Animal Encounter Silver Winner: Stella

by Anne Merrigan

Nothing prepares me for Stella. Our encounter occurs within the vulnerable spot frequented by all travelers.  Nothing connected with the elements, yet everything associated with basic necessities.  The place raises sheer panic when undiscovered or mispronounced in the native tongue.  Some refer to it as “the throne” or in everyday language – the bathroom.

A minefield of peculiarities may accompany the physical layout when traveling.  On an island off the coast of Mexico – it’s a hole in the floor.  In Spain – you pull a chord to flush.  Out west – it’s the nearest bush and in the rural South – it’s a two seater outhouse.  On one occasion in the East, the rest room was under construction necessitating following signs to the replacement site.  After I sat, another soul enters the adjacent stall with shoes pointing in the opposite direction.  I blurt, “Either you’re in the wrong place or I am;” whereupon my neighbor scurries out.

Typically fellow occupants respect privacy.  It’s permissible to ask for directions while washing hands.  Acceptable to ignore little children peering under stall doors before their mother grabs them.  Even understandable to ask the adjacent booth for toilet paper when yours is ill-equipped.  However, Stella’s a different matter altogether.  Desperately hungry for affection, she violates personal boundaries with a winning smile and hair over her eyes.  We meet in upstate New York.  Her petite frame sports a pink sweater with “Stella” embroidered in flowing lavender script.  An adoring older woman in a matching pink sweater with “Mommy” written in lavender script protectively carries her while whispering endearments.  Noticing my amazement, she states “Oh, don’t worry, its nonallergenic fur.”  Not the sweater – Stella.  My mouth agape, Stella glances up, looks me in the eye beneath her black bangs and winks with large brown Miniature Poodle eyes.  The absurdity of her presence leaves me disoriented.  Why didn’t Stella remain in the car   Shaking my head, I choose a far-away stall.

While seating myself, it becomes apparent Stella and her owner share a difference of opinion.  “Come on, Stell, