Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Story of Star

I am not a dog-person. I grew up in a household where I was taught:  Animals are dirty. Animals carry disease.  Never touch them. This came directly from my immigrant grandparents to my mother who passed it on to me in no uncertain terms.  My kids might plead for a dog but my ears were closed.

It was December. The kids had been out playing in the neighborhood when my son came home with a desperate look in his face and a dog on a worn leash. “Mom! Mom!  Please, please, please Mom, let us keep him!  We found him running on Washington Ave and Cameron is moving Monday and her mom says they can’t. Please let us keep him until we find the owner! Please, please, PLEASE!” It was Friday early evening. 

The dog was an autumn amber with a long curly tail, pointy upright ears, and a purple tongue. The "he" turned out to be a "she."  She didn’t make sound.  I called Cameron’s mom.

“Look this dog has all its shots and a tag; she’s probably just gotten loose. You can place a lost dog ad in the paper for free for a week. And you can probably track down the vet on Monday. We just can’t keep her — the movers are coming Monday and things are upside-down here.”

“Thanks Kathy, I understand…I’m just not a dog-person.”

So I agreed to keep the dog but only on the front stoop (you can’t call it a porch, it’s just a landing to get in to the front door) and decided I’d call the paper in the morning. The kids were ecstatic. They begged to let the dog in but I was adamant and their Dad warned them, “Don’t push your luck.”

A week later, the dog was still on the porch. The ad had been run, we’d tracked down the vet who reluctantly provided a name of the owner; we called everyone with that name but no one claimed the dog. Though her tag said “Butter” my son insisted we call her “Star.”  (My husband reminds me he named her for the star that guided the Magi because it was just before Christmas.)   No one answered the ad.

Now what.

At this point it was getting later in December and colder. My husband and the kids were getting attached.  This dog never went to the bathroom on the stoop, never did anything but sit passively and never, ever made a sound. No barking.  No growling. No whining.  Nothing.  Not a sound. It confounded me.

We put her food and water in disposable foil pie pans. It began snowing. Still she didn’t make a sound. She lived on that porch for weeks.

When the snow was inches deep, finally I gave in. “OKAY. She can stay in the garage.  ONLY in the garage. You can make a place for her down there and that’s where she can sleep. She CANNOT come upstairs or inside the house ANYWHERE.  The garage and that’s it.”  All three of them were happy that Star could come in from the cold — it was a huge step for me.

And that is how things went on, with Star being obedient and good. Not making trouble. She stayed in the garage when we were gone and outside when we were home.  My son and daughter huddled down there with her on the garage floor where we’d assembled some old blankets and bedspreads for her.  It amazed me that she never barked, never made a ruckus; just stayed there wagging her curled-up tail and her fluffy amber coat. We found out she was a chow and German shepherd mix…scary right? But she didn’t display any of the stereotypical behavior I was fearful of seeing.

Time went by. We were in a routine.  My husband got up early to walk her and feed her.  She never messed in the garage (or on the porch for that matter). Then one morning he woke me at 7am with a worried look on his face and a level of tension in his voice.

“You have to come down and see this,” he urged.

I am not a morning person, but he looked so upset I dragged myself into a robe and slippers and followed him down the stairs into the basement and to the garage.
There on the floor in the corner was Star surrounded by furry balls of wriggling energy.

“At first I thought she was being eaten by rats” he deadpanned.

Star was licking these four little beings who were nursing off her furiously.  Oh my God.

It was Valentine’s Day. There were five of them and four of us. Now we were outnumbered.

The sight of Star with those puppies kicked us into high gear. We called animal control, a vet, friends who were dog-people.  From the information we got, it was clear she was taking care of her pups and we would need to let her keep them for 6-8 weeks until they were weaned. Oh my God. The kids were ecstatic.

Two months went by. The kids were living in the garage. But in spite of their pleas, it was time to find the puppies homes.

The first people who came told us they were four females.
The next people told us they were four males.
The ones after said, “You know they had different fathers.”


Apparently, dogs can be impregnated by more than one dog at the same time. “Can’t you see that two of the puppies are much larger, black and brown markings, and much larger teeth?  Can’t you see the pairs look completely different?”
It was true.  Two looked one way and two looked much smaller, all black and, well, very different.

“Listen,” I said, “you see these two kids?  They’re twins and THEY look completely different and I ASSURE you THEY had the SAME father.”

One puppy went to a little girl whose mom had gotten divorced and they’d been living with the grandma who wouldn’t allow dogs in the house. The mom was moving into an apartment of their own and getting her little girl a puppy.

Next, a puppy went to a little boy whose own dog had been run over by a car in front of their house and had been devastated by the experience.

As the puppies left, my kids were devastated.  “Look how happy we’re making that little boy and girl by giving them these puppies…” But they didn’t care.  They begged to be allowed to keep the last two or even ONE of the puppies, but I was firm.

