When I was eleven years old, my very best childhood friend Emma - a beautiful black labrador passed away at the age of thirteen. She was two when my mum and dad brought home for the first time. From the moment she laid eyes on me, I was hers. She was mine. We stuck together like glue. My faithful buddy never left my side, we shared everything from breakfast to dinner and even icecream. Whatever didn't tickle my tastebuds, I would throw from my highchair, and Emma would take care of it. When Emma left this world I was devastated, I didn't know how to live without a dog. Who would I bury my head into when everything got too much? Who would lie on top of me and lick my face until I couldn't breathe? Who would check on me at night before going to sleep herself? I begged my parents for a new dog. They promised that once we had moved to Spain, I'd have one. But until then it wasn't a possibility.
For a year I dreamed about my new dog, I had a name for her. When you're eleven years old, saving a name for something special is really tough and a year is a really long time. There are many worthy souls in need of a name - new teddies, dolls, birds in the garden, fish, new pets friends and family acquired. I stayed strong, I kept the name to myself.
After three week's of living on the campsite, mum and dad were told that a man was giving away puppies. German / Belgium Shepherd puppies. In my mother's mind there was no way in hell we were going to have a German Shepherd, at the time they were notorious for being scary, angressive and unpredictable dogs. Fortunately for one very big eared pup, my mum ended up seeing them and fell in love with the runt of the litter. She brought her back to the caravan. "What's her name Peta?" she asked as she handed me the fluffy, three month old, very nervous bundle.
"Bella." I replied wrapping her in my fleece jacket. This photo was taken a few minutes afterwards. I wanted to wrap her up and keep her safe, never letting her go.
Bella was incredibly intelligent, within days she had learnt how to open all of the caravan windows, the caravan door, how to get off her lead, and where the bathroom was on the campsite. She was trouble. I'd lock her inside the caravan, before going to shower, making sure there was no way she could get loose, only to come out of the shower block ten minutes later to find her patiently waiting for me wagging her tail.
"Oh nooo, Bell." I'd sigh, "What's mum going to say? I bet she's looking for you everywhere."
She ate everything in sight, and constantly needed to be with someone. Her anxiety levels were through the roof, she couldn't be left alone, and we later discovered that she had been mistreated by the people who had had her. She ate shoes, clothes, curtains, she even ate the floor. We once left her in the car for ten minutes as we popped into the supermarket, we returned to a seatbelt-less car. She had eaten them all.
It's safe to say that Bella's first few month's in our family were testing. She had to go everywhere with us. One of us would sit with her at the doors of the supermarket whilst the other's shopped. She would bark and cry until everyone was back together. We were her pack, she was the protector and she didn't like it if the pack was separated.
My sister and I would dress Bell up in doll's clothes, we'd put her in a pram rolling her over very bumpy gravel and she'd look up at us just happy to be involed. She sat at the table when we had breakfast, on her own chair. On walks she would stand up on her hind legs and hold onto you with her front paws to balance as she walked along. She wanted to be the same as us in every way possible. She slept in my bed, with her head on the pillow.
A month after Bella joined the family, a tiny kitten was found. She was just a week old. Jess and I brought her to the caravan. "Can we keep her mum? Jess has named her Lily." How could my mum say no? She had a name. We were up at all hours of the night, bottle feeding this tiny squeeking kitten. Bella was there every step of the way. She'd rest her head on your lap in the middle of the night as you fed what she now believed was her baby. Bell began to get her out of a big toy box we had purchased to keep her in. (Without a lid of course!) It was tall enough that Lily couldn't climb out, but after just a few days, Bella had worked out that she could lift Lily out by putting her nose in the box. Lil would climb onto Bella's nose. Soon this quickly evolved into Bell lifting her by the scruff of her neck whenever she cried. Lily believed Bella was her mum. The two were insepearble. Even when Lily was full grown, Bella would still carry her around by the scruff of her neck. They played together, ate together, and slept together.
When we moved to the big farmhouse that we all still call home, Bella Bear was in her element. She had two acres to run around and protect. She'd no longer have to deal with strangers, something that made her very anxious. Bell was ever so sensitive, if she saw one of us cry she'd cry too and go and hide. Whenever we were on the verge of tears, my mum would ask us to go into a different room, and not to cry infront of the dog.
For some reason, homeless animals always found us. The only animal we ever went out of our way to get was Bella. Yet, living in the farmhouse, animals that needed a family turned up on a regular basis. During the past fourteen years we have had;
- Three turtles - They had come down the pipe when filling a swimming pool
- God knows how many fish - down the same pipe as the turtles
- Over twenty cats - we all have very soft hearts when it comes to stray, hungry kittens
- Four dogs - A beagle named Jeremy who had decided she was to live here, A German Shepherd named Ralph who was a stray on our road and a mixed breed named Trixie who was abandoned in front of the house at just two months old.
- A cockatiel named Kevin who flew into the garden and got straight into a cage when showed. (We were petrified the cats were going to eat him.
- A peacock named Gloria who also flew into the garden and quickly became boss.
Bella took it all in her stride, all of the animals adored her and she was boss among the dogs. The cats as babies would crawl all over her, playing with her tail, hanging off her huge ears and she'd just lie there. So much for the aggressive dog huh? Kevin the cockatiel fell completely and utterly in love with her, he'd sit on her head and back as she walked around the house.
Her hobby was to pick fruit in the garden. With over ninety fruit trees there was plenty to choose from. Her favourites were the plums and almonds, however she was partial to an apricot and became very good at stealing red peppers from the vegetable patch. If you picked an orange in front of the bear, you had no choice but to share it. The vet told us that he believes this had a huge impact on how she lived to fourteen and a half and had never had any health problems.
On Wednesday 24th May 2017, we sadly said goodbye to Bella Bear. She was the very heart and soul of the family and it broke our hearts. She has left a lifetime of memories, and if I were to write them all down we'd be here all day. I don't think I will ever have the fortune to meet such a loving, intelligent, caring soul with the wisest of eyes.
Losing a pet is the same as losing a very close family member. It is truly devestating, and yet because it's a pet and not a person a part of you feels silly to be so upset. That little soul goes through thick and thin with you. They are the only ones with whom you share your deepest secrets, your worries and hopes and dreams. They become part of you and know you better than almost anyone ever could.
Bella Bear you will forever be in our hearts, our thoughts and our memories. Your family miss you more than we ever thought was possible.
Your Peta, the little girl who begged for a new best friend. No-one could have ever filled the post quite like you.