April 18th, 2007


Tales of the Tribe: Belle

The other night I was sitting on the couch with Bonnie. Belle, our fourth dog, was sitting between us. Bonnie looked at me.

"She knows," she said.

I blinked. "Who? what?"

"Belle knows," clarified Bonnie, "that you have not yet written about her."

"Somebody has ratted on me," I accused. "Somebody who can READ." Bonnie breezed onwards.

"Belle's feelings are hurt," pouted Bonnie. "All the other dogs get a tale of the tribe. Belle apparently does not. This makes her somewhat upset. Do you know what Belle does when she gets upset?"

"She calls her congressman?"

"No," replied Bonnie, looking me in the eye. "She poops in your shoes."

I laughed it off at the time, but I realize now that it is unwise to laugh off this threat. It is not impossible that Belle might, in fact, find my shoes to be an appropriate receptacle for her poop. More likely, however, would be for Bonnie to go out into the back yard, scoop up Belle crap with a shovel, and put it in my shoes. In part this is because my shoes are looking disreputable and Bonnie would like me to get some new ones. Largely, though, she would just find this hilarious.

So: here's what you need to know about Belle.

- * -

Belle's real name is Bonniebelle. She's sixish years old -- she's a rescue dog so nobody knows for sure. She is a very pale colored lab mix -- very blonde, almost yellow. Her very short fur and light color highlights the fact that Belle did not live a very good early life; she is covered with dark welts, scratches and dings. Belle is very broad of beam and has a skinny waggy tail. Her ears are floppy and have little nicks taken out of them. She has very expressive pale brown eyes and whiskers that stick out in haphazard directions. Belle is probably approaching 90 pounds at this point.

Belle has many names, but Bonniebelle is essentially never used owing to the potential for confusion with her Mama. Commonly used are variations on Belle, including Bella-bella, Belly, Bellissima and Belle-of-the-ball. Bonnie's favorite love-name for her is Snook-snook, shortened to Snook or Snooky on rare and baffling occasions. She has gotten fat lately so I have taken to calling her Sausage.

When Bonnie got Belle, she already had a full complement of dogs. Husband #2 had passed away, and Bonnie had both her own dog (Pea) and her husband's dogs (Mojo, Madison) in her undersized house. Then, one day she was at the vet and she saw Belle in a crate. She had been kept at a no-kill shelter for two years, but nobody would take her because she had heartworms. She was so sweet and her name matched Bonnie's, and she looked terribly alone. Bonnie told the vet: if nobody has taken her in a week, I'll have her. A week later she was Bonnie's.

Bonnie put her in the car and drove her home. She looked in the rear view mirror and saw Belle sitting in the back seat and smiling. Her lips drew back in a jagged grin, and Bonnie realized she was looking into the face of a pit bull. All at once she realized that the vet had told her she was a lab mix, and she did have a slight brindling to her coat at the base of her tail, and Bonnie realized what had happened. Belle had been bred by dogfighters who wanted to try and blend the strength and aggression of a pit bull with the native intelligence of a labrador. Unfortunately this didn't work, because Belle doesn't have a fighter's spirit; she's too gentle. She must have been beaten quite a bit before the breeders gave up on goading her into fighting and abandoned her by the road. Bonnie didn't immediately realize Belle has any pit blood in her because she mostly looks like a lab, but once you know what to look for, her strong frame and broad chest are giveaways.

Belle really is an athletic dog. Shortly after being acquired by Bonnie, Belle had some wild instincts. One day she was standing by the dining room table, and then all at once, flat-footed, she leaped up onto the top! She then peered at Bonnie as if to say: why are you looking at me? Am I not supposed to be up here? Belle is probably our fastest, most agile dog. She's also a big chicken and submits to the other dogs all the time, but I suspect that if push came to shove, Belle could beat up the other dogs.

