Dog Blog: Tommy's girl, Bella

Puppies are always cute, and adding one to your household is a joy, a challenge, a commitment, and a royal pain in the behind. They do not come with instructions. But with a great deal of tenacity you can get through puppy training and get to the doggie stage unscathed.

One day, while on Main Beach boardwalk, I stopped to talk to a man named Tom with a new puppy, Bella. After the normal cooing and adoring comments, I asked him how he came across the name. He said it was the name of his favorite bartender in the old days.

"What, pray tell, were the old days?" I asked.

He answered, "Oh, I was a drunk for many years, got tired of it and quit. But I will always remember Bella the barmaid. I was in the Marines for 26 years, surrounded by hundreds of troops and retired as a master gunnery sergeant, found a neighborhood tavern populated with a lot of drunks and drank for several more years, then quit drinking. I now had money in my pocket but I got lonely."

He knew he needed a new drinking buddy — so what if the drink was water? He continued his story.

"Then I met a lady trying to walk puppies in Heisler Park. They were pit bull puppies. I asked, 'Are you selling them, if so how much?' " She said $50. I said, 'You got a deal.' "

He whipped out the only $50 he had, save $5, and wound up with his new drinking buddy.

It was a girl, but she was just so cute he could not resist. His first stop was the grocery store to purchase puppy food. He was a pretty scruffy-looking guy and did not appear to have had much to eat himself, but the puppy was an obvious priority.

At the time, Tom was homeless, but he was no longer drinking his retirement money, so he could now afford a home for himself and Bella.

What a match: a homeless Marine and a pit bull. Both frighten men, you would assume; however, this little pit was very timid. Everything that moved faster than she did made her jump. She could fit in the palm of his hand, and this is where she stayed most of the time.

She had no problem letting any passersby know how large a bark she had, and she carried the attitude of, "Wait till you see the body that goes with this full-size bark!" Safely tucked away in Dad's hand, she could make all the noise she wanted, ignoring his persistent command (Marines do a lot of commanding) not to bark. We parted ways, and I wished him luck with the puppy and new upcoming residence.

Some weeks later I ran into Tom and Bella at Main Beach. By now Bella knew her name, responded to some commands, and had quit biting everything in sight. She had yet to learn how to sit still or quit barking. I asked how it was going and wouldn't you know it, he proceeded to tell me in detail all that Bella (his prize) was up to.

The first thing he talked about was his new home and Bella's first house: He had found her a box to sleep in much like the ones he had been sleeping in. She figured out how to get out of the box the first night she was in it. She then began to whine at the end of his bed — so guess who wound up sleeping with Dad.

It was a sleepless night for Dad, fearing he would roll over on his three pounds of puppy. Then it was feeding manners.

"You eat puppy food! Not leaves, sticks or my shoestrings," he said. "This is your bowl and this is my plate; never the two shall meet. Your food goes from the bowl to your mouth, not all over the floor. Walking around the house with your mouth open with food falling out of it is not ladylike."

Next was the "not pooping in the house" training. After getting up in the middle of the night to relieve himself and stepping in what he knew was not his doing, he decided the next lesson would be housebreaking. Have you ever tried to housebreak an 8-week-old female pup? They are way too fast to catch them at it, and punishing after the fact is fruitless. You literally have to follow them around the house; thank God they sleep a lot.

He tried everything. A snap on the snout and a sturdy "no!" (Marines do the sturdy "no" thing well). This technique was not working even when followed with a trip outside. Second attempt was to rub the snout in the duty — a light spank on the tukhus with the accompanying "no!" didn't work.

So what's a man to do? Go to the library and get a book on puppy potty training. Much to his surprise, he found a whole row filled with puppy potty training reading material and became an expert on puppy potty training in no time. The suggested paper training seemed to work the best. He then proceeded to tell me what a great tool the Coastline Pilot was, if properly shredded for this endeavor. Not something we like to hear from our readers.

The housebreaking is still on going and anticipated to be successful. On to the next lesson: what is a toy and what is not a toy. After chasing down the last roll of toilet paper he had — after it had been totally unrolled and half-chewed up — it was time to invest in puppy toys.

Off to the CVS Tom went. He found a toy she could cuddle with: a nice furry weasel that was twice her size and had a squeaky head and tail. Miss Smarty Tail learned how to make it squeak first day (she is a quick study) and Dad's full night's sleep were now just catnap after catnap. She also learned to run around the yard with it in her mouth and between her legs, tripping over it every third step. His first outing without her, a total of 10 minutes, was a disaster — the house looked like the site of a riot, but her saving grace was that she greeted him at the door, gift in mouth (his sock) and wagging her tail franticly. It appeared her tiny tail might fly off if she wagged it any harder.

Because Dad sits on the couch and watches TV, Bella decided that couch-sitting and TV-watching made you a human and decided that she would acquire this talent. She was relentless in her efforts to get on the couch, which was very difficult being only 3 ½ inches tall. She tried climbing the couch cover and scratching her way up and whining to get picked up and put on the couch — all to no avail. She found that the "run and jump as high as you can" method worked as long as her aim was correct. After bouncing off the coffeetable several times, she finally got the knack of it. If the TV is off, she will sit in front of it and beg that it be turned on, then sit on the couch and watch whatever is on (paid programming is a favorite).

Some of Tom's informed solutions are: Take up the food bowl early in the day so there are no nighttime accidents; hide the toilet paper; don't put shoestrings in your shoes; put "squeaky" outside at bedtime; leave the TV on if you leave, or never leave home without her.

PEGI LOPEZ lives in Laguna Beach. Anyone with a funny or interesting story about their pet may send it to her at

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