November 7, 1996 (I later got the idea it was '94, which would prove to cause me much pain)...|
We drove to meet a litter of new German Shepherd puppies, "just to look". We met the humans, then the canine parents, and were taken to the back yard, which seemed full of puppies and children, all running around, chasing and being chased. I sat on the ground as a few of the pups and kids came up to say "hi". One round, fat, fuzzy female in particular showed an interest in me, crawling into my lap and nosing my face. A little black face with the most amazing reddish tan eyebrows came right up into mine. Then you made your way over to Laura to make friends. Laura swears to this day that the only reason you were nice to her was to seduce her into allowing you to come home with me! We stayed and chatted a while, playing with everybody, looking over all the little furry options, but we always seemed to come back to "the one with the eyebrows". And so, Starr, what had been a trip "just to look", became, on the way back home the beginning of one of the most incredible friendships of my life.
I can still remember, you were so small even at 7 weeks, that I carried you into the house in one hand, and we gave you the formal name: North Fork's Belle, Starr. Lord, but it was a dumb time of year to begin house training a puppy! I can remember losing you in the dark that first time out to walk because you were so black....I had to come back in for a flashlight to find you! It was so cold....I can remember begging you on those cold nights, "Starr! Poop! Starr! Please Poop!", which grew into nicknames....StarrPoop....Poopster... finally just plain old Poop...and I still have to grin at how later in your life you responded to the name "Poop" as readily as you did to "Starr". You were always Starr when other people were around, but when we were alone, you always were my "Poop". I imagine we will both laugh some day when you can tell me some of the nicknames you had for me!
Our early training went well, and was fun. I can remember telling my Mom how well you were doing, and how fast you were learning, and remember her telling me, "It sounds like you are going to have a very good friend there someday.". Little did I know how true her words would turn out to be. You did learn incredibly fast it seemed. It was surprising the way you seemed to key on me at such a young age. I later wondered if maybe you had been "overtrained" if that is possible. You were always so eager to go out and work or just be with me. You never took your eyes off me. You knew by the angle of my coffee cup or beer bottle when I was ready to get up and "do something", and you would go wild! As you got larger, when we went outside, for the first minute or two, you would bark at me, jumping up on your back legs, barking and actually spitting in my face, dancing in circles around me herding me like some wayward calf or lamb! When you were finally taught that nipping the backs of my legs was unacceptable, you took to picking up small tree branches or other sticks, and whipping me with them to get me moving! You would always calm down after that initial frenzy and just hang out and watch, or guard, or whatever you felt your "job" was, but that wild scene was repeated every time we left the house....you barking, spitting, whipping.....and me yelling "calm down!".....for the duration of your life.
I still smile at the time I first became aware of the bond that was forming...I had come home with a plate of homemade biscuits and sat down in front of the TV with a bottle of honey and some butter. I guess you were 6 months or so old. You were sitting on the other side of the coffee table watching me eat...you were very good about letting people eat, you never begged or tried to take any. As I sat there, watching TV and enjoying my biscuits, I noticed movement and glanced over at you. I thought to myself, "No, she isn't.", and took another bite to confirm my suspicions. Glancing over, I saw it...As I took a bite, You started chewing on air!! You were enjoying watching me eat those biscuits as much as I was enjoying eating them!! I couldn't help it, Starr. I started laughing out loud. You immediately stopped, and I never saw you do that again. It's something I will never forget.
You even knew what sound the dartboard made when the bullseye was hit, but the only time you would react was when I was throwing! You always came right up beside me to sit and watch me throw. That was a great source of amusement to the guys who came here to throw. The word among them was, "Never mess with Tom when Starr is around...She's a little Nutz!"
So many wonderful memories, Babe. It must have been late in your first summer that we were building the fence. I had found it easier to not use a manual post hole digger, but to loosen the dirt with a shovel and bar, then lay on my stomach and scoop out the dirt with a tin can as the hole deepened. You had long since become obsessed with tennis balls and "fetch", and were naturally out there playing while I was working. So, I'm laying there, scooping out dirt, the hole is not quite as deep as my arms were long, you dropped the ball in. I picked it up and layed it out and kept scooping. Back in drops the ball. This time I picked it up & tossed it just a little way. "OH cool! Now it's a game!" (except I didn't know). So the further I would throw the ball just to give me a little working time, the more fun it got for you. I finally ended up getting up, confiscating the ball and putting it away in the back of the van in order to finish digging my post hole! I can still see the disappointed look on your face, but also know that I was quickly forgiven.
