I Ran Into an Old Friend This Week

Yesterday, while working on Unfinished Business, I encountered an old friend. When B. and Ali receive an early morning summons that takes them out of the house for an undetermined time, they do the only reasonable thing most dog owners would—they take their fictional long-haired miniature dachshund, Bella, along for the ride.

Of course, their Bella is also our Bella, the same beloved Bella we lost years ago. If you’ve read my novella, A Last Goodbye, you’ve read a fictional treatment of what we suspect the real Bella’s unknown and unknowable history was like. So today, ten years after that stormy October morning when she first came into our lives, it seems to me her story is worth retelling.

But first a small digression. Bella’s appearance in the Ali books is certainly not the first time one of my canine companions made it into print. Davy Walker’s Irish Wolfhound in the Walker books, Oh’o (Tohono O’odham for Bone), is patterned after our once-tiny pound puppy, Bony, who—much to our surprise, turned out to be an Irish Wolfhound when he grew up. Our golden retrievers, Nikki and Tess, named after Nicola Tesla, showed up in Beaumont number 4, Taking the Fifth, when Beau wandered out of his Seattle comfort zone into the wilds of Bellevue. And Mandy, a rescued platinum golden we had for only a matter of months, lived on for years in the Beaumont books as J.P.’s grandfather’s dog once Beau and the old man reconciled after a long estrangement. In other words, putting one of my dogs to work in fiction isn’t exactly news.

Back to Bella however. My grandson, Colt, my daughter, and I … (Please note I just used the correct first person singular pronoun instead of the supposedly upscale-sounding myself in this sentence. That’s a piece of current English usage that, as my mother would say, really gars my greet!) were on our way home from a shopping trip to Target when we spotted a tiny, terrified dog racing toward us in the middle of a relatively busy street about a mile from our home.

My daughter pulled over to the shoulder and turned on her hazard lights in hopes of slowing down traffic. Meanwhile, I bailed out the passenger door with a fistful of bread from a grocery bag, and went running after the dog—also in the middle of the street. By the way, this was not the current version of me that walks five miles almost every day. This was the much heavier, size 26 pants, me, chasing a dog up hill for close to a mile. I never would have caught up with her had it not been for the kind interference of a couple of college aged kids who managed to herd her into a spot where I could lay hands on her.

She was wet, muddy, shaking like a leaf, and absolutely scared to death. She also weighed a mere seven pounds. When I got in the car with her, Colt quickly stripped off his sweatshirt, and we wrapped her in that. She was wearing a collar but no tag. We went straight to my daughter’s vet’s office so they could see if she was chipped. She was not. So we spent the next couple of hours driving through the neighborhood where we found her to see if anyone recognized her. No one did—not people walking in the streets, or mailmen, or yard workers. She was a complete stranger.

The truth is, I wasn’t eager to take her home because, tiny as she was, she was also a dachshund, and as it happens, my husband has a painful history with at least one of those. On his first date with Lynn, the woman who became his first wife, he went to her house to meet her parents. (Remember those days?). Meeting the parents included meeting the family dog, a full-sized dachshund named Moxie. Moxie took one look at Bill, regarded him as the devil incarnate, and immediately attacked Bill’s achilles tendon, seriously enough to draw blood and wreck his sock. And despite the fact that Bill and Lynn married, Moxie regarded Bill as a mortal enemy for as long as the dog remained on the planet.

Since Bill didn’t much care for dachshunds, I naturally picked up on that. Some readers will probably recall that I often referred to such creatures in my books as WOFs (wastes of fur) or “yappy little dogs.” (And that’s the truth, by the way—they really are yappy!) So when Bill called to see what was taking so long at Target, I admitted we were dealing with a “dog problem.” I did not say we were dealing with a “dachshund problem.”

Finally, however, there was nothing for it but to go home and face the music. Bill came out of the house to greet us. When I handed her over to him, she was still shivering., and for Bill it was a case of love at first sight. As Bill and Colt walked into the house, five year-old Colt was explaining to Grandpa how we had found this “poor little fella” on the road. Grandpa said, “Colt, fella is a boy’s name. This is a girl dog.”

“Okay,” Colt replied, “we’ll name her Bella,” and Bella she became.

