I know what it must be like for non-dog people to have to listen to dog people talk about their pets, so I generally try to avoid doing that. I also know what it must be like for non-runners to be around avid runners so I try to curb that talk too, even though (as Melissa has mentioned) I'm kind of a failure. I'm all too aware, in other words, that there are many people whose tolerance towards those conversations are similar to my tolerance towards conversations about Crossfit. Or cycling. Or reality TV, or Ayn Rand novels, or cats. For non-fans, those conversations can be overly tedious. I get it. But, of course, this was our dog. Our first dog.
I'm also aware of how some dog owners, when it comes to treating their dogs like surrogate children, can test the limits / patience / whatever of even other dog owners. I'm not one of the former. When Hitchens described, watching his daughters grow up, the realization that "your heart is running around inside someone else's body," I understood what he was getting at. This wasn't that. Stella was just... our dog. Our indescribably sweet dog.
Like all good friends, Stella could be exasperating. She never fully accepted the leash. She always needed to pull me just another foot or two further off whatever path we we're on because, silly human, that's where the really interesting scents can be found. But when I gave in and let her off the leash? Right by my side. This is a lab that had zero interest in swimming. The first and last time I tossed a tennis ball towards this retriever, she gave it one indifferent sniff and moved on.
But she loved our yard. It is a typical suburban yard, which means it is popular with the rabbits, skunks, raccoons, two types of squirrel, mice, chipmunks, turkeys, coyotes, deer, and groundhogs. Oh, and the neighborhood cats. Nothing could rile Stella up quite like the sight of a cat in her yard. Because of all this activity Stella was endlessly investigating our yard's bounty of fascinating scents. Our yard is where Stella taught me, trailing a feet few behind her for so many hours, that the natural world contains unknowable secrets. And this never went away. There is a mature cedar towards the middle of our yard; a tree she's walked past hundreds of times but never shown much interest in. Two days ago it demanded a full minute of frantic investigation. Something had rubbed against that old tree and Stella needed to decode it, catalog it.
There's only one word for Stella's defining characteristic: Sweetness. She took to sweetness the way Newfies take to shedding. Many years ago on a Bird Park walk a young girl approached Stella, knelt down, and gently stroked her ears and neck. The reward was a patented Stella moment -- the gentlest of nose taps, the warmth, the stillness. After several seconds the girl turned to her mother and said "this is the dog I was talking about. I want a dog exactly like this."
In the past two years her physical problems were, as the saying goes, manifold and manifest, so yesterday afternoon we let Stella go. But I know I never really will. Typing these words out, I can barely see through the tears. We buried her in the yard she loved, because she was our dog. My friend. I loved this dog, and now she's gone.