We all know that humans can often develop strong emotional bonds with their pets. Indeed, many of us consider the animals with which we share our homes to be a part of the family. So when this man learned that his dog was terminally ill, he naturally determined to make the most of their last days together.
The man in question is Robert Kugler, a U.S. Marine from Broken Bow, Nebraska. Nine years ago, Kugler adopted a female chocolate Labrador called Bella, and the two formed an incredible bond. In fact, it was a closer relationship than anything that the veteran had previously experienced.
What’s more, Bella has helped Kugler through some tough times. Within the last decade, for instance, the vet has seen a lot of tragic loss in his family. “I lost my brother in Iraq in 2007 and my oldest sister in a car accident two Easters ago,” Kugler told Mashable.
So it was a very sad day in May 2015 when Kugler took his faithful Bella to see a veterinarian about a shoulder injury. That’s because, unfortunately, the vet soon diagnosed Bella with osteosarcoma, or terminal bone cancer. Moreover, Kugler was presented with an ultimatum: put Bella down, or amputate her leg and give her a little extra time.
Kugler reported that the vet said, “If you don’t want to take the leg you should put her down today, because she’s in so much pain.” Still, the vet continued, amputation “won’t save her, because the cancer is in her lungs, and you’re looking at 3-6 months.”
Consequently, Bella had her front left leg amputated. Fortunately, she appeared to adjust easily to life as a tripawd and seemingly loved the attention that she now drew. After several months, though, Kugler decided to take a final farewell trip with his best friend. “I just didn’t want her to be gone one day when I came home,” he said of his decision.
Therefore, in November 2015, Kugler took Bella on a road trip to Chicago to attend the Marine Corps Ball. But what started out as a short farewell adventure and bonding experience would turn into something much more epic for the two keen travelers.
Indeed, they both enjoyed the trip so much that they just kept on heading east. They started visiting states and historical landmarks along the way, too, and have shared some incredible experiences together. Highlights of the trip so far have included, for example, hitting up Cleveland and Niagara Falls, as well as taking some time to get back to nature in the Adirondack Mountains.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing, though. For instance, in the Adirondacks, “Bella insisted on coming up to the waterfall with me and a friend I had made in town. Once she got up there she couldn’t make it down. I tried showing her a few options that I thought would be a good route and she looked at me like ‘Dad, I need help,’” Kugler told Mashable.
He continued, “Something about scooping her up and carrying her off of the rocks and across the water really strengthened the bond at that very moment. As if I were telling her ‘I got you, and I always will.’”
But they aren’t alone in this adventure; he and Bella have an extended support network. “We traveled for five months, and covered thousands of miles… with many havens on couches and guest beds of the friends I’ve been fortunate enough to make across the country in my short lifetime,” Kugler wrote on his website.
They’ve covered a heck of a lot of ground too, visiting famous monuments such as the Capital Building and Lincoln Memorial. “I feel like right now this is my purpose. It’s the chapter in my life right now just exploring with my dog,” Kugler said in a WOWT interview.
One state that didn’t go down too well with Bella was, surprisingly, Florida. Indeed, while the Sunshine State offered a lot of interesting attractions, it also left Bella feeling over-heated. “The cold is easier to combat with a dog than the heat,” Kugler informed CNN, adding that the warm Florida waters were not exactly “refreshing.”
Meanwhile, the duo’s farewell trip was almost cut short when Kugler was called to Kansas City to help out at a veterans’ organization. But it was this break that reaffirmed for Kugler the importance of what he was doing.
“We lingered at home for nearly three months, working a little, trying to put the story together to share it. But it didn’t feel complete,” Kugler told Mashable. “She was still here, with so much life left. So, when the chance came to give a bud a ride to North Carolina, I decided to finish the southern route and make it to the Keys, which we did!”
During this portion of their amazing trip, Bella had the opportunity to sample key lime pie, visit the Grand Ole Opry in Tennessee and roll around on Atlanta’s Turner Field. The resulting adventure was something Kugler just had to share with the world, and his subsequent story went viral on social media.
“Often times I’m asked why I share so much… and my answer is that with all the negativity, pain, and division I see in this world and on the news… I just want to share something positive,” Kugler wrote on Facebook. Incidentally, Kugler also has an Instagram account to chronicle his adventures with Bella.
Their social media accounts, moreover, are certainly inspiring others to live in the moment. “Bella joined me on an adventure… to encourage others to get out and explore, [and] inspire those with disabilities to continue to love their lives,” one of Kugler’s social media posts reads.
As for Bella’s life expectancy, Bella is already 14 months post-surgery and still “doing pretty darn awesome,” according to Kugler. Still, he doesn’t know how long their next trip will last. Nevertheless, he’s no longer leasing his house, and he has his stuff stashed in a barn while their travels continue.
“This is one of the biggest connections I’ve ever had to another living being. I don’t care that it’s a dog. We take on these animals, which means we’re gonna take on their life and their passing,” Kugler told CNN. “To be there with them when they pass is the greatest gift you can give anybody.” So what is the message we should take from Bella? “Wag more; bark less,” said Kugler.