Blue Bell was a good dog, not a great dog, but a good dog. We had her for almost five years; we had expected to have her for five more.
We adopted Blue Bell at the Animal Rescue League. A medium dog with short yellowish fur and funny ears, not quite floppy. not quite pointy, her heritage was unknown. “Part Chihuahua, part Golden Retriever,” one volunteer suggested, a genetic combination whose execution we couldn’t quite visualize. The vet thought she was part whippet, a racing dog that looks like a small greyhound. Abandoned with five puppies, she was on death row at the pound before being given another lease on life by the big-hearted volunteers of ARL.
Seven-year old Gloria dubbed her Blue Bell after a favorite brand of ice cream. She was also known as BB, Silly Dog, and Stupid Dog. We bought Blue Bell a blue collar with rhinestones, a most elegant adornment for our very plain mutt.
Within weeks of arriving in our home, Blue Bell entertained us with a series of naughty antics. She gnawed the cloth off a corner of the sofa. She got out of the yard repeatedly despite our best efforts to block every possible escape route. One day we came home from work and school to find every shoe in the house in a giant pile in the middle of the living room floor. I laughed until the tears flowed down my cheeks. Of her great collection, the only pair she had chewed beyond salvation was also the oldest and probably long overdue for the trash anyway.
Another day, while packing for a picnic, I left a package of gourmet butter cookies sitting on the kitchen counter. When I went to pack up the cookies with the other food, they were gone.
“Sergio, did you eat the butter cookies? You knew they were for the picnic!” I chided my husband whose fondness for the rich treats was well known.
“I didn’t eat them!” he responded defensively.
“Mom! Look!” Gloria called, holding the remains of the cookies’ packaging in her hand.
“Where did you find it?” I asked.
“In the backyard.”
I ran outside and noticed shreds of paper from the cookie wrapper spread out on the lawn like confetti but not a single crumb in sight. My little dog had eaten an entire package of butter cookies all on her own. Not just any butter cookies -- the really good expensive kind. After that, we learned to keep all our food pushed safely back from the edge of the counter or secured in a cabinet. We also got in the habit of keeping the bedroom doors shut in defense of our footwear.
Over time, she outgrew her interest in shoes, replacing it with a fascination for socks. Not just any socks. Clean socks were of no interest to her whatsoever. But socks ripened in an old tennis shoe, sweaty from a workout. Ahh. Now that was a special treat.
Although my daughter and I took care to store our socks in a secure location, my husband did not. After his morning run, he’d take off his socks and shoes then leave the socks by the bedroom door. Inevitably, when we came home later in the day, Blue Bell would have one sock cuddled with her like a teddy bear.
Blue Bell wasn’t the stupidest dog around but she wasn’t exactly the brightest, either. We attempted to train her and had mixed success. She mastered “sit,” “shake,” and “down” but she never quite grasped the concept of “fetch.” We’d toss her Frisbees, balls, and sticks, which she gleefully snatched in her mouth but she never quite figured out that it would be a whole lot more fun if she would bring the item back to us so we could toss it to her again and keep playing.
Doggie bath time was especially fun for the humans in the household. Getting washed wasn’t exactly Blue Bell’s favorite activity but she didn’t make much of a fuss, either. She’d stand calmly in the bathtub, tail between her legs, while we soaped and rinsed her. We’d then wrap her in a towel and the entertainment would begin.
“Ready for the show?” Sergio would summon us to the backyard, carrying the towel-wrapped dog under one arm.
The three of us would stand on the patio and await Blue Bell’s release.
As soon as Sergio set her down on the ground, she would take off, lickety-split, erasing any doubt about her whippet heritage. She would race at top speed doing laps across the yard, kicking up dirt on her clean damp fur. The rest of the family would laugh and cheer her on as she zipped by repeatedly. Standing and shaking off the water like a normal dog? Not for our Blue Bell.
