When Bella was a baby, she came to live on our farm. We knew our senior dog Sammy was slowing down and hoped there would be time for him to show her what it is that dogs do here.
She learned a lot in the year they spent together. Sammy showed her everything, including how to pick berries with me.
Day after day they worked the fences and the livestock. She learned how to guard, guide and protect.
As time went by, Bella gained strength and confidence. She started to experiment with her physical size. Sammy did his best to keep up, even allowing her to engage in rough play. He knew playtime was important for her too.
But he was tired and old. Eventually Sammy's body began to fail, and the long walks became difficult for him. He'd start out, then wait for us to come back. One day, after a walk, he laid down to rest. He never got up again.
The torch had been passed. Bella was now our lead dog.
In the years since Sammy's passing, Bella has been a strong and steady presence on our farm. Benny, Pete and even Lucy, all respect her leadership. She is smart, calm and direct. When necessary, she is a swift disciplinarian.
A natural matriarch, she thinks for herself and sets the pace. If the Boys go left, she goes right. They eventually fall in step. Sammy would have been proud of his apprentice.
Life is bringing us full circle, as now it is Bella who is navigating her final seasons. Except there is no youngster learning at her side. At this time in our lives, nearing retirement, we are slowly moving towards a different lifestyle and the era of sharing our lives with these larger than life dogs is coming to a close. Too soon it seems, but the decision has been made. Bella and Benny will be our last livestock guardian dogs. When they are gone, the farm will transition from raising livestock into something else. Exactly what, we don't know, but this ending will be a new beginning of some kind, time will tell. That is a story for another day.
Our plan right now is to have as many long talks and quiet moments with Bella as possible. She has always been a good listener and I think she'd like to hear the stories of how she and Sammy used to walk the fields at dawn in search of berries and adventure. I'd like to think she remembers Sammy, as we do, a large gruff old dog with a heart of gold and a soft spot for a bright white puppy that came to live on the farm.
Her legacy is also secured. We have learned together and shared the responsibility of caring for the vulnerable and defenseless animals on our land. She worked long days, was always on-call and never took a holiday. A working dog that made her job look easy. She has been forced into early retirement, her days are now leisurely and we are thankful for the companionship and tail-wags she still offers. She doesn't know that cancer is stealing her tomorrows and we aren't telling her. She did the job we asked her to do, without fail or complaint, it is our turn to take care of her. That is the contract we made when we brought her home, a commitment we will honor, a partnership until the end.
TPF Note to Readers: Please bear with us as we come to terms with the sudden, very terrible and unexpected diagnosis Bella received after a small limp resulted in the visit to our local vet. She is now being treated at the University of Illinois. Her time is short. This series of reports on her condition is our way of coping while at the same time educating everyone on a very common yet tragic disease that plagues these great giant dog breeds. More research must be done to learn better and more effective treatments and cures for this disease. It is our hope that by participating in a clinical trial, Bella will somehow move the dial of the educational arc further into the understanding zone and closer to a solution. Thank you for your patience and compassion during this difficult time. ~Tom and Suzy
Hi, I'm Sue Pranskus, and this is my sometime blog. It's mostly about my attempts to "green-up" my life. On our little farm we experiment with livestock, gardening, building, repurposing and anything else that we find interesting. Born and bred on the West Coast, I am living in the Midwest by choice, not circumstance. I have built a life based largely on core values and loosely on whimsy. It's that whimsy, though, that gets me in trouble every time!