“Some people think a dog like this would be sad,” Janice Preston, of Sweet Valley, said as she cuddled her dachshund, Bella, on her lap. “But she’s happy.”
“When I’m holding her she’ll just throw her head back and give me a kiss … Oh, she just did it,” Preston said one afternoon last week. “You can feel the love. It’s the best feeling in the world.”
Life didn’t always feel so good for Bella, a special-needs dog whose story Preston tells in a children’s book called “Bellie Bear Bart, The Little Dog With the Big Heart.”
Sales of the book will benefit the Blue Chip Farm Animal Refuge in Dallas, which is where Preston and her husband, Ed Oltra, adopted Bella almost four years ago.
Even if you’re not a dog lover, your heart will probably ache for Bella when you read what Preston wrote in the little dog’s voice, describing how she had injured her back while running outside the home of her previous owner and how that affected her ability to walk and run and, well, avoid being messy.
“Something was wrong. I could not feel my legs and my back hurt all the time,” the story continues. “My family would get upset with me because I could not tell when I had to poop or pee. I was locked up every day and they did not want to hold me anymore. I could hear them fight about me. No one wanted to clean me and they said I smelled.”
Eventually, Bella was taken to the Blue Chip Farm, where “Aunt Marge” — that’s Marge Bart, founder of the no-kill shelter — comforted her and predicted someday a new family would come for her.
That prediction came true on Christmas Eve 2014, when Preston and her husband took Bella home.
“Now I have brothers and sisters and a Mommy and Daddy,” the story goes on, describing a family that today includes three other dogs — Chloe, Mya and Otto, who is blind — plus several cats.
“I truly believe this is what I was meant to do, to be with these guys,” said Preston, who isn’t put off when an animal has special needs. In fact, that makes her want to help them all the more.
Preston and her husband worked with Bella to help the dog regain mobility — giving her Epsom Salt baths, acupuncture treatments and coaxing her to walk a short distance to her food dish.
“She would take a step and we’d be so happy. We’d be happy for days,” Preston said. “Sometimes I would hold her bottom up with a towel wrapped around her belly (to help her practice walking.)”
They also set her up with a cart so she could keep up with the other dogs, pulling herself around with her hind legs resting on it.
Nowadays, while she doesn’t have a smooth gait, Bella can scoot around the floor on her own. As for her bathroom habits, they’re not perfect, but her parents don’t mind.
“Life can be messy,” Preston said with a chuckle.
As she wrote in the book, in Bella’s voice, “When I have poop or pee accidents they don’t get mad. They just smile at me and give me a warm bath.”
Preston said she hopes her book will encourage people to adopt special-needs animals because it can be so rewarding.
“I want people to know it’s fun,” she said, snuggling the dog.
The author also wants the proceeds to help Marge Bart help more animals at Blue Chip.
“She’s my hero,” Preston said. “I’d like to raise a million dollars for Marge.”
“Bellie Bear Bart, The Little Dog With The Big Heart” is available at amazon.com, the Apple iTunes store, Google Play and Barnes and Noble. The $13.95 book also will be available from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday at Three Dog Bakery in Kingston, where Preston will be holding a book signing. Bella is expected to attend, too, and greet well-wishers during the first hour.
Reach Mary Therese Biebel at 570-991-6109 or on Twitter @BiebelMT