you need to be in a cage when there aren't any bars enclosing you. Humans will do that, too. Even when the loved ones in their life are good to them, they sometimes recreate old habits using their new companions as props to enact old themes. Let's you and me show those silly humans that we can break out of mind cages!
Hey, you know what? I think I am going to get you a doggy companion. Months ago, for a magical period of about three days, you played joyfully with other dogs. How about I find a friend for you, someone who loves humans and can show you the ropes. What do you think? Tell me about your doggy dream date, Bella. I'll see what I can come up with...
Ok, I admit it. I was very hurt that Bella didn't wag her tail when I came home. I had imagined, that after 4 months together, she might feel connected to me. I imagined, that when I returned from a week away, we would have a reunion and Bella would suddenly realize, Yes, this is my human and we are a team. That she looked fearful and alarmed and turned her head slightly away-well that just really hurt. It's a two way street, you know, Bella.
But then again. It was late when I got home, and not a time she was used to being disturbed. No one had been sleeping in the same room with her as I usually do. (The guest room is down the hall and it seemed too much too soon to have someone sleep in my bed, someone who Bella knew slightly and was even less ready to befriend than me. I pictured some sort canine/human version of wife swapping and it just didn't appeal. ) When I came in to greet her, Bella was probably startled.
The next day she remained cool, and I felt like we were starting over. The corner of my bedroom weighed on me during the day. A heap of sadness lay there, sadness spawned by human cruelty, indifference and probably faulty genetics as well. I hungered for a healthy being. A dog who wags its tail and loves its humans. You know, the dogs from the story books and our childhood memories, that one.
Nevertheless, over the next couple of days Bella seemed to figure out that it's me, or so I like to imagine, and our routine resumed. This time, though, she has shortened her walks all over again. It's taken several days for her to accept the challenge of walking the loop that begins by turning left outside my driveway. Bella is, however, allowing pets, looking for her treats, staring at me with perky eyes, and divining who is in the living room, aka counseling space. As she ambles down the hall, she looks warily toward the kitchen and then the couch. Her scanning of the space is quicker and more efficient then it was in earlier days. I've learned not to surprise her with "strange" people in the foyer. Newcomers will be discovered outdoors. Generally, she moves around the space a bit more. She retraces her easter egg hunt several times before bed incase she has missed something, or to go back for a couple more bites of the kibble I leave out for her in the kitchen. Her body habits remain healthy and consistent. I pet her comfortably when I choose, rewarding her with treats. She is accepting of my touch and I am sure she doesn't mind it, though it also doesn't appear that she likes it.
Oh, the oh so slow little dance of Bella's progress...
Were it up to Bella, I think she would have asserted that one pet sitter was plenty. But for various human reasons, she had to contend with two! She quickly made her preference known by refusing several walks; first by ducking back into her room when she realized her next walker was even less familiar, and then by refusing to move from her bed at all. Treats were still acceptable, but not from this second person's hand - only if laid in front of her. This went on all day until pet sitter #1 returned.
Several days later, we tried again. This time Bella came after just a few attempts. She walked with me almost comfortably until she decided it was time to turn around, at which point she crossed the street like it was her mission, pulling me along swiftly. For a moment I forgot who was in charge. We made it back to the house just fine, but her tail began to tuck as we got closer. She knew exactly where she was, but she seemed nervous to enter the house, and nervous about remaining where she was, as if once again there was no safe place for her. Eventually she walked through the door and scurried back to her room, anxiety in full force.
The following day when I called her (both pet sitters present), she seemed much more certain about what to do. She glanced back at her bed, but then trotted down the hall with encouragement. We (Bella included, I think) all felt relief! A walk with Valerie (pet sitter #1) was her reward for coming willingly.
All in all, I would say Bella did very well with this confusing modification to her company and routine. It seems that her fear about what could happen still trumps what is actually happening, as if something bad or scary is always just around the corner. But to go from coming out for one person to coming out for three people is 200% improvement, and who wouldn't celebrate that?! I trust that if we keep at it, Bella will continue to get more comfortable, and to know some people as kind and trustworthy. For Bella - just like the rest of us - to recognize what is, instead of looking for what we fear (or what we wish), is one of the hardest tasks of all.
This page is not professional, and has nothing to do with the rest of my website. I'm writing as Bella's mommy, just for fun. Perhaps this blog will be helpful to others working with former puppy mill dogs.