Once upon a time, James quite unexpectedly brought home a stray dog. We named her Dali in honor of her different-colored eyes (and, we later found out, craziness). For balance, I told James I’d bring home a dog of my choosing someday, and we’d all live together in a dog-centric version of the nuclear family.
Six months to the day after James brought Dali home, I drove to Brenham to meet my mom in the Wal-Mart parking lot to choose Stella from a litter of three. They were curled up in a cardboard box in the back of a white PT Cruiser owned by a woman with the last name of Klaus. Mom spotted the puppies earlier that day and had a feeling one of them was mine. She was right.
Stella was so tiny when she joined our family, she fit in James’ shirt pocket. We thought we should make a few adjustments to keep her safe until she grew bigger. Out of fear I would step on her in the kitchen since she stuck to me like velcro, I wore an apron and placed her in the big pocket on front while cooking. To protect her from Dali, who was always a live wire, we put her in a child’s playpen at night. But maybe these things weren’t necessary as she was tougher than she looked.
Size of a bag of sugar, heart of a lion
Though Stella stayed small, hence the “rat dog” nickname, she had the moxie of a much larger dog. She took no shit and made it clear how she felt if things weren’t going the way she wanted. Her big round eyes were infinitely expressive, as were her radar ears, which she moved like semaphore flags. Until the very end, she always dropped those ears in a sweet hello when I walked into the room. And I always felt myself soften at the sight.
Stella was a dog, not a doll and refused to wear silly outfits or ride in a purse (though I tried both). I’m grateful she wasn’t that dog and didn’t let me become that person. It would have been off-brand for both of us.
She hated dancing, especially when I did the cabbage patch in her face, and adored the taste of warm chicken. She liked to lie on my dirty clothes in the bathroom while I took a shower and would dance on her hind legs in exchange for a treat or just some delighted laughter. She barked at the vacuum, panted when it thundered, had the worst breath you’ve ever smelled and gave little tiny kisses on your nose when presented the opportunity.
Not anti-social, just selective
Chihuahuas are notorious for only loving one or two people, and Stella the chihuahua-terrier was no exception. She loved me and James, tolerated a few others and ignored the rest of the world.
She was generally easy-going and the perfect travel companion, happy as long as she was in close proximity to her people. When I worked from home, she spent her days curled up in a bed under my desk in front of a tiny heater to keep her warm. The majority of my evenings over the past 14 years ended with me leaning back on the couch and Stella on my chest, over my heart.
Though Stella was on a gradual, yet menacingly relentless decline over the past couple of years, her departure was still as surprising and painful as these things always are. We mourn the soul that we’ve lost, and we also mark the end of an era in our lives together. Stella was a bridge to people and places that are gone. She was firmly part of our later youth, and she left us firmly in our middle age. She was a happy spirit who in turn made us happier people, and I’ll always miss her.
Dogs are one of the best things about life, and I feel privileged to have had the time I did with Stella “Mrs. Jones” Jackson, aka Ratty, aka the Rat Dog, aka the only kid I ever had. Rest in love.