Bella the Guardian
A 1965 photo of Steve Stone and Bella playing outdoors in Finland when she was a year and a half old. Already at this age, Bella had induced eight or ten Finnish families to invest in the importation of a Stafford so that the Breed was quickly on its way to becoming the most popular smooth-haired terrier breed in the country.
A 1965 photo of the Stone family: Bella in Steve's lap, Eva-Marie age five, Maini, and baby Mark -- all riding in the Stone vehicle, a 1963 Messerschmitt "cabin roller," basically the cockpit of the Messerschmitt 109-G fighter plane with the motor, wings, and tail assembly missing, powered by a 10-hp two-stroke motorcycle engine and rolling on two front wheels and one rear wheel at 75mpg (gasoline costs something like $4.50 per gallon in Finland!).
The Stone family returned from Finland to Pasadena, California, in 1966. My Dad and Mom who lived in Altadena would visit us (by "us" I mean mainly our children Eva-Marie and Mark) almost every day. If they arrived in the daytime when we were home, they got the "big hello" from Bella (Bandits Belle-lettres) and Brutus (Bandits Firestreak Red Rover). If my parents arrived at night when we were home, they got a guarded "hello." If they arrived in the daytime when we had to be away, in order to let them empty out, they were barely tolerated.
While nothing untoward happened, my folks decided not to come to our home at night when we were away. In the slang of the sixties, they "just got those vibes."
A 1968 photo of Bella as a five year old, almost the only reasonably good one extant. She had an amazing air of authority and would walk right through a snarling mass of fractious Staffords, parting to let her pass as the Red Sea parted for Moses.
Bella remains the primary reason that American fanciers today can enjoy having Staffords. She was, as they say, one of a kind. She had character and charisma. Only thirteen and a half inches high and weighing a mere twenty-two pounds, she was well-nigh perfect in every other respect. To the best of my knowledge, she remains the only Stafford in Breed history to become the first registered Staffordshire in two separate countries. She became the driving impulse behind the founding of the Breed in both Finland and the USA.
Bella was quick, I mean really quick. A Finnish friend described her as "Quicker than a brown thought," so nimble as to defy description. When she flashed from repose to readiness, you had to be looking directly at her or you'd not see her move. (That may sound like hype, but it's not.)
In Finland, she took to guarding Mark's baby carriage (when he was in it) when they both were only six months old without urging from Maini or me. One night she heard a cat walking across the lawn more than twenty feet from our bedroom window and made the first noise anyone had ever heard from her, a deep growl that rattled the windows.
On Christmas Even, 1966, in Pasadena, following to the Finnish custom, our extended family was opening Christmas presents in our living room. I was sitting in the corner of the room. watching Bella in the center of the room as she tried to decipher what all the fuss was about when, unplanned, the door burst open as Santa Claus burst into the doorway with a hearty "Ho ho ho!."
By great good fortune I was watching Bella at the very moment she launched herself at Santa and barely had time to shout "NO!" before she got to him. She stopped in her tracks about a foot away. Maini rushed over to Bella, took her by the collar, and held her as Santa handed presents to the children and exchanged Christmas jollies with one and all.
When I saw Santa preparing to leave, I exited through the back door, ran around to the front porch, and confronted him.
"Ho ho ho, be damned!" I snarled at him. "You stupid son of a bitch, you almost bought yourself a trip to the hospital." Whereupon Santa pulled off his whiskers and hat, and I saw that Santa was actually one of my best friends, Mike Holmes, who loved Bella and with whom Bella loved to play rough and tumble.
I apologized for calling him stupid and suggested that the next time he came to visit he should not only be Mike Holmes but should look like Mike Holmes.