In February of 2018, I lost my beloved Bull Terrier named Isabella. She had come into my life when I was thirteen and left me when I was twenty-five, married with two kids. She had seen me through all of my milestones, had followed me to every new apartment in Minnesota, to the motel in Arkansas. She helped me welcome my firstborn. We were so close we breathed in sync sometimes. But at 12 years of age, tumors in her mammary glands were destroying her and she no longer had much will to continue living. We hired a local vet to come to our house and euthanize her. It was one of the most difficult moments of my life and some days I still don’t feel whole. I have her ashes now in a box in my closet. I am looking for the perfect urn for her. But that’s not my story today. This story is about the lucky dog that came after her. The lucky dog named Fortuna.
Bella was not my first dog, though she was the first dog that I handled and finished in conformation dog shows. I trained her with the help of several mentors in the dog world and she became Champion Crescent Silmaril’s Quixotic. As a small girl, I helped my mother raise and sell two litters of American Bulldogs. Right before I got Bella, as proof of my responsibility and resolve, I helped rehab a Cocker Spaniel, obedience and house training her so that she was able to move to a forever home. I have some experience with dogs. In fact, I’ve never lived without one. My mother’s Westie, Bella’s oldest friend, is sitting at my feet as I type. Working with dogs, I learned some important life skills: responsibility, professionalism, loyalty, compassion. But Fortuna taught me more than the rest of our old companions combined.
After Bella was gone, I grieved in a strange way. I drank a little too much, argued with my father, and gave up on my studies. Then, I convinced my husband and mother (she lives with us) to cough up money for a German Shepherd puppy that we’d spotted in the newspaper. “We need a new puppy in the house,” I claimed. “It will help me remember Bella.” Though my husband was not ready for another dog, he was enchanted by the idea of owning a German Shepherd. He likes the breed but has little knowledge of it. I thought I knew enough. So we got the puppy. We named her Fortuna.
She was a beautiful dog but was under socialized and awfully scared. We thought we could easily build her confidence by taking her to the dog park, travelling to see family with her, etc. Joey, the Westie, seemed to help her settle in. Everything was more difficult than we anticipated, however. Fortuna, named after the little girl from Spirit: Riding Free on Netflix, was acting very aggressive and scaring everyone in our neighborhood with her barking. I was terrified she would hurt someone. I soon found out I was pregnant with our second child. My son was only two years old. Fortuna made me nervous but I thought it was due to my own shortcomings.
Indeed, I was not doing my best for Fortuna. I was tired in my first trimester. Extremely so. I didn’t walk her like I should have. I didn’t get the training done. This is not to say that Fortuna was not well cared for. We loved her and wanted her to be a part of the family. So we contacted some training professionals and sought their help. They explained that she was fearful and possessive; not a good combo. We started working on some small obedience tasks. I had the baby and Fortuna seemed to improve. I was feeling pretty good.
Fortuna soon decided her own fortune.
As I was standing in my laundry room, sorting laundry, my son talking a mix of Spanish and English to me at my side, Fortuna sidled in. Now in my house, for a time, there was a rule about being in the laundry room with Fortuna at the same time. The door could not be closed, the baby could not be in the room, and food could not be out. Fortuna would freak out in that room, we don’t know why. I broke my own damn rule. Fortuna freaked out. At my son. She growled and snapped at him. I grabbed her throat and shoved her backward out of the room. I walked her right to the kennel and slammed the door behind her. My baby was crying. I chalked it up to my irresponsibility and tried to be more vigilant until I could speak to my mother face to face. I knew we had a problem. My mother arrived back home some days later.
The night my mother arrived at my house, we sat on the porch, catching up. We talked about the dogs, the kids, and the garden. I held Fortuna’s leash firmly at my side, occasionally correcting her with her pincher collar. Suddenly, the French door swung open upon my dining room and Sergio burst out onto the porch. Before he could shout “¡Abue!” Fortuna leaped into the air growling towards my son. If she had been loose….well, I try not to think “What if?”.
I kept Fortuna in the kennel for a while thereafter except for walks or feeding times. When she was outside, no one else was allowed outside. I called the professionals the next day. They offered me a few names of shelters but all were full. I called the Humane Society and they said I could bring her in. I wanted rid of her. I couldn’t look at her the same and it was beyond irresponsible to keep her at this point. She was dangerous.
When I took her to the Humane Society I was turned away. She scared the volunteers working that day and I would have to wait until someone with more experience was there to bring her in. They didn’t have high hopes for her and I was sobbing when I left. I called another number they gave me. A voicemail was all I got.
I felt like a failure when I brought that dog home. I had failed my children by having a dangerous dog in the house. I had failed the dog by letting her confidence issues get out of control. And I had literally failed at getting rid of her. So I would wait another two days, I thought. I walked Fortuna and put her in the kennel for the night. She looked at me like I was a traitor.
The next morning went as usual. Everyone was kept at a safe distance from each other. I was on high alert. Until I received a text from a girl that said she worked at the professional boarding and training facility that I had sought advice from. She wanted to give Fortuna a chance but already owned a male dog. I said I would give her some money towards the spaying. We agreed to meet at 3:00 p.m. that day. I readied Fortuna’s things and her food. The girl arrived.
“Thank you so much. I’m so glad she’s going to someone who will know exactly what she needs,” I said after we had talked about Fortuna and she had introduced herself (with some barking and growling on the part of the German Shepherd) to the dog. She was not afraid and knew what she was doing. She took control immediately of Fortuna and led her to her car where she left her in her kennel with the car’s hatch open. We stood and talked some more.
“Do you want to know the main reason I was so interested in Fortuna?” she asked.
“Well, do you know what Fortuna means?”
“Oh yeah,” I replied and explained that we speak Spanish at home and that my son loved the show on Netflix about the girl and her horse.
“Well, one side of my family is Italian. And in Italian Fortuna means lucky too. That part of my family also raised German Shepherds and the craziest part is their last name is Fortuna!”
I couldn’t believe it. But it saved her life. And it taught me to follow your rules. “No big dogs around little faces,” my mother says. It also taught me to do your due diligence but know when to throw in the towel. I thought I knew enough but you can never know enough.
This experience even taught me the importance of properly grieving for someone you’ve lost. I never should have tried to replace Isabella because she is irreplaceable. Each dog is unique in personality and needs. I’ve also learned that dogs are great but kids ALWAYS come first.
Ironically, I learned, above all, the power of a good, lucky name.