On May 22, 2009, just 14 days after I graduated from college, I drove out into podunk, SC, on a tip from one of my then-roommates, to check out a litter of puppies up for adoption in Lancaster, SC. I had been told they were goldendoodles, only the coolest type of dog I've ever known to exist. So I went. When I got there, it was to my dismay to find out that they were not, in fact, goldendoodle puppies. But I had driven over an hour, damn it, and they were close enough, and they kind of looked like Ewoks, so I decided to go home with a dog that night anyway. One phone call to Suz (my mom) and a $125 adoption fee later, I became the proud owner of this adorable creature:
On the way home from Lancaster, I stopped at Petsmart, where I picked up a kennel and some food, and a name came to me: Stella. Being 8 weeks old, little Stella slept most of the way home, and here I was thinking I had just nabbed the most perfectly-behaved puppy in the world. I was such a noob.
Stella, still innocent and "flawless" on the first day, snoozing on a sweet Return of the Jedi blanket.
Stella and my then-roommate's maltipoo, Winston, getting along famously.
My roommates fawned over her when I arrived back home, and I even thought about letting the little ball of fur sleep in my bed that night. But, like a diligent new owner, I made Stella sleep in her kennel, which I paid for in exchange for getting ANY sleep that first night, but which I would be very glad I made her do come the next morning.
(From here on out, it may be better to just bring you through the various phases Stella progressed through from that second day until the present...)
Phase 1: Stella is infested with fleas.
Stella was a pretty furry little puppy, so it wasn't until my second day of owning her that her fur shifted in such a way to reveal to me the INFESTATION of fleas that were having a freaking PARTY all over her little bod. Darting every which way, mocking me with their crazy flea speed as they effortlessly escaped my desperate, futile fingers. Behind her Ewok, stuffed animal-esque exterior, the nasty little dog was packing some serious flea-heat. Naturally, I had a slight (major) panic attack. I called my mother no less than 15 times that day, begging for instructions on what to do and how to eradicate this end-of-the-world (in my eyes) parasite problem. Back at Petsmart again, I bought Advantix and some flea-spray for the home. I spent the remainder of that evening holding Stella hostage on the lightly-colored couch, so that when the dying flea carcasses fell off of her, I could pluck them up and run to the toilet to flush them (no way in HELL was I going to actually touch them to kill them). This went on for hours, and probably made our water bill go up at least several dollars that month.
Phase 2: Stella eats her own shit.
Okay. I know and accept that I freak out more than the average person, usually over irrational things. But about a month after I got her, Stella disappeared from my sight for no more than 5 minutes. When the little mongrel came trotting happily back into my room, carting with her, in her mouth, one of her OWN POOP-LOGS, I. LOST. MY. MARBLES. I was screaming at the dog. I was googling "Why does my puppy eat her own shit?" I was calling my mom (again). I was trying not to vomit. I was attempting to locate the rest of the shit-pile that was surely waiting for my bare foot to step in, warm and steaming, around some unsuspecting corner. The experience and the way Stella came running so proudly gave a whole new meaning to the term "shit-eating grin." This unfortunate little episode occurred at least two more times, possibly more that my mind has simply blocked from memory because they were so F-ing disgusting. It is my firm belief that creatures of any kind should not consume their own feces, and, thank the sweet lord above, this phase eventually came to an end.
(Sadly, I don't have a picture to share of the shit-eating phase.)
Phase 3: Stella gets a haircut.
In mid-July, I went to the beach for a weekend, and had to board Stella for the first time. While she was there, they asked if I wanted her to be groomed. Thinking that was the logical, efficient thing to do, I said "Yes! Cut her however you want!" NOOB MOVE. When I went to pick her up, she looked like this:
I tried to tell them, "No, no. That sorry excuse for a shih tzu isn't mine. I dropped off a cute dog."
I went from having the cutest dog in the world, whose outward appearance kinda sorta made up for her neurosis, to having a skeleton with fur whose external look finally matched the freakish interior.
I learned the hard way that telling an over-eager dog groomer to "do whatever they want" has the same detrimental, embarrassing outcome that telling your hairdresser that same thing does.
I went from owning the cutest dog in the world to owning a glorified rat. Luckily, fur grows back (and it did).
Phase 4: I try to re-home Stella.
About three months after I got her, I decided I was not the best equipped person to continue rearing Stella. Shocking, I know! What?! A 22 year old college student decides they no longer want the enormous responsibility that owning a dog entails?! Anyway, I put Stella up on Craigslist, and thought I found her a home with a nice family out in Lexington, SC. They kept her for ONE night, then emailed me saying I had to come back and get her immediately. She was too much of a neurotic freak....oh, I mean, "she wasn't a good fit" for them.
*I suppose I need to pause and explain this one. Stella is a Freak with a capital F. Anyone who has EVER encountered her knows this. She might as well be a cat or a rock for as interactive as she is with most humans. She is scared of everything, from her own shadow to a cockroach, and especially any male she has ever come in contact with. The fire alarm went off in my townhouse once, and I'm pretty sure Stella would have stayed balled up in her kennel, holding in her pee and shit for weeks if I hadn't dragged her out by the collar.*
So, the family in Lexington was a no-go, and it was decided that Stella should go and try living at my brother, Michael's, house in Greenville, with his wife Mandy, and 5 year old son Reeve. So, I schlepped Stella off to Greenville.
Stella met, and became friends with, Reeve. Here they are pre-fetching.
Stella enjoyed running and fetching. Pictures like this do nothing to add to her normalcy factor though.
Stella met Mellow, the beagle-mix Michael and Mandy already owned, and it was realized that for as much as Stella despised most humans, she loved other dogs.
And that's where Stella stayed for almost two months, fetching for her new 5-year-old friend and living the good life in a big backyard with another dog. Alas, this home did not end up working out for Stellz either, and yet another new plan was concocted for the fate of Stella.
Phase 5: Stella temporarily lives with me again, and then Stella flies to Texas.
When it was decided that it would not work out for Stella to stay at my brother's, she temporarily came back to my townhouse to live. Stella and I were best buds again! After all, she wasn't eating her own shit anymore, or any other animal's shit for that matter, and it was only temporary, so how could I not enjoy her company? During this brief stint....
Stella discovers she loves closets!
She also sharpened her creeping skills (like owner, like dog) by not moving from this window-observation position for hours at a time.
Then, I packed her up in an airline-safe crate and brought her with me on the plane when I flew home for Fall Break. Well, sort of. She was in the cargo-bin of the plane, a traumatic event that took her at least a few days to recover from. Nevertheless, she had made it to Texas, where she would be re-homed for the 4th time to my Mom's house with my mom's 2 other goldendoodles, Dixie and Ginger.
Like I said, the freak-dog loves other dogs, so my Mom's house seemed to be a great fit for her.
Phase 6: Stella moves again. This time, with my Mom and dogs back to Greenville, SC.
Two months after I brought and left Stella in Texas, my parents moved to Greenville. Stella tried her best to be a good travel companion, and now resides in a house with the 2 other doodles in Greenville. She appears to be doing fine, and, under the authority of a much more able-bodied dog dictator (Suz), she has had no further bouts of flea infestation or shit-eating!
This is a very typical expression for Stella: sheer terror/disgust. She even managed to be afraid of the 6 month old baby.
Stella over winter break in her final re-homing spot, Greenville. Tail between the legs, look of panic on the face. Yep, typical Stella.
To my utter shock, instead of being terrified and suspicious of it, Stella loved the snow. Who knew. This is the most recent picture of her, taken just last week. Looks like a normal, happy canine right? Ohhh how deceiving pictures can be.
Which brings me to the present. Stella still lives with my mom and the other goldendoodles, and seems to be happy as a clam.
After spending my summer last year house training, crate training, trick training, and enduring a whole series of disgusting puppy-phases with her, I relinquished Stella to a new home, which wasn't the easiest thing to do. Luckily, that home is with my own mother, and now, much like I am with my niece and nephew, I get to be the "cool aunt" to Stella. I get to spoil her and not follow the rules when I see her, and leave at the end of the weekend, with all of the responsibility now falling to someone else :)
Maybe it was a mistake adopting a dog so soon out of college, when my future plans were still so up-in-the-air, but I don't regret it. Stella and I had a good run, and what summer isn't complete without a few encounters with blood sucking parasites and feces consumption??
And despite all the shit (figuratively AND LITERALLY) Stella put me through, I would be a heartless curmudgeon if I could stay mad at a face like that :)
Stanley Kowalski: Hey, Stella! Hey, STELLAAAAA! ---A Streetcar Named Desire