Belle has many traits of a street dog. She will eat absolutely anything. If the dogs escape, Belle is the one that I know will stop to eat roadkill if she finds it. She has been known to chew shoes, but only if she hasn't had much to chew on lately, so we provide her and the others with lots of chew strips. She has also been known to root through trash, with eggshells being her favorite trophy. Mostly she'll eat anything that people eat, though. And then, a few hours after she has eaten people food, she will make some of the worst smells in the history of bad smell production. I can almost see the cloud of green gas emerging from her bunghole. I have a priceless series of photos featuring my son and Belle hanging out under a 'tent' made out of a comforter draped over a table. In one shot Belle clearly farts; in subsequent images my son's face contorts through a variety of gag reflexes and expressions of disgust, while Belle looks about innocently.

Belle is probably Bonnie's favorite, because she found her when they were both pretty down, and she empathizes with her. Belle is also my daughter's favorite, since she's a girl-dog, and she will sit still while my daughter does demeaning things like 'dressing' her or building a 'house' around her. K will coo and fuss over Belle constantly, and Belle just sits and takes it, although often I think she would rather be left alone.

One thing I find appealing about Belle is that she sits like a person. She likes to get up on a couch and then face forward, sitting up high and straight, with her butt and tail tucked under her and her legs splaying straight out. This makes her look a bit like Bill the Cat. However, she looks so solemn when she does this, it's very hard to avoid breaking out into laughter. Bonnie thinks Belle is very pretty, but I like to sit next to her and talk for her in the voice of a chain-smoking, used-up diner waitress. HEY, Belle will say to Bonnie, IF YOU'RE GOING TO THE STORE, GET ME SOME TAMPONS AND A BOX OF PALL-MALLS. "Belle does *not* talk like that!" Bonnie protests. SURE, HONEY, Belle replies. DARE TO DREAM.

Belle has a well-developed sense of outrage. If she has been left outside, especially if it's cool out, Belle is the first one to come to the back door and yammer until she is readmitted. Also, if another dog is sitting on a couch, and Belle feels that place is really HER place, she will bark at her brother or sister until they move. She has been known to yell for chews or other treats. Our dogs are really very spoiled.

Belle is the only dog who has bit me. When I first met her, it was only Belle and Mojo in Bonnie's house -- Bonnie had evacuated from Hurricane Rita with all four dogs crammed into her Altima, and she had had to leave some or all of them at her parents' house at various times. Bonnie would come over to the house I rented with the kids, and we would all play together in the living room. One night I was petting Belle on the couch, and she was dozing while I snuggled up to her. All at once she snapped out and her teeth caught the base of my nose, only an inch or so from my eyes. It was a very shallow bite and only drew a little blood. Instantly she was awake and startled -- her bite had been an unconscious reaction only. I believe that when she was young, bad people did bad things to her while she was sleeping, and she may have developed some defense mechanisms. Since then I have learned to be careful around Belle while she is sleeping, and I have taught this to the kids. None of the kids have ever been harmed by any of our dogs.

Belle is our easiest dog in many ways. She doesn't fear the vet -- quite the reverse, for years the vet's office was her home, so she feels comfortable there. She also doesn't seem to dislike the bath; once we have wrestled her in, she settles down and gets to enjoying the attention. Belle is a very good walker and sticks to the pavement, unlike Mojo (who wants to lead and pull everywhere) or Madison (whose herding instincts cause her to crisscross all over the map) or Pea (who is a spazz and wants to run everywhere at once). She doesn't need any daily medication, and we believe that the constant doses of heart medicine she has received since being Bonnie's may well have completely gotten rid of the heartworm infestation. If this is the case, she may possibly last as long as any of the rest of our dogs, even though initially her life expectancy was not supposed to be long.

Belle is an affection sponge. She likes to jump up on the couch next to me and demand pets. Woe to the person who pets Belle and then stops, because Belle will then prod that person with her forepaws. This is bad because Belle's claws are way too sharp, and Belle doesn't give up easily, so I frequently wind up with scratches along my side. Belle has also been known to try to seize a hand and guide it to her belly, which just goes to show what a filthy whore she is. Belle REALLY likes a to have her belly rubbed, and in our house this is known as 'getting one's goo'. Belle's goo gets got with regularity, even though it's kind of stinky right now.