There will only ever be one Stella Marie T. And she is gone now. The
world is less for it, but it is also a safer place.
Stella’s story of her family’s love for her is not your typical tale
of unconditional dog devotion. Of a dog who sat at your feet
patiently while you worked or read or watched TV. Stella killed
chickens. And a rabbit. And, if she could have just gotten to the
bottom of the wood pile, those two danged chipmunks, too. She fought
raccoons and chased birds. She tried to get horses to run after her.
She poked her head in a big shrub on the walk one morning and came
out with a possum in her mouth. It wasn’t just playing dead.
Stella boogered up every surface of my car every time she got in it.
And she loved to go for rides in the car, so she was in it a lot.
She beat up her sister Gladys so bad Gladdy finally learned to give
better than she got. Shar-pei skin tears easily. There were many
stitches. Her sister Annie, a calico-tabby could not walk across the
floor until she was big enough to fight back. And Annie got really
good at fighting back. Stella steered clear of the cat.
Shar-peis are guard dogs. That’s how they show you they care about
you. They guard you. They sit away from you, put their backs to you
and look outward. So if you have a Shar-pei you spend a lot of time
looking at the backside of your beloved. But they’re not long for
cuddling and kissing; doesn’t help the guarding. And a dog’s gotta
do what a dog’s gotta do.
Now, Gladys is the runt of the litter. Her fear always is being
separated from the herd. Not Stell. Open a door and she was gone.
Crack open a window and she’d flip herself out. I once watched her
scale a five-foot wall of plywood to get out. Squeeze through 4-inch
chicken wire (Note to other owners: Dog knows that if head fits
through hole, rest of dog can be pushed through, too). This explains
the dead critters, city kill.
Every house I lived in with Stella was purchased primarily for her.
Could we fence it in? Add enough gates? Make them high enough?
Strong enough? (She ate through one). Secure enough?
This brings us to Stella’s social skills. She had none. Once out on
her own she took to guarding her whole house standing (with her back
to us) nearby waiting to attack any dog she could chase down. (Annie
may be a stupid cat, but she was Stella’s stupid cat.) Her escapes
were harrowing experiences for her family as we desperately hunted
her down trying to avoid lawsuits or her own city of Seattle death
penalty. On our daily walks the mere sight of another dog a block
away made my heart race. We crossed streets, turned back and walked
Stella was abandoned by her first family. Left alone in a backyard
the first year of her life, the year she could have been made
different. I found her at PAWS, barking her head off in a kennel she
shared with a rheumy-eyed cocker spaniel. “Bark! Bark!” she said.
She looked me right in the eye and said it again, “Bark! Bark!”
“Damn,” I thought. “That’s my dog.” (I had come for a cat.)
I put her in the front seat, and we rode home in silence. It was our
first and last quiet car trip together (known at our house as “go
bye-bye in the car”).
But all of this does not mean Stella didn’t love to be loved. You
just had to do it her way; grab her a good one with both arms around
her belly and plant kisses all over her head. She would squirm, but
just a little. When I let go she wouldn’t leave. When she shot in
the dog door (Stella shot in and out of everywhere) she shot
straight for me.
Stella’s positives were at least equal to the sheer terror of her
negatives. Such a capacity for love. Our bully was a softy. She
loved her family. And she loved anybody who loved her. Deeply. She
was shy about it actually. Gladys is a licky dog. Lick, lick, lick
all the time. From Stell you might get one kiss, so soft you weren’t
quite sure. But I know, I have been kissed by a fairy.
Her exuberance for life was as charming as it could be trying. There
wasn’t a meal that couldn’t be greatly and enthusiastically improved
with the addition of a little canned tuna. I never had to clean the
dog bowls. That was Stell’s job. Twice a day she licked them
spotless, swabbed the placemat and the floor around it, and then, on
their beds by the fire, Glady’s face and head. And Stella absolutely
could not greet you at the door without a stuffed animal jammed into
her mouth. Among the dozens she owned, none was ever damaged, just
slobbered into dirty globs.
Stella was a gorgeous dog. Stunning. She wore the most luxurious fur
coat I have ever seen. She was the Cher of dogs really, with her
beautiful boxy head, black nose, tiny folded ears and a sexy swagger
that looked weird on an animal. Her eyes were two coal-black
I called her “Stell, “Stelly,” “Cookie,” “Cookers,” “Missy Marie,”
“Girlie,” “Darlin” “Goofy” and a few names not printable here.
She answered to them all.
She knew who she was. She just needed love.
Dec. 21, 2006
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