You took your place in our home and hearts, The youngest of three. You quickly outgrew Peanut and established dominance, much to her disappointment. Beau didn't care who was in charge, he was happy enough there was an extra food bowl to steal from! In time, Lil' Man came to live with us as well. Here was a change....he was too big to be dominated, too nice to fight to prove anything, just a big rough playmate, and you all got along well except for the occasional brief argument!
The years went by, we lived and loved. The memories are too many to even recall right now, but the chaos of four dogs (three of them very large) living in the house will always be remembered with fondness. It's amazing to think back how well you all got along. I had a very impressive "crew" and felt so very fortunate.
Then that time came, the "crew" started unraveling. Beau had become very old and increasingly weaker, and left us in Feburary 2001. One day short of a year later, Peanut died in her sleep. Two years later in late May of 2004, Lil' Man suddenly became very ill and had to be helped over. Suddenly, you were the lone dog....the "Top Dog", and life went on. In early spring of 2005, a beautiful young pup came to visit, having just arrived from Thailand. She lived across the road, and routinely came over to romp and play in your large yard, and the two of you became fast friends. In late July of that year, Wego came to live with us, and you once again had a sister and companion.
Throughout your time here, the neighbors would comment and laugh about how faithfully you would follow the lawnmower as I mowed the grass here. As the time went by, I somehow became confused about the year you were born, and got it in my head that you were 2 years older than you actually were. I regret that terribly, had I realized the truth, we might have done a few things differently later on. Anyway, in the summer of 2007, I decided that, in order to save your hips, I would retire you from your mowing "duties". I know you weren't terribly happy with that decision, but I felt it was best for you. So, when I mowed, you lounged on the couch in the cool house watching TV with Wego.
Summer flew by, fall came. In the late fall of that year I noticed you limping just a little bit. After checking your paws for injuries and thorns, I just figured "poor old gal has a touch of arthritis". It wasn't a bad limp, and you didn't show any pain when I tried to check you, so we started a routine of baby asprin wrapped in a little ball of hamburger, and it helped. I knew in the back of my head that you were aging and would be breaking my heart in the future, but we went on, and you seemed to be doing as well as could be expected...then the limp started getting more pronounced. Time to get to the vet for better, more effective medication. He examined you and said to me, "Come here and feel this". There, in the solid bone of your right front leg was a large lump. I had been focusing on your joints and paws and totally missed the lump. Mistake number 2.
X rays and biopsy followed, and on the 4th day of December it was confirmed... osteosarcoma ... cancer in your bone. I would have to prepare to lose you in 30 to 60 days. In the meantime, I was instructed by Dr. K to "manage the pain and let her have fun". That was all we could do, and that is what we did. You refused any help as far as getting up and down the stairs, stopping when I tried. I'll never forget that look I would get when you made it to the top of the steps, your eyes would say "See? I'm fine on my own!" We had a pretty nice Christmas and life went on.
On the evening of January 19, 2008, we made our routine journey out to the shop to enjoy the wood stove, it was a very raw bitter night. You laid down by the stove, Wego back by the fridge, and all seemed well. When the time came to go in, you attempted to get up, but could not. We ended up carrying you into the house on a blanket stretcher. As I attempted to comfort you, I discovered the lump that told me the cancer had moved to your spine, and our time was drawing to a close. More details aren't necessary... what happened between us is ours to know. Simply put, your demands were honored, and at 7:05 PM on January 20, 2008, as I held you in my arms, you entered your richly earned eternal rest. I never said goodbye, the word is not appropriate. My last words to you were... "Thank you, Starr, I Love you."
The most amazing journey isn't over Starr, it has just been interrupted for a little while. You wait right there...I'll be along in just a little bit...and the whole pack of us will cross that bridge together!