She sits in the window.
Is it a loose dog? A wandering cat? Children playing in the street? The neighbor’s lawn-care team?
My pet Maremma sheepdog is watchful. The queen is guarding her flock — me — and her realm.
She has barked all the barks. I have soothed her — gone to her and laid my hand on her head, whispering, “It’s OK,” over and over and over. Until it’s OK.
Until she understands the cat, the children, the lawn-mower guy poses no threat.
Until they do.
And the cycle begins again.
The voice of a pet Maremma
The bark of the Maremma sheepdog is intended to ward away predators and strangers.
“This is my space and you don’t belong here.”
Bella puts boundaries down where boundaries need to be. She pulls out her “fuck off” eyes when she sees me approach with a brush or the nail clippers. She stands her ground and tells us when it’s time for dinner.
She advocates for herself but because most humans don’t understand the communication of a pet Maremma sheepdog, I have to be her human voice.
I have learned to advocate for her. In turn, I’m learning to be a better advocate for myself.
Imagine if I’d known to bark at the Grade 9 girls who circled me in the parking lot at school, to bark at their leader who grabbed my necklace, the one my eldest brother had gifted me for Christmas, the first piece of jewelry I’d ever known. She tore it off my neck and threw it to the ground, telling me I was never going to be anything, never going to leave my hometown, never going to be worth anything.
Imagine if I’d known to bark at my 22-year-old boyfriend who shoved me into his bedroom, put a pillow over my face and ignored my cries of “no.”
Imagine if …
I can’t. Those things happened and they shape who I am today. And they led me to a place where I rescued a pet Maremma sheepdog named Shep, who helped me find my power and my path in the outdoors with a camera in my hand.
And they led me to a place where Bella teaches me every day to be a better advocate for her … and for myself.
To a place where I feel like it’s OK to bark at people who don’t belong in my space.
In her space.
In our space.
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 @souldogcreative 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 what we’ve learned from advocating for our dogs.
Trust your dog’s bark. She knows why she’s barking and it’s up to us humans to understand why.
Don’t be shy. Tell me in the comments how you speak up for your dog and what the experience has taught you. And if you’ve found yourself here because you have a pet Maremma sheepdog that brings you a deeper connection than you’ve ever known, well, you just know.