Two guys who were living on a large place in the country wanted the pair of black and browns. Secretly I was glad those two were staying together.

After the puppies were gone my kids were glum. The house was filled with doom and gloom. So I let them bring Star upstairs into the house and that’s where she stayed.  Star had given birth to four pups all alone, by herself on that garage floor, without anyone around.  I couldn’t have done that.  I had a newfound respect for her.  The kids were joyful and jumping.

About a year later we managed a “reunion” with Star and one of her puppies, “Princess.” This puppy was much taller than Star and very much the German shepherd.  Scared me.

Star had her issues with some people…she wasn’t predictable.  She could be perfectly wonderful and other times she would attack.  Once we took her to the beach on a fall day and she took off after a jogger running by and nipped his ankles! We were horrified but he waved us off and kept going.  One of my friends was trying to be nice and say hello and Star leapt up and actually grabbed her t-shirt in her teeth and ripped it…AAAHHH! And sad to say, she bit my sister for no good reason. My sister wasn’t really a dog person either and she was trying to be nice to Star and Star clamped down on her forearm and broke the skin necessitating a visit to the ER just to make sure. It was awful.

When my mother came to live with us for the last two years of her life I couldn’t imagine what we were going to do but amazingly Star would sit at her feet and my mom seemed to like having her there! 

As Star got on in years, she slowed down, developed some health issues and soon was on more meds than we were. Her arthritis got so bad that my husband had to carry her (45 lbs) in and out of the house to spare her the steps which she seemed unable to navigate. She had some good days but they were few and far between. When she began peeing in her bed we realized this was not how Star had been living for 16 years.  It took us two weeks of talking to dog-people before we felt it was best for her to “put her down.”

I never knew how much I would miss Star!  

When I come home, I expect she’ll be at the back door waiting to see me.  
When we clean up after dinner I can’t save the scraps for Star.  
And when I get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, I still walk slowly, feeling my way with my feet in the dark, to make sure I don’t step on her. Months and months later I’m still trying to avoid tripping over her — but she’s not there.   

Though no pedigree, our Star was a pure-bred magician cause she made a dog-person outta me.


  1. Mom. We had that dog since I was in third grade and you narrated from the day you let her into the house to how she bit three people (everyone makes mistakes) then to her decline and eventual death.

    It was well written- but give the girl some credit!

    1. When her mouth was open it always looked like she was smiling at you.
    2. She knew she wasn't allowed on the furniture but she would sleep on the couches at night. If anyone ever came down and turned on the light, they would find her sitting on the floor right in front of the couch looking at you curiously, and if you went over to feel where the couch was still warm, she would bow her head guiltily.
    3. She was the pickiest eater- she wouldn't eat plain dog food, she would only eat it mixed with wet food or scraps from our meals or drippings.
    4. Her fur would come out in these fat blonde tufts that we would then collect and the sheer mass of them looked like a small dog.
    5. She was so docile with Tom and I; she let us pick her up, roll her over, open her mouth, even put her on her back while we stood over her- not an easy thing for chow.
    6. She always had such a sense of consciousness- she NEVER went to the bathroom in the backyard, She would always wait for one of us to walk her. And even then when she went you could tell you were supposed to look away out of respect.
    7. It was so nice to see her little head (or big head as Tom would say) poking through a doorway or behind the glass door, or in the window when we would drive away.
    8. She always seemed to be on our level. When we would throw balls or frisbees trying to get her to run after them and play, she would just watch where the item landed then stare at you with this look as if to say, "you go get it."
    9. She never begged for food, but she would sit about two feet away from you and watch you eat. What a lady.
    10. She was always the fearless protector. For years if someone came to the door we would have to put Star in the basement, even locking the door because she wouldn't stop barking until they left. It still amazes me when people are at the door now, because Star used to start barking as soon as someone was on the lawn.

    I love her and miss her so much, thank you for writing this mom, even if you did leave out ALL THE GOOD THINGS!!!! :)

    Also I think everyone would benefit from more pictures

    1. I stand corrected on all counts...Star STILL has a great advocate in you! Thank you for giving Star her due...!

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  3. Thanks for this. I remember Star well, and fondly. I first met Scott when he was walking Star and I was walking my Molly down in Duke Park. For awhile there our schedules were in sync and we'd let the dogs play together--a fine way to start the day....

    We lost Molly just before Christmas and the adjustment's been really tough. She was my sidekick for 15 years, both at home and at the office. She even had her own page on the company website for a while!

    Growing up, I never was much of a dog person either. But after I had Molly in my life, it's hard to imagine not having a furry critter around. One who's ALWAYS happy to see you and give you the best greeting when you come home (Frank's good but he's not THAT good!). I'm not ready yet for another dog but I don't think I'm going to last long!

    Thanks for telling Star's story--somehow I missed the surprising delivery part of it before now! Kudos to you for recognizing her spirit and allowing her into your lives....