For those of you who follow my various social media platforms, you will be more than familiar with my dog Carter. He was the first dog that I've had that has challenged me, was the main reason that I started to enthral myself in the dog training world, and is why I started to specialize in behaviour modification. I post about him a lot, because he is a dog that people dealing with reactive pets can relate with. With that being said, I want to take a moment to tell you about Stella. My sweet, loving, beautiful Stella.
Aside from my work with Candor Canine Co, I also am a canine hydrotherapist at the Canine Rehabilitation & Fitness Centre here in Winnipeg. I started there this past December, and from my previous work with WHS reached out to them to offer our services for dogs in need of therapy. They let me know that they had a few dogs in need of help - one of them being a puppy who was in pretty bad shape.
They came by the centre with a kennel, and when they set it down out popped this tiny little shaved fox-dog hybrid running around like she found a new lease on life. She had an FHO (femoral head/neck ostectomy) on her hind left hip to help alleviate pain from a previously broken pelvis, had lice (hence the baldness), and had a deformed hind paw on her hind right leg that had neural damage. She clearly had a horrible start to life, but was bounding around like she didn't have a care in the world. So I obviously instantly fell in love. They mentioned that she was in need of a foster, and needed to have physio, and hydrotherapy done multiple times a day... being in the position that I was, I was the perfect foster to be able to provide that for her.
The next day we brought Carter over to WHS to meet her. He could have cared less for her, which for him meant it was a go! We brought her home that day with the only stipulation of fostering her being that we can't fall in love with her and keep her because two dogs would be too much right now... that didn't last very long.
Over the first week, Carter was very unsure of her so we kept her in the kitchen behind a baby gate, and they had supervised visits out in the yard. One day when they hanging out, Carter was rolling on his back in the grass. Stella looked at him, and immediately started to copy him, and rolled over herself. After that there was no separating them... which is unexpected from a dog-reactive, resource guarding dog such as Carter. He started to care for her more and more every day, and she started to help him through his fears.
Carter had been reactive to our roommate up to this point (for over 8 months), and for some reason once Stella came around, Carter started to relax. He stopped barking every time our roommate came up the stairs, and actually started soliciting attention. He started sharing his toys - he would take toys and put them right by her face so that she could chew on them too, and they would just sit there, chewing on the same bone together. Which is something I never in my life, thought I would see. When we would leave for the day Carter would be sitting beside her kennel, and when we would come home it was like he never moved. He was just as hooked as I was.
As time went on, there were more complications with our sweet girl. She started tearing her toes apart on the foot that had no feeling, so there was talk that she may need to get her leg amputated. Thankfully, Dr.Bowen at WHS came up with a solution. They amputated her two middle toes, and sutured them together in hopes to redistribute her weight, and potentially solve the problem. This meant visits to the clinic at least twice a week, bandage changes, monitoring, and more physio. You would think all these operations, and all that pain would take it's toll on this little 15 lb dog, but not Stella.
Stella was relentless. She was strong. She was astounding.
After much thought, we finally decided to take the plunge and adopt her. We started fostering her in the beginning of May, and she was officially ours on July 25, 2018.
She came everywhere with me. She came to work with me almost every day, we trained together every day, she followed me everywhere I went, and was always near me at all times. You could literally feel how much she loved you in the way she would run at 100 mph when you called her, or how she would always be curled up on your chest, with her paws on you face. I never thought that I would feel the love for an animal the way that I did for her. She had such a hard start to life, and never once let it phase her. She was an inspiration. She was my inspiration.
We lost Stella on September 1, 2018. After a beautiful day at our cabin in Waterhen, MB Stella jumped off a moving trailer and was killed. She died within minutes of the accident, and took her last breath in the arms of me, and my partner. I go through that scenario in my head every day. What if I had been holding onto her tighter? What if I would have left her at home? What if I didn't have her on leash? What if I didn't adopt her? Would she still be alive today?
She just overcame so much, and just started to live a normal happy life. Why? Why does this happen to dogs like this? She was 9 months old, and we should have had years together. Why was she taken away from us so soon? Why did such an amazing life get taken in such an awful way? Why can't I make this pain go away?
The truth is there is absolutely no answer to those questions. There never will be. You can ask "what if", or "why", or question or blame yourself in any, and every way. The outcome remains the same. It's not fair, but it's real.
The hardest thing that I have been trying to come to terms with is the fact that I will never see my sweet girl again. I feel like this tightness in my chest is never going to go away, and that she took a piece of my heart when she died that I'm never going to get back... but I have realized that her effecting my life in such a big way in such a short time is not a negative thing. That piece that she took is always going to remind me to fight through the pain. It's going to remind me to keep fighting for those who need help. It's going to remind me to keep loving, and laughing. And most importantly, it's going to encourage me to keep helping dogs like her to honour her, and to honour everything that she gave me... every smile, every laugh, and every single day that I had her... because she made my life brighter.
It's important to remember in times of grief that life goes on. Just take a deep breath in. Feel what you're feeling. Every day will get a little bit easier... even when it feels like it's crushing you.
So I leave here with this - Good bye my sweet Stella. You have taught me to always keep going. You have taught me what it feels like to be loved fully and completely by something without fault. You have taught me that there is strength in even the smallest acts of kindness, and to cherish the moments that you have with the ones you love because you never know how much time you have. You have taught me to always keep my heart open, because you never know when an itty bitty fox-dog will swoop in and steal it.
I love you so much, and will never, ever forget you.