On Tuesday, 8th June 2021, our beloved Bella the Brave reached the end of her time with us. Now reunited with her brother, Mr. Blue, in doggy heaven, I wanted to pay tribute to one of the bravest souls I’ve ever known.
On Tuesday, our beautiful Patterdale terrier, Bella the Brave, took her final breath, before going on a journey to find her big brother, Mr. Blue. She was thirteen years old.
Our Bella came into our lives about a year after Mr. Blue, and she departed just ten days shy of the anniversary of Mr. Blue’s passing. There’s a poetry, a synergy to that which is fitting, given how much her life, heart and soul revolved around her brother and best friend. The hardest part of welcoming a pet into your family is knowing that you will outlive them. On the day you say hello, you are already aware that, one day, your greeting of welcome will give way to one of farewell, and that the joy you feel will give way to heartbreak. With children, the natural order is that you bring them into the world and then they are the ones to say goodbye. With a pet, that ending is inverted, and that’s the way it should be. The price of a pet’s love is the pain of their departure, and it’s a price we are all willing to pay, because they make our lives so, so much richer.
Bella was a rescue dog, which was evident in her inherent anxiety issues, especially surrounding separation. She would shake a lot, she had continence issues, she would lick you incessantly and, should Mr. Blue ever be out of the house without her, she would howl until he returned. This last year, where she has had to cope alone, has been quite scary for her. Dogs don’t understand death, not in the way we do. They don’t understand why someone has gone, just that they aren’t there. For Bella, Mr. Blue was the sun around which everything revolved, and she couldn’t have possibly understood why the world had gotten so dark. It’s been hard for us all since Mr. Blue died, but for Bella, that pain has been tenfold.
Amplifying that for her has been her physical difficulties. Several years ago, she had to have an eye removed because of glaucoma; as time elapsed, the same affliction rendered her blind in her one remaining eye. She also had to have most of her teeth removed, she was restricted to only eating rice and chicken in her final months, and by the end she could barely even go for a walk. This, in addition to her diminutive stature, her heartbreak over losing Mr. Blue, and her aforementioned anxiety issues, really showcases just how damn brave that dog was to stay with us for so long, and to love us, the world, and everything in it so much.
To be as anxious as she was, there had to have been something bad that happened to her in her first home. What that was, there is no way to know, but it was bad enough that she lived a lot of her life scared. The first time Mr. Blue went to the vets without her, I sat with her on the stairs for two hours until he returned, while she howled and howled, unable to process the absence, incapable of understanding what was going on. To feel that way, to react in such a manner, shows the depth of the emotions she felt. She was someone who refused to allow her anxiety to destroy her; instead, she channelled those emotions into loving those in her life as hard as she possibly could. She’d curl up next to you if you were sat on the sofa, and she’d stay snuggled-up for hours. If you showed her the tiniest bit of affection, if you gave her the smallest stroke, she’d lie there and lick your hand until you pulled it away. If you took her lead out of the cupboard ahead of her walk, she’d lose herself in excitement, barking and yelping in pure joy, before leading the way with such a sense of pride and adventure. Mr. Blue, he’d often hang back a bit when out for a walk, but Bella – at least in her earlier years – would be straining at the leash, wanting to get to wherever she was going as fast as possible because, despite her anxiety, she was excited to see where she was going.
What defines her courage the most was how loving she was, despite all her fears. Mr. Blue, for all his wonderful qualities, was not a dog you could ever feel completely comfortable with around the kids. He always needed supervision, because he was a defensive dog, and he did not like his personal space being invaded unless it was on his terms. Bella, though, she would open her heart to anybody. When my nieces came over, you could leave her with them just fine. When my partner’s children were introduced to her, she took their over-excitement in her stride and, despite being in physical decline and unable to see, she trusted them and cherished their company. She sat on their lap, she snuggled up to them, when she was still able to she ran around the park with them, and she loved them like she’d known them all her life. It takes real courage to love, especially when you’ve been damaged before. Our Bella defined that bravery, and loved you as much as she could for as long as she could.
