Not too long ago, I had two dogs. My first, Belle, and the current one, Lily. Belle was pretty chill, while Lily is a bit of a wild child. Belle, unlike what most think when seeing her name, was short for Labelle. She was named after a line from a Robert W. Service poem:
For things were done in the Midnight Sun that no tongue will ever tell;
And men there be who walk earth-free, but whose names are writ in hell–
Are writ in flames with the guilty names of Fournier and Labelle.
–The Ballad of the Black Fox Skin, from Ballads of a Cheechako (1909)
It seemed like a simple thing, naming a dog. Something that represents what you know of them and how they act.
Belle came into my life a little differently. I grew up moving around and my parents didn’t want pets. Well, specifically cats or dogs. One day, I received a spam about lab puppies. I didn’t know it at the time, but one stupid piece of email would change my life completely. This seemingly insignificant email had an impact in ways that are just now coming to mind. I got the email early in the morning as it went out to everyone in my company. It was asking if anyone could take care of one or more lab puppies pictured in the message. I debated it. I never owned a pet other than a goldfish or two, and a stray cat that hung around my neighborhood. Nothing that was really mine and stayed with me. Goldfish die pretty easy and the cat was given away.
I was living on my own at the time (still am as of this writing), and figured someone needs to take care of these dogs. I was in an on again, off again, relationship with someone and it was more off again at that point. I guess the lonely heart wanted comfort and there seemed to be a calling. So this email went out, I saw it and then went about my day. It was in the back of my mind, but something brought it to the front. I went to a customer that was quite a bit away so I had a long drive and a bit of time to think. The funny thing was, I was not thinking about keeping one of the dogs; I was thinking about the message one of my co-workers wrote about making a pup-cake. He suggested using the puppies for ingredients in a cupcake. This apparently set off one of the other people that I worked with. Eventually, that led to an appropriate workplace comments email and new rules. Problems with the complainer in general. That side of things continued for the rest of the time she worked there.
So I finally arrived at my customer’s office and started doing what I was there for. Usually, it was fixing a network issue, as they had a very crappy network. Not because we built it poorly, but because they were cheap and didn’t want to put money into the infrastructure, so we did the best we could with what we had. I think they were exclusively using wireless and there was interference in the back room they called an office. I’m also pretty sure there was a storm the night before and one of the systems lost power. It was their “server,” as they were sharing all of their data from one computer that we created a mini network from. More like host and clients than a true network. Anyway, I got them up and running again and one of the users had issues with their email. Deep breath on this one. One of the users told all of the others about this great email program that allowed them to use animated emoji in the email. Just click on the link at the bottom and install the program. It hijacks your mail client and becomes the default and you are good to go. Unfortunately, it siphoned info and sold the addresses to spam lists. As I’m looking at the email (the client had lots of problems and I really shouldn’t have been supporting it, but we did whatever we were asked at the time), I noticed this message about a litter of lab pups. It looked so familiar, but it was not sent to or from anyone at my office. I then realized that this was spam, and the puppies were either not real (well, they existed to be in the picture, but the sob story attached probably wasn’t true), or already taken care of. Who knows, maybe they did become cake batter.
Enter Stormy, or rather, exit Stormy. A few months earlier, my friend, Sarah’s beautiful Siberian husky/wolf hybrid escaped from their fenced-in area and got hit by a car. She was devastated, and it made her not ever want to have a dog again. Her husband (legally separated) worked an area by Universal and found a dog walking on the side of the road. No tags or other markings. They tried to find the owners but could not. As they were experienced with the breed (well kinda, someone figured they all look the same so they are the same), someone suggested they take care of it. The dog was given to another home and that only lasted a few days because she was a terror of sorts it seemed. While my friend had her, she ate an entire package of bacon off a countertop in a matter of seconds. The dog was returned and I ran into it on the way to pick up my “date.” Sarah’s kid answered the door and this huge beast of a dog pulled him out, dragging him all the way to see me, and then around the yard. This was a beautiful dog. It had a puppy face with a small snout and little perky ears and lots of playful energy. We went on our way and I didn’t think too much of it.
