The Story of Bella - Video
Listen to audio interview with Jill Moss at Crufts:
I was a single woman, living a free lifestyle, and I had never owned a pet. I was a working actress and hardly at home. I had to visit a local osteopath, as I sat waiting in her living room, a bundle of white fluff jumped on my lap and it was love at first sight. Bella (then a six month old puppy) was later to become the focus of my life.
The family that owned her told me that their 8-year-old son had appeared in ‘Bisto’ television commercials and ‘Bisto’ had given Bella to them as a gift.
I later discovered that they did not have time for her that she had never socialised or been out for walks. They willingly gave me the keys to their house, and I took Bella out regularly. I was so happy to see her running around, her pink tongue hanging out of her mouth as she enjoying her newfound freedom.
Often I’d enter the house only to find her locked out in the rain, or in the shed, or in the dark, distressed and so relieved to see me. Being left alone for long periods, she had become destructive and was constantly being punished. Her spirit was low. I took her away for a weekend to the coast.
The family telephoned me to say they did not want her back, and, there and then, I was the proud owner of this beautiful creature. Bella immediately settled into my home, taking possession of the garden, and gave up her destructive ways.
A week later, the family demanded I return her to them as they had changed their minds. Eventually we agreed that if I paid them £500.00, they would hand over the ownership papers.
My life as an actress and broadcaster was erratic to say the least. However, it did bring me into contact with many celebrities and famous politicians. Living with me seemed to help Bella’s spirit flourish and, far from training her, I persuaded her to agree with me! She was a free spirit and I respected her for that.
Bella was good at letting me know all of her needs, she loved to talk and like her mum, she was a born entertainer. The way she chatted endlessly warmed my heart. I began to reply ‘woo,oo’ in her language and we had many long conversations.
Bella accompanied me wherever I worked. In fact, after sneaking her into the studios at AA road watch where I was broadcasting traffic reports on the radio, she talked to the whole of Kent and I was sacked! Bella escorted me to film premieres, gallery openings, showbiz and cultural events and she very quickly became the star wherever she went. Tony Blair, found us wandering the corridors of the House of Commons and had a long conversation with Bella where she took the opportunity to give him her opinions of his latest manifesto for that year.
Local shop owners, with strict ‘no dog signs’ on their premises, would invite her in for chats, and explained happily to other customers that Bella was not a dog, but well, a person in a furry white coat.
At The Actors Centre in London, where I attended acting classes with the likes of Glenda Jackson and Dame Judy Dench, Bella soon became a regular member of the audience and regularly brushed up on her thespian skills. I took her to castings in Soho, London, and more often than not she would get the job! Well, that’s showbiz.
Wherever we went together we became known as the glamorous chatty blondes!
Elstree flying club had summer parties and made Bella, who was always the centre of attention, an honouree flying club member.
One of her greatest attributes was her gentleness towards children and other animals. If, on the other hand, you were a male dog, you’d better watch out.
She was never in any doubt who was boss. Dominating but always gentle, people and animals alike knew where they stood!
Life with Bella was full of fun and adventures. Bella’s vocal talents led her to be a star on ‘whose been framed’, where she was a seen kissing a hamster on the nose and telling long stories to whoever would listen. I could go nowhere without being stopped by people who felt compelled to touch her, and she was constantly being invited in for tea by elderly people we met. Bella became a pet companion and gave pleasure to a lot of people who suffered from loneliness.
St James’s Palace in London invited me to a ball, and of course, I wore white.
Bella had long chats with Princess Margaret. Royalty adored her for her wilfulness and determined attitude to life. When we met Prince Charles himself at a polo match, he pointed to us and said “What a stunner”. Of course, he meant Bella not me!
A born flirt, Bella loved the guys! Many a charming lad would comment about the beauty walking along side me. Often drivers of expensive cars would park up; get out to make friends with her. In the back of my car, she was always making eyes at the men. Lorry drivers, police, and many more pulled up at traffic lights to ask me what kind of gorgeous creature was Bella…and she made the most of this attention.
Bella adored her food. Many London restaurants were known to prepare special dishes to cater for her expensive taste. Treats were not given to Bella. Oh no. We would make a visit to a pet shop, where she would go to the shelf and take whatever took her fancy, this amused the owners so much we were never charged for the half bitten biscuits on the floor.
Tragedy struck our life in 2000, when my partner was killed in a plane crash. Had it not been for Bella waking me every morning with her determination to give me a good talking to, I dread to think how I might have managed to overcome the loss.
Bella’s latter years brought the onset of arthritis. We made our walks shorter but more often; I took her for regular hydrotherapy at the Royal Veterinary College (where once again her star qualities shone), and she was photographed swimming on the front page of the Royal Veterinary College’s newsletter.
In addition to twice-weekly swims, regular short walks, and a new diet designed for arthritis, Bella had weekly acupuncture sessions with homeopathic vet Richard Allport. It became my priority to ensure that Bella had the best veterinary care and that she did not suffer any more than she needed to. I was glad to make this commitment to her.
Never a day went by in my life when I did not appreciate the very special qualities that Bella possessed. She knew what she wanted and didn’t want, and this made her unique. Everyone who came in to contact with her was mesmerised by her beauty and endeared by her fun personality. (Please read tributes)
Bella and I were meant to be together. The incredible bond which we shared was ever apparent to all those who knew us. We were devoted to each other and even though there were times we had to be apart, we were never separated in spirit.
