Photos By Hillary Ehlen and C.J. English
Her demons come out at night. I don’t know what she’s seen or been through but I know the night time scares her. When the shadows creep across our back lawn and the swings gently rattle, the tail that whacks me during the day out of pure joy falls somber and still at dusk. When she looks out the window and watches the tree branches come alive at night, Bella raises her hackles and a deep rumble emanates from her throat. I tell her it’s okay, that she doesn’t have to sleep outside in the cold ever again. She looks at me and smiles, walks over and sits down asking for comfort only I can give. I’m her person. And she’s my dog.
In the morning when the world is safe her tail thumps softly against the bed and the corners of her mouth curl up when I open one eye. If I open two eyes, she’ll come over and greet me with a morning tongue bath. She loves me—A LOT. Well, maybe some of it is just separation anxiety but I don’t care, it feels like love. She keeps the driver’s seat warm for me until I get back and makes sure I’m never lonely while I pee. My life is so much happier with Bella in it each day, each night I’m reminded that she is still adjusting to life as a family dog.
Bella is a rescue dog from Turtle Mountain Animal Rescue, the organization in North Dakota I have had the privilege to be a part of for going on three years. I wasn’t looking for another dog when something in me spoke up and wanted Bella. I’d been on a team that has moved nearly two thousand dogs in the last few years before her, so why her? We already have a big dog, two little kids and a teenager, I didn’t have a deep rooted desire to own a beefcake pit bull-ish looking canine either.
So I guess The Dog Whisperer is right when he says, “You don’t get the dog you want, you get the dog you need.” Being a part of her growth and recovery, seeing her spirit fill with joy as she runs and rolls through the yard and learning about her as an individual rather than a stereotyped breed has brought me a profound sense of happiness I never expected.
Someone asked me recently if I have regrets about taking her in, the hungry pit bull that tried to eat a porcupine and lived to tell about it. I thought about how our life has changed now that there are seven of us, and I couldn’t come up with one regret. Bella has not been a burden or a troublemaker. She’s a lover who is gentle with our little kids, mellow and unobtrusive then playful like a puppy. She’s a good dog. A great dog. A perfect fit for us. Although she was definitely not what I was looking for, it seems she’s just what I need. For me as much as her, rescue matters.
Because of Keith Benning at Turtle Mountain Animal Rescue, Bella is alive and part of my family today. Now it’s my turn to give back. I was going to spend 2018 writing slutty romance novels, but there is a project that needs me more. Rescue Matters, the story of how a small team in North Dakota saved more than four thousand dogs in four years. My book is a work in progress; I plan to have it out in late 2018 and will donate 50 percent of all the profits back to Keith at Turtle Mountain Animal Rescue.