As August rounds itself out, I have been thinking about the last twelve months. The past year has been the most difficult we have ever endured – sometimes I think the hits will never stop (but that’s a different post entirely – or three or four or…) But at each step there has also been amazing joy and happiness. So today I want to tell you about the little ray of chaos that just turned one year old – Stella.
When the company I worked for tossed my department off the roof, it was on the heels of having lost one of our dogs to old age. In our house, when one animal passes, we believe they are giving their place to someone else in need.. All our animals have come from shelters, dropped on our doorstep, found hiding under the porch, brought to us by students at midnight in 17° weather, or just shown up at the right time. We have given a home (messy, chaotic, overflowing, and sometimes insane home) to a grand total of 17 animals. Technically there have been 11 cats and 6 dogs, but in our house, they don’t always know in which category they belong. So when our furry family had an opening, Stella found her way in.
Stella is… well, Stella. I don’t think I have a snowball’s chance in h-e-double-hocky-sticks of really capturing what is so unique about Stella but I’m going to try. First off, she totally misrepresented herself as a pit bull. Being lovers of the most misunderstood breed out there (again that’s a different post as well), we started looking at shelters that focus on pit bull rescues. Stella’s mom was brought into the shelter having been found wandering, battered, cut, scared, starving, and very pregnant. She was a pit bull/lab mix but showed mostly pit traits (trust me here, she really looked mostly pit) and the dad must have been some kind of demented yorkshire terrier/cocker spaniel/shih tzu mix. Whatever her pedigree, Stella became our foster pup at 7 weeks old. It was perfect timing too as our furnace had just been red tagged, it was a very cold October in Philly, and she gave off heat like you had plugged her into an outlet and set her on high. Her favorite place to snuggle was inside my sweatshirt with her head down one sleeve. This was a pretty good arrangement although I think it accounts for some of my typos in the job applications I submitted. (Don’t judge – I’m sticking with that story!)
She had the biggest, softest feet I have ever seen and could sneak up on you so quietly that we finally put a bell on her collar so we could tell where she was. This also helped with housebreaking because if the bell stopped – we knew she had stopped and was, let’s just say, in need. This gave her the first of her many nicknames: Stella Bell – usually employed when she is randomly jumping around just to make it ring.
Stella plays for the pure joy it creates. She is chaos in motion with the attention span of four year old that has discovered espresso. In two minutes flat she can empty her toy box out, get stuck in a cat house, hit herself on the head repeatedly with a shoe, make 16 circuits of the living room – jumping off the back of the chair each time, pounce on her favorite cat Darby, chase her tail, catch her tail, and with said tail in mouth, continue turning in circles fast enough to create a mini tornado. And then for the next 28 minutes will repeat the process throwing in games like – run up and down the stairs with a flying leap off the 4th from the bottom, crash into the wall, hang on Victor’s face/tail/back legs/ear, drag Darby across the floor by his head, find a calcium pill on the floor and throw it in the air over and over again, play tug with Victor using the smallest piece of toy around, pause to lick Mike behind the ear, and boom! she’s done.
When she’s outside it’s like watching Short Attention Span Theater. She will be following a butterfly around the yard and suddenly be distracted by a grasshopper, turning on a dime to chase it instead. She’ll find small rocks and toss them in the air with enough precision they come down on top of her head. The garden snakes present an amazing opportunity to stalk, hunt, dig, and then toss the shedded snake skins in the air. (Are you sensing a theme here?.) Playing fetch is pure joy. She starts from the patio and leaps with all four legs extended fully to the front and back (think Road Runner cartoon style) then grabs the toy and takes a 360° turn around the yard before dropping it at your feet. When you call her to come inside, she has to check all her favorite places first – just to make sure the snakes are safe, the crickets are where they should be, that nothing had gotten into the hole she dug, the tree branch is still where she saw it last, the barbeque hasn’t suddenly produced something worth licking, and the small rocks are where she left them.
She has a nose that looks like a black gumdrop, ears that are almost always inside out, one black eye, long curly hair at the front and back and short thin hair in the middle, facial hair perpetually full of dirt, and the fattest, softest rump I’ve ever encountered on a dog. At 50 pounds, she still likes to be carried (yes, that’s my fault – I carried her around too much as a puppy), she will sleep directly under your feet, and will follow every move you make. She needs to see what you are doing which is especially helpful when you are trying to replace the toilet and your screwdriver, gasket ring, nuts, bolts, teflon tape, towels, adjustable/open ended/pipe wrenches all go missing. But the most helpful part is that when she takes something she knows she shouldn’t, she will bring it to you first to show you what she has.
Stella came to us at a time when we could least afford a new pet and most needed what she brought. At my lowest times, I can just sit and watch her play and joy finds its way back into my heart. Her earnest attention to you, the pure happiness at your return, her willingness to accept a full body hug and fall asleep that way, are just some of the things that make this dog special.
This assignment has been challenging simply because it is impossible to truly capture what embodies Stella’s personality. She is a beautiful, chaotic, enthusiast, joyful, stubborn, untrained, loving, funny, ridiculous, curious, pesky, pushy, messy, mix of mutt. And I wouldn’t trade her for the world. She is part of my survival kit – shepherding me through one of the most difficult times of my life. She and the other 7 furries that make up the Nevin family are why Mike and I continue to find a love of life. When times are difficult, people turn to all sorts of things to give them purpose and inspiration. For some this might be found in religion, fellowship, yoga, education, exercise, shock therapy, or meditation – for me, it comes from my animals. They have a way of soothing the hurt and encouraging the life back into me. I don’t know if it is the unconditional love they give or the chaos they create that ensures I get out of bed each day. Whatever it is – I’ll take it.