Blue Bell didn’t care much for the doggie bed we’d bought her so we often found her sneaking naps on the sofa or bed. She had been scolded enough to know those pieces of furniture were off limits so she would jump down as soon as we entered the room, thinking she had pulled the wool over our eyes. She also claimed a small oriental rug in the living room as her special domain. It was the place she brought all the special treats she chose not to bury. It was where she stored her gigantic shoe collection, her sock collection, her Barbie collection (more on that later), her collection of chewed pencils, the remains of her rubber chicken, and the scraps of packaging left over after she’d managed to run off with human food. The rug was usually covered with short pale hairs and she sometimes growled at us when we tried to snatch one of her treasures from her throne. Often, at mealtime, she would remove morsels of dry dog food one by one from her dish, walk them over to her rug, and eat them there.
There were times we thought Blue Bell was more feline than canine even though she loathed the neighborhood cats. She would arch her back up to stretch just like a cat. Sometimes I swear she purred. She also loved to chase birds and she caught quite a few of them, too, mostly clumsy doves but occasionally a more agile English sparrow. On more than one occasion, she brought her feathered treasures into the house to enjoy on her oriental rug. One morning, I woke up and got out of bed. As I stood, my foot brushed something soft on the rug. I looked down to see a dead dove, lovingly deposited at my bedside by my devoted Blue Bell. I stifled a scream and jumped from foot to foot with heebie jeebies. Who needs coffee in the morning when you have a dog who pulls antics like that? I quickly recovered and deposited the love offering in the outside trashcan.
During the day, she enjoyed sleeping in sunbeams. We would often find her curled up on the tile floor in the rectangle of sunlight beneath a skylight. When awake and alert, Blue Bell was a great watchdog, chasing away any birds or cats that dared enter the yard, barking when noisy cars drove by or at the sound of a neighbor’s dog. But when she was basking in her sunbeam, she would lift her head lazily and emit the lamest of half-barks, trying to trick us into believing that she hadn’t gone lax on her watchdog duties.
Blue Bell earned her naps. Each morning at 6:30 a.m. we would take her for a two-mile run through the neighborhood, a ritual that delighted her. Her joy at the morning workout motivated us more than any personal trainer could. Starting at 6:00 a.m., she would come into the bedroom and reach a paw up to my side of the bed and nudge my arm. “Hey, wake up! It’s time to go running!” she would urge me. If I covered my head in the covers, she would walk around to Sergio’s side of the bed and try to get him to take her. Eventually, we would wake up and get ready for our morning workout.
When dressed and ready to go, I would sit on the bench near the front door and call Blue Bell over so I could attach her leash. The eternal optimist, every day she would then run right past me to the door, hoping that was the day we would let her out without her leash. But she would soon realize it wasn’t her lucky day and would come back and let me hook her up. When we opened the door, she would emerge from the house in a burst of energy and we would run to keep up. She was a great pacesetter who pushed us to run faster than we would have otherwise.
One morning, she went nuts the moment we stepped outside, tugging like a Great Dane and sniffing wildly. Something out of the ordinary was going on. I humored her and let her lead the way. I followed her to a prickly pear cactus in the front yard. She began pawing frantically in the dirt at the base of the cactus.
“What’cha got? What is it, Blue Bell?” I asked, assuming she’d picked up the scent of an animal but befuddled as to what type of creature would take up residence in a cactus. It seemed an unlikely hiding place for one of the neighborhood cats who often napped on our property. Just then, I caught a flash of long fur, black with a white stripe.
“Skunk!” I cried, yanking Blue Bell sharply back and running in the opposite direction just in the nick of time.
We often smelled skunk in the neighborhood and I consider it a minor miracle that Blue Bell never got sprayed.
Although leery of other dogs and strangers, Blue Bell was an unusually affectionate animal with us. She loved to cuddle on the sofa in the TV room, the one piece of furniture she was allowed on. It wasn’t enough for her to be next to her humans, she wanted to be cuddled as close as possible, cradled like a sleeping baby, her appendages entwined with ours. On days when my husband worked at home, she would spend the day with him in his office, only rousing occasionally if her watchdog duties demanded. Sergio enjoyed rubbing Blue Bell’s belly and he would call her over with the word, “Tickly!” prompting her to roll over for a good rubdown on her tummy. After our morning runs when she was resting in an exhausted heap on the carpet, he would sing to her, “If you’re happy and you know it, wag your tail.” She would instantly begin wagging her tail. Sometimes just the sound of our voices would trigger the rhythmic thumping. She also liked spending time with me in the kitchen when I cooked, enjoying the companionship as much as the morsels I inevitably dropped.