It wasn’t an easy transition. The name we called her certainly wasn’t the name she was used to. She had obviously lived in an apartment and had no experience with using a doggy door. We had no idea what she liked to eat, and the large pieces of kibble our remaining golden retriever Daphne consumed, didn’t work for Bella. That first night I made a bed for her in our bedroom. That was a fail. Overnight, she crawled into our bed and stayed there.

We did everything we knew to locate her owner, but all efforts came to nothing. In the process we took her to the Academy for Canine Behavior for some training to teach her the commands we used with our dogs. They told us that her bad breath was due to bad teeth, so our next stop was to a vet’s office where for $1400, they removed fourteen teeth and chipped her. Once we paid her dental bill, we figured she was ours!

Dealing with a new member of the family comes with a learning curve, and it didn’t take long to discover that Bella was leery of men, including our customary dog sitter. When we tried to leave her with him, she hid under the bed and wouldn’t eat. So two months after she came to live with us, when we had to make a trip to Tucson for a University of Arizona event, we decided to bring Bella along with us.

Going through TSA with a husband with two fake knees, an iPad, a computer, and two cell phones was always a pain. When you add in a leashed dog, it’s infinitely worse. On our way home, while I was stuck in the security line and Bill was being wanded, Bella slipped her leash and raced off into the terminal. I knew that if I ran after her without clearing security, the airport would be shut down, so all I could do was stand there and yell, “Bella, Bella. Come back!” And she did, scampering in a huge circle before returning to me at warp speed as only low-flying miniature dachshunds can do. And when we boarded the plane, everyone there knew her name.

That was December. When February came along, Bella was still scared of our dog-sitter—something she got over eventually because he’s a dog lover to the core. But for the driving part of the book tour that year, Bella came along. On the first day we did three events—one in Sun City, one in Apache Junction, and one in Scottsdale. (Back then, doing three events in one day was doable.) In the course of that day, Bella interacted with more than 1200 people. Everyone wanted to pet her and talk to her, but there was one woman in Apache Junction that I remember vividly.

When it was her turn at the table, she told me that her daughter, a huge fan of mine, had recently passed away from cancer. The grieving mother wanted the book inscribed in her daughter’s name. When I had done so, I sent her over to the table where Bill and Bella were sitting. The woman stayed with them for the next twenty minutes, letting Bella comfort her. When we got back to the hotel that night, all three of us, Bella included, were completely worn out, but from that moment on, she was Bella, the Book Tour dog!

Bella – A bit of whimsey

We lost her a number of years later when she suffered the same kind of catastrophic back injury that nearly cost us Jojo last winter. But seeing her in the words I was typing this week brought her memory back to mind. After we lost her, when we had a muralist doing some decorative painting in our home in Bellevue, our interior designer had him put what he called “a bit of whimsey” in our downstairs powder room. In the front corner, usually hidden when the door is open, he painted a small life-sized portrait of Bella looking as though she’s climbing into the room through a corner of torn wallpaper.

During my first ever Bible study as a teenager, I remember being struck by that very long list of “begats” in the Old Testament. Now I see them in regards to our dog family. In a very real way, Mandy begat Bony because she taught us that even with two dogs in the household, there was room in our hearts for three. And Bella, beautiful Bella, begat Jojo and now Mary. Bella, with all those missing teeth was finicky about food, and ate her meals one piece of kibble at a time. Jojo learned her table manners from her, and she eats the same way. Mary grew up in a pack, and, despite having a Slow-Bowl, she down her food in seconds.

Bella and JoJo

At the end of Credible Threat, Ali mentions that the problem with loving is that one way or another you end up losing as well. And that’s the problem with pets of all kinds, with the possible exception of parrots. Most pets don’t live as long as we do. We lose them, yes, but they enrich our lives as we go along, and I hope my including them in the background of my books has enriched my readers’ lives as well.

PS: As of today, October 2, I will cross the 9,000,000 steps mark. As of Thursday evening I’m at 8,990,000 so I should hit the mark with no problem. Of course, I’ll only have a thirteen day streak at that point rather than the one-hundred plus day streak I was working on before the Great American Smokeout, but at least I’m back in the saddle.

For all you other walkers out there, keep on trucking.

