Bella Belle

Often, at the beginning of meetings, the minutes of the previous meetings are reviewed, and that’s the case here. After last week’s blog, a friend reminded me of a Bony story I had failed to include.

For a time in the nineties, Bill and I were between houses and ended up moving into—Guess what?—A no-dogs-allowed apartment. At that point, Bony, Nikki, and Tess moved to our house in Tucson along with two of the kids. We caravanned down through California in three separate vehicles, one dog per car.

Bony rode with us. His preferred riding position was to stand directly behind Bill, with the chin of his massive head resting on Bill’ s shoulder. To drivers and passengers in vehicles that passed us, it looked to all the world as though Bony was driving the car.

Does that sound familiar? Yes, the same thing happened to Beau with Lucy standing in the back seat. Yes, I write fiction, but I’m too lazy to make up everything.

Now for new business, Bella. She came to us on a cold, rainy October Saturday morning in 2008. On our way home from a shopping trip with my daughter and grandson, we spotted a panicked miniature dachshund racing down the middle of a well-traveled road a mile or so from our house.

After a brief chase, when we managed to capture her, she was soaking wet, muddy, and shaking in terror. She had a collar but no tag. A trip to the vet revealed that she had no chip. We spent the next couple of hours talking to people in the neighborhood, but no one there recognized her. Finally, we gave up and came home.

That was a big deal. On Bill’s first date with the woman who became his first wife, so long ago that a first-time date was expected to meet the girl’s parents, he went to Lynn’s house where the family dog, a standard dachshund named Moxie, took one look at Bill, and immediately attached himself to Bill’s ankle, hard enough to draw blood and wreck his sock. So Bill didn’t much like dachshunds, which is why I had been reluctant to bring our stray dog home.

At the house, Bill came out to see what all the fuss was about. As he carried the dog into the house, Colt was busy explaining how we had found this “poor little fella” on the road. “Colt,” Bill told him, “Fella is a boy’s name. This dog is a girl.”

“Okay,” Colt replied, “Then we’ll call her Bella.” And just like that. Bella she was.

She was a stranger in a strange land. We didn’t know her name. We didn’t know what she liked to eat. She didn’t know any of the commands we used with all our other dogs. She had obviously lived in an apartment because she had never met a Doggy Door and didn’t know how they worked. (Our remaining Golden, Daphne, taught Bella how those functioned.) Oh, and she was terrified of men.

We tried unsuccessfully to find her owner. Her teeth were in terrible shape. After dealing with a $1400 vet dental bill, we had her chipped and decided she was ours.

Since our preferred pet sitter is male, our attempts to leave Bella with him failed miserably. She hid out under the bed and wouldn’t come out, not even to eat. So when we had to travel to Arizona for a U of A event in December, Bella went along. On the trip back, while going through security with a computer, an iPad, two phones, and a man with two fake knees, Bella slipped out of her collar and took off down the concourse.

I hadn’t yet cleared security, and I knew if I went after her, they’d declare a security breach, so all I could do was stand there and call, “Bella, Bella, come back.”

We’d had her for only two months by then, but after skittering down the corridor past a couple of gates, she turned around and came racing right back to me. Obviously, she was ours for good and all. And everyone on our flight back to Seattle knew her by name.

When the next book tour came around, Bella was still scared of the pet-sitter. She got over that eventually, but that February when it was time for the tour, Bella went along, staying with us at what was then the Ritz Carlton in Phoenix.

It happened that that week Phoenix experienced the coldest temperatures in 82 years. The next morning while having our room-service breakfast, there was a tap on the door. When I opened it, I found the concierge standing outside with a tiny pet jacket in hand. “It’s so cold,” she said, “I thought Bella might need this.”

Bill and Bella

I was a lot younger then and doing multiple events in a single day wasn’t a problem. It happened that that was a four-event day, traveling from Sun City to Apache Junction. Bella sat up front with me during the talks, seemingly hanging on every word. Then, during the signing process, she would take a back seat with Bill.

One of the Apache Junction fans approached the signing table and asked if I would sign the book to her daughter who had been a huge fan of mine and who had recently succumbed to breast cancer. By the time I finished signing, both the mother and I were in tears. I then passed the woman along to Bill and Bella where she remained for the next half hour. As far as I know Bella wasn’t trained to deliver grief comfort, but she knew exactly what to do.

And that’s how she became Bella, the Book Tour Dog. On that first day of touring, she interacted with more than a thousand people. By the end of the day, she was exhausted and so were we.

The vet said she was probably ten or eleven when we got her. We had her for six years before we lost her to a back issue. But she was the beginning of our downsizing from large dogs to small ones.

And now, she like Mandy and Bony, lives on in the Ali Reynolds books. We believe that she had been lovingly cared for by an older woman who eventually went into a facility of some kind, leaving her beloved dog with a male family member who didn’t like her much. Does that sound familiar?

That’s because in my novella, A Last Goodbye, I told what I believe is a fictionalized version of Bella’s story. In this case, Ali’s grandkids find the dog in a Las Vegas parking lot on the eve of B.’s and Ali’s wedding. Unfortunately, A Last Goodbye is only available in audio or eBook editions.

But it’s a good story. Don’t forget the Kleenex.