Looking back over the last year, it’s been so hard for her. She’s needed Mr. Blue, her eyes now that she couldn’t see, the soul which centred her in the universe, and he hasn’t been there. She’s needed medication to cope with his absence, and she no longer felt comfortable leaving the home she shared with him for the majority of her life. Yet, she clung on to life. When her body was breaking down, she kept on fighting, and I think it's because she knew that, as much as she needed us, we needed her more. We needed to hear the pitter-patter of her little paws on the wooden floors. We needed to feel her warmth as she snuggled up to us, especially through this last year, when it’s been harder than ever to see those we love. We needed to know that Mr. Blue was still with us, in soul if not in body, forever tied to his beautiful little sister. She had to keep fighting, no matter how much she wanted to be with her brother, because she could not leave us without her. She hung on for us, and now, it is time for us to let her go.
It’s been two days now without her. I’ve not seen her anywhere near enough this last fifteen months, with the way the world is, and that’s what I’ll remember most about this pandemic. That the two dogs I loved so much passed away during it, when I needed more time with them, when I couldn’t see them. My two closest pals, the ones that were there for me through my darkest times, my silent – well, not always silent in Bella’s case – companions, my faithful friends. It’s funny, because for a long time, I really struggled to cope with being left alone. After I ended up in the hospital following a panic attack that felt like a heart attack, I couldn’t bear to be in a house by myself, in case it happened again. Then, my Mam and John were going on holiday, and the only ones left in the house were Mr. Blue, Bella and myself. This absolutely terrified me, but I didn’t say anything, because I didn’t want to ruin my parent’s holiday. Ten days they were away, and during that ten days, I barely had a single flush of anxiety. Those magical dogs ensured I was okay, and now they’re both gone, and it breaks my heart. I miss them both so dearly, and I’m so grateful to have known them.
And that, really, is what welcoming a pet into your life is all about. The love. The joy. The companionship. The ending of the times when you feel alone. The silent support when you need it. The examples they set for how to care, for how to relate, and for how to enjoy life. The routine and balance they give your days, the way they fill your soul and give you meaning, and how they demonstrate the best way to be a comrade, a confidante and a friend. Our pets enrich our lives in ways that we can’t even put words to; without them, our worlds would be so much emptier, so much colder, so much less alive. Every second of the heartbreak we feel at the end is worth it, because the days, weeks, months and years that precede it are filled with the meaning that some people spend their life searching for. They’re not just our pets; they’re our superiors, and we’re so lucky to live in their world for as long as they can give us.
Our Bella, she was a wonderful, special, incredible dog. Much like her brother, she was a rescue dog, in the sense that she rescued us from a life without her, a life that was improved immeasurably from the moment she came running into the kitchen from the dark night outside, her dark fur leaving her barely visible until she was at my feet and making me jump out of my skin. I’ll always remember the smiles on my parent’s faces at that moment. I’ll always remember the smiles on my partner’s children’s faces when they met her, over a decade later, and she accepted them instantly. I’ll always remember the years of smiles in between, and I’ll always feel blessed to have known our darling Bella the Brave.
The eye she lost has now been restored, and her vision is perfect. She’s back with her brother, with her anxiety and ailments gone, and they’re running around up there and having a wonderful time. She’s jumping on him like she always used to, enticing him to come and play, and he’s prancing around Heaven’s garden after her like the tart that he always secretly was. They’re together again, like they were destined to be, and they’re happy. I miss them both so much, and I can’t wait for the day I see them again. I hope it’s not for a long time yet, but it's something I will look forward to. When that day comes, I’ll open that gate, and they’ll hear the creak, and they’ll come running up to my feet, yapping away with their tails wagging back and forth, and I’ll give them all the strokes I wish I could give them now, and I'll make sure they both know just how loved and special they are. Until that day comes, I will try my best to live by the values they taught me: compassion, empathy, patience, courage, passion, joy and love.
Thank you, Bella the Brave, for being there for me, and for being such a wonderful, beautiful, special little dog, to me and to everyone else who came into your life. Say hello to Mr. Blue for me. I love you, and I’m so grateful to have known you.
Farewell, my friend.
When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.
When great trees fall
small things recoil into silence,
eroded beyond fear.
When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.
‘When Great Trees Fall’, by Maya Angelou