As time progress, they had no one that would take the dog off their hands and I was asked if I wanted her, never expecting a yes from me. My friend knew I liked snow dogs, as I said, in passing, I always wanted a Malamute. After stewing for two weeks on an email about puppies, I immediately said yes.
Growing up, I lived above a family that owned two huskies. They might have been Malamutes, and looking back, I would love to say they were. They were huge black and white balls of fluff. One of them hated kids because he was taunted by them as they would pass by the fenced yard every day. To me, they were just there. I really don’t recall much about them and I really would have expected more interaction and thus memories, but I was between five and seven, and there were so many memories that I have forgotten.
The reality of the agreement came to light. I needed to pick up this beast and name it as well. What does one do when they have to come up with a name? Hit the internet/books. We planned on the trade (my life for her life in a sense) to happen on a Wednesday, but my friend was sick and wasn’t able to bring her, and we wanted to do a proper introduction. This gave me time and we spoke on the phone while I rattled off names. I started looking at common names, but as I am me, and this was a snow dog, I had to go to the Yukon to find something. Who better to have a name for a dog from Alaska (we decided she was an Alaskan malamute) than the Yukon poet Robert W. Service. So I started pouring through his poems, after I gave up on names by Jack London and started mentioning them to my friend who had the dog on the other end. She started calling them out one by one and no reaction. Then “Labelle.” She perked up. We tried “Belle,” and she barked back. Belle it was. Well, technically, I was sticking with Labelle for proposes of completion on paperwork, but I always called her Belle.
Two days passed and I finally got to see my puff of fur and energy. My friend came over in a truck so she could drop off the crate, accouterment, and, of course, the dog. I greeted them at my front gate and opened the truck door. Belle jumped into my arms. I wish I were making this up, but it actually happened. It was real. She literally jumped into my arms. It was also real that she wasn’t that big. Perspective is an amazing thing. Small kid and dog make a dog look much bigger. I grabbed her and we got back in the truck and went to a local pet store to pick up the other things one needs for a dog. Got a new bowl and food… and a waterer like hamsters use. I actually don’t recall if we got her treats. Thinking about it, I probably didn’t and should have. We went back to my house and set up the crate, set down the bowl, and set up the waterer. Let her run around my house and get the lay of the new land for her. I sat on the couch and she jumped in my lap. She was just a little too big for me to deal with, but looking back, she was a perfect size. Belle sized. She licked me then as well. I broke her of the licking, unless on command, and the lapdog nature pretty quick. She still wanted attention until the end, but she was less in your face after a day or two.
So the next day (a Friday), I went to work. Put her in the crate, and all day, wondered what she was doing. I got home and was greeted at the door. OK, let’s think about this for a second. Crated the dog, went to work, and was greeted by the dog. And there was a mess on the floor. This seemed to be one thing Belle was really good at… Making a mess. I checked the crate and it seemed fine. It was held together by string at the bottom, but there wasn’t enough room for her to fit through, so I thought. The next day the same thing happened. That was the day I should have taken care of her. My first weekend with her, and I was working. It was a long day too. I was installing a server and redoing a network. I think it was a 12-13 hour Saturday. That’s bad for any dog to be contained, and she did not like being contained in general, but a dog with separation anxiety, that was really bad. So there she was, at the door again, but alone for many hours at this point. And queue zip ties. Zip ties are like the plastic equivalent of duct tape. I zipped the bottom of the crate and the problem went away. Well, that particular problem. The new issue was where the crate would be when I got home, as she was moving the crate all over the house when trying to get out of it. Looking back, I know I did not do it right. She was a street dog and a Malamute. They don’t like to be contained. At some point, I ordered every book I could find on Malamutes on Amazon and read them all. This containment issue was known. Like huskies, they were known as escape artists. And she was. We saw that.