Blue Bell could also be exceptionally patient with Gloria who enjoyed taunting her as much as if she were a human sister. Gloria liked playing dress-up with Blue Bell, who was perfectly content to be outfitted in any number of outlandish costumes. Ballerina was my personal favorite, a pink tutu fastened around her furry waist. The wig with the bright pink braids was another striking get-up.
But Gloria didn’t like it much when her canine sister messed with her toys. I must admit that Gloria bears some responsibility for this tragedy. If she had put away her toys like she was supposed to instead of leaving them on her bedroom floor, Blue Bell surely would not have chosen them for her before-dinner snack. One day we came home and discovered The Great Barbie Massacre. In the middle of the Oriental rug where the giant pile of shoes had once been, we found a small collection of dolls, their feet chewed to Swiss cheese. Some were also missing fingers; other limbs were scattered on the rug. Even after The Great Barbie Massacre, Blue Bell retained her taste for toys, sneaking into Gloria’s room from time to time to nibble on a doll or chew off a teddy bear’s eyes.
My family and I had different philosophies when it came to appropriate dog behavior. Although I was bound and determined that my dog would not beg for food at the table, the rest of the household openly encouraged it. Gloria’s inevitable dinnertime ritual (“Oops! I dropped it. It was an accident. Really Mommy. I didn’t mean to. Oh, look, Blue Bell ate it.”) ensured that Blue Bell received a wide array of human food while Gloria avoided some of the less appealing dishes I served her. Sometimes Sergio would say to Gloria, a slow eater, “Can I have some of that?” and grab something off Gloria’s plate only to feed it to Blue Bell before Gloria had even finished her dinner. What kind of father steals food from his child to give it to the dog? Sometimes the side effects to Blue Bell’s digestive system were most unpleasant. But I have a confession to make. We liked to watch Blue Bell fart. Not just because we could fart ourselves and blame it on her but it’s just that she was so funny. Blue Bell would sit calmly in the kitchen and we would hear a little raspberry coming from the vicinity of her tail. Blue Bell would turn around suddenly, trying to figure out who or what had made the sound behind her. We laughed at the thought that Blue Bell didn’t even recognize the sound of her own farts.
For Father’s Day, Gloria and I decided to prepare Sergio a special dinner – homemade fettuccine noodles with a saffron cream sauce. We started work early, mixing the pasta dough with a fork, kneading it by hand then rolling it over and over through the hand-cranked pasta machine, forming foot-long sheets of dough. Then we ran the sheets one by one through the pasta machine again, using the cutting tool to shape the sheets into fettuccine strips. It was an operation that took hours. After cutting the pasta, we laid it out to dry on sheets of wax paper on the kitchen table. Knowing my dog’s propensity to steal human food, I carefully ringed the table with tall chairs and pushed the sheets of wax paper out of reach at the table’s center.
Some time later, I returned to the kitchen to begin preparing the rest of the dinner. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Every piece of wax paper was gone from the table and there was not a noodle in sight. I looked around and found a trail of wax paper and flour on the floor leading to the oriental rug but the noodles themselves had been consumed in their entirety. I have to give it to her. Blue Bell could be a really remarkable dog. To this day, I can’t figure out how she did it. I was so sure those noodles were out of reach.
One day Blue Bell stopped eating. We thought she would come out of it. When she didn’t, we took her to the vet, got some medicine, and she began eating again that night. Two days later, we took her for a morning run and she seemed to be almost her normal self again. But after we returned home, she didn’t eat. The next morning she refused to go on her walk. That’s when we knew it was really serious. We took her back to the vet who put her on liquid nutrition, said she was having liver problems and he’d try to figure out the cause with tests the next day. He asked to keep her overnight. We prepared ourselves to receive a grim diagnosis once the test results came in. No one realized she had only hours to live. We never got to say goodbye.
Blue Bell was a good dog, not a great dog, but a good dog. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. A great dog would not have been nearly as much fun.