One day our Bella was fine. And then one day she
Our gentle giant, our enormous princess, our prima donna
Dane, had this massive lump on her lower leg and it just kept
getting bigger. We had it biopsied and treated and first it was
cancer, and then it wasn't, and then it was, and then it wasn't,
and several thousands of dollars later, nobody knew what it was or
I remember when Bella Mia became mine. She belonged to the
family that became mine. She was their Great Dane; I had a German
Shepherd. And when I remarried, my husband and I blended kids,
houses and dogs. Then she became mine, and she belonged to me, and
I was hooked.
I doubt there is anything I can say that will define my
oversized hound as "magical," but there were moments with her
that most definitely were. Like the morning I caught a beautiful
snapshot of my 7-year-old autistic son stroking Bella's back for 30
quiet minutes to soothe his nervousness and anxiety, the perfect
embodiment of a "therapy dog." Or the night I checked on my
sleeping toddler in his bedroom only to find Bella wide awake
stationed across the foot of his bed like a canine guardian angel
on active duty. And the most endearing, yet comical, afternoon of
all, when Bella laid completely still for a full gum inspection
from my 5-year-old, who lifted her flappy jowls, unrolled her
sloppy tongue, and leaned in for an up-close-and-personal look just
to see how a big dog's mouth really works.
Clearly, Bella belonged to my kids, too.
She didn't understand sign language and she probably
barked a little too much for my husband's liking, but the way she
nuzzled into us and leaned on our legs was out-of-this-world cool.
She would steal food if it didn't require too much effort, and her
un-cropped ears made a fantastic flapping sound when she shook the
sleep off every morning.
She always dozed in, only stirring to relocate from our
upstairs bedroom to go downstairs to find a sliver of sunlight in
which to bathe all morning long. In the afternoon, she would
relocate to the backyard, delighted to discover the sun had flooded
her whole lawn with warmth.
And although she loathed the bath, there's nothing quite
as grand as a Great Dane who will position herself in front of the
fireplace with a wistful backwards glance at the (real) master of
the house as if to say, "So ... are you going to build me a fire or
But then came that lump and the confusion began. They gave
her 30 days to live and my husband and I panicked that our kids
might freak out.
Our four ™neurotypical∫ kids had loved Bella since her
puppy paws were practically bigger than her head, so such an abrupt
loss at her tender age of 6 would be devastating to them. And our
three autistic children would surely panic if their big Bella just
went missing one day, as change is extremely problematic for
Naturally, we did what all sensible parents would do when
faced with such a dilemma-we adopted another Dane, hoping happiness
would replace sadness.
And then Bella was fine. So we had three huge dogs, and
seven kids. And I was oh-so-delighted with my house full of life
and love and (all the neighbors said) too many kids and too many
But a little limping here and there led to the talk of
amputation. A three-legged Dane? No way. But a little Google
research and a video on YouTube of a giddy Great Dane with three
legs made us think amputation was an option. Bella was so worth
And then we lost her. Just like that. In just three
On Friday she stopped eating. By Sunday she hadn't moved.
My poor husband made the inevitable decision that the lump had won
at last and we told the kids to say goodbye to our sweet Bella
We watched while our 16-year-old cool kid wept over his
gentle giant, our 12-year-old quarterback sobbed over his diva dog,
our kindergartner threw his arms around his guardian angel's neck,
and our 10-year-old petted his therapy dog one last
The kids got over it, as kids always do. But why haven't
I? I still cry because I miss her so much and I am puzzled why I am
so affected by the loss of the dog I knew for three years. And
then, when I think back to the moment I met her, the moment she
first belonged to me, it is clear: It wasn't that she belonged to
It's that I belonged to her.
Jennifer Wheeler Wood is a Plainfield mom of seven and a frequent contributor.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.
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