When people meet Bea Arthur, all they want to do is pet her. She’s so stinkin’ adorable with her giant brown eyes that bore into your soul, floppy ears, and tiny head. I mean seriously, can you stand it?
No you can’t.
Behind Bea’s cuteness is a dog who is very nervous and fearful around that which she does not know. She is spent most of her life in Puerto Rico on the streets and then 3 years in a shelter. At best she was poorly socialized and neglected. At worst she was abused. And while she’s a total clown and exudes confidence at home and places to which she is accustomed – new experiences and new people make her incredibly shy and scared.
Many rescue dogs bounce back immediately after rough starts. Their buoyant personalities and eager temperaments make for therapy dogs and great family pets. But Bea’s progress has been slower. She had separation anxiety when we got her which took us about 2 months to beat. It took her 6 months before she started giving us kisses and not cowering in fear when we touched her. It took her over a year to realize she was home. She’s come a long way in the 18 months that we’ve had her and still has a road ahead of her. She is terrified of house guests and panics as soon as the bell rings. Every day when I walk her I have to explain to people that she does not enjoy being touched by strangers.
Sometimes it’s frustrating. I just want to shake her and tell her “you are home. you are loved. you are safe and we wont let anything happen to you. we will protect you and cherish you no matter what.” But she doesn’t speak English, she speaks dog. So we have to show her. Show her that house guests are not scary by having people come over, ignore her, and give her treats. By leaving for 5 seconds and coming back over and over again to show her that we will always be back and we will not abandon her. By managing the public by asking them not to touch her unless she solicits affection. It is our job as her owners to set her up for success, and not put her in situations where she will fail.
Sometimes I am envious of my friend’s dogs who accept house guests with excitement. Who love running around the dog park. Who are generally elated around everything and everyone. But when I feel sad about her limitations, I also consider all her great qualities.
She is snuggly.
She is loving.
She puts herself in hilariously strange positions.
She loves belly rubs.
Her bladder is like a tank and she prefers to sleep in until after we’ve gotten up. I don’t know why or how, but she is the most housebroken dog I have ever met. She has NEVER had an accident in our house. Once she is settled, she is one of the easiest dogs to take care of – she prefers to sleep for most of the day. She doesn’t ask for much, and she gives so much in return. Every small bit of progress I see in her makes my heart swell. I know how hard it is for her to overcome her anxiety and every time she’s brave, it’s that much more worth it.
A dog savvy friend of mine simply noted: “all she wants to do is hang out with you. all the time.” So simple yet so enlightening. Everything she does, the good, the sweet, and the not so ideal, is to be near us. And it’s the least I can do to give her a home, food, confidence, and love in return for such unlimited and unconditional devotion.
I love Bea with all of my heart and soul. I never thought I could ever love an animal this much. It’s completely devastating to know that dogs don’t live forever and someday she will no longer be a part of my life but as Fiona Apple so eloquently put it “ a part of everything .” It makes me cry just thinking about my life without her in it.
Bea may not be a certified therapy dog, but she’s my therapy dog. She was with me through my surgeries . She wiggles her butt and does a crazy happy dance when I come home . She shows me her belly every morning waiting for her belly rub to start the day. She makes me laugh and provides constant entertainment with her weird tendencies: she lifts her leg when she pees (like a male dog). She “makes” her bed.
She knows we love it when she sits – so she will often follow us around the house and sits and waits to be noticed. She finds small patches of sun wherever she goes and lays in them for hours. Sometimes I can’t find her because she found some tiny ray of sun in a small corner of our apartment.
So here’s to you Bea Arthur. We changed your world, and you changed ours. And speaking of, I wouldn’t change a thing.