Maybe she’s closer to 3 years than 2, but she acts like she’s a 75-year-old kindergarten teacher. She would have made an excellent poker player, she’s got the face for it. And her bark is definitely worse than her bite, but her growl is fantastic! It starts somewhere in the pit of her stomach and moves up to her chest until it just keeps on vibrating in her throat. I don’t think Bella means to do it, but it comes out that way — the dog is actually purring.
It was early February when we went looking for another dog at the Dumb Friends League of Denver. Toffee Bear was four years old, and the kids and I finally wore down my husband. To be fair, he wasn’t that tough to convince. We went with only a few conditions: no young puppies, no tiny breeds, Toffee had to get along with her or him. We even did our research in advance and knew that the shelter had a one-year-old that looked promising.
Looks, especially on the Internet, can be deceiving. That young dog turned into a nightmare of jumping, prancing, climbing and biting, and that’s just on the poor handler who brought him out to introduce him in the outdoor enclosure. Toffee is not a dog to suffer hyper fools gladly, if at all. No one gets in her face, except us. This pup was taken inside post haste.
“Wait, I think I have another dog you will like,” said the poor, bedraggled handler. In a few minutes she came out with one the strangest dogs I’ve ever seen. “Her name is Bella. We know that she is about two years old, and from Oklahoma, but that’s about all we know.”
She sat in the middle of the enclosure, shivering. She was so severely malnourished that I could clearly count all of her ribs, and the large cartilages at the end of the bones. A huge head sat atop, a terrified head. Her brown eyes moved from side to side, showing a lot of white, like a spooked horse, although the rest of the head didn’t move much. Toffee ran circles around her, happy and carefree, her tongue lolling.
My daughter sat down by the shivering dog, threw her arms around her, and said in a trembling voice, “Mom, I want to give her all the food and love she’s never had!” I looked at my husband and son. Our hearts were both broken and given away, simultaneously.
Toffee paid no attention to Bella, so secure was she in her position. She waited patiently while all the paperwork was done, then led the way to my husband’s car. Bella rode in my car, in the back with both kids, who spoke to her in soothing tones. This lasted until we got home.
Bella walked into the house as if she owned it. We opened the back door, and she went outside immediately and peed in the back yard, like a good house-trained dog she was. Then she came in and explored the rest of her house. Gone was the shy act. Bella moved with the confidence of a hustler, a con artist.
She discovered a large bone. In truth, this bone was way too big for Toffee’s mouth, but it fit Bella’s large jowls just right. Toffee became curious and came in too close for a sniff. A soft growl from Bella warned Toffee to back up, all the way up to the safety and security of the couch.
That first night Bella slept with my daughter, Riva. From then on, Riva was her “person.”
It didn’t take too long for us to fatten Bella up. In two weeks, the difference was incredible, in a month, she was unrecognizable, sleek and shiny. In the meantime, she also trained us. Where with Toffee we could leave half a cheeseburger on a kitchen table, Bella tipped the trashcan over (it had a top, so tipping it over was the only way to assure that a dog could get into the yummy trash). Twice. Then, the trash started getting stored under the sink. We obviously didn’t think some things through — things like leaving half a loaf of wrapped bread in the center of the table. Coming home and finding just a wrapper from the bread taught us to buy a breadbox. Yeah, who knew they still made those? A few days after we got Bella, we came home and saw a pile of thick broken glass on the kitchen floor. Where did it come from? Neither of the dogs had a cut anywhere on their paws or the rest of their bodies. The mystery only deepened when Bella coughed up another little piece of glass.
Then the light bulb went off — Bella knocked the butter dish off the counter, something we didn’t think of as “food,” but she obviously did. Each piece was licked meticulously clean, there was no butter residue left at all.
And she ate fast. She ate so fast, we had to put a tennis ball or a chew bone into her food dish every time we fed her, just to slow her down.
The closest analogy of Bella’s mental state I can think of is that of a survivor of a concentration camp. She was hungry, so hungry, all the time, that it did something to her brain chemistry. Since we adopted Toffee when she was but a pup of about 4 months, she never knew such hunger. But Toffee has other habits, habits she has been teaching Bella.
Toffee looks sweet. The corners of her mouth even curve a little bit, so it looks like she’s smiling. But inside that soft, velvet exterior beats the heart of a junk yard dog. That means that everyone coming into the house must be barked at first, then, either nipped or befriended.
I don’t think Bella knew many dogs, or people for that matter. She is not the smartest dog in the pound, nor does she learn things quickly. So, she looked to Toffee for guidance. This was a mistake.
For a while there, when Toffee would be barking at visitors, Bella did nothing. Slowly, over time, she joined in. At first, she growled at the people who would come in. Then, she barked as well. Now, she keeps on barking, even after Toffee stops. It takes a few goldfish crackers and much reassurance from us, (plus an occasional squirt from a water bottle) to convince Bella that a friend has walked in.
We are working on crate training her, and will begin socializing her soon. She has already had lessons, although they just happened to have been private (no one else showed up).
What has started as a great deal of pity with love has turned into just a great deal of love. At times, we still drop the ball, and come home to find an empty wrapper to what used to be a full bag of tortillas. But she is a sweet, even-tempered dog, who comes to give us a wake-up alarm with her tongue, making sure she doesn’t miss a spot on our faces. When we stop petting her, she places a heavy, yet small paw (small for her size) on our knees, to remind us that she is still there, and that more love and petting is needed. When we come home, after being gone an hour, or an afternoon, she opens her mouth in delight, and prances, like a little goat.
Bella Luna Tucker is a late addition to our family, but now we can’t imagine this 80 lbs. pooch not being here.