by Lee Juslin
At one hundred and three pounds Bella Moose is a big girl with an even bigger heart. Abandoned as a puppy by some renters who moved out and, despite promising their landlady the puppy had gone with them, left her behind in an empty apartment.
The landlady, as it happened, was a work colleague of Rose Marie’s. One day she arrived late explaining about the abandoned pup in her rental apartment. Sight unseen, Rose Marie made up her mind to adopt the pup, and therein lies a tale or, perhaps, a tail.
With children grown, Rose Marie and her husband had started a new family with a black Lab, an elderly cat, a small fluffy dog and now Bella Moose. It’s a rag tag bunch of rescues with the exception of the black Lab, which all happily get along. When Bella arrived she was named Bella, because to Rose Marie she was beautiful, and Moose, because with her huge paws she was clearly going to be a big girl.
“With the kids gone, I was casting about for something I could do, especially on weekends when my husband is often off hunting with his buddies. Something that would offer me a sense of fulfillment beyond work and home,” said Rose Marie. “I had read about pet therapy, and, with Bella’s gentle and happy personality, I thought it might be just the thing for the two of us.”
Rose Marie enrolled Bella Moose in evening training classes driving forty five minutes each way. “When we arrived at that first class, it was Bella Moose and a bunch of small fluffy dogs.” And, although the trainer expressed some doubts about Bella Moose doing well in the class, by the last class Bella had won over everyone, and the trainer told Rose Marie that Bella was the poster child for the class.
Once training was completed, Rose Marie applied for membership in Love on a Leash, a national therapy pet organization, and Bella, the poster child from her obedience class, was readily accepted. Rose Marie and Bella Moose then began their therapy visits at the local hospital where she quickly became a favorite visitor for both patients and staff. Because she is so large, she wears hats to let people know she is a girl. Most of her rather elaborate hats would stand her in good stead at the Kentucky Derby or perhaps a fancy garden party to meet the queen. Rose Marie says she haunts the dollar stores to find hats and trims to add to Bella’s growing hat wardrobe.
Bella and Rose Marie go to several wards at the hospital visiting on Saturdays to accommodate Rose Marie’s full time work schedule. One of her favorite spots is the fifth floor where her favorite nurse keeps a stash of dog cookies. Of course, Bella Moose brings her own supply of Cheerios, which are a big favorite of hers, so that the patients don’t try to feed her. Rose Marie tells everyone that Bella works for Cheerios.
Bella Moose has found her comfort zone visiting seniors, especially those on the memory unit where patients’ eyes light up as Bella saunters in. Although Bella is a Daddy’s girl during the week, when Saturday rolls around, she bounces in to wake up Rose Marie and is ready to go to work. Bella takes her job very seriously which is probably not easy with an elaborate hat perched on her head. Rose Marie says she is not the kind of dog that wags her whole body in excitement, but she gently waves her tail and, of course, turns on her big, bright smile for “her” patients. Recently, the hospital won an award and, to let the community know, they produced a TV ad set to the Golden Girls theme music. Bella makes a prominent appearance in the ad, and, of course, we think she is the star of the ad.
One day while on a visit, Rose Marie and Bella met up with an elderly man who, upon seeing Bella, began to reminisce about dogs he had owned over the years as well as his late wife and other relatives and friends long gone. Bella lay quietly seeming to take in every word. “We spent quite a bit of time with him because he just seemed so eager to talk to someone, Rose Marie said. “Then, as we were leaving, he looked at us and said, ‘You’re really a class act.’ That just made my day and reinforced for me why Bella and I are so dedicated to pet provided therapy.”
If you would like to learn more about pet therapy, visit the Love on a Leash website: LOAL
You can find more animal rescue, therapy animal, and other pet related articles in our pet section.