Let's rewind the story. Sorry, this is going to be long. Please bear with me.
Way back in 2012, I had just finished my second (and last) Cannonball. We were in San Diego, the day after the event ended, and we were packing up and putting the bikes on the truck (and the trailer). As I did at the end of all the other road trips I had been on over the years, I started getting excited about the ritual of going home -- including seeing my beloved dog Jasmine. Except that, in the flurry of post-event tasks, I had almost forgotten that I didn't have a dog any more -- she had crossed the rainbow bridge the year before. It was like a dagger into my heart, feeling the loss all over again.
Driving the truck home to the Bay Area from San Diego, I resolved to do something about that.
The next day was spent getting everyone's bikes, tools, spare wheels, and assorted bits and bobs back to their owners. After that, I had one more day of vacation before I had to go back to work. When my wife and I got up in the morning, I informed her we were going to get a dog. Today. We had been dog-less for long enough.
"Sure, we can go look at some dogs today" she said, not really understanding what I was saying.
"No no. We are bringing a dog home today. Come hell or high water."
We went first to the Humane Society of Silicon Valley, which has a fabulous facility. Ultimately, though, none of the dogs there were quite the right fit for us.
Next up was the San Jose Animal Shelter, and I had spotted a likely candidate on their website that morning. She was approximately two years old, about 20 pounds, short haired, and mostly black with a white spot on her chest.
We were disappointed that we couldn't find her among all the kennels on display, but when we asked the staff about her, they said she had just been cleared from the medical ward that day (she had been fixed and one of her teeth had been pulled) and thus was not in the regular kennels yet. And yes, of course we could see her.
The staff took us into a room, we sat down on the floor in the center, and they brought her in. She carefully went around the entire perimeter of the room, sniffed all the corners, and then, apparently satisfied with the condition of the room, came right over to me and sat in my lap. She was such a sweet girl.
My wife said "Let's take this one home".
We talked to the staff some more about her, and her origins. They really didn't know much, except that she had been picked up off the street in Milpitas. She was rail thin, emaciated, even. The staff advised us that she might be part whippet, and that we shouldn't put any weight on her. Needless to say, they were completely wrong (we had her DNA checked). She was hungry and needed a sammich. Or two. Or five. But she was such a sweet girl.
We filled out all the paperwork, paid the modest fees (including the cost of her medical work) and walked out the door with her.
On the way home, we stopped at the pet store to get some supplies, and took her in with us. She picked up a stuffed toy off of one of the lower shelves and carried it through the store while we shopped, all the way to the checkout. Needless to say, we bought it. She had picked it out herself, after all.
When we finally got home, she walked in the front door, hopped up on the couch, looked back at me to make sure that this was okay, but also said, in her way, "Okay, I am ready for some snuggles now!". So we sat on the couch, and she sat half next to me and half on my lap. She was such a sweet girl.
For the first couple of weeks, she showed a little bit of food-related aggression. When we fed her, she would growl a little bit if we got too close to her. We guessed that she had been on the street for an extended amount of time -- maybe a month, even. She was that thin. Eventually, she realized that we weren't going to take her food away, she didn't have to fight for her next meal, and the food aggression went away. And we put a few pounds on her in the process, until she didn't look emaciated.
Aside from the minor food aggression, she was exceptionally well behaved. She was completely house trained, never had an accident, never got into the garbage, and when she had to go somewhere in a car, she would only sit behind the driver seat, on the floor. On a few occasions, we tried to get her to sit in the front seat and do dog things like stick her nose out of the window, but she was having none of it. She would resist with every ounce of her strength, and she was actually quite strong for a (now) 25 pound dog. I don't know if this was something someone had trained her to do or if she really didn't like riding in a car.
She was such a sweet girl.
Stella insisted on a regular routine. She had a mental day planner, and knew with a fair degree of accuracy what time it was and what was due her at any given moment. Breakfast, walk, treat, snuggle, dinner, walk, treat, snuggle, bedtime. If we weren't forthcoming with what was due her on time, she would let us know about it. Not badly, or by misbehaving, but she would come over to me or my wife and "nose" us until we noticed her, and then she would look up at us and tell us in no uncertain terms what we were failing to deliver.
Truly, Stella had the widest range of emotions that I have ever seen in a dog. Happiness, sadness, boredom -- sure. Easy. But also frustration, anxiety, anger, resignation, wariness, resentment, and on and on. Maybe I just had a great bond with her, but I generally always had a pretty good idea what she was thinking (and what she was asking for).
We crate trained her initially, but she was always fairly unhappy in the crate, even after several years, and would start whining at about 5am, waking me up. She really, really, really wanted to sleep in the big bed. Eventually, my wife relented, and Stella got her fondest wish -- sleeping right in the middle. I genuinely think she felt her life was complete at that point.
We did eventually get her DNA checked. I had already guessed that, despite her normal-sized legs, she was probably part Dachshund. She had a Dachshund face, a slightly longer-than-normal body, and each of her hairs were two-tone: black at the tip, but chocolate brown toward the follicle. And of course, she had big floppy Dachshund ears as well.
The DNA test confirmed it: she was half Dachshund, half Fox Terrier. Basically a Dachshund with regular legs. Really, really fast legs, too. Fastest Dachshund on the planet, I'll bet.
We were never quite sure how old Stella was, though. The animal shelter told us she was about two years old when we adopted her, but animal shelters are notorious for under-stating the age of the dogs. I can't blame them, really.
As she aged, her face got grayer and grayer and grayer, until it looked like she was wearing a mask. She started slowing down, and was eventually diagnosed with kidney disease. A few months ago, the vet informed us that it had progressed to Stage IV Kidney Disease, and it was terminal. She might only have days left.
Stella had other plans, though. She was still quite perky, still insistent on going for twice-daily walks, and still full of life. My wife and I had to make a trip to Portugal (part of our long-term visa application) and left Stella in the care of my mother-in-law. When we got back (about three weeks later) Stella had visibly deteriorated. She was slower, was having trouble eating, was much more selective about what she was eating, and just generally wasn't as full of life.
We watched carefully as Stella was slowly declining. I knew that at some point, I would have to call it — kidney disease is, according to the vet, painful, and we did not want her to suffer. While she was declining, it wasn't clear to me (or my wife) exactly what the criteria would be to make a call.
I was visiting with a friend of mine (one of my former colleagues at Apple) who had been through the same thing with her dog just a month or two earlier. I remarked that I was having trouble with this decision, and she offered me some sage advice that became my mantra for the next several weeks, words that I would repeat to myself over and over again. She said, simply, "You'll know".
And she was right. When the time finally came, I knew. My wife knew. And I am pretty sure that Stella knew as well.
We made an appointment with a mobile vet that specializes in doing in-home end-of-life procedures. And honestly, she was wonderful. Kind, careful, and clearly cared about the well being of animals, right up to (and beyond) their final moments.
Stella passed yesterday at 12:45pm, peacefully, in my lap, at home on the couch. The very same spot where she had first landed when she walked in the door on Day One, ready for snuggles.
As we walked out of the San Jose Animal Shelter way back in 2012, I had every intention of spoiling our new dog (who didn't even have her name yet) and giving her the life that rescue dogs dream of. As we were getting Stella into the car, I said to her "You just won the lottery, dog".
In fact, I was wrong. It was us — my wife and I — who won the lottery. Stella enriched our lives in countless immeasurable ways. Her absence has already left a hole in our family, an essential piece that is now missing.
We are sorely missing her.
Last edited by jess on Wed, 15 Mar 2023 19:29:05 +0000; edited 2 times