Monday, February 8, 2010

One Year

One year ago today I started the Spicebush Log. Several other blogs inspired me, especially Tom and Atticus, who continue to enchant with their hikes, day and night, into the howling winter winds of the White Mountains. I celebrate my one year blog anniversary with a mix of pride and sadness.

During the past year I "met" several new friends -- Ken and Deb and Tom -- through my postings, and as a result maintain a cadre of fellow bloggers that I read regularly. My goal in creating the Spicebush Log was to have a place to write about what I observed as I explored the outdoors and other venues. If I gathered in some regular readers along the way, that was a bonus. I seem to have a few -- thank you. I enjoy the writing, collecting photos to help tell a story, and focusing more clearly on what I see around me. The first year feels good.

A source of many of my stories was Bella, our adopted English springer spaniel. I started the blog a few months after she turned one. She required lots of exercise and was the reason I spent so much time outdoors, walking trails through many different habitats. We had our favorites. Bella liked the places with varied topography with wooded hills and valleys that she could run up and down. If we met other dogs along the way, all the better.

We adopted Bella from the New Hampshire SPCA two years ago, when she was about 14 weeks old. By then she had already been through a traumatic life experience. Bella taught us that springers do not like to be left alone. She went with me everywhere for two years. In her previous life, before winding up at the SPCA, Bella bit into an electrical cord, electrocuting herself. Maybe she had been left alone too long or maybe just briefly. Springers think that three minutes is three hours. Bella's owner surrendered her to a local veterinarian, maybe because he could not afford her care, or he thought she was going to die, or for some other reason. The vet cared for Bella for two weeks, bringing her back from near death. Bella had surgery to remove a burnt tooth and part of her lip, damaged by electrocution. Once healthy again, the vet surrendered her to the SPCA.

Bella arrived at the SPCA a day or two before Sunday, the weekly day that my husband, Srini, volunteers. A friend there suggested he check Bella out. We brought Bella home a few days later on Thursday, February 21, 2008. Bella loved people and other dogs; she was energetic, healthy, and great fun.

For the first year we indulged Bella -- she slept on chairs, sofas, and beds. But something changed when she turned a year old. Unexplained aggressive behavior started to emerge. She guarded food, places and people, at times with great ferocity. This continued throughout 2009, building and receding, but slowly escalating over that time and becoming more unpredictable. Most of the behavior occurred within our home and was directed toward us or Aria, our 12-year old Shepherd that we have had since a 12-week old puppy.

We sought advice from numerous trainers and vets. We implemented all the recommendations, mainly geared toward establishing calm but assertive dominance over Bella. As months wore on we began to adjust our home life. Bella was controlling movements of Aria and acting out against us, almost in jealousy if we showed any affection toward Aria. Our home was becoming stressful. When I was with Bella on one of our daily walks she was carefree and happy. But even outside I started to see signs of aggression. As dogs approached our car or if we stopped for a snack and Bella sensed any competition for food, she acted out against the intruders. During the past year, Bella bit Srini three times, all unprovoked, and she nearly harmed several other people.

Thanks to some friends we found a wonderful kennel last fall, owned by a woman (Nancy) who is quite experienced with dog behavior. She knew about a particular line of springers in which the breeding was messed up. Some breeders were neglecting to select for temperament and continuing to breed springers prone to dominant aggressive behavior. Bella loved this kennel, where she was around other dogs and people all day, in a structured environment. We started boarding her there each time we left on a short vacation.

After an unprovoked bite a few weeks ago, we knew we had to let Bella go. Her aggressive and unpredictable behavior was dangerous. Even so, this was an emotionally difficult decision and in the days that followed we often second-guessed ourselves, wondering if it was the right thing to do. Except for this issue Bella was in perfect health, but this issue loomed large.

In the end, it was our love for Bella that helped us make our decision. Bella was tortured by the need to control resources -- whether me, food, or places. It is better that she had a short, happy life than a long, stressful life for her and those around her. We provided the best home she could have had. Finding another home for Bella was not an option as the issues would have emerged there too. Medicating, muzzling, or confining Bella were options that we never considered, since those choices would benefit no one, especially Bella.

Nancy cared for Bella at the kennel in her final days, as Bella played happily with several other dogs. It was the best ending it could be for Bella's short, full life.

So, I dedicate my first year of blogging to Bella. Despite her issues, she leaves a big hole. The tears still come easily, and only with time will the pain pass. I cherish the two years that we spent together; she stayed close to me on every walk. To see pictures of Bella click here for our Picasa web album of her.

We spent last weekend at a rustic cabin in the White Mountains, where we celebrated Bella's love of the outdoors, away from cell phones, computers, and electricity. We gathered around a wood stove and snuggled in our sleeping bags, and explored miles of trails, and thought of Bella running, with ears flapping and tail wagging. On top of Hedgehog Mountain we toasted our hot chocolate to Bella.

Bella, October 2009, on one of our daily woodland walks

Bella at the beach, running with new friends, February 2009


  1. Here's to Bella and the gifts she brought you. Here's to a good first year. Here's to a good writer. Here's to the gifts you brought Bella. And here's to the gifts you regularly bring your readers.

    That was a beautiful post.
    Tom (& Atticus)

  2. Thanks Tom. We appreciate your thoughts and kind words, and please give a hug to little Atticus. Ellen

  3. Hi Ellen,

    I can only echo what Tom(& Atticus said). Congratulations on your first year anniversary. I'm sad to hear of the difficulties of you and Bella. I never had any idea how complicated it was.

    But this story like the others you write is written honestly and that is a great tribute to you and to Bella, and makes your blog all the more worthwhile for its readers.


  4. What a difficult decision that must have been, but Bella was lucky to live with your patience and compassion. Congratulations on your first year of blogging!

  5. Ken and Deb,

    Thanks for your nice comments and thoughts about Bella. It was indeed a very difficult decision, although I cherish the time I had with her. With time you realize it was the best option. More than ever we enjoy the company of our very sweet, old Shepherd, Aria.

    And I am excited about another year of blogging that is underway and continue to be inspired by Deb's musical talents and Ken's beautiful art.

  6. Congratulations on your first year of Spicebush! And a most beautiful post.

  7. Thanks Phil. Glad to have you as a neighbor, blog friend, and fellow lover of dogs.