Mere hours before daybreak and an appointment that would have decided things for her, Stella shut off her own light. She did it with grace and dignity, on her terms, at the Bossy family house with her people lying on the floor around her.
Ironically it was a woman named Kitty who was responsible for Bossy’s Great Dane. It was 2005 and the Bossy family had just lost their aging dog to cancer. This prompted Bossy to launch what she calls the research process, even though Bossy’s mom refers to it as good as done.
Bossy had always wanted a giant dog, which are hard to come by in mutt form, although the Bossy family tried. One such try was from a shelter approximately three miles past Jupiter. Her name was Heidi, and her dubious heritage was described as Great Pyrenees, a guess that was supported by the promising size of her 8-week-old paws.
The wrinkle in this story revealed at Heidi’s first veterinary appointment. “Actually she’s not eight weeks old, she’s four months old,” the vet said. This meant Heidi wasn’t large for her age, but small for her breed. And her breed wasn’t Great Pyrenees, but rather Setter.
But back to 2005. Bossy had long admired Great Danes, who are known for their calm quality. A mellow dog matches Bossy’s lifestyle, where lifestyle equals napping.
And so Bossy busied herself with researching how she could acquire a Great Dane sometime in the distant future when the Bossy family felt ready to get another puppy. And the distant future took five days. The reason it took five days is because the family was on a camping trip, and thought it more stable to acquire a puppy when not living in a pitch of nylon.
Once home from camping, Bossy scoured the globe for a reputable Great Dane breeder. Bossy was already well versed in dog breeds and their historical functions, generalized dispositions, activity levels, varying temperaments, skeletal structures, and the potential problems within each of these categories. When Bossy was a child she would carry around a dog-eared edition of a Dog Breed Encyclopedia, spouting the traits of her favored dog du jour. Bossy would deposit crocodile tears on the notes she scattered for her parents which issued threats such as, “I am huving a nirvis brake down, can I pleze huve a dog?”
In short, Bossy speaks breeds — which is why she was quickly referred around the breeders’ tightly woven network until finally locating a litter of puppies in a neighboring state. And those puppies were brought about by Kitty, a nurturing grandmother of both humans and Great Danes, generously sharing her house with both across several generations.
And that’s how it came to be that Bossy and her mother and her daughter climbed in Bossy’s Honda and drove for seven hours to select their puppy.
Actually, Bossy and her mother and her daughter weren’t so much tasked with selecting a puppy, as selecting a collar. Bossy had been given the pick of the females, which were identical except for the color of the collars that flopped loosely around their sweet baby necks.
The thing about selecting a puppy is a puppy often selects you. While Bossy flung herself at Green Collar Girl and Red Collar Girl, administering temperament tests and logging the critical results as a nurse would an Apgar score, one particular puppy’s affinity for Bossy and her mother and her daughter became plain. “Who’s this who keeps returning to our chairs?” Bossy’s mom finally asked.
It was Yellow Collar Girl.
Sixteen hours later, Yellow Collar Girl became Stella, and she was loaded into the back of Bossy’s Honda for the drive home. As her tribe of Danes disappeared in the rear view mirror, Stella surrendered her past in one elongated sigh much like a 1940’s film star, before collapsing in a heap for the remainder of the ride.
Once home Stella was introduced to her new extended family and the house she would occupy for the next nine years. When the neighborhood tour did not include the pond she left behind, she lifted her long snout and voiced her disappointment with a deep lilt resonating upward from her toes. “Oh man,” Stella said.
This is how the Bossy family found out Stella could talk, which she did in perpetuity. And for those sentences too complicated, the Bossy family would happily articulate on Stella’s behalf, imitating her compelling intonation. Stella enjoyed the constant soundtrack of her own voice as provided by her family, and she would whip her head around to learn exactly what it was she herself was thinking.
Never showy regarding those ignoble dog tricks that earn a smart distinction, Stella quickly learned everything that was expected of her and executed those things without fail. She was trained to walk off leash although wore one on neighborhood walks for the benefit of those passersby who would gawk, mistaking her for a deer.
Left alone in the front yard, she would lounge and sniff and run circles around the tree without benefit of a dog fence, despite the sidewalk pedestrians who would beckon to her, and despite the proximity of street and all manner of enticing wildlife that always lingered on the other side.
Stella was an agreeable housemate, shrinking her size to fit any situation. For the entirety of her life she cherished two toys, both carried constantly, and neither, nine years later, the victim of a careless puncture.
She never complained about the endless march of boring pellet food she would scrape around a steel bowl kept the height of a second story apartment, and she would lap her tepid water in a deafening, comically prolonged way as though draining the Bering Sea.
When the Bossy family sat for their own meals, Stella would dutifully stand between her two kids, resting her head on a trestle under the farm table, like a horse in its stall. Stella enjoyed being a part of all aspects of the Bossy family industriousness, where industriousness meant lounging around sofas.
The only thing short about a Great Dane is their lifespan. In the same accelerated way a Dane matures physically and mentally in their first year – increasing their weight 100-fold – so does old age arrive too soon.
In her final months Stella was as healthy and sound as her early days, albeit slower and requiring intervals of epic sleep. But in her final weeks the body that served her so well became difficult for her to lift and negotiate, and she began the retreat of the elderly, turning her attention inward.
The Bossy family was determined to spare Stella a tortured exit. The texts and phone calls flew back and forth among the Bossy family, detailing the subtle vagaries of her good days and tired days in an effort to help decide her fate.
In the end, the Bossy family made Stella an appointment for a Saturday morning.
On Friday afternoon she was eating heartily and enjoying a stroll around the back yard, which confused the family decision. Bossy drove to the family house in order to analyze things and spend the night spooning Stella. In the brief hours between late afternoon and early evening when Bossy arrived, Stella began a swift decline. No longer able to stand on her own accord and clearly uncomfortable, talk turned to lifting her into a car and not waiting until morning. The only consideration was Bossy’s daughter, who was not home and had not said goodbye. Suddenly Stella, who was lying in a heap in the center of this impossible conversation, cleared her eyes, stood up, and walked over to her foam mattress renamed in her puppyhood baby duck bed.
Stella, in her final hours, navigated her death in a way that spared the Bossy family of anxiety-producing decisions, anxiety-producing logistics, and anxiety.
Stella waited until Bossy’s daughter came home, slipping in and out of sleep, occasionally shifting her crumbled limbs while her family quietly surrounded her. Stella didn’t so much take her last breath as expel the air she no longer needed.
Bossy calculated that Stella was a few months shy of her first birthday when Bossy began this blog. For over six years there wasn’t a post generated by Bossy that wasn’t overseen by Stella, who would stand for hours next to Bossy’s typing elbow.
Stella had a sense of her role here, providing an endless source of fodder and being an eager participant whenever the camera emerged.
So thank you, dear Bossy’s council, for being avid and loving supporters of Stella these past years. Truly. Bossy’s Dane wasn’t just Great, she enjoyed significant internet reach and Google presence.
Farewell, Stella. You were a force, a big silly, a dear girl, our comic relief. Your voice will always be in Bossy’s head. And we will miss you.