Sick dog helps man fix his own broken heart

Special to Lake Murray and Northeast magazinesJanuary 21, 2014 

Jim Allison's dog Belle came into his life shortly after his wife died in 2007.

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com Buy Photo

— He had a broken heart; she had a sick heart.

Together, the man and the dog discovered and mended each other. Seven years later, their love affair and their hearts are still going strong.

It was a cold, bleak night in Georgia in December 2006, just before Christmas. Jim Allison’s wife had just passed away, and it was to be his first night alone in their home. He was feeling sad and lonely.

As he turned his car into the carport, he looked down to see a snow white dog peering up at him. Allison opened the door, and the dog jumped in without hesitation. Immediately, he named her Belle.

He doesn’t know why, but he said, “Hi, Belle.”

She wagged her tail in approval.

He asked around the neighborhood and found out that Belle just had a litter of puppies and had been roaming the streets. He took her to the pound and asked to be called immediately if nobody picked her up in the allotted time. His plan was to go back to get her if nobody claimed her, and nobody did. Next, Allison took Belle to the veterinarian, who discovered she had heartworm. Sadly, all her puppies did, too, and they all perished. But Belle survived and thrived with Allison’s care.

Belle has turned out to be a perfect companion. She doesn’t ask for much and wanted to be by Allison’s side always. And, she loves those car rides.

Nobody knows exactly how old Belle is, but they think around 10. She’s sturdily built and low to the ground with short little legs and a long body. The vets think she probably is a mix between a beagle and a Bassett hound, with a little Lab thrown in. She’s all white except for tan flecks on her ears, which flap mightily when she runs. On walks with Allison, she keeps her nose to the ground, sniffing every inch of territory.

As time went by, Allison felt he and Belle needed to be closer to family and decided to move to Chapin to be near his only daughter and son-in-law, Ameila and Alton McCoy.

Amelia thinks it’s great that her father found this sweet canine companion because he’s a caregiver.

“They were both in need” (of each other), she said.

Some people thought that Belle was an angel of sorts, maybe sent by his wife Mary to watch over him.

In March of 2008, he and Belle moved from Ocilla, Ga., to Chapin. For a long time, neighbors didn’t know Allison’s name. But they knew Belle’s and sometimes called him the man with the white hair and the white dog. Children love her and still ask if Belle can come out to play.

Allison admits he’s spoiled her rotten, giving her too many forbidden cookies whenever she barks and giving her at least a daily massage, which Belle loves. Before bedtime, they engage in play, with Allison grabbing a toy and pretending to keep it. Belle will snarl and growl in angry pretense, then run off to the bedroom where she leaps onto a chair by the bed and then up on the bed.

Allison grew up on a farm in Tennessee and learned how to talk to the animals, so he has many conversations with Belle. She listens intently and sometimes howls or barks back. She sometimes has staring contests, looking at Allison intently with her brown doe-like eyes,

She has taken over the living room sofa, where she sleeps, and eats her dog food in a bowl in the living room most of the time, too, so she won’t have to dine alone in the kitchen. She likes to be close to Allison. Though she is short-haired, she sheds those little white hairs everywhere, so when people visit and sit, or ride in the passenger seat of Allison’s car, which is Belle’s seat, their backsides are likely to appear dusted with white specks of flour or snow flakes.

Sometimes, Belle rides in the back, with her feet and legs propped up on the middle arm rest so she has a clear view of where they’re driving. She’s ever alert for any kind of activity. She loves wandering into the fenced back yard, rolling in the grass and gazing at the stars in the evening or the clouds in late afternoon. She can come and go as she pleases through the pet door on the back door. If she’s tempted to venture out, as she sometimes has, everyone is amazed at how fast those little legs can run. Allison can retrieve her by getting in his car and calling her to come for a ride. She always comes.

Allison has had dogs all his life, but there’s never been one like Belle.

“She’s my dog,” he said.

Maybe it’s the way they came to be together. Maybe it’s because of a loving relationship that grows deeper every day. Whatever the reason, they’re inseparable.

And maybe, just maybe, she might be a little angel – a little snow white dog sent to watch over a man with snow white hair.

Kay Gordon is a freelance writer based in the Midlands

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