Belle was pretty much my first friend when I moved into my in-laws house in the northern suburbs as a newly wed four and half years ago. The big city of Gurnee made me a little nervous; after all, I grew up surrounded by cornfields -- not super sub divisions, shopping malls and six-lane streets.
But this little lady acted as a warm security blanket and helped me get acquainted with my new home; she went on walks with me as I explored my new town, slept in bed with me when everyone else ventured off to work and, of course, cooked with me anytime I entered the kitchen in hopes of scoring a snack. Because I'd always had a dog and having a pooch was normal part of life, Belle was a wonderful companion for a girl fresh out of college who was looking for just a little bit of security amid the massive life changes of marriage and relocation. It was an added bonus that she just happened to be a black Labrador Retriever -- just like my beloved Bud who lived at home with my mom and sister but has since passed away.
Belle also decided that I was a good buddy -- after all, I had the time to take her for walks and a weakness to dish out her favorite snack -- garlic bagels -- every night after dinner. Plus, she was always welcome in our bed for snuggles. What can I say? I love my pooches. And even though Belle wasn't technically my dog, she did a great job of making me feel like I was part of the litter of people she loved.
She made certain when John and I first found out we were starting our own litter to take special care of our first baby by cuddling up against my stomach every night while I was pregnant -- she was keeping the baby warm. And when our first baby arrived -- even though by then we'd found a new residence of our own-- she adopted him as part of her litter and welcomed being used as a climbing gym and big cuddly pillow.
Belle certainly has many more credentials than I can credit her; she has been a constant companion for my my in-laws -- especially my father-in law. He and my husband say she is one of the best hunting dogs ever. Up until just about a year ago, she was still jumping into icy, rushing water to retrieve birds. But as time does to even the best of us, her body soon began wearing out. And though I tried to ignore her waning health, time made that impossible.
Tonight, we bid our friend farewell. Her poor body just cannot keep up with even the simplest living demands any longer. We gathered together as a family and said our goodbyes. She had a really good last day with her litter. I fed her a special bagel and table scraps. I thanked her for adopting me into her litter. I told her I felt safe and secure in a new place and new circumstances because of her. And I told her that I loved her like she was my own dog. Because really she's no different than any of the other pooches who lovingly wagged their way into my heart and buried themselves deep inside of it.
You're a good girl, Belle. I hope God has lots of garlic bagels, a warm bed and pheasants in heaven waiting for you.