In May of 2015, Robert Kugler of Broken Bow, Nebraska, was given the worst news anyone wants to hear about a loved one. The shoulder injury that his 9–year–old Chocolate Lab Bella had been dealing with turned out to be cancer — and it had spread to the lungs. Given just three to six months left together, Robert searched for a way to make their remaining time as meaningful as possible.
Doctors amputated one of Bella’s legs to relieve some of the pain. After her prognosis of six months came to an end, she was still going strong. Robert, a Marine veteran, decided to take her with him to a Marine’s ball in Chicago last November. “I just didn’t want her to be gone when I came home,” he told Omaha’s NBC WOWT. It was “time for a ride” — the words most dogs long to hear! But this ride turned into something so much more.
After their time in Chicago, Robert and Bella didn’t go home as planned. The pair decided to keep heading east. Robert wanted his best friend to see as much of the country as possible before she died.
They have visited quite a few cities, taking in landmarks, ball games, national parks, and more. After exploring around the North East, they headed south through DC for some history and all the way to the Florida Keys with many stops along the way. Robert has been documenting the whole trip on his Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter pages.
Robert has already had his share of tragedy, losing his brother in Iraq in 2007, and his sister in a car accident two years ago. He related to Mashable:
When you see lives end shortly before people get to do many of things they dream of doing, it changes your perspective on life. I feel like right now this is my purpose. The chapter in my life right now is just exploring with my dog.
Their trip so far has lasted off and on for the past eight months, stopping for extended stays in some places like Kansas City where he worked with a veteran’s organization. The besties are currently soaking up the sun in Florida, but thinking about making the drive home to Nebraska soon before heading out west. Mashable reported that Kugler ended his lease and put his belongings in storage, so that he and Bella will be ready for whatever comes next.
Though the spontaneity of the open road is what Robert craved for his last months with Bella, it has been hard at times finding places to stay. The summer heat has also been more difficult for Bella to handle than the cooler winter temps, but they’re taking whatever comes their way in stride. Their trip has inspired dozens of people and they’ve made so many new friends along the way.
Comments from social media followers have included: “Please don’t stop, keep going” and “In any way that we can help let us know.” Kugler tells WOWT of how people can help, “The biggest way is just to have a place to crash when we hit their area.”
Bella has already beat her three to six month odds – it’s been a year and a half. Could it be that the fresh air and open road are what’s keeping her afloat? Or maybe all of the adventures that she and Robert are actively enjoying account for the extended time. Perhaps she just hasn’t seen all that she needs to see yet before she’s ready to make her peaceful exit. In any case, we can’t wait to see where the road leads them next, and we wish them many, many happy days ahead.
Let’s all work to carry out their mission of love and caring by following the advice Robert gave via CNN: “Wag more. Bark less.”