Who is in the photo at right?
I’m Shannon Gusy, a San Diego-based writer, animal advocate and eating disorder survivor. This is Bella, a three-year-old Miniature Poodle mix who I adopted at a local humane society. She is just six pounds, so she comes with me just about everywhere!
What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?
We’re at the Goldfish Point Cafe in La Jolla, California, right on the ocean. I’m working on my memoir and Bella is tilting her head at the seals barking in the distance. She is chewing on a tasty milk-bone, but praying that I will drop some of my breakfast burrito (which she undoubtedly prefers over the milk-bone).
I’m having a vanilla latte, steaming hot and delicious, as they always are here.
Any treats for you or Bella on this occasion?
Whenever I write, Bella is in my lap, sometimes resting her chin on my wrist as I’m typing. She’s the most affectionate dog I’ve ever met (and I’ve met a lot of dogs), and provides me with an indescribable amount of love, emotional support and comfort. For this reason, I can’t help but spoil her. I will admit that I have a fresh cookie in my bag right now from a doggie bakery down the street.
How were you and Bella united?
When I was working at the humane society, a litter of puppies came in that I fell in love with. For the first two years I worked at the humane society, I was perhaps the only employee without a pet. People would say, “Oh my God! What will-power you have! How do you not adopt them all!?” Well, the truth was that I wanted to. I desperately wanted to. But I had also made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t adopt until I had one solid year of recovery from bulimia. Adopting a dog is to become a parent, and I could barely take care of myself. When I adopted Bella [as a puppy, photo left], I felt like I’d been waiting for her all my life.
How did Bella get her name? Any nicknames?
Bella was a random choice. Her middle name is Boo because we adopted her around Halloween. This has lead to the nicknames Bella Boo and Boo Boo. When she gets out of the bath and her hair is all wet, we call her Pierra—it just feels right. We also call her Linguini because she’s built like a noodle.
You recently published a terrific essay in Salon titled "How dogs rescued me from an eating disorder." I take it that the essay is from your memoir-in-progress. Can you tell us more about the book?
Shelter dogs are my heroes, my vital inspiration, my truth. I’ve suffered for years from the disease of addiction. I’m not like the girl who has a bad breakup, eats a few pints of ice-cream, feels bad about it the next day, and goes back to eating normally. I use ice-cream like a knife to tear myself apart. There are people who eat too much or too little, feel the negative consequences of that, get some help, and move on. But then there are the hopeless ones: the ones who relapse the day they get out of rehab; the ones who Jenny Craig, Bob Green, Weight Watchers, and even Oprah can’t fix; the ones who get lap-bands only to burst them. There are hopeless addicts all over the world, and I’m one of them. Nothing worked for me—not therapy, not religion, not medication, not countless hours in the self-help section, not rehab. What I needed to heal me was something that moved beyond the physical and mental aspects of my disease. I needed a source of healing that touched me emotionally and spiritually, and for me, that was shelter dogs. My book is about those remarkable dogs and how they helped me.
Who are Bella's best pet-pals?
Oh boy, where to begin. After I adopted Bella and she was clear of all her puppy shots, I brought her to work with me every day at the humane society. She had a boyfriend named Skippy, and was a huge fan of a three-legged Pit Bull named Finely a few cubicles away. She loves big dogs, and adores a Rhodesian Ridgeback names Simba, a Weimaraner named Diesel, and a Shepherd named Pua.
Where is Bella's favorite outdoor destination?
Bella has three favorite dog beaches: Ocean Beach Dog Beach, Coronado Dog Beach, and Del Mar Dog Beach. She loves them all. She loves to dig in the sand and roll around in gross things and pick up seaweed and sticks and play chase with other dogs. I often go to these beaches to write, but I usually get distracted because there is just so much canine happiness all around me--I just sit there and soak it all up like the rays!
Squeaky toy, ball, stick...?
This is actually a tough question. Squeaky toy if she is at home with me. Ball if she has an audience (she only plays fetch with an audience). And stick or seaweed or anything she can pick up in her mouth at dog beach.
Cat, postman, squirrel...?
Cat. The accounting office at the humane society kept some of the adoptable cats who had trouble on the adoption floor. Daily, Bella visited them. She thought they were just amazing (I’m not sure the feeling was mutual).
What is Bella's best quality?
Her heart. She’s the most loving dog I’ve ever known.
If Bella could change one thing about Californians, what would it be?
More than once at dog beach, guys with giant surfboards balanced on their heads have come to say hello to her. Bella is scared of those surfboards, and wishes the surfer dudes would put them down before they come say hi.
If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Bella could speak, which actor should do her voice?
Julia Roberts. Because she’s incredible, and so is my little Bella.
If Bella could answer only one question in English, what would you ask her?
Do you know, my dearest friend, how much you mean to me?
Visit Shannon Gusy's Facebook page.