~ Bella’s Song ~
Life – it washes around you like a never ending string of waves, and no matter how badly you want it to, there’s no slowing down the passage of time.
That desire was never stronger than when, several years ago, our vet informed us that our beloved goofball of a coonhound had early signs of heart disease. It was like a waking nightmare – we had lost our previous girl (Jackie) to congestive heart failure and to think of it happening to Bella was almost too much to bare.
But that’s not what this post is about. I just had to get it out – and get it out of the way – so I can instead share the important thing. A celebration of a life that has given Amy and I so much joy. A celebration of Bella…
Eight years ago we stumbled across a rescue for coonhounds called, surprisingly, CoonhoundRescue.com (this rescue’s proper name is American Black And Tan Coonhound Rescue, or ABTCR, and they are absolutely amazing – filled with amazing people who rescue amazing dogs).
We had recently lost Jackie – a black and tan coonhound mix – and the hole in our lives was tangible.
She was an eight month old black and tan being fostered in Atlanta by ABTCR. She was one of two survivors of a litter of B&T pups who were abandoned in Alabama. Apparently the litter was decimated by parvo – and this poor pup was also suffering from luxating patellas (dislocating knees) in both of her back legs. Oh Bella! My heart still hurts for you for the suffering your puppy life had!
So without ever meeting this future member of our family, Amy and I fell in love with her and a chilly December 10th, 2007 found us anxiously waiting at Delta Cargo.
I’ll say it again – enter Bella…
Frightened, confused, and utterly exhausted from her travels, she peered out of her shipping crate at these two complete idiots peering back at her. And it was cold out (did I mention that she was from Alabama, and we live in Boston?)
We have two of them. Not sure if she’d ever seen those things before, but she was pretty certain she was scared to death of them. At least those first few days, but more on that in a bit.
Not only did we have cats, but even worse, we had hardwood floors – an entire sea of them. We live in a loft in Boston, a 2,000 square foot expanse of hardwood floors with a smattering of area rugs, with barely a wall or door to lessen the impact. See, the problem was due to both her bad knees and her over-thinking brain, she knew there was NO WAY she could walk on those floors. She’d try – and then begin curling up her strong toes until she made ice skates out of them and then slowly slide her four limbs out to the four points of the compass until she was a waterbug sprawled out on the floor.
However, over the years we ended up with a string of tasteful bathmats and runners strewn literally all over the place and she would scurry from one to the other until she got to the safety of a rug. Well, unless there was, cough, a cat. Specifically Jersey. And then all caution was tossed to the wind – the chase was on. She was, after all, a coonhound.
Unless she was a waterbug, which generally was the case at the end of a good rousing Jersey chase.
(Here’s Bella vs the scary blue lines we put down when we were designing a new office)
Bella was, like I think all coonies are, a creature of habit and she developed her routes all throughout the loft. I’m sure if you traced them out it would look like the treasure map from The Goonies. (Okay – I’m going to say it – it was more like a treasure map from The Coonies… ugh, sorry).
But our home was her home – and she loved it, and we loved her. Though she had bad knees, (now’s a good point to mention that ABTCR actually had corrective surgeries done on both knees before we got her – they care that much about the animals they rescue), long walks and romps in our dog park – Peters Park – were a daily requirement (hers, not ours). She absolutely LOVED all dogs (well, she never trusted dogs that breathed funny, like bulldogs, but she still loved them). Kisses and coy paws on the shoulders were her favorite techniques. And it worked – most of the time…
Several years ago Amy was traveling for work (she has her own event planning business and works out of the loft unless she has to travel for a program) and I was laid up with my own knee surgery, so our trusted dog walker Jeff had Bella out at Peter’s Park. My cell rings, it’s Jeff…
Yeah, uh, Bella’s been in a bit of an incident…
(my heart skips a beat)
There was an “out of towner” in the park and she went up to him to say hello and the dog attacked her, and, uh, I’m afraid he bit a chunk of her ear off. It’s bleeding pretty badly – I’m on my way back to your place.
Oh no! Poor Bella! Poor beautiful ear! Those ears that she’s carried around in her own mouth…
… ears that you can drape across your entire face and inhale her beautiful coonie essence. Poor Bells! (<– sic – “Bells” was one of her many names, as was “Bellow” for obvious reasons for any coonhound owner).
But the amazing thing about this beautiful creature was that she never held a grudge. Never. She was ever optimistic and every dog she was convinced was going to be her new best friend. And if that wasn’t true at first, then she’d wear them down with endless kisses. Or she’d run wild – her back legs flying out in the most improbable angles, all akimbo as it were. Who could not love this dog?
