There was a time, years ago, when a wild beast came to live with us over Thanksgiving weekend. She ripped plants from their pots, barked at the cat, peed on the floor (but never outside), and drove Argo into a nervous tizzy. We changed her name to Stella and worked desperately to find a way to understand her. Eventually she got better.
It was a rocky start, but after the first year, Argo and Stella melded into a funny little team. Argo taught Stella how to be a dog. She watched and copied. They ran around the yard playing a strange game of tag only they know the rules to. When they wrestled, every so often Argo would flop over and let Stella win, even though he has almost 20 pounds on her.
Still, sometimes I wondered if Argo would have been happier as an only dog, if he ever wished for all the attention again. The bright spot in everything we’ve been going through is that now I know with complete certainty that bringing Stella home was the best thing we could have done for Argo, and for us.
J was on a business trip when Argo got sick. Stella had a broken toe nail and was sporting an e-collar, so I didn’t want to board her. I didn’t know how long I’d be gone, and she’s not used to being left home alone or at a friend’s house. I decided it was best to drag her along for the ride.
We checked Argo in at the hospital, J booked a flight to Buffalo, and Stella and I went out in search of a hotel that would allow an 80-something pound German Shepherd. We finally found a room, but I was terrified that she would bark too much or panic or freak out and we’d end up sleeping in the car in a parking lot somewhere.
Now, it seems absurd that I worried at all. Stella took it all in stride as if frantic drives to Buffalo and sleeping in strange rooms are just part of the routine. Because she was with me, I didn’t have to face anything alone and J got big sloppy dog kisses when we picked him up at the airport.
We spent three days in Buffalo, visiting Argo as much as we could while we waited for answers and tried to make decisions. We worried Stella might be too hyper or frantic to be around Argo. We didn’t want her to hurt him in her exuberance, or have her nervous energy make him nervous. At first we took shifts. J stayed with Argo while I walked Stella around the parking lot or took her for a drive, and then we’d switch.
Finally, when it seemed like Argo was getting worse, we brought Stella in to see him. We thought maybe it was the beginning of a goodbye. Stella stayed completely, almost forcefully, calm. Argo’s eyes were dull from morphine, but they brightened when we brought her in. He stopped his nervous, druggy whining and finally, finally relaxed.
The four of us spent hours and hours crammed in that tiny little kennel in the hospital – accidentally locking ourselves in more than once. Argo slept with his head on Stella. Stella kept placing her paw on top of his. She didn’t care about all the commotion around us or the beeping IV machine. She didn’t flinch at loud noises or bark at other dogs. She was just there for her very best friend when he needed her. She comforted him like it was her only purpose and she knew exactly what to do.
It was stunning, and as sad as we were, it was a privilege to watch her care for him and to be a part of it. I felt — and still feel — so proud of the four of us for loving so well, for being so important to each other. When we were all together, Argo ate with enthusiasm and slept peacefully. It is an honor to be able to provide that kind of comfort for another being. It is an honor to be a part of this pack.
It’s hard to think about Stella without Argo, about them not being team anymore. We’re teaching her new tricks and taking shifts doing things with her on her own, trying to build her confidence, hoping in some small way to make the coming loss easier on her. No matter what we do, she’s going to lose her best friend, and I grieve for her as much as for myself and J. But I know that she is one tough little dog. I am astounded by her strength and compassion and thankful that we stuck with her though the wild times. We need Stella just as much as she needs us. We are so lucky to be her family.