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  • michelle m. davis

Lessons from Little B

Despite her preferring my husband to me, refusing to cuddle unless it's on her terms, and demanding she choose which way we walk, I think I’m falling in love with my nemesis … a furry, eleven-pound shih-poo named Bella.

For the first few years she lived with us, I struggled. But eventually I realized Bella’s gift … through her naughty acts and my subsequent reactions, she shined the light on some of my shadows. Ironically, this little dog’s “less than” behaviors helped me address mine. Bella triggered me with her quirkiness, annoyed me beyond frustration with her incessant barking, and drove me crazy when she’d poop in the house. But when I finally paused to consider the “why’s” behind her actions, everything became crystal clear. She wasn't trying to irritate me … she was with only trying to help me see.

This is not the first blog I’ve written about Bella. (Yes, writing sometimes serves as therapy!) If you aren’t aware of our “history,” read Needless to say, this little pup teaches me a great deal. In fact, whenever I have an “off” day, ironically Bella does too. Is there a connection between us? Can she sense my emotions? I have no doubt there’s a reason Bella’s in my life.

For those who don’t know Bella, here’s a quick summary. Nine years ago, we bought Bella—a six-week-old shih-poo—for my mother-in-law, Mary Lee. We kept Bella for the first few weeks, until Scott’s mom was ready to care for a puppy. When Bella went to live in her new home, we asked Bella to “take care” of Mary Lee.

Bella took her assignment seriously. She kept Mary Lee moving and gave her an incentive to live each day to its fullest. She became ML’s precious puppy. My mother-in-law spoiled this dog with liver pâté, a dog toy every time she returned from the grocery store, and endless forgiveness for whenever Bella decided to go to the bathroom inside of the house.

Several years later, we lost Scott’s mom but gained a dog. Right before Mary Lee passed, she asked that we watch over Bella, stating, “She’s going to be a good Oregon dog.”

Truthfully, I resisted. Bella’s breed, shih poo, said a lot about her— she who poos in our house! In fact, it is one of the few times my husband and I argued. I didn’t want Bella. Many of Mary Lee’s friends shared they’d be happy to adopt her dog. Why couldn’t she go with one of them?

But I’d made a promise. And so, I honored it.

Now at the time, we were only in Bend part-time, driving back in forth in our van to accommodate the dogs (Mia and Mac—our two black labs—and now Bella). We did our best to help Bella adjust to this new environment. We took her hiking. Scott carried her in a front pack—like a baby—if she became tired. We took her to the river … tried to entice her into the water, with our lab, Mac.

Honestly, Bella wasn’t too fond of the “high desert life.” She preferred manicured lawns, shaded sidewalks, and fenced in yards … what she was used to in Pennsylvania. Wisely, she seemed to realize the dangerous predators in Oregon—mostly hawks and coyotes—as she constantly looked around whenever we were outside.

Bella fought being in Bend in many ways, but eventually she adapted. No longer does Scott need to carry her on longer hikes. In fact, she seems to enjoy the dry, dusty trails. Often, she returns several shades darker. Bella’s started to dip her paws into the water … and walk on logs. Recently, she discovered chipmunks. While she’s yet to catch one, it’s not for lack of trying.

Each morning she sits on top of the blanket we’ve placed on our sofa. Assuming the role of watch dog, she diligently stares out the front window looking for signs of those who do not belong. Bella’s quite aware of her surroundings. She knows when it’s too dark to explore off the back patio and instead chooses to stay safely near us. I think Bella finally feels at home in Bend.

We’ve stopped calling her Bad Ass Bella. She knows she’s all that and more. Now we refer to her as “Little B.” Yes, B stands for Bella—and at times “bitch” ‘cause she’s still got that spunky side.

Yet instead of misbehaving in annoying way, she now acts like a big dog. It’s as though she’s abdicated her precious princess title and stepped into her true canine role. In fact, last month, she dug to the bottom of a grocery bag we’d left on the floor of the van and ate a huge portion of expensive cheese. Luckily, she didn’t get sick. Quite the opposite, she was all smiles. Maybe she’s becoming a lab after all.

Bella’s not the only one who has changed … I have too. Once I let go of my expectations of how Bella should act and became open to the way she expresses love, so much began to shift. She’s helped me develop more patience and acceptance for what I cannot control. Slowly, I’m letting go of judgment and expectations. Maybe she came into my life to teach me how to soften. However, Bella’s imparted other lessons, including …

· When you are tired, rest. Bella “relaxes” a lot, curled up in her bed or on top of the sofa. Yet, when it’s time to go for a walk, she has more than enough energy.

· If something doesn’t look right, let others know. Bella alerts us whenever a person, animal, or noise is where it doesn’t belong. And she does this over and over, again and again.

· Only eat when you’re hungry … but never pass up a good snack, especially cheese. Bella’s finicky. If she had her way, meals would be optional, and she would exist on treats. Strangely, Mac respects what’s hers and never eats leftovers in her bowl. But whenever our grand dogs, Obi or Chase, visit, these sweet black labs’ first stop is Bella’s food dish, anxious to finish whatever’s been left.

· Trust your instincts. I don’t believe shih poos are hunting dogs, but Bella’s Spidey sense goes on high alert if she sees a deer, squirrel, or other dog. Sadly, she has no fear … she thinks she invincible, or at least as big as Mac.

· Stay close to those you love. Bella won’t let Scott out of her sight. She’ll go nuts if he leaves the car or walks outside without her. But when he’s traveling, she shifts her focus to me. Admittedly, a part of me likes her attention. However, as soon as Scott returns, it’s “Michelle who?”.

Now don't get me wrong. Bella still pushes my button now and then. But she’s in my life for a reason. And when I’m present, I can witness the message behind her actions. Sometimes this information shifts my perspective, helping me see things differently … perhaps viewing our world and those in it from a place of compassion instead of judgment.

Isn’t it funny how what annoys us most can sometimes be our greatest teacher? While I will always be a "Black Lab" fan, this little shih poo's wedged her way into my heart. Something tells me my mother-in-law’s in Heaven smiling at how her precious little princess has been integral to my growth.


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