Then there was one day when she began limping and we brought her in to Angell Animal Hospital (which, but the way, is quite the facility. They have a cancer wing, an MRI, and everything in between. Sadly, they knew Bella all too well…)
She had a mass in her front left paw – non-malignent, but it had destroyed the bone in one of her toes, and it had to come off – toe and all.
Poor Bella, of the bad knees, ice skate paws, and a notched ear that would make any goth kid green with envy. Now she was one toe short of a full set…
But then, a new member of the bizarre Hanzl extended family began to take shape – Sequel (for those who don’t know me, I’m an author of action / adventure action books and I’m supposed to be working on the sequel to my debut novel, Out Of Hell’s Kitchen. So as to not break any promises, Amy and I found ourselves in love with a ’06 Sabre 38 Hardtop Express – which, truth be told, has been our dream boat for about ten years. Here’s a link to the blog post where I introduce the boat, a boat that we of course aptly named Sequel. So – you know, I can truthfully say I’m working the Sequel… ).
Here she (Sequel) is during our 1,600 mile trip from Jupiter, FL to the Narragansett in RI. We spent a few days visiting my folks in Hilton Head and she (Amy) took the time to wash the boat (she’s going to kill me when she see I used this pic).
The big question was – how was Bella, the queen of instability, going to manage the unmanageable – a boat??? What were we thinking?
But Bella, in her usual amazing way, not only took the seafaring life in stride, but she embraced it. I dare say she even loved it! This is a test
Then we had “the year” – 2015.
It started pretty terribly, and it proved to be a tough one right through the summer.
See, the week before the New Year, Bella got very ill.
We thought it was just a cold, but it quickly spiraled downhill until the poor girl simply collapsed and we rushed her to the hospital. It was suspected she had an infection of the spleen, so we admitted her for IV fluids, meds, and observation, and went home to wait for news. Sure enough, not two hours later we got a call – Bella had gone into septic shock – she had a systemic infection and they would have to literally open her up to see why. We were told that she only had a 50% chance of surviving anesthesia, and the surgery would run around $8,000, and that we should think about euthanasia. We were stunned – but neither of us questioned the decision, “Please do whatever you can for her!” And then we waited and waited and waited, in quiet, desperate silence.
When the phone rang next Amy and I both literally jumped.
She had survived surgery, and they had removed necrotic tissue from the mesenteric root (W T F ???). But she was alive, and actually doing well.
She was filled with tubes – out her nose, out her neck, out her stomach – and she really had been opened from one end to the other,
This poor girl! But she was alive and she was going to heal. We visited her day and night for several days – and unknown to her, Bella developed a kind of following on Facebook as so many good people followed along in our ordeal.
And it was finally time to take her home – and boy were we all ready!
Man, what a great dog this Bella was! Her greeting was always full bodied coonie. Window rattling baying that could only bring a smile to anyone within earshot.
Because one in never enough, here’s another Bella baying – kind of a joyous scolding is the best I can describe it. In this instance I was meeting Amy and Bella at the dog park…
So that was a bad start to 2015. However, Bella got better – stronger and healthier – by the day. We’d pulled the mattress off our bed and dragged it into the living room so she could climb up and be with us, and we lived that way for weeks – camping out with our dog (and the occasional cat).
But time marches forward, and we couldn’t escape the inevitable. While she was in the hospital the vets told us her heart was quite large and it was only a matter of time before it went into failure.
Unfortunately I’m near the end of my story. :*(
Bella’s heart kept growing and the signs of impending failure kept growing, despite literally the best possible cardiac care.
Then, at the end of June I headed down to north central Florida to do some dive training on my rebreather in the cave systems down there. While I was away Bella took a turn for the worse – it was a horrible time for my girls (Bella and Amy).
Then everything got worse. On July 4th I got pretty seriously injured – bent – while diving, and ended up being transported to Southern Georgia Medical Center where I spent five days alternating between the ICU and a hyperbaric chamber. Amy had to fly down to drive me the 1,300 miles home. (Thank you Bobeks for taking care of our poor girl during that time – I know how hard that time was for you guys too.)
It was not a good summer.
Diving Orange Grove cave system
(You can read more about what happened to me here…)
So this is it – a week after Amy got us back to Boston, we had to say goodby to Bella. I feel she had hung on just long enough for her family to be back together.
But that’s not worth dwelling on.
Amy and I – and all the people whose lives she touched – had the gift of eight amazing years with this gentle soul. Not once – not one time, never – did she so much as growl. She loved all animals – and won over even the most jaded soul. Her heart was just too big – something we always knew.
Bella – we thank you, we love you, and we miss you dearly…