Dogs are a major part of our lives. I've met a few people who have never had a dog, even as a child, and I just cannot imagine it. Might as well say they never ate an egg or walked in the rain.

I had a variety of mixed breed dogs growing up. Blaze was my first, and my constant companion and only close friend from the time I was six until I was sixteen. In that time, many others came and went, either given to us or dumped on our dirt road by people now residing in hell. Hound mixes, German Shepherd-Husky mixes, one black Lab, and others so well mixed as to have an unparseable ancestry. I loved them all.

Gail had a wonderful Golden Retriever when we met, before Goldens became ubiquitous. Eli was a happy, friendly, outgoing love of a dog.

A couple of years after Eli was gone, we decided to research breeds to find what would really suit us, and decided on Bernese Mountain Dogs. This was many years ago before they became so common. The breeder to whom we had applied for a puppy sent us off to an AKC puppy match to see a variety of Berners. While we were there we saw our first Bouvier des Flandres and fell in love. After reading about their personalities and qualities, it was clear we were meant for each other.

We got our first Bouvier from a breeder in Napa: Aristes Everloyal Raleigh. Oh, what a wonderful dog. Kind and happy, friendly, strong, protective.  We lost him to cancer much too soon and will miss him always.

We later adopted a rescued Bouvier female, Que, whom we called Cuba. Cuba was one tough cookie, very dominant of Raleigh and very protective of the family unit. She was barrier aggressive; when we picked her up from the kennel the first time we left her, the staff had thought she was male because of her attitude. And yet she was sweet, and funny, with an unfortunate taste for books. More than once we came home to find Raleigh bouncing around to narc on her, showing us the remnants of another book she had destroyed.

We got involved in Bouvier rescue for some years, and managed to help a few dogs find good homes. The last dog we fostered was Georgia, old and not classically lovely. She had mammary cancer and we decided after surgery it was better to keep her than try to find a home.

After Cuba and then Georgia passed, it was a year before we were ready for another dog. Grady is from good herding stock, and we thought Gail might want to train him for sheep herding. They took a few lessons, but it was two states away, and the wild-ish Soays we had would not have responded well to his herding style, anyway.

Grady turned out to be more of a one-person dog than I had hoped, despite my best efforts, so we decided to get another dog. We had been interested in the bull breeds for a while. After a lot of reading and thinking, we adopted a four-month-old American Staffordshire Terrier called Jeepers from a rescue organization in New York state. We soon renamed her Isabella.

Isabella has been a great match. She is the most athletic dog I've ever had, vigorous in action, wicked fast, completely undisturbed by new physical experiences. She and I attended several obedience courses, one of which was an introduction to agility competition--really just familiarization with the equipment. Where most of the other dogs in class were leery of going through a tunnel or standing on the wobble board, she was undaunted, even thrilled and eager.

I think we would have pursued agility, except that Bella turned out to be an orthopedic wreck. The slopes of her tibial plateaus were steep, putting stress on the cranial cruciate ligaments, which are supposed to keep the femur from sliding back on the tibia. We took her to an orthopedic surgeon who performed a TPLO (tibial-plateau-leveling osteotomy) on one hind leg and then months later on the other. The tibial plateau is actually cut and rotated so that the slope is minimal, relieving stress on the ligament. Steel plates are screwed into the bone to hold it together.

Because Bella was such a muscular dog--literally built like a brick outhouse--he went up a size on the screws. The day after the surgery he took her outside to see how she moved, and she broke a leash. Sure it was a little leash, but still...

After each of these surgeries, we had to restrict her activities for quite a while, so both time we moved a mattress downstairs and slept on the floor, so we could keep her off the stairs and keep her company during recovery.

The surgeries were very successful, the only problem being discomfort in cold, damp weather that seems to be related to the metal in her legs.

Fast forward years later. Bella started having some issues with her gait; one leg was weak and always moved out instead of straight ahead, and she lost her ability to jump. We took her to a neurosurgeon who after examination recommended an MRI. It turned out she had a disk that was protruding into and compressing the spinal cord, which caused the symptoms. Relieving that pressure was unlikely to restore her capabilities, but ought to prevent further deterioration.

We took her back a week later for a ventral slot surgery. The doc accessed the disk from her throat, moving the trachea and esophagus out of the way. It was at C7/T1, so it was way down near the sternum. That apparently took a lot of muscling out of the way, but the surgeon was able to drill into the disk and pull out material until she could see the spinal cord.

The doc called us the next day to say that Bella was acting as if she not just had major surgery and was raring to go home. We went back to sleeping on the floor downstairs again to keep her off the stairs. The tough work was trying to keep her inactive, because she wanted to jump and tussle and charge around as she always had.