There’s a secret I’ve been keeping all summer long.
Bella has been having health issues.
There, I said it. Out loud and in public.
My best friend may not be well, and we don’t yet know why or how to fix it. It’s causing me an inordinate amount of stress every day and it’s sometimes a struggle to write about anything, always wondering if her life is going to be shortened in some way.
It’s in the liver
Our vet called us after Bella’s regular checkup to tell us her ALT levels were out of whack.
ALT, or alanine aminotransferase, is an enzyme found in the liver and the kidney. An increased amount of ALT indicates damage to the organ.
We waited three months to test her again. We hoped for good news. Instead, we learned the ALT count doubled.
We rushed Bella off to the imaging clinic to have an ultrasound done on her liver. She came home with her belly shaved, something I’ve been hiding in her images by careful positioning.
The ultrasound came back clear … no signs of lesions on her liver, which means no cancer. No signs of Cushing’s disease. No signs of a few other abnormalities that could cause whatever.
We had bile acid tests done a few days later. They came back “perfect.”
So what’s to explain the elevated ALT? We still don’t know. The liver can be a little mystery, our vet said.
It could still be hepatitis or hepatic microvascular dysplasia, a genetic abnormality in which the liver is smaller than it should be.
Blood flow to the liver is restricted, causing atrophy, and the liver becomes less capable of processing toxins and producing the proteins necessary for growth and development.
I contacted Bella’s breeder in Arlington, Washington. None of her other adopters has reported any liver issues with the dogs from Bella’s Maremma sheepdog parents, Maddie and Nico.
Bella is taking supplements with her meals to try to stabilize the liver. Another blood test comes next month and if the ALT levels are still elevated, a biopsy becomes necessary.
She is as energetic as ever and her appetite is more than healthy — two factors we’re supposed to keep a close eye on.
My sweet, defiant best friend
Bella came home from Arlington on August 29, 2014, just nine days after I put my first best friend to permanent rest.
If you’re counting right, yes, yesterday was the six-year anniversary of Shep’s crossing over to the great beyond.
Shep affected me in profound ways. We grew together through my 30s, a time of tumult and change, with job layoffs, moves and a boyfriend who would become a husband.
He was my escape from a soulless 9-to-5 career. He and I spent almost every minute of evenings and weekends together, hiking mountains and exploring ghost towns.
My best friend put the camera back in my hand, after I gave my film gear away in the early 2000s, tired of shooting grip-n-grins and proclamation signings in my journalism life.
When he died six years ago, I was devastated. I still am some days. I miss him with every fiber of my being because he changed who I was and what I needed to see in the world.
I agonized with the decision to get a puppy so quickly. On the day, we picked up Shep’s ashes, I started researching breeders to get on a wait list for a spring litter. It was the only way I could figure out how to deal with my grief.
And I had long ago made the decision the Maremma sheepdog was my breed, my soul forever knitted into such a noble, protective, independent dog. I needed to pour my energy into a future with one.
But a breeder with three five-month-old puppies left in a litter, anxious to find them homes, reached out and invited us to visit her farm. I battled with the decision for days, wondering if I was insulting the memory of my best friend, who now rested in a beautiful wood box on my nightstand.
My fiance made me write a list of pros and cons, a list I found recently and tucked into my journal. The pros outweighed the cons and we left Kelowna, where I lived then, to meet our new best friend.
Bella and I struggled to find our way together, my grief often overcoming my ability to bond and the Maremma stubborn streak being inexplicably magnified in her.
She wouldn’t (doesn’t) come when called. She wouldn’t even come in the house unless I picked her up and carried her. Of course, first I’d have to catch her.
I’d leave the side door open and let her find her way inside on her own. She’d come into my apartment, look at me, harumph and lay on her bed.
Six years on, we don’t do well without each other. If I have to leave her, she sits in the window and mopes until I come home. While I work in my office, she’s rarely more than a few feet away.
I feel like a part of me is missing when we’re apart.
Shep, my husband and I were the three best friends that anyone could have.
Bella, my husband and I are A-B-C, easy as 1-2-3, and simple as do re mi.
We are a tight threesome but the bond between Bella and I is unbreakable.
Everything she and I do together makes it deeper, stronger. The thought of losing her sooner than we should is agonizing.
They are my why
Some people struggle to find their “why,” the reason they get out of bed in the morning, the inspiration that drives them to do what they do.
I’ve been cemented in my “why” since the day I started planning to launch a dog photography business back in 2014. It took me a few years to get there but I did it, and my “why” is stronger than ever.
It’s my dogs, Shep and Bella, and the connection I’ve felt with them. My “why” is the tears falling from my face as I write, the fear of losing Bella, the grief of losing Shep.
The all-encompassing love I have for them.
And all the gifts they’ve given me.
Their attention, their lessons, their protection, their guardianship, their love.
I have hundreds of images of Shep at Banff, Kananaskis, ghost towns of Alberta, lakes of British Columbia, hills of Eastern Washington, bridges in North Idaho, rivers in South Dakota, and waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
I count myself fortunate for having them.
Today, I document everything … EVERYTHING … Bella does.
I know that everything Bella and I do together, especially our hiking around Spokane and North Idaho, just brings us closer together.
It has given me an ability to see the bond you share with your dogs and I want to give you perfect memories of that connection.
Every time I pick up my camera for a session, I carry with me the memories of Shep and me in the Rockies, or the last hike I just did with Bella, and I look for that moment.
That magic moment where it is just you and your best friend alone and in love in this great big world.
That moment, sometimes just a fleeting second, is magic.
Honoring our bond
I wish I’d known someone like me six or more years ago. I would have saved and scrimped every penny to get a real portrait session done with Shep.
I have candids of us together, created by photographer friends who just saw the love between us.
But nothing of a portrait style.
I have every intention of hiring a photographer to do this for me and Bella — and, with a stroke of luck and convincing, my reluctant husband, who gives me shit just for asking if I could get him and Bella together in my lens.
I just haven’t found the right “click” with anyone yet.
The search goes on for me but I hope I become the right person for dog lovers in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene who want some portraits that showcase the connection with their best friend.
If I seem like your photographer, reach out and let’s chat about you and your dog.
All around the circle
Bella and I spent yesterday somewhere lost in the woods.
Every August 20, I find a way to commemorate Shep’s last day and, more often than not, it’s a hike somewhere near Spokane or Coeur d’Alene.
Because that’s how my first best friend and I enjoyed life together, and it’s how my now best friend and I have found our “us.”
Best friends is the topic for this week’s worldwide pet photographers blog circle.
Let’s head out and see how the pet photographers are celebrating best friend week. Start with Pet Love Photography, photographing your Cincinnati area BFF for Tails of Cincinnati, a coffee table book for charity.
Click the link at the bottom of Susannah’s post to get to the next post and so on. When you get back here to my best friends, you know you’re home.
Right where you belong.