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.
Crying. Hugging you virtually. We love you! Fingers, toes and paws are crossed.
Love you back, you and every one of the beagles, especially the ones that aren’t with us anymore.
Aww. so sorry to hear this! Best of luck and love the pictures.
Thank you, Terri!
I know your worry, and your feelings and I am so gad you wrote this. I can tell from every post I have read that Bella is THE most amazing dog and you are ‘joined at the hip’ ad true companions.
Your advice to get pictures taken is SO IMPORTANT. Call in a pet photographer, make memories that glow and shine. I plead with people to print candid or professional photos off, have them made into a canvas print from Snapfish, or whoever. Make a photobook, something tangible and real so you and your pet have a legacy, like you have of Bella who takes amazing and wonderful pictures.
I knew you’d get it! I’m saving a big spot on the living room wall for a family portrait with Bella.
This is a beautiful post, and I’m so sorry to hear Bella has been having health issues. I so agree with you, photography sessions are so important. I used to take pics of my girls every day and then slacked off for only blog posts. My camera will now live on my coffee table again to chronicle their lives. I did that religiously for the first year Lola was with us, and it led to my book. Purrs for Bella.
So glad to hear you’ll be taking lots of pictures!
The way you write about Shep makes me think of one of my current dogs, Kitsune. Thankfully he’s still with us, but he’s a senior now at almost 12, and at least once I day I take notice of that fact and feel like my heart freezes inside my chest. He’s been by my side through so much, helped me become the person I am today, and I have no idea what I’ll ever do without him. Although I’d love to hire a pet photographer, my younger dog does not do well around strangers. I doubt we’d get any photos that really showcase his true personality, and I don’t think trying is worth causing him stress/fear. I take as many photos myself as I can, or have my fiance help, and although they aren’t professional quality they mean so, so much to me. Sending healing wishes for Bella!
Indeed. Photos means so much! I think you should research the pet photographers in your area. You’d be surprised what some of us are able to do with reactive dogs. My own Bella gets very anxious around strangers but one of the reasons I’ve picked the photographer I have is because her heart is in a very similar place to mine. I know Bella will see that.
I understand you fully and only wish I had had a camera when Baby was alive as I have so few photos of her and sometimes I feel I am over doing the photos with Layla out of guilt but photos make beautiful memories and those are something no one can buy. The fear of losing is a fear I live with also, sending you a big hug and praying Bella will be around a lot longer than you think.
Thank you! I’m so glad you appreciate the need to have so many photos.
Wow – ok, I’m choking back tears as I read your blog – yes, it’s that strong. Those words flowed and I will say that I hope that Bella is ok – I saw that you got her on August 29 – my birthday (wow)….but then I saw that you lost Shep on August 20 – my Mom’s birthday….what is the meaning? (maybe none). Either way, I totally get what you’re saying. A lot of local friends have lost their dogs this year, I am praying Bella doesn’t want to exit this world yet – that she has more to give you. I love the images, I love the soul you put into this blog – it makes me want to work harder to get great images. Thank you for sharing.
Wow, Linda. Thank you so much. I’m so glad I can inspire you. I feel that we have a huge responsibility in giving dog lovers precious memories of the short time we all have with our fur babies.
Oh boy, sobbing now. I’m so sorry to hear Bella is having health issues, will be thinking positive thought for her.
This post touched my heart in so many ways.
First, I’m so sorry you and Bella are facing this challenge. I will keep my fingers crossed that her next blood test comes back with good news.
I was also devastated when I lost my dog unexpectedly 3 years ago – I still have days that my eyes fill with tears when I think of her. When I lost her, my husband and I both went though our phones and thankfully found hundreds of photos we had taken through the course of her life. I fully appreciate and love your thoughts on getting professional photos done of our dogs now. We actually purchased a nice camera so we can even take higher quality images ourselves. I’m hoping to have a session done this fall. Thanks for posting this and know that you’re not alone!
Thank you! I hope you find a photographer in your area that can give you some amazing memories. It’s such an important part of my life to do that for dog lovers.
Thinking of you, Angela – a beautiful post – raw and honest from the heart. They make our world and we do the best we can for them each and every day. So sorry to hear this about Bella. Sending hugs and positive healing vibes your way! These images are amazing! True love and friendship that you share.
Thank you. She is as close to a daughter as I will ever have.
My heart goes out to you – it’s such a frightening time. We went through something similar with Daviana. She lost approximately 20lbs in a month and when we took her in, the vet warned that it could be the result of organ failure among other things. She underwent a lot of testing in the weeks that followed while I was super stressed out about what would come from it all. Luckily, in our case, it turned out to be something manageable – she suffers from IBD which prevented her body from absorbing the necessary nutrients. Now that she’s medicated properly, she’s put the weight back on. I hope that your situation ends up being equally as manageable.
Wow! IBD. It’s so scary because we have to look for signs of ill health rather than having them tell us. Oh, how I wish they could talk.
I hope that Bella’s health issues get better. Franny, my sister’s dog, has been through a lot of serious health issues over the years. She recently celebrated her 14th birthday.
Hopefully, you can find a photographer that you can connect with and get some great photos of you and Bella! Perhaps you two need to take a road trip and visit one of your favorite pet photographers!
I found her. 😀
What a beautiful, bittersweet, touching post and tribute to your beautiful Bella and handsome Shep. I hope Bella’s health issues will magically disappear. It is good so many tests came back negative. I pray her next test the numbers have dropped. I, too, photograph everything my Siberian Huskies did and do. Having just two left of my original five, I am so thankful for capturing so many beautiful moments together over the years. Today’s moments truly are tomorrow memories. May you have many more of those treasured moments and memories to yet be made with your Bella.
Indeed. We could all use a little magic when it comes to our babies and their health.
I’m so sorry Bella has health issues. I hope you get positive answers soon.
The bond between a beloved animal and us is so powerful. My beloved is getting old and starting to show his age and I hate it.
Thank you. She is such a huge part of me. I hope your beloved has many more years with you.
First, I hope Bella’s health and lab work improves and she’ll be okay.
Second, I totally understand about still thinking about and being depressed about a previous fur child who has left for the Bridge. My previous cat, Praline, died 11 years ago, but there are time that memories of her come flooding back to me. There are times, I will look at one of my cats now and call her Praline.
I’m sure I’ve called Bella the wrong name a few times. She has a lot of his qualities.
Keeping all finger crossed and good thoughts for Bella having the best outcomes in all areas! I was glad to read about Shep. I firmly believe that a dog’s spirit stays with its owner until they meet again.
Aye, he is with me every day. I won’t ever let him go.
What a lovely, and heartbreaking story. Every dog I’ve ever had has left an imprint on my heart and depending on the day, I think of them – and miss them – often. Sending healing thoughts to Bella.
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