21 thoughts on “I Ran Into an Old Friend This Week

  1. Good morning and congratulations on passing the 9,000,000 step mark. Amazing !. Pets, how they open our hearts and our worlds is wonderful. I love the word picture of Colt, Jeanne T , Bill and you welcoming that tiny, needy dog into your family. Lucky dog. I have no idea how many pets we have welcomed into our hearts and home over the years but they were all loved.

  2. They do enrich our lives. I don’t know how I would have made it through the last eight months without my Sassy girl–a rescue Shih Tzu Poodle mix I got in 2014. I don’t know what her past was like but the name she was given by the rescue people suits her perfectly.

  3. Since you brought up pets and fitness I thought I would share my story. About a decade ago I was very overweight. I decided to take up jogging. Of course you start a little at a time. First was the challenge of being able to run a mile, then two, three, and so on. Well I thought it would be better to have a running partner but didn’t exactly want to coordinate running schedules. However, having a young dog who was in the prime of her health, I decided to go running with my dog. Not only would I get exercise but so would she.
    We both eventually built up our stamina to go 5 plus miles with each other. She was a trooper the whole way and would run by my side with no issues. When she had to go, she let it clearly be known and we stopped and let her do her thing. Eventually I lost near 100 lbs and she became the fittest dog I have ever seen. She was almost pure muscle. Sadly she developed breathing problems and I had to stop running with her. Unfortunately, she passed away a couple of years ago but for a time we were both enjoying each other’s company while we got into shape. I still think about her a lot when I run.

  4. What a great story. The pets in our lives are certainly special. Thanks for brightening my day…like you do every week.

    what

  5. Thanks for the update on your walking goal and the inspiration you have given me to keep going! You’re awesome and I think of you often when I’m trying to talk myself into getting my 10,000 steps in for the day. God bless you and your pups!
    Suzy

  6. Oh my gosh you brought tears to my eyes with hearing about Bella again and she was beautiful even with her missing teeth. We have our 4 legged baby too a Chihuahua named Zoey. She will be 10 yrs old on Christmas Day and we’ve had her since she was around 6 weeks old. She’s also slept in our bed almost from day one. Zoey needed emergency surgery a little over a month ago and it scared us so so badly. She has never had a litter of puppies or mated for that matter but this surgery put a end to that, the doctor was amazed at the size of the masses she removed from Zoey and took a picture to show us since we couldn’t go into the office because of COVID-19. I’m happy to say she’s doing great now but reading about your Bella made my heart hurt for you again.

  7. I love reading about your dogs! As for ‘myself’ you couldn’t hate it more than I do. I first heard it from a colleague in 1972, and it has infuriated me from then on.

  8. Just finished Hour of the Hunter at 1 a.m. today, and was SO glad that after Andrew Carlisle poisoned Davy’s dog, Oh’o, Diana got him to the vet in time to save him, and then he, in turn, assisted hugely in rescuing HER from Andrew. You can bet I was cheering for Oh’o! It’s very heartwarming how the dogs in your life show up later in your stories.

  9. You always have a great blog post, and this was no exception.

    I do have a question for you about Joanna Brady. Has that series come to an end? She’s my favorite, and I’ve read them all including your poetry book.

    I just finished Credible Threat, and loved it. 🙂

  10. Can’t wait for Ali and B! Having 2 rescue dogs currently and 2 rescue cats currently too- love the animals in your books. Us animal people stick together!!!

  11. I found your site on-line while I was looking for Mark Greaney. He has authored several of Tom Clancy’s books, and several of his own “Gray Man” books. For my birthday I was given his Gray Man book, “One Minute Out”. I went to the book store and couldn’t find any of his books other than those he wrote for Tom Clancy.

    While looking for Mark’s site, I discovered your site. I have read 36 of your books, and I will now try to order the rest on line. Let me know when you are in Dallas or Ft. Worth and I will try to visit you.

  12. As an animal lover myself, having had both rescue cats and dogs over the years, I love that you include the pups in your writings. Another reason, I suppose, why you are among my favorite authors. Sending virtual hugs to your fur family. My cat, Baxter, is sleeping on my bed at the moment. He’s become an important part of my life since my husband passed. Previously he was really my husband’s best friend, but since then I can’t even think what I’d do if I ever lost Baxter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *