If you have ever had a dog, you know that they can end up being a part of your family very quickly. That’s what makes it so hard to see them suffering and how the tears come when you eventually have to say goodbye. For those that have ever had dogs (or just love animals in general), bring some Kleenex for this story because it’s a very emotional one.
Our story starts with Robert Kugler, a Nebraska marine who adopted a chocolate lab puppy named Bella nearly a decade ago. Kugler and Bella were inseparable over the years, but they received some devastating news in May 2015. Bella had been limping around a bit, and Kugler thought at first that she had just experienced a shoulder injury, so he took her to the veterinarian. It turns out that it wasn’t just an injury, it was a bone cancer diagnosis.
Sadly, Kugler received the option to either put her down then and there, or amputate her leg to give her a few more months to live. Not wanting to depart with his best friend so soon, Kugler decided on the amputation. Right around that time, Kugler had just finished school and was planning on a cross country trip, but he decided to change things up a bit since “I just didn’t want her to be gone one day when I came home.”
Kugler ended up still going on the trip, but the new plans had Bella tagging along with him in a final farewell tour for the dog that had been given six months more to live at most. Kugler and Bella hopped into his SUV and set their sights on seeing some of the most memorable spots that the United States has to offer. It started out with the Marine Corps Ball in Chicago, and has since included stops in Detroit, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and a lot more along the way.
It has been more than a year since the two embarked on their trip, either sleeping inside of the SUV or sleeping on the couch at a friend’s house. Since Bella was only supposed to live for six months, Kugler has sort of run out of spots to visit after heading east from Nebraska. He has said now that he plans on stopping back home for a little bit before heading west and seeing the sites of state parks and hopefully getting to some cooler temperatures. Their most recent stop was in Florida, and Kugler said that the heat has been rough for Bella.
Kugler continues to plug along on his journey with Bella, which has turned into an inspirational trip. When people caught wind of his travels on social media, he and his dog became a beacon of hope. Kugler said that “I want to inspire people to get outside and live. Love each other for who we are and make friends.”
Kugler has met a lot of new friends on his trip (which is much easier when you have a cute dog palling around with you). Still, he thinks about the day where he eventually has to say goodbye. Kugler said that “Some days I’m completely prepared. I pictured her just swimming out to sea. But there’s other days when I’m like, oh my god, I can’t bear the thought of it.”
When she does go, Kugler has said that “To be there with them when they pass is the greatest gift you can give anybody,” and that he at least gave her a heck of a trip before she passed. When the trip is over, Kugler will also be volunteering with veterans charity organizations that he has been able to help with awareness from Bella.
There will come a day when Bella and Kugler have to depart, it happens with all dogs and their owners, but a lot of good and a lot of inspiration have come from this story of two best friends seeing the country together.