Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Giraffe On Roller-skates

"She’s a fun girl who loves life! Her hobbies include running,
jumping and sniffing. She has a medical condition called
spondylosis which means that parts of her spinal cord
are changing. This should be able to be managed with
the help of your veterinarian." (

The medical piece was no small deal. Spondylosis a condition where bones are dangerously fragile, and for this “fun girl” both her back and neck were affected. Also, on the day we first saw her, she was just finishing treatment for lyme disease and she had some additional stomach problems due to the scavenger food she must have eaten while a stray on the streets. We didn’t know it at the time, but to top it off her bladder leaks. It’s controllable with medication but not enough to spare her from the indignity of another diagnosis: “inappropriate urination”.

Can’t have you pissing in the house, Scout. You gotta go—I can’t keep
up with your problems.

She wouldn’t make eye contact. You couldn’t hold her head in your hands even when you tried. And for the first few days you couldn’t touch her feet, not even to affectionately hold a paw. She would stretch forward with those long graceful legs and those salon quality toenails, then drop her front and then her back end, perfectly keeping her head and upper torso gracefully balanced. She’d stay in that posture-perfect position for hours, staring ahead with sad eyes, quietly watching, quietly listening.

We bought her an $80 orthopedic bed. Basically it was just a four layer egg foam and not worth the cost, but it was well worth the benefit. She knew it was hers. Most of the time she would lie on its firm plaid mattress, her deep brown eyes staring as if she were searching for something or someone familiar. Sometimes she looked like she was relaxed and resting but more often she looked sad, lost,longing.

She didn’t pay us much attention but she tried. She was appreciative, and she was obedient--so obedient that she did not move or peep in the morning until we called to her. She would wag her tail when expected but just as often she kept it partially between her legs, hanging there looking lost. And she immediately crouched out of the room as soon as we sat down for dinner--or breakfast or lunch. At first we didn’t catch the significance of that, not until she began to slowly return as we cleaned up and put the food away. And--this one’s the hardest—she reflectively dropped her head whenever we tried to pet her; the movement was sudden, efficient, routine. It was not quite a wince—she was too obedient for that—but she prepared herself, just in case.

Get out of here now or I’ll drag you outside with my bare hands.

This dog was rescued somewhere in Sturbridge. She was malnourished and in severe abdominal pain at the time, and she growled—only once—and yelped in pain until the shelter took her to a local vet.

Get out of the truck, you good-for-nothing dog. Find somebody else to put up with your constant problems.

She had been in the shelter for two months, sick, crated, and cared for by the volunteer angels of animal rescue. They said she was sweet. The two women we met there seemed to like her. She was a difficult adoption because of her medical condition—which was at risk of re-injury from normal activity. Probably for that reason alone, people hesitated to take her home.

You’ve been a pretty good dog Scout. You’re sweet to the wife and kids but bottom line you’re a wimp. You walk like an old lady sometimes and you can hardly keep up with me. I need a “man’s dog”, not a sissy”.

It seemed true enough that she liked to play, sniff and jump. We took her out to the shelter’s fenced-in area and she seemed fairly animated and agile. We took her home because Janet liked her immediately, especially her long lanky body with German Shepard black and brown coloring and a Hound’s floppy ears and inquizitive nose. She had beautiful brown eyes. Compared to our beloved springer spaniel, who died almost two years ago, she was a giant. She was clumsy when she walked, even clumsier when she tried to run or jump, and even today we still marvel when her long wag of a tail bangs against walls and furniture, which it does often.

It’s too bad because the guys like you, Scout. You look tough the way a dog should. It’s too bad, but I can’t keep you no longer. That’s the way it is.

The shelter said she was 3 or 4 years old and she would need some training. No one could predict how severe her medical condition would get. We bought her a red leash and a red collar named her Stella .

It was clear within the first few days that this dog loved someone else—maybe even a whole family. You had the sense she was mourning the loss of her life.

Sometimes you get to me because you’re sweet and you’ll do anything I tell you to. But you’re too much trouble. And I ain’t spending my money on vet bills.

She was polite but distant. Mostly she listened and watched. She especially liked men with tools, Without a trace of fear, she was content to lie within three feet of Jessie’s buzzing power saw as he rebuilt our porch. And when our tall and lanky fence guy Paul, came in the yard through the back gate, carrying his tool box, she jumped up, estastic, rushing to him, running in between his legs and walking beside him in a bouncy sort of way--as though her owner had returned for her.

Get in the truck. You can come to the worksite with me but you better stay where I tell you. Don’t bother me and don’t expect me to take care of you. If you get in somebody’s way and you get hurt that’s your problem.

Stella approached some men with care and fear. She growled at our gentle friend Jonathan, and slinked to him, low to the ground, when he extended his hand and called to her. Her tail wagged tucked between her legs, and you could see her trying to be compliant, to be accepted, but you could also see her preparing for the worse.

You’re too damn nervous Scout. Why don’t you stand up for yourself when Ben starts pushing you around? Ever since him and me got in that fistfight, at least now you growl when you first see him but then you turn into a wimp again. Stop taking shit from him.

In the beginning of her new life, her back legs were stiff every morning, She’d do a half stretch trying to limber up, and she improved as the day went on. Sometimes she looks like a puppy and other times like she’s very old. She’s not 3 or 4: the vet says she’s probably 7 or 8 —“a mature girl” he calls her, He guesses the spondlyosis probably came from an injury. She is now helped by a low dose of remadyl, and she moves like she has a new body after the doggie acupuncture she gets once a month.

If you can’t figure out how to ride in the back of my truck, you can stay home. You hurt your back because you were stupid and lost your balance. You just lay in the garage for almost a month before you could walk ok again.

It’s been 8 weeks in our household we and she have developed a modest routine. She is antsy at 8 am but in this neck of the woods we’re barely having the first cup of coffee. We manage to head into Look Park almost every afternoon and take a 1.2 mile walk around. Stella sniffs everything twice, does pretty well on leash, sits with ease as she follows movements and sounds while I read and relax, and she goes crazy--her tail awagging every which way--when she sees little dogs.

Pokey will miss you Scout. He’ll hate to sleep without you. But if he was pissing in the house, he’d be gone too.

It took five minutes and three walkthroughs to teach her to walk around the garden. She learned to pee in a designated area in a couple of weeks. You can tell her to lie down and she’ll stay there for you. She understands and follows all the basic commands: sit, stay, paw, no, leave it. She stays close by us in the yard, without a leash, and comes when called. When she comes in from the rain, she knows to wait until I wipe her paws. She loves riding in the car. She does all these things correctly and without hesitation: she is perfectly trained and perfectly wonderful, except there is one problem. Sometimes she is afraid--other times terrified--of not doing it all right.

You’ve got to the count of 3 or I’ll beat the shit out of you. You stay here and don’t move until I tell you. Do you understand?

She doesn’t ask for much. She looks depressed about half the time. Heading into month three, she still lies motionless sometimes, with her eyes open—(my guess) remembering and mourning the life she had. One night when Janet was shaking out and folding our clean sheets, from nowhere she darted up and playfully jumped in and danced under the sheets and into the frey. What was familiar to her was unmistakable.

This is a dog who has learned to take care of herself. But things are looking up. She now asks for her favorite pig ears at designated times. She dances wildly, her legs aimed every which way in the air when we bring out her leash, She lets us know she prefers it when we’re around. She likes our friends and family and wags her tail when we walk by. And she softly sighs and pushes her head closer when we lie with her cheek to cheek.

It’s hard to figure why Stella was left in Sturbridge MA. She’s too sweet for that. My guess is her owner was a strict and macho son-of-a bitch. But my guess is that she loved him and she tried her best. Because she is such a great dog, I wouldn’t be surprised if in some misguided way he loved her too.

I ain’t looking back. I did what had to be done. But it’s weird without you.
I’m not thinkin about it too much, but I didn’t know I’d miss you.


  1. this is bittersweet! I'm so glad Stella found you... beautifully written!

  2. Wow... amazing piece! Very touching! Thank you for sharing!

  3. thank you both for reading this. when i read it back it sounds pretty bad--hopefully my imagination is more severe than the reality was. every day stella is doing better and better. she is a great dog.


  4. I like your blog. Not sure if you are aware but about ten years ago I learned about a man named Royal Rife who figured out how to eliminate cancer with electronic frequencies in the 1930's. True story you should check into it.