When Clyde died, though I was prepared for it to happen, though I knew it was coming, I was not prepared in any possible way to become a Girl Without Dog. Clyde and I had lived harmoniously (well for the most part, we did have those moments that two beings will have when both are so very strong willed and certain that they are always right) for seventeen years. For seventeen years I had identified myself as a Girl With Dog. Or even more importantly, I had identified myself as Clyde’s Companion. He was my most handsome man and I was the one person on earth whom he had chosen to entrust his care and feeding.
If you were reading my blog during the last year of Clyde’s life, you know that I took that job very seriously. Just like I take all my jobs very seriously. But when an animal chooses you, above all others, as his companion for life, well, it’s a cherished and special honor. One you don’t want to screw up.
So Clyde died. I became a Girl Without Dog. I felt as if a very large part of me died that Ground Hog day. And I kept waiting for it to be reborn again. I spent the next six months in a haze of sadness. I’d walk on the beach and see dog’s footprints and burst into tears. I’d hear dogs barking and my heart would jump and then crash. Hard. I missed him. I missed me with him. I missed me.
I kept saying to DearSweetDave and to anyone else who would listen that I was incomplete without a dog. That I just needed a dog. That what I wanted the most in this world was a DOG.
As with everything in my life, I should be very careful for what I wish.
A little over a year ago, as you all know, I got two dogs! Buddha and Stella came barreling into my life. Two black Labradors full of enough energy to solve California’s power crises. If we could put them on treadmills we could provide lights for San Francisco for weeks. I’m sure of it.
It didn’t take me very long at all to realize that Buddha was more than a dog. That he was veryveryvery special. Soul mates do recognize one another rather quickly. It’s all in the eyes. And in the knowing. And I knew. He was Clyde. Who had promised me when he died that he would come back to me because our journey wasn’t finished. We still had things to learn together. Karmic lessons that both of us had to work out.
The Universe didn’t forget about my request though. I said I wanted a DOG.
Stella is a DOG.
It became apparent pretty quickly that with Stella I had accepted a challenge that was going to be like none other I had ever accepted. Think about all the most primal things you know about dogs. They’re hunters. They’re scavengers. They’re pack animals.
Stella has all of that and more.
Every morning Stella and I go for a walk and run. Just the two of us. I am still walking the dogs separately every day because, quite honestly, Stella needs it to be that way. She needs the one on one individual attention. She needs the alone time. She needs to have ME be the one in control of her for at least that small part of each day.
Well, control may be stretching it a bit too far.
We leave the house each morning and the first thing she does, every single morning, no matter what I do to prevent it, no matter what measures I take, no matter if I have her sit, stay, heel, you name it…the very first thing she does as soon as she is allowed to actually walk is run to the opening in the fence of our neighbor’s house and check for their cat. She does this with me flailing along behind her telling her to STOP. But those admonishes are just not heard. At all. It's like asking your sixteen year old to please turn down their music. Not going to happen. Her prey drive, her desire to get that neighbor cat, is so strong that is all she can possibly think about.
As soon as she’s convinced herself that the cat is not there (and God help us if the cat IS there because that creates a whole huge scene of snarls and swats and barking and me trying desperately to control her and get her to sit and look at me! look at me! treats falling from the sky! look at me!) then she is willing to continue on the walk as if she is the most well-behaved dog on the planet. Heeling all the way. Loose leash. Look at me, everyone! I’m such a good dog. You can almost see her smirking!
We get to the next doorway where she just KNOWS a cat happens to live. Then we go through the entire exercise all over again. Head down, pull as hard as she can, rushrushrush, nose to the ground, where is that damn cat?!!
Do you know how many cats live between our house and the beach? Stella will tell you that there are exactly 15. She would be more than happy to show you the front doors of each and every one of their homes. Front doors she has carefully inspected every single day for the past year.
Once we’ve navigated our way through the cat mines, we also have to deal with the 7-11 parking lot. You never realize just how much JUNK gets tossed in a 7-11 parking lot until you have a Labrador that could put a Dyson vacuum cleaner right out of business. Stella is so fast at sucking things up from the ground that often by the time I am yelling DROP she’s already swallowed. And I have no earthly idea what it is that she’s just inhaled. That is why she has had so many visits to the Emergency Vet. She eats and asks questions later. Much later. When she’s in distress and I’m certain she’s consumed something lethal.
Today it was something bright red and berryish. I have no idea what it actually was because it was gone before I even had a chance to see it, but I can inform you that whatever it was managed to retain it’s color and was still present in her afternoon poop. I know you wanted to know that, Internet. Be glad I didn’t take a picture to share with you. But just imagine this, if you will. I have to inspect her poop on a fairly regular basis. Because I know she’s swallowing so many disgusting and irregular things! I have to make sure they come out the other end! The joy of a DOG!
So we navigate our way past 7-11 and then it’s usually when we get just past the soccer fields that Stella will undoubtedly run into another dog coming in the other direction on a leash. I’ve been working really hard with Stella on her leash manners. I am usually able to get her to sit and face me and completely ignore the other dog.
I say usually.
Sometimes there are owners of other dogs that are just so clueless. Or haven’t invested any time in training their dogs at all. I’m not sure what it is, to be quite honest. But what happens is this.
I see another dog approaching. So does Stella. She knows she’s supposed to sit and look at me. So she does.
Other dog finally notices Stella and goes APE SHIT. Snarling and barking and pulling at the end of his/her leash. The dog’s owner is doing everything he can to keep his dog from breaking free.
Stella turns. Sees the mayhem. Then she decides that is the appropriate behavior (and this part really baffles me) and she goes completely APE SHIT back. Pulling as hard as she can to get to the snarling barking dog. Snarling and barking herself. It’s like she’s the school bully. Like she can’t ignore an invitation to fight. Ever.
Now, one interesting thing to note is this. If this same scenario happens when we are walking OFF LEASH, Stella truly does completely ignore the other dog. She’ll just turn and walk away. She only goes APE SHIT if she’s actually on the leash.
Which has brought me to the conclusion that she is very guarded about her personal space. And while I can understand this, I certainly don’t like how she handles it. Why can’t she just give a Santa Cruz surfer girl nod and say, “Hey man, chill!?” Why all the snarling teeth and barking and pulling? Not to mention that every time she does it she injures me. My back gets wrenched, my fingers have been broken, and my knee is all wonky! This dog is a CHALLENGE.
But I asked for a Dog. I got a dog. A very high-strung dog with a lot of special needs.
When we get to the actual beach, things always improve. Because there she gets to be off leash. She runs. She leaps. She chases the birds. She picks up dead things and prances around with them in her mouth. If she meets another dog, she totally ignores it usually. On some occasions, she will invite it to play. But usually she’s too wrapped up in her own little world and just ignores the other dogs.
Stella’s constantly on the lookout at the beach for a tennis ball. Constantly. And she usually is able to find one. Which I will then throw for her into the ocean. She absolutely loves to swim. She’ll swim even without a ball. She’ll find a stick and throw it for herself into the waves just so she can go and retrieve it. And then she’ll bring it back, drop it in front of herself, and lie down and wait for me to catch up to her. I do believe those moments when she’s completely free at the beach are some of her happiest.
I run. She runs. We run. Back and forth. For two miles. And then we make the walk home. Where we again have to check on all 15 cats. One might be there, you just never know!
I do believe that Stella came into my life because I had some important lessons to learn. I asked for a DOG. I got a dog. A 100% bona fide dog. So I can’t give up on her. I just can’t. She makes me tired, yes. She is breaking my body, yes. I have fantasies of finding her a farm where she can run and play all day long and hunt gophers and chase birds and be a wild animal. But she chose me for a reason. I am her dog mama. I accepted that job when I brought her home. And it’s not a job I’m willing to quit.
So Stella and I will keep working on it. Perhaps one day she’ll learn to not care about the cats. Or the gophers. Or the squirrels. Perhaps one day she won’t feel the need to own every single tennis ball on the entire planet. Perhaps one day she’ll stop eating unidentifiable substances that have been tossed from car windows. Perhaps one day, Stella will be more than a dog.
She already is so much more in my heart.