Belle didn’t have one home—she had several.

Will Simmons adopted the chocolate Labrador retriever when he began his Air Force career in North Carolina. When Will started his Iraq tour, Belle stayed with his parents, Bob and Julia.

“She became a member of the family and, in many ways, was comforting to us when he was in harm’s way,” Bob said of Belle’s time with them in New Jersey. “As overjoyed as we were when Will returned safely from Iraq, it was a sad day when Belle left our home to join him in Florida, where he was stationed.”

Bob said she became more of a family dog over the next two years. When Will’s job required him to travel, Belle spent weeks, sometimes months, with relatives in Louisiana. “Everyone loved Belle, and she loved everyone.”

In 2009, during a stay with Bob and Julia, Belle’s appetite was “off,” and her health began to decline. After an examination, she was diagnosed with kidney failure due to advanced Lyme disease. The family lost her in November 2011.

“I have heard it said that there is a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ dog,” Bob said. “If that’s true, then Belle was our once-in-a-lifetime dog.”

After Belle passed, Bob, a member of the first class to graduate from the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, quickly began working with the school to establish The Belle Fund for Vector-Borne Disease Research. Over the next two years, Bob and Julia built the fund through consistent contributions that were matched by Bob’s employer, Merck.

The fund supports the school’s research on vector-borne diseases in animals. A vector-borne disease, like Lyme disease, is a bacterial or viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes, ticks and fleas.

“Lyme disease—which is rampant in New Jersey—as well as other tick-borne diseases, poses significant health risks for both animals and humans worldwide,” Bob explained. “The LSU SVM has a long history of researching tick-borne and other parasitic diseases.

“Our hearts were broken when we lost Belle,” he continued. “A cure for Lyme will come too late for her, but hopefully some day we can help prevent another family member or pet from suffering a similar fate.”

Published in Cornerstone Summer and Fall 2014.