By Dinah Daly

 

Our kids always wanted a dog and what we did over the years was ply them pretty aggressively with the cutest cuddliest dogs we could find made by Disney, Gund, Steif, and Ty.
    We snapped real collars and leashes on the stuffed animals and the kids invented all kinds of pretend games. Pet shop, vet, circus, zoo, normal life. No one had to be home at any certain time to feed these stuffies or walk them in the rain or scoop up their poop. A few of them evolved into floppy tattered favorites hugged tight every night in bed. But none of them really filled that spot in a child that wants a dog.
    More than once, the kids threatened to go over our heads and ask Santa for a puppy and we had to quickly counter threat with our own Dear Santa letter of explanation. We live in the city—what kind of life would a dog have in the city, I have allergies, the landlord wouldn’t allow one, I was trying to get a career going again, my husband works essentially three jobs, and with all the kids’ music lessons, swim and soccer teams, water polo practices, SAT tutoring, theater, dance, and every other miscellaneous school activity we jam pack into our day, a dog just wasn’t possible.
    Time went by and eventually—with one kid headed off to college and the other into high school—we felt satisfied we had pretty much dodged getting a real dog.
    Then last Fall I started to think the kids were right. They needed a dog. We were gypping them and if we were going to get a dog we had to do it right away. Before the high school kid completely vanished into adolescence and while the college kid was still coming home now and then. I don’t know why I changed my mind. Maybe I felt our family dynamics were changing. Our home, a  little emptier. Everyone that much more stressed. The loss of the last gerbil.  And things just different after 9/11. Plus some of our rationale against a dog had become inconsequential. We knew now about the hypoallergenic quality of Australian Labradoodles. And a couple of years before, when our landlord nixed the kids getting chinchillas, they’d petitioned again for a more ordinary pet and the landlord had relented saying it would be okay to have a small dog.
    So, not really aware of how humongous a change we were about to bring on all our lives, the high school kid and I drove two hours up to Hudson Labradoodles last October and picked out a chocolate puppy. We wrote a check we hoped wouldn’t bounce and brought home this beautiful hilarious beast more plush and impossibly wonderful than any Disney or Gund or Steif or Ty creation all rolled into one.
    After arguing over a list of 76 different names, the four of us finally agreed she was Stella, a name we had no way of knowing would become more and more perfect every day. People stop us all the time walking on the street. Cars pull over, roll down their windows. Mothers with babies in Snugglies have crouched down without even asking first to let her lick their baby’s hands or dangling feet. They all want to know what kind of dog she is, remarking how soft her coat, how beautiful her eyes. She greets everyone so happily. Boys always want to play with her. One girl walked up and buried her face in her fur. Residents of a nearby retirement home call to her from their sidewalk bench and she goes over to rest her head on their knees. Everyone is impressed by how calm she is, how gentle, how smart, how well trained, how much fun. They laugh at her tricks. Just the sight of her trotting along beside us—pure dog joy in a dancing chocolate muppet coat—makes all kinds of passing strangers break into a smile.
    We are so lucky. Stella is a star. Our star. We take her everywhere we can and instead of being yet another responsibility and complication in our busy urban lives like we feared, she has enlarged and sweetened our world, brought us closer together as a family. Made us scads of new friends. Made us silly. We are totally her entourage, her fans, her paparazzi. Whether Stella is trying to get our goat by stealing our socks and underwear or stepping up to pose majestically on a tree stump or dashing through an agility tunnel or relaxing with a bison bone or just jumping for joy, we shutterbug her daily life as if she is a real celebrity.
    It is a little embarrassing, but we must have thousands more pictures of this ten-month-old raggle-taggle chocolate girl than we ever took of our daughters when they were little. Part of this, I console myself, is the advent of digital cameras and the Internet. Our whole family is doing the picture taking now and some of us are sharing them on Facebook or Livejournal or Flickr or sending them like postcards attached to emails with family and friends. But, really I think all these pictures are because Stella is Stella—a wonderful dog. So doodle hilarious and gorgeous and soft and smart and willing and friendly and athletic and playful and mischievous and intuitively gentle when she needs to be and totally rambunctious when it is okay to cut loose and also so very curious and patient and spirited and go-with-the-flow contented and delightfully easy to train and the adjectives could go on and on, but all these qualities make her endlessly entertaining and irresistibly photogenic. More fun and poetic than we ever imagined.
    Sometimes I suspect that she does things now just to get us to take her picture, as if the sound of our shutters clicking has become some kind of reward. Other times I think all our daily dog photography is baffling and annoying and she is probably saying to herself—could you please just leave me alone to eat this Cornish hen now by myself?
    Recently (probably in a polite effort to get us to stop clogging the Hudson Labradoodles email with our latest images of Stella) Curtis Rist invited us to put together a smorgasbord of snapshots of our favorite Australian Labradoodle and luckily along with these, Stella graciously offered to tell us in her own words a few things about herself and her typical doodleday.


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