Broken Bond?

When we welcomed Bella into our family nine years ago, she was “pair bonded” with Maya, her companion of several years. The girls caught our attention when they were featured on a segment of our local TV news. Their owner had multiple sclerosis and could no longer care for them, so she surrendered them to the SPCA of Dallas, hoping someone would adopt them as a pair. The organization had trouble placing them because no one wanted to adopt two dogs. They had been at the no-kill shelter for three months. We eagerly adopted them. Their names were Stella and Chi Chi, and they were about 5 years old.

The girls quickly adapted to life as members of our pack, but it was clear that they were also uniquely paired. In keeping with the practice of changing a dog’s name to something that sounds similar, we changed Stella’s name to Bella, the Italian word for “beautiful,” for she was indeed a lovely dog. Her perfectly symmetrical markings accentuated her physical features. She also had a sweet, affectionate demeanor that made her instantly likeable to friend and stranger alike–a true beauty inside and out. Interestingly, she was fearful of sneezes. Any time either of us sneezed, she became visibly upset. It’s said that when you adopt a dog, you adopt its entire history. And so, even though we could never know her traumatizing experience, we always tried to comfort her after a sneeze.

Bella came into our lives just as we were establishing our camping routine. From coast to coast and border to border, she was our constant companion, always eager to sit on our laps or lick our faces, whether we had traveled across the country or just from Hampshire to one of our favorite backyard parks.

Her sudden, unexplained death left us bereft.

How could such a beloved companion, so long a presence in our lives, be so quickly gone from us? We had a perfectly ordinary day with her. She ate her meals with characteristic enthusiasm. She gobbled her treats with joy. She greeted Jon as he came home from work, jumping at him in delight. She settled into the sectional as we watched the final episode of “The Last of Us,” snuggling under the blanket. After watching the late news, as we were about to make our way to the bedroom, she moved toward the edge of the ottoman, let out a little cough, and collapsed. Cliff thought she might be having a seizure. Jon picked up her limp body and Cliff said, “should we call the vet?”

It became immediately clear to us that there would be no intervention, veterinarian or otherwise. She was gone from us in an instant.

In our state of shock, we couldn’t even think about what to do next. We took her to her bed and just sat on the floor next to her, surrounded by Maya, Duke, and Ranger, looking for any sign of life. She never regained consciousness.

Eventually, we decided to bury her in our little garden, adjacent to our motor court, where we had a couple of shrubs and a tall urn that was once a water feature. We dug her grave, wrapped her in her dark brown plush blanket, and gently laid her down facing the house. Cliff placed a couple of favorite treats in the grave. “How Egyptian,” Jon quipped, just before we covered the grave. The urn is now her marker, a reminder that she sleeps just nearby.

Our friends and loved ones were more than kind. As brutally hard as it was, we both returned to work the next morning. We needed the distraction. Our colleagues were supportive and understanding.

Studies show that a sudden death can cause complicated reactions, including prolonged grief. Other studies have found that people who have endured a traumatic loss are more likely to experience severe, intense and persistent psychological reactions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, compared with those who have had an expected loss. This was certainly the case for us. With Buddy, Teacup, Gunny, and Baxter, we were able to prepare for their deaths. In fact, considering their pain and suffering, death came as a relief. Saying goodbye to them as they slipped away from us was dreadful but not traumatic. Not so with our beautiful Bella.

Throughout the weekend, we’ve tried to adjust to our new reality. This is the first time we’ve camped in Cloud 9 without her. Maya seemed lost and alone. We were painfully aware of how quickly life can change by death.

We never imagined that we would lose another dog within a year, yet here we are. Suddenly, we’re afraid that any one of our remaining pets, or even one of us, could be gone in an instant.

Yet we still believe that the ties of love that bind us throughout our lives cannot be unraveled by death.

God, give us faith to believe that the bonds of love are never broken.