Bella’s dog rescue story began when Kathryn met Bella while attending a Halloween party hosted by a co-worker of her boyfriend at the time. That’s where she found 8-month-old Bella, who was living in less than optimal conditions. According to Kathryn, the young dog had been given to the wife as a present, arriving just months after she had come home with a newborn. “She didn’t want Bella, and that was evident,” says Kathryn. “They kept her in a kennel that was meant for a 15-pound dog and Bella couldn’t stand or turn around when closed in it.” Rather than joining the party, Kathryn spent most of the evening hanging out with Bella.
Three months later, the phone rang, and it was Bella’s owners, asking if she still wanted the dog. “I assume they took my gushing as interest in her, but I hadn’t even thought about adopting another dog,” says Kathryn. She has a soft spot for rescue dogs, but already had a 3-year old rescue dog (Rugger), and wasn’t ready to adopt another one. “But if we didn’t take her, he said, then she would be going to a shelter that day.”
Kathryn felt she had no choice–and Bella, renamed Minnie, became part of the family.
A New Life
While Minnie was healthy when Kathryn and her partner took her in, she was shy, jumpy and very much afraid of everything. She also hadn’t been spayed and went into heat just days after coming home with Kathryn in December. “I remember the timeline well: because she had gone into heat, we had to keep her locked inside the house while we were at work, and I came home one day to find that she had eaten all of the lights and ornaments from the lower half of the tree,” says Kathryn. “I thought she would surely die–there was glass everywhere! She was fine, though–they’re not kidding when they say that Labs have iron stomachs.”
Her emotional issues were a lot harder to deal with. Kathryn suspects in the year she had lived with the previous owners, she had never met another dog. “The first several times we passed another dog while taking a walk down the street, she’d tuck her tail and anxiously look like she’d like to get away,” Kathryn remembers. “For the next two years, when we’d pass another dog, she would lunge and snarl.”
While Minnie now gets along with dogs she’s developed familiarity with, she still needs “an exit” if she’s uncomfortable. “It was a super-slow process, and I learned that she may not ever be fully comfortable with other dogs–and that’s okay,” says Kathryn. Part of it is really just being smart about her cues, according to Kathryn. For example, Minnie can go to the dog park, but only if it’s big enough that she can walk away if she feels another dog is getting too close for comfort. “I keep her moving so that she’s not forced to linger in one area,” says Kathryn.
Learning to Be Part of the Family
Minnie was very skittish when Kathryn first took her home, and while she’s doing much better, she’s still scared of many things. “Any loud noise, and she cowers or runs off to the bedroom,” says Kathryn. “When we first brought her home, she would rarely be in the same room with us, and could always be found in whatever room we weren’t in.”
Part of her behavior might be due to past abuse, which is sometimes the case with rescue dogs. “I remember that my ex brought home some training weapons once, and when Minnie saw them, she took off running,” says Kathryn. “That, and the sensitivity to loud noises, led us to believe he had tried to gun-train her.” Minnie is also very sensitive to being touched with feet, so if you accidentally touch her or bump into her, she will growl a bit and quickly move away.
Although she gets along better with people than she does with dogs, Minnie still has to work hard to learn to like strangers. “We had to teach her what children were and continually assure her that men were not problematic,” says Kathryn. “I came to find that one of the best tricks to getting her past this was a ton of exercise: the more tired she was, the less likely she was to care about another dog or person.”
Another Bump in the Road
But Minnie’s pet rescue story wasn’t over. Two years after being rescued, and while she was still learning to trust, Minnie had a major setback when the veterinarian discovered a tumor on the back of her neck. At first, the veterinarian thought it was a typical cyst, but a biopsy revealed it was a rare cancer that was very aggressive. Minnie needed surgery that same week in order to survive. “Her surgeon ended up making a 4-5 inch-diameter incision, and found the cancer went down three layers,” says Kathryn. “It was all cancer beneath the surface-level tumor.”
Minnie ended up getting the equivalent of a facelift, since they took almost all of the excess neck skin to remove the cancer, Kathryn explains. But it was all worth it. “It’s been 5 years and she’s been cancer-free,” says Kathryn.
Living Life to the Fullest
Nowadays, Minnie the rescue dog enjoys the life of a normal Labrador. “She lives for the ball and food–with food just barely beating out her love of the ball,” says Kathryn. “If there is water to swim in, it’s even better.” In fact, if she sees a body of water, she’ll take off running to it, which Kathryn points out was slightly problematic in the gator-infested waters of the South.
Her love for swimming might not be such a bad thing, as it helps with Minnie’s arthritis. “If she’s not playing ball, eating or chewing on her dog bone, she’s up wanting cuddles on the couch,” says Kathryn. “She may be 60 pounds, but she clearly doesn’t know it; she will curl herself into your lap or on your chest like a teacup Yorkie might.”
As much as Kathryn likes to think she’s Minnie’s best friend, it’s actually a close battle with Rugger. These two rescue dogs are inseparable. “He acts like her big brother, running interference if a dog comes running up to her for her ball, or keeping her calm when there’s a storm,” says Kathryn. “When I’m at work, I know she feels just as safe with him.”
Diana Bocco is a full-time writer and adventurer who has written for National Geographic, DiscoveryChannel.com, Yahoo! and Marie Claire. Diana has lived in five countries and taken her rescued dogs along to each one of them.