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Experiencing Alzheimer's

Bella Doolittle pets her rabbit, Beans, at her home in Glens Falls last fall. In the latest podcast, Will and Bella discuss the relationship their pets play following Bella's diagnosis with younger onset Alzheimer's disease.

Bella spends a lot more time at home now — since she left work in December, after a diagnosis of younger onset Alzheimer’s disease — but she has not been alone.

Our daughter, Zoe, gets up and goes to her job each weekday and so do I, but Bella has Beans, our bunny, keeping her company through mornings in the family room and the kitchen as she watches the news and cooks and cleans up. She has Pepper, our dog, in the afternoons, circling with excitement for their walk and leaping into the car with mad barks for their drive.

Bella and Pepper head west from our house, out Luzerne Road and across West Mountain Road, up the mountain to scope out fancy houses, through Hadley and Luzerne and then back down the mountain and into the neighborhoods of Queensbury and Glens Falls, back to the corner where we live.

Pepper rules the corner, using secret criteria to determine whom to jump up and bark at, whom to stare at from the shade and whom to stand up for against the fence, looking for some petting or to get slipped a treat.

Squirrels chatter at her from tree limbs, but those who stray onto her lawn have sometimes found to their misfortune that Pepper was faster than they calculated.

When I walk her, she stays calm, slender legs trotting along like a dancer’s, but Bella has to warn away people who approach on the sidewalk, as Pepper’s head lowers and a rumble starts in her chest.

“She’s so protective with me!” Bella says.

She lets Pepper pick their route on the walks, deciding which corners to turn and when to head home.

She keeps a supply of treats for Pepper in the kitchen and the car, and she always has a bag of “cookies” for Beans on top of his “bunny condo” in the family room. He is able to roam around the room, too, under chairs and onto the couch and through his bunny tunnel, and he will scurry into the bathroom when the door is ajar to claw at the floor mats.

“He’s such a boy,” Bella says.

His favorite spot is under her chair, and she dangles her hand down to rub his head. Pepper’s favorite spot is sprawled out between us on our bed.

“Isn’t she a great dog, Dad?” Bella says to me.

She has always cared about animals and loved her pets, but those feelings have gotten stronger over the last couple of years. In time spent together, in attention given and received, they are her closest companions.

Beans has lived with us only a couple of years, but for Pepper it has been more than 10 years, and I think she notices the changes in Bella. To Bella’s almost constant desire to show love, Pepper and Beans respond with an almost limitless desire to accept it.

After I get up in the morning, Bella and Pepper arise at their leisure. They come galumphing downstairs while I’m making toast — Pepper in the lead, Bella behind with a broad smile.

“She is so great,” she says. “Isn’t she just so beautiful?”

There is no pretense left in Bella, no covering up. She beams, filled up with pleasure and affection.

“Yes,” I say. “Yes, she is.”

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Will Doolittle is projects editor at The Post-Star. He may be reached at will@poststar.com and followed on his blog, I think not, and on Twitter at @trafficstatic.

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