It is for this reason that what followed is a tale of tragedy
In July 2004, Bella was enjoying her usual chase of a squirrel, when her cruciate ligament ruptured. I rushed her into the Medivet 24 hour hospital in Hendon, where previously Bella received great care.
Her usual vet performed emergency surgery before leaving for a three-week vacation. A week later, Bella was off her food and seemed in great pain. Another vet who knew Bella visited us at home and prescribed pain medication, before leaving for a two-week vacation.
Following this visit, her leg became swollen, before bursting open with pus. With both vets away, she was admitted back into the Hendon hospital where she remained for a week. There seemed no clear plan for her treatment, and many conflicting opinions were offered to me. I visited throughout each day and evening, but became increasingly concerned about the treatment she was receiving. Antibiotics were given (by now this was two and half weeks after the initial surgery) and the hands of vet staff squeezed the wound trying to expel pus. Bella had a high temperature and was mostly in a small cage in the main hospital with no fan. A heavy coat and temperature combined she was distressed and uncomfortable. My requests to provide her with air conditioning went unmet until, in the end, I had to find the air conditioning unit myself. She had a persistent cough, which alarmed me. Although I was told it was due to irritation of the windpipe following the surgery, I found it difficult to feel convinced.
Unhappy with the care she received and following the discovery that her wound was infected; I contacted dog magazines to find out about orthopaedic specialist vet care in my area. I demanded that Medivet refer Bella to Davies White Specialist Veterinary Hospital in Bedfordshire.
Had I not moved Bella out of the Hendon hospital she would have died that day. After examination by the vet at Davis White, she was rushed in for emergency surgery. Undetected by Medivet, Bella was now suffering from a urinary-tract infection and the onset of pneumonia, and was in septic shock. One week in the Medivet, hospital had resulted in this severity of infection.
During the emergency operation at Davies White, Bella’s wound was re-opened and washed, all of the nylon sutures that had been placed there by Medivet were removed, and antibiotic beads were inserted into the joint. Staff at Davies White did not think that Bella would survive given her age and the severity of the infection, and it was only later that they discovered how hard she would fight to live.
During that afternoon, I sat on the grass verge outside the hospital. Then later, as Bella fought for her life, I fought the vets to let me have regular visits with her. How could I explain the importance Bella had to me, and the importance I had to her? How could I explain, without seeming to be completely off the rails, that Bella needed me to be there with her? I was determined that if she were to die, I was not going to let her go without me being there.
Over the next week, she made a vast improvement. I realised that, had I known about the care and treatment that Davies White gave, I would have insisted on her being transferred much earlier. Even when it became known that her infection was MRSA, their approach was professional, caring and, above all, effective.
Bella was discharged home after three weeks and Davis White returned responsibility for her continuing care to Medivet. (As they are a referral centre only) The plan was to wait about two months and then do reconstructive surgery on the leg on the assumption that she would continue to improve. Sadly, it didn’t happen. Bella deteriorated and needed another emergency admission to Medivet when her condition suddenly worsened.
What followed for her and me was a living hell.
Confined with Bella who was now critically ill in a consulting room, our last 48 hours together were a nightmare in which I watched as confused and frightened veterinary nurses, afraid of becoming infected themselves, abandoned her, and vets gave me conflicting advice. It was down to me to change her bedding and incontinence pads, take her temperature, and cool her fever with wet towels. Left to care for her myself, I could only hope to give her the comfort of my presence and then the release that she finally had to have as she was by now in organ failure.
Bella died of MRSA for two reasons. Firstly, the surgery for her cruciate ligament infected her with MRSA and this went undetected by the variety of vets treating her for three weeks. Secondly, I didn’t know there were such things as specialist veterinary centres, and had to take it upon myself to find Bella the best care once I lost faith in Medivet.
Today Bella and I would still be together
Had I known that MRSA existed in dogs at all and been aware of some of the symptoms to watch for, I would have been alerted to the risks; had I questioned the veterinary care she was receiving I might have saved her life. And, had I been aware of places like Davies White, the infection could have been prevented from spreading through her body and ending her life prematurely and with suffering.
Had Medivet not been in denial about the existence of MRSA in their hospital and completely inadequate to provide barrier nursing, I would not have had to be confined in a room watching Bella suffer as nurses refused to treat her. The trauma of this memory continues to haunt me.
Bella died of MRSA because of ignorance and incompetence. She should still be with me now and this is a fact I have to live with.
I hope that Bella’s story will alert dog owners to the risks that exist in veterinary clinics and hospitals. It is not just the risk of contamination through surgery, but also the risk that MRSA DOES exist in animals that just like us can become colonised and be susceptible to further infection at any time.
It is my hope that Bella’s premature and unnecessary death will go some way towards making important changes in the field of veterinary medicine.
MRSA is crossing the barrier from human to animal
MRSA exists in small animals and if caught in time in most cases can be successfully treated.
What needs to be done for the future
More research into how small animals become colonised and infected with MRSA.
The British Veterinary Association and Royal College of vets need to implement strict guidelines for vets and nursing staff in how to avoid and control life-threatening infections.
Veterinary hospitals need to receive clear advice on barrier nursing techniques
Vets need to clean up their act, their theatres and their attitudes.
Animals dying of infections post-routine surgery is not bad luck
It is negligence!