A Tribute to Stella

The last picture I took of Stella, via the iPhone app Instagram
I’ve long been kicking myself for falling so far out of practice keeping this blog updated.

I hadn’t intended to end my blogging drought with a topic like this, but I just have to leave a tribute to such an important part of my life, and this blog seems the best forum.

On Sunday, February 19th, my wife and I had to say goodbye to Stella, the dog we had for nine years.

To say it was one of the hardest days of my life is an understatement. I don’t think I’ve cried so many times in my life.

But what I don’t want this to be is a glum, downbeat post. I’d much rather focus on the good memories, since Stella was a wonderful dog who provided endless joy to our lives.

Where better to start a tribute than at the beginning…

About nine years ago, in May, only a month after Tamara and I said goodbye to Samantha (Sammy), our Scottish Terrier, we saw a picture on the Wisconsin Humane Society website of a very cute but very scruffy little dog. A Shih Tzu-Poodle mix about 2 years old, “Stephanie” (as the Humane Society had named her) was a recent stray. We decided we would go to the Humane Society after work to check her out.

Stella's Humane Society picture next to a picture after her first grooming

Being that she was a small dog with a mild temperament, I didn’t have a good feeling she’d even still be available by then. So I went down what would be a pretty stumbling path to get registered to adopt a dog there, get permission from our then-landlords, and then put down some money to put a hold on her, so no one could swoop in to adopt her before we got there.

After work, Tamara and I headed down and checked her out. Had I not put the hold on the dog, I’m pretty certain the elderly woman sitting in the lobby hoping we wouldn’t show up would have gone home with her. She was this timid, mellow dog who sat on a bed in the corner, but then came calmly over to greet us. I was instantly won over, but I think Tamara was still uncertain about if we were ready to have another dog. Seeming to sense this, “Stephanie” came strolling back from her bed, gave Tamara a kiss, then headed back. The deal was sealed.

Less than an hour later, we were driving home with a dog and realized we needed a new name, since Stephanie just didn’t seem right. My wife came up with Stella, and it just seemed perfect.

Stella immediately bonded with two toys that were afterthoughts of Samantha’s. One was a golden chicken, the other a strange big-nosed orange thing. We named them Clucky and Orangey, and Clucky in particular became a favorite of hers. In fact, Clucky would always be her favorite, even as her stash of toys (which we nicknamed her “peeps”) ballooned to probably over 50 at its height.

Stella doing the Milwaukee Brewers' Beast Mode

I couldn’t begin to list out everything I loved about Stella.

Just some of the things that come to mind:

  • The little skipping hop she did when we took her on walks
  • The orchestrated attacks she’d do upon her unsuspecting toys. She’d stare at one out of the corner of her eye, then suddenly pounce and commence squeaking
  • Stella slept on a dog bed atop a wooden chest at the foot of our bed. Most days, while we were at work, she’d pull the bed down, usually to make sure none of her toys were still up there.
  • The tendency she’d have to tip her basket full of toys over, making a big mess in the progress, just to find a specific toy (often at the bottom)
  • Especially in her later years, her willingness (and eventual insistence) on having some bonding time with me when I got home from work. She’d lay on my lap, usually on the front couch, and wait for her mom to come home
  • Stella dressed as a reindeer

  • The uncanny ability she had to make every single toy not just squeak, but do this weird clicking squeak.
  • Her expectation every Sunday morning of laying on Tamara’s lap while she read the newspaper
  • Taking her to the Fox Point Farmer’s Market every week in summer. The rare times we didn’t take her, vendors would ask where she was
  • Taking her to the Barker Lounge at Community Bark — one of the only places we would enjoy a cup of coffee and bring our dog along
  • She wouldn’t like me pointing this out, but how cute it was when she’d attempt sneak attacks on the vacuum cleaner. It only emboldened her the one time she managed to disable it by pulling out the right hose.
  • Running the fence line with her buddies Max and Mira, the Old English bulldogs. That is, except for the times she decided to be aloof and pretend she didn’t see them.
  • The way she and her buddy Barley would boss around my father-in-law’s Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Charlie. Even though he had a hundred pounds on them, he didn’t dare cross the bossy little girl dogs!
  • How she’d try to get another of her good buddies, Cinder, to play with her, by excitedly rushing up to her, then scurrying away
  • The Three Amigos - Stella, Cinder and Barley

