I made toast on Monday of this past week. That mundane statement fails to convey the significance of this action. My dog Bella was terrified of the new toaster oven my friend Alan Helgeson gave me last year. Yes, my 100 pound, teeth-baring, growling, barking, bunny-killing, cat-terrorist of a German Shepherd, Bella, was inexplicably intimidated by a toaster oven!

She would run into my bedroom and jump on my bed, curl into a ball and cower, or go into my tiny bathroom, nose her way under the shower curtain and sit in the bathtub until the coast was clear. I never could figure out why. After all, that innocent toaster oven hadn't uttered a cross word to her and the old one didn't faze her.

But on Monday, Bella didn't exist anymore, so I made toast and cried.

The day before was a beautiful Sunday, and Bella and I were spending some quality time out in the sunshine. She would bark and paw at the ground by the fence, when she'd see other dogs being walked across the street. Often she would hold her "squeaky pig" in her mouth and oink him at other dogs, which only made their people laugh at the humongous dog in the pink collar squeaking a pig at them.

We were playing our game of me throwing the rubber pig for her to retrieve, which she would do, and then play her auxiliary game of "keep-squeaky-pig-away-from-Mom". So I would chase her down to get it back or just sit down, in which case, she would then bring it back to me and we'd repeat the process over and over.

From the front of the yard, she turned and spied a squirrel on her fence and raced full speed to chase him away and chastise him. The squirrel escaped. Bella did not.

She turned back toward me and something had dramatically changed. Her eyes had a vacant look, her head dipped down slightly, she didn't respond to offers of returning to the house for her beloved salmon "cookies" or daily "chewy stick" or more squeaky pig.

I thought we'd be facing another knee or joint surgery. That I could handle. What I couldn't, was her collapsing over the threshold of the door to the house. I called my friend Debbie and she and her husband Loren raced over, helped me get Bella into my vehicle and to the emergency vet.

Bella died there about half-an-hour later from a mass on her heart which had broken open, causing her to bleed to death internally. I held her in my arms as she gasped for air; her big chest heaving with each effort to stay here with me. I told her that she needed to find her buddy Zeus as soon as she got where she was going and he'd show her the way.

When Zeus died 3 years ago, Bella became a different dog; needy, sweet, clingy, and oh so funny, as if she knew those were the characteristics about Zeus I adored. Don't misunderstand me, she kept all of her own snarkiness in other situations, she was not a friendly dog! She only really loved, perhaps, 6 people in her entire life; me, my best friends Georgie and Debbie, my "other mother" Shirlee, and my sisters.

And she had a problem with men. Even my beloved Dr. Brost and his tech Derek who adored her, never had their affection returned and were always very cautious around her. My own nephew, Bubbi, and his dad Jon, would get the Bella "evil eye" for the first few minutes in her presence.

I will miss everything about her, the good and the bad. The way she would never allow you to be alone in the bathroom, because while you were sitting there, it was a great opportunity for you to pet her, or scratch your fingers up and down her spine, massaging her aging bones, and if you tried to stop--she would paw at you for more.

I will miss the kisses and getting cold-nosed out of a deep sleep, first thing in the morning, almost everyday she lived. The loud snoring she developed as she aged, the running in her dreams, the chasing of her tail (which she never outgrew and always made her look like a giant, silly, puppy ) are now excruciating memories, exposing the immense, empty spaces no longer filled by her.

Her furry bed, big basket of toys, medications, food, supplements, treats and so much more all remain sitting where they were the day she died. I'm still trying to reconcile it in my mind on a daily basis she is gone.

She won't be there with that happy grin when I get home. She won't lay on the floor next to my bed when we first go to sleep. She won't get her head stuck in the stupid hose on the CPAP machine anymore. She won't fall asleep on the landing at the top of the stairs while I take a shower in the basement. I don't need to lock the dog-proof garbage can anymore.

It almost becomes like muscle-memory, the way a beloved pet becomes woven into the fabric of your life and when that material is torn apart it takes a long time for the agony to recede.

When it does, I know that remembering my aggravatingly smart, astoundingly beautiful, sassy, pushy, naughty, noisy, vanilla ice cream & salmon cookie-loving, snow gulping, grass-eating, German Shepherd Bella - -will make me smile.


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