Stella: A good dog who will again have her day
This is a short story about how a good dog can bring happiness and meaningful progress to a community.
Stella, approximate age 11, arrived to our house on Oregon City's McLoughlin Promenade in the autumn of 2013. I had just become semi-retired and was looking forward to having more time to pursue my interests, one of which was to adopt a good dog who needed a home. I didn't want to train a puppy, so Stella, with her wiry Irish Wolfhound coat, constant wisdom and generous nature, was the perfect fit.
The first morning after her arrival late on the previous day, she was at my bedside, wagging her tail and telling me she was ready to go outside. It had been so long since I had had a dog, that it hit me like a two-by-four that I had just engaged in a loving relationship in which I had to get up early every morning to take my dog out! Arghhh....
Nevertheless, I jumped up, dressed in a hurry, and scooted out of the house with her, leash in hand and a doggy bag in my pocket: the new routine in my life.
Once out, I realized how beautiful the morning was and how healthy it felt to be outside early, especially with Stella. But as we walked along the Promenade, I couldn't help but notice all the trash scattered around, the dog poop not picked up, the alcohol and soda containers that had been tossed in every direction, and of course, the long trail of cigarette butts. It occurred to me that if Stella and I were going to get up and out every morning, we might as well also clean up the park behind the house... and so a new project started in our lives.
You know how it is... you're walking along a street or a path in town, and you see the garbage, and sense the apathy that goes along with it. The cigarette butts that are so ugly and demeaning. And you think bad thoughts about "those other people," but, somehow, it's just below you to bend down and pick it up. It's dirty. It's someone else's problem. You're in a hurry. You're exercising and don't want to stop. The city should be more conscientious about picking it up. "It's not my job!" you think to yourself. We're all guilty of it.
But with Stella happily leading the way, the bending-down-and-picking-it-up part seemed tenable, and so in no time we had an established routine, greeting the walkers and runners on the way, the drunks and the loners, the employees of Main Street shops and offices heading for the elevator to work. Some people honestly just didn't know how to deal with seeing someone who looked "normal" picking up the trash. But with Stella, the ultimate ambassador of good tidings to everyone, it quickly became a happy start to the day.
Over the last four-plus years we have picked up every kind of outerwear and underwear you can imagine, including a whole variety of shoes. We have picked up every kind of toiletry paraphernalia, sleeping bags, backpacks, cell phones, radios, needles, fast-food containers, broken glass, birth-control devices, female hygiene items, wrappers of every sort, books, magazines, newspapers, dog poop, human excrement, and of course thousands of cigarette butts, along with hundreds of cans and bottles. You name it, it got left on the Promenade. We called the Parks Department for some of the worst finds, like a puddle of blood in front of the bench at the flagpole and the occasional pile of vomit. We all ought to spend the day with one of the staff on the Parks Department, and be deeply humbled to see the societal unraveling they have to deal with daily.
Stella embraced our routine with enthusiasm, even in inclement weather, and quickly took up her job pointing out the things I should pick up, even a cigarette butt! She never missed a chance to say "good morning" to anyone she saw, although we did learn to avoid some of the folks who just didn't like dogs, and that was OK. She was the perfect park ambassador, making friends with the drunks who started up drinking as soon as the barrel store opened at 7:30 in the morning, clearing the way for me to engage in conversation with them, get to know them, and gently encourage them to think of others and please not bring alcohol into the park. This worked for the groups of young people who thought they could come into the Promenade and take up smoking and drinking, often leaving a mess behind them. Stella made it possible to relate, establish an advocating posture and stay civil.
One day she heard a loose big dog beating up on a little dog on a leash to the panic of its owner. She ran up, separated the dogs, and stood between them scolding the big dog until its owner arrived.
I can't even remember exactly how it happened now, but somehow a group of volunteer neighbors formed and started meeting every second Saturday of the month at 9 a.m. to take on projects our little-but-mighty Parks Department staff simply did not have the time to do. Working with our new Parks Manager Jonathan Waverly, we cleaned the planting beds, pruning and weeding our way through the park, spreading umpteen yards of bark dust to mulch the plants, planting bulbs... always very much enjoying our time together. And Stella was there every time, part of the team, getting to know everyone and being the best sport ever, even though her age was beginning to show.
Stella began to seriously slow down about four months ago, at age 15-plus. She wasn't so gung-ho about cleaning up the Promenade in the rain anymore, and sometimes didn't want to walk the entire stretch down to the elevator. Needless to say, she persevered anyway, and joined me the last day before she died.
It took me two weeks to get up the resolve to get back out on the Promenade to clean it in the mornings without her after she died a month ago. I still imagine her by my side as I leave my house and walk up to the rock outcropping where she loved to look out over the falls before we got started on our routine. It feels quite natural to still softly talk to her.
Without Stella, I have to admit that I don't know if all the good work would have happened. Before she died, the Parks Department and volunteers had already started getting excited about building on our progress on the Promenade and planning an Arbor/Earth Day celebration here that will mark a new day for Oregon City's involvement in beautifying and honoring the special niche of the Promenade — April 7. Don't miss it. Stella would be happily greeting you there if she could.
Francesca Anton is a resident of Oregon City.