'Not the end of the story'
Local author showcases remarkable rescue
In 2010, Cynthia Schlichting saw a photo on Facebook that changed her life forever.
Schlichting, who was raised in Spencer and graduated from Spencer High School in 1988, lives in Minneapolis with her husband. Two years ago, they were a two-dog family: Foster, a German Shepherd, and Jane, a Rottweiler.
While they were considering adopting a third, it wasn't until that photo appeared -- of the brutally mistreated pit bull in North Carolina -- that Schlichting knew they had found their next pet.
Bella's history is largely unknown, but those who treated her believed that she was a victim of dog fighting, not as a prize champion, but as a bait, or clown, dog.
"We know for a fact that Bella was a bait-dog because of the scarring where her legs were bound, and the fact that her teeth were pulled," Schlichting said.
A bait dog's teeth were often pulled so they wouldn't injure the dog they were baited for, usually the prize-winner and most valuable dog.
"I knew about dog fighting before we got Bella, but I didn't know about the 'bait,'" Schlichting said.
After reading a book on dog fighting, to better understand Bella's background, Schlichting decided that Bella's story needed to be told, to raise awareness against the brutality that she helplessly endured.
"There are countless dogs suffering the same way she did," she said. "She has survived so much."
Schlichting's book, a part-memoir, part-novel titled "As Bright as the Sun," highlights the tragedy of dog fighting.
"My No. 1 goal is to educate people on the issue of dog fighting," she said. "It's everywhere. There are countless dogs suffering the same way she did. They don't have a choice."
In "As Bright as the Sun," Bella's story begins before adoption into the Schlichting household. The adoptions of both Foster and Jane are also detailed.
"Each dog led us to the next," she said. "I wanted to highlight all of our pets, but Bella has the story that would most resonate with people."
Included within the non-fiction accounts, however, are also fictional chapters where Schlichting attempts to envision Bella's experience as a bait dog, from her perspective.
"I put myself in her shoes" she said. "I felt it was more powerful coming from her perspective. I really want to highlight that these animals are suffering."
In the fictional account, Bella's life began as a plump puppy born under a porch and adopted to a loving family. It was only after she was stolen in the middle of the night that the horrors truly began.
"Theft for dog fighting is very common," Schlichting said.
Schlichting decided to first self-publish "As Bright as the Sun," and has been receiving a "phenomenal response."
"People have been so gracious in sharing their thoughts with me," she said.
Even after incredible suffering, Bella has once again found a loving home. But her story doesn't end there.
"Bella's story is a means to an end, but it's not the end of the story," Schlichting said. "She's a different dog than when we got her, but she still has ear infections. She still has fear."
After a period of time with the Schlichtings, Bella began to recognize love once again, and she began to love in return. She and her family have found a rhythm.
"Jane and Bella are besties," Schlichting said. "Bella is (like) a puppy now."
She continued. "We can't imagine she wasn't exposed to love at some point. Bella is a star."
"As Bright as the Sun" is available from Amazon.