  • How she’d grumble at my parent’s dog Beamer Bob, even if he so much as looked at her. I think my mom always thought Stella just “tolerated” him, but I know she loved him and just liked copping an attitude when he’d get near her
  • That she inexplicably was obsessed with and loved cats, but couldn’t figure out that running up to them and acting silly more often than not freaked them out
  • Her troublemaking alter-ego, Dirty Gertie
  • Stella NOT enjoying a bath

  • The ridiculous excitement whenever there was a mere mention of a “toot toot in the vroom vroom”
  • Stella in the Subaru

  • How she had my dad figured out and would make demands of him like feeding her cookies and taking her outside in the middle of the night, something she seldom even tried to pull with us.
  • That she absolutely adored her grandpas and would always beg from them and get all wiggly and cute in hopes of getting their attention (and/or their food)
  • Waking up in the morning and watching her promptly flip on her back, so that I could give her belly rubs before getting up
  • Stella expecting belly rubs

  • The remarkable fact that Tamara and I had not only named all her toys, but given them personalities as well
  • Barking at doorbells on television
  • With each passing day, the pain lessens and it’s easier to smile and remember all the joy Stella brought us. She was the sweetest of dogs, who adored Tamara and me equally, and was so laid back and easy to take places.

    I knew, deep down, that we didn’t have a ton of time left with her, after we got the prognoses in November, so I made a point of finding as many moments to treasure as possible. Without fail, I made sure every day after work to have that quality lap time. I gave her extra pets and told her several times a day how much I loved her.

    The day before she passed away, I spent the entire day playing video games with her snuggled right on my lap. I’m so glad that I did.

    Stella on my lap

    I’d give anything to be able to hug her one more time, or even just give her a pet. The other night, I came to bed and immediately became profoundly heartbroken realizing she wasn’t within reach, to give a few random pets throughout the night. Instead, I’ve been sleeping with her favorite blanket.

    But it warms my heart that she lived a full life, having gone from possibly-abused stray dog to incredibly loved and spoiled by so many people. And it’s so comforting to know that even though her heart disease was getting worse rapidly, she left this world happy and pain free. We buried her, with Clucky in her arms, next to one of her best friends, Taffy.

    Stella and Clucky

    So yeah, there are times still that I get really sad about losing her…but in truth, it was such a gift having a best friend who unconditionally loved us and brought us nothing but happiness and fun. It was heartwarming to see dozens of responses on Facebook when we passed along losing Stella. And I sat down last night and made an iPhoto album of nearly 500 pictures of her, some of which you see throughout this post.

    I’m rambling now, because I could go on forever about my little sweetheart.

    I just owed it to her to leave a tribute somewhere. I’ll never forget you, Schuggs. You were the best dog we could have ever asked for.

    Stella on her favorite perch, looking out the front window

    6 thoughts on “A Tribute to Stella

    1. Ryan Thompson

      Aww Steve,

      That was very touching. It’s no secret that dog is best man’s friend. i too have lost a pet very dear to me. It’s like losing a member of the family. All those times you remember are precious, the running (clicking?”) squeezing, and holding her to the end. Very nice. You are a man among men & she was a pooch among poodles. (Even though she wasn’t a poodle, you get my point.)

      -Ryan

    2. Carrie Grobschmidt

      This was so beautiful and right from your heart. I felt the same way when Holly died, she was there for me when I was dealing through a rough patch before I met Eugene. Their love for us is non judgmental and unconditional. I still have tears to this day but they are of all the beautiful memories and funny things Holly did. We loved Stella so much, and have many wonderful memories as well. She was so lucky to have you and Tamara, who gave her so much love and happiness. She knew when you walked in the door for the first time to see her that she would be going home. -Carrie

    3. Angela

      What a wonderful tribute to Stella. Though I never met her, I know how wonderful a pet is, and how they become a part of you and your life. All their wonderful, special quirks and personality traits. It’s so nice of you to blog about her, and it brought tears to my eyes. Anytime you need a fix, you know we got 2 dogs that will lick you to death!

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