59: How Stella Got Her Groove Back

59: How Stella Got Her Groove Back

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Dog

How Stella Got Her Groove Back

Not-so-fun fact: An estimated 4–6 million dogs are euthanized in the United States every year because they aren’t adopted and animal shelters are overcrowded.

I was making one of my all too frequent stops at the large veterinary hospital I’ve been taking my pets to for the past two decades. This time none of my pets were in tow as it was just a med pick-up run. I’m such a frequent flyer I know just about everyone who works there. Lisa, who has managed the pharmacy as long as I’ve been a client, is one of my favorite people. We always chat about our pets and this time I got to meet Stella, who was spending the day in Lisa’s office.

Stella is an adorable Pit Bull mix with an engagingly uneven grin. Her thin tail wagged at warp speed and all I could think was, “What a happy dog!” Little did I know that Lisa was about to reveal Stella’s secret life before her adoption. I would soon learn that any luck in Stella’s early life had been bad.

“Working in this large veterinary hospital, I’ve seen a number of throwaway animals with injuries or a disease and no one to pay for the procedures and medications that will save their lives,” Lisa began. “Often they’re euthanized for lack of a responsible owner willing to make them whole again.

“About twice a week Animal Control brings in an injured, neglected, abused or sick animal. Many can be saved but they need a home and someone to care for them once treatment is given. Veterinary workers who see these animals often throw the needed lifeline.

“One hot summer day, an Animal Control officer brought in a young, female Pit Bull mix. She’d been used as a bait dog for a dog-fighting ring. A neighbor’s complaint led officers to her, chained to a pole along with purebred Pit Bulls.

“The fight dogs were taken directly to Animal Control, presumably to be euthanized. The injured mix was brought in with a suspected gunshot wound to her right shoulder. She was limping without a whimper. X-rays revealed that her wound was actually a deep, infected dog bite. She was covered with other bite marks in various stages of healing.

“The bones of her rib cage stood out prominently, as she weighed only nineteen of the thirty pounds that are healthy for her breed and size. A collar, obviously put on her as a young pup, was embedded in the flesh around her neck. It was apparent that her previous owners had no concern about her outgrowing it; perhaps they never expected her to survive in the deplorably violent world they’d placed her in.

“She was anemic from the fleas and ticks that covered her body and swarmed in her ears, under her legs and in her groin. To make her more comfortable, the fleas and ticks were treated immediately. With antibiotics and two to three weeks of crate rest, her shoulder would recover. Her chance for a better life was contingent upon someone adopting her.”

I’d remained speechless throughout Lisa’s vivid description of Stella’s arrival at the clinic. Throughout it, I glanced down at Stella and noticed her unwavering focus on her human mom. I saw adoration in those soulful eyes. I waited to learn how Stella evolved from being a friendless victim to a cherished family member. Lisa didn’t disappoint me.

“Most of our animals have come from this veterinary clinic. My husband Kevin has always been a pretty good sport when I’ve wanted to bring another sad luck case home from the hospital. We had two cats and a dog already when I told him about the sweet bait dog. He said we had enough animals and he was reluctant to add another, especially one with all the issues this one had.

“I knew he’d change his mind when he saw her, because, despite the abuse she had suffered, she was friendly and offered a toothy grin and gentle tail wag whenever any hospital workers approached her. As predicted, Kevin took one look at the half starved, much scarred dog and was impressed by her desire to befriend everyone she met. He looked from her to me and said, ‘I guess we’ve got a new dog, Lisa.’ ”

I was transfixed and would have stood there all morning petting Stella’s head as she leaned against my leg. Only the growing line of clients waiting to receive their pet medications could interrupt this fascinating tale.

“I’ve got to get back to work,” Lisa sighed.

I didn’t want it to end like this. I had to hear the details about Stella’s recovery. “Sure, but can we meet sometime soon to finish Stella’s story? Maybe Kevin can join us.”

Several days later Kevin and Lisa met me at a diner. Between bites of their roast beef sandwich, I learned about the highs and lows of Stella’s baby steps toward health and happiness.

Kevin covered her transition to indoor living. “It was obvious she’d never been under a roof and was spooked by the confinement. Since she had to be crated to rest her leg and shoulder, we kept her in our bedroom. She soon adapted to her kennel and sought it as a safe spot.

“The ceiling fan frightened her. If it was on, she’d stare at it and quiver. She wouldn’t pass through doorways or walk down the hallway. We had to carry her outside to go to the bathroom. Loud sounds made her shake with fear.”

“Her adjustments were so subtle and came in such tiny baby steps that we sometimes wondered if she’d ever adapt to her new life,” Lisa added. “We had to repeatedly show her how to do everything and her progress was so very slow. Our vet, Dr. Porte, counseled me to have patience and assured me that everything would work out.

“Just when I thought she’d never leave our bedroom, she observed Puck, our nine-year-old Rottweiler, playing with his ball. She just walked out our door to retrieve it. After that Puck befriended Stella, showing her she needn’t fear him as she had the other dogs in her life.”

Both Lisa and Kevin marveled that the attacks Stella endured never made her aggressive. “She loves to socialize with our neighbors’ kids, my niece and anyone willing to pet her,” Lisa said.

Kevin’s mom, who considers Stella her grandchild, lives 141 miles away but manages to spoil Stella anyway by mailing her squeaky toys and dog cookies. “We take Stella with us every Thanksgiving. She stays with Grandma while we stay at a “no pets” hotel. Grandma makes her scrambled eggs and rack of lamb, her favorites. When we travel, Stella also stays with Grandma. Her Doberman, Toby, taught Stella how to use stairs, a feat she seemed too terrified to attempt at home. The first time she saw Toby trotting down the stairs, she just followed suit.”

Though Stella managed to conquer her fear of things inside the house, she was still timid around the swimming pool. Kevin helped her overcome her fear of water. “I used to bring her into the pool and helped her paddle near the steps. Now she swims in the shallow end and uses the steps to climb out. If we take a walk near the river, she wades in on her own.”

A quiet dog, Stella rarely barks or whines. “Our new neighbor didn’t even realize we had her because he’d never heard her. She just stands near the door or in the kitchen when she wants something. We’re so well trained that we respond quickly and correctly every time,” Lisa giggled, “and Stella is pleased with our progress.”

TV time is a shared event with Stella, Kevin, and their cat Guinness lounging comfortably on an oversized sofa. “When it’s time to sleep, Stella hops onto our bed and dives under the covers. She’s definitely overcome her fear of enclosed places,” Kevin boasts.

Lisa reached over to hug Kevin. “He’s made a complete reversal since that first day I asked to bring Stella home. Now he adores Stella and the unconditional, childlike affection she offers us.”

Rhetorically, since Lisa clearly adores her unstoppable Stella, I asked, “How about you, Lisa?”

“As for me, I thought I was just helping another victim, never guessing that she was so much more than a survivor. I hadn’t imagined the positive changes in store for me. Watching Stella open her heart to us and learn to trust humans, despite her early treatment, was inspirational. If she can take another chance on life, I can live mine fuller as well. Moving on is a wonderful form of liberation.”

Our meal finished, Lisa and I dabbed away a few tears and hugged at the diner door. I remain in awe of the connection between man and his best friend.

~Marsha Porter

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