One of the first things Stella did when she entered our lives was bite Ray's father in the nuts.
Not enough to hurt him, or break the skin. Just enough to be hilarious. They were running together in a grass backyard in Jackson, NJ, and Papa turned on her fast, as if catching a spiral. She blocked the play with a mouth to the jewels. It was an indicator that we needed to get our new creature to school, and that whatever horrific starvation and mistreatment Stella had endured, she was totes over it. Because dogs who are not over it do not gently jostle genitals for fun--they destroy them with purpose.
In spite of all our crying, photo posting, crying, and also crying, Stella passed in happiness on Sunday because of the selfless gifts of (mostly) strangers. Some monetarily, some morale. It made for a loving crossover in the comfort of her home, wrapped in her blankie, cradled by three sets of hands while Gillian Welch sang "I'll Fly Away." The song ended with Stella's last breath--a blessing of divine theatrics--and our girl stepped into space to literal applause.
To all: Thank you for giving her peace and dignity. Thank you for caring about weepy strangers on the other side of a computer screen. Now, we have to come clean.
You were told about Stella's compassionate soul and sweet disposition. But we left out how she was an evil, garbage-fiending genius with mutant superpaws. And how she betrayed The United States of America. And that time she ate an innocent dreamcatcher off a wall. We didn't want anyone to know her sordid past. Things are different now. Friends of The Ninga (named for the sound of her tags jingling) should know them. And laugh at them.
Stella was stone deaf, but could hear laughter.
-- The Dreamcatcher. Given to us by a dear friend, it hung on the wall behind the bed. It was made out of good leather, and subtly decorated. Stella slept under the dreamcatcher with mom and dad every night for nearly two years. Then, one Wednesday afternoon, she waited until she was alone, climbed onto the bed, stood on her hind legs with her front paws on the wall, and yanked the ornament down by its decorative leather tassels. Somewhere, a Native American cried without knowing why. No one knew what had happened until she started shitting feathers. The motive of this senseless crime remains unknown.
-- We bought a "wolf proof" garbage can with a lifetime guarantee. It was wall mounted with giant screws into the bones of the apartment, had two different locks, and was an impenetrable rectangle of slick steel. In 14 days there were two deep holes in the wall, the lid had been pulled from the can like a skull from a spine, and we were used to seeing a broken kitchen trash can chillin' in the bathtub.
-- Stella's inbreeding gave her the deafness, cow coloring, and health complications. It also gave her a dewclaw and exceptionally long, almost prehensile, feet. The mutation allowed her to curl her paw into your palm during snuggles, as well as wreck havoc on kitchens, closets, cabinets, and pantries. Anything with a horizontal grip was fair game. Low mounted knobs? Please...so easy. The fridge? There's a reason we only kept condiments on the bottom shelf. The peanut butter wasn't safe in the pantry, and it wasn't safe in its jar. Both front paws could grip the lid, and it only took a few minutes to go from "Chunky" to "That expensive organic nutty shit all over your dog's muzzle."
-- For three weeks we fundraised to build care packages for troops in Iraq, then spent another week buying all the goodies and boxing them for a trip overseas. Four large boxes total, stuffed with magazines, books, jerky, granola, roasted nuts, drink powder. It took Stella around 2-3 hours (after the dog walker left, before we got home) to open the bedroom and bedroom closet door, drag out and open all four boxes, and sort through what she wanted. She discarded the beef jerky and ate 3 pounds of cinnamon raisin granola--you know, the only thing in the box that could kill her. It made her poo smell like a candle.
We had a brief discussion with the vet about whether stealing charity food from American heros was an act of terrorism. Stella was acquitted, but remains on a Bush-era watch list of unpatriotic dogs.
-- Mom's first adult tetanus booster came as a result of Stella's extremist vaccination advocacy. She could have left a note, maybe, saying it was time. Instead, she waited for mom to strap on the rollerblades and take her for a roll. She remained docile throughout the 15-minute jaunt. And then, just as she reached the home stretch of Main Street in full view of an emptying NJ Transit commuter train, she bolted. Maybe there was a rabbit. Maybe there wasn't. But she did use all 50lbs. of pit muscle to suddenly sprint as if compelled by god for 50 meters, towing mom behind. Dad said Mom's scream had a doppler effect as he watched his new dog and old ladyfriend roll into, and then out of, sight. The next day, Mom was all good on tetnus shots until age 34. Also rollerblading.
Stella was so devoted to Dad she stored her bones in his hats and boxing gloves. She sat next to mommy for nearly every IV and injection for 6 years, and whimpered when they brought the needles out. There are so many stories.
Today, I so regret never letting her throttle any of the swans in sweet Cranford Park. It would have been epic, and she would have smiled so wide. We ended up moving anyway.