Bella is not an unhappy livestock guardian dog.
I’m almost 75 percent sure of it.
When we wrested her out of her pen and shoved her into the back of the Great Escape, she was one miserable little bitch.
She puked on my lap. She squirmed away. She wanted very little to do with the humans who stole her from her family.
Well … maybe not “very little.”
Almost eight years later, she probably has no memory of her goats and ducks and Mama Maddie, Papa Nicco and Uncle Max.
But our little livestock guardian dog still finds her joy outside.
Finding her joy
I am, as a stay-at-home dog mom, quite preoccupied with Bella’s happiness.
In fact, I promised her a long time ago that I would make sure every day of her life is awesome, same as I did with Shep after I realized he was my soulmate.
I don’t always succeed. I run a small business for dog photography in Spokane, WA, and work part time at the local newspaper as a copy editor.
Our weather can be inconsistent, too, so some days don’t always result in an epic adventure. It is tough, though. I firmly believe a livestock guardian dog can live happily in environments far away from farms and ranch, but it is incumbent upon the human to ensure those lives are enriched beyond the fences of our suburban neighborhoods.
All the same, the joy of the day can be found in our togetherness.
Where my livestock guardian dog is happiest
Don’t be mistaken: There is something extra special in the smile that spreads across Bella’s face when we are having an adventure.
My 85-pound Maremma sheepdog takes great joy in charging up a hiking trail in the Selkirk Mountains that skirt Spokane and run through North Idaho.
She’s an absolute boss who not only doesn’t want to stop for breaks but also looks for ways to make every hike longer, even if it was 10 or 12 miles. When she senses we’re getting close to the trailhead, she looks for offshoot trails and attempts to drag me farther.
I love her thirst for adventure and her determination, and I’m so immensely thrilled that this little livestock guardian dog chose me.
When we don’t get out of the house for great adventures – whether a simple walk in the park or long, winding trail in the woods – I feel a twinge of guilt.
It doesn’t help that she has a penchant for lying in the front window, staring outside with a forlorn look on her face.
I feel less neglectful as a dog mom, though, when I remember what brings her the most joy.
All three of us.
The role of the Maremma sheepdog
The natural instinct of the Maremma sheepdog is to protect her flock. Most types of livestock guardian dog – be it the Maremma, the Kuvasz, the Anatolian shepherd or the Armenian Gampr – display signs of stress when they are separated from their flock.
I’m very conscious of that and it’s why my husband and I have never gone on vacation together without her.
(Sidebar: We did have to leave her with wonderful friends while we were in Nova Scotia for my mother’s funeral last month. Our friends said Bella did fine. More than likely, the greater stress of separation anxiety is mine because I hate having to be away from her.)
She is not one of those velcro dogs that has to follow me all around the house and on the days when we aren’t so active, she seems content to sleep the hours away. In the livestock guardian dog world, we call that “reserving energy.”
She does, however, expect a routine. After dinner, the three of us are to converge in the living room to watch TV. The queen of the realm shall be attended to with her peanut butter and belly rubs.
Sometimes, my husband and I have nights on which we don’t watch TV together.
We can’t watch news or politics together so during election cycles, we watch different news channels. Or both our hockey teams might be playing on the same night and we have to separate, each one occasionally yelling “what the fuck are you doing?!?!?!” and expect the players to hear us.
Bella makes no bones about voicing her disapproval.
She will get in my face and bark and bark and bark.
Then she will turn around, go over to my husband and bark and bark and bark.
Until we resign and flop onto the couch together.
All three of us.
The A-B-Cs of life
We are Angela, Bella and Chip.
Our friends once sent us a greeting card, likely for our wedding which was seven years ago today, and addressed it A-B-C.
With Shep, my husband always sung Zach Galefenakis’ Three Best Friends from The Hangover when we were together:
With Bella, we’ve adopted the Jackson 5’s A-B-C … easy as 1-2-3. (You’re going to be singing it for the rest of the day, aren’t you?)
But long ago, while out on a walk with my bubbaboy, my playlist landed on one song that stuck for us and I continue to sing it to Bella today:
We’re better together.
All three of us.
The Soul Dog Journey Project
These stories of Bella, to be told every Monday in 2022, are part of the Soul Dog Journey Project, a mission by my friend Marika at @dirtiedogphotography in Seattle. After losing her Soul Dog, Kerouac, last year, she’s put together a 52-week project that gets us telling the stories of how we are connected to our dogs and what they bring to our lives.
Each week, there’s a new story prompt to get our creative juices flowing. This week’s prompt focuses on how your dog finds joy. I know Bella’s best days are hiking in Spokane and North Idaho, but she is happiest when all three of us are together.
Don’t be shy. Tell me in the comments about the way your dog’s joy. And if you’ve found yourself here because you have a Maremma sheepdog that brings you a deeper connection than you’ve ever known, well, you just know.