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  • I’ve written previously of our current dog, Cajun, a beautiful pure Black Lab who has got to be the gentlest soul I have ever encountered. She is right up there in our hall of fame of best dogs ever – just neurotic enough, just “low maintenance” enough, just lovable enough, she’s as good as they come. She would have had a tough act to follow in Cody, our beloved shepherd-lab-greyhound mix who we had for 13 years before he died of old doggie age, and was right up there with Cajun in the Bridgeman Dog Hall of Fame. However, Stella made sure that Cajun would be so welcome, and such a relief, that there would be no unfavorable comparisons to Cody made.

    Stella. Picture Marlon Brando in Streetcar Named Desire yelling “STELLA!!!”, and you get the picture of how the name fit the dog. We only had Stella for a couple of months. That was 2 months too long. But, Stella had a story, one that turned out to be untrue and critical details had been omitted for our benefit, but it was a story that just grabbed Kathy’s heart, and it was difficult to let go.

    We had just had Cody put down. He was in such great pain, and couldn’t even stand up any longer, and the Vet assured us it was what was best for him. I had a “talk” with him on the way to the Vet’s to do the deed, and asked him to let me know, give me some kind of a sign if he didn’t agree with the plan, and all I got from him was, “please put me out of this pain”. He seemed like he was ready to go. I held him as the Vet gave him the shot, hoping that he would feel my love in his last dying moments. It was one of the saddest moments I’ve ever had with a pet. Cody was the best dog ever.

    Enter Stella. Kathy had been looking on-line at various animal rescue sites, and was really taken by Stella. She was a very large Neopolitan Mastiff, about 150 pounds, and really beautiful. We went out to the rescue place to meet her, and took her for a walk in the woods nearby. Kathy obviously bonded with her, and we decided we would take her. She was recovering from stomach surgery – her previous owner had left a meat-juice soaked towel where she could get at it, and she had gotten hold of it and swallowed it. The animal rescue people were going to continue to convalesce her until she was ready to go to a home, and we were getting ready to go on a 2 week cruise, so it would all work out. They indicated that she would need some training before going to a home, so we lined up a top-notch trainer near the animal rescue service to provide the required training.

    We got back from our cruise, checked with the trainer, who said she did great and showed us the various commands she’d been taught, and she was all healed up from her surgery, so we brought her home. My first indication that things weren’t quite right was when I took her out back to play “fetch”. We did it a couple of times, and she’d charge off to get the toy and bring it back. Then, as she as coming back one time, as she approached me, she just launched herself, all 150 pounds of rock solid canine muscle, right at my head. Fortunately, I saw it coming and have good reflexes, and ducked just in time so she sailed right past me, but this was cause for concern. “Someone must have played rough with this one!”, I thought. I used all of the techniques the trainer taught me, and she usually was responsive to them. She had been well-trained. However, there were moments when she was just plain scary. She would seem to go into her own world and when she went there, you could just feel a very violent vibe from her.

    Every morning and evening, I would take her for walks around the neighborhood. Initially, it was very much her taking me for walks, but she responded to the training techniques that I applied, and got better at healing and doing what she was supposed to do. But, it was a struggle for awhile to get it down. Those walks were always a workout for me. But, she and I seemed to be slowly hitting it off.

    But, she never seemed to be comfortable around J.B., who was 15 at the time. He would do and say the same type of things that I did with her, but she did not accept him, and I grew concerned about it. Then, one time, she had gotten hold of a piece of paper towel, and J.B. was trying to get her to give it up. Especially given her history of swallowing a towel, he was very concerned about her possibly swallowing the paper towel and having problems. She went after his face. No skin was broken, but she clearly had gone after him.

    So, we all went to a Board Certified Animal Behaviorist, i.e., “Doggie Shrink”. Who knew that such things even existed? I certainly didn’t. We had filled out this 5 or 6 page document prior to going, and we entered this long room with several chairs on either side, me, Kathy, J.B., Stella and the Doggie Shrink, and the Doggie Doc said, “Just let Stella go, ignore her while we are talking, I’ll take charge while we’re in here”. She proceeded to go through the document with us, asking questions and probing further into the history and behavior of our still relatively new dog. Meanwhile, Stella stalked. You could tell the tension was building in that room, and it wasn’t long before she started going to that place she went occasionally, and I grew very concerned. Apparently, so did the Doggie Shrink, because right about then she said to me, “O.K., you’d better take control of her, now”. She’d seen and heard enough.

    She produced a several page document, outlining all of the things we would need to do if we planned to keep Stella, some outrageous things that were just ridiculous, but the bottome line was, “This dog should never have been placed in a home with any children. She has been through some kind of a trauma that she will probably never be safe around children.” That was all we needed to hear.

    When we followed up with the animal rescue service, we came to find out that the information they had initially given to us about her history was blatantly false, and had been jerry-rigged in their attempts to find a home for her. She was not a little over a year old, she was 4 ½. Prior to the home in which she swallowed the towel, and at which she never got along with the children (a fact that had been played down previously), she had been a stray for how long, no one knew, but she’d been out there on her own for long enough that there were some issues that she migh never overcome, no matter how good the training or strong the love of the owner. This made me so furious, that they had covered this up in their efforts to find a home for this poor creature, a home at the expense of the safety of the children in that home.

    We returned her to the service, and soon thereafter found Cajun, the gentlest creature I’ve ever known, the perfect dog, in every way imaginable. Stella soon became but a distant memory – but, one we will never forget.

    Photo: Marlon Brando in “Streetcar Named Desire”, courtesy of http://www.homevideos.com/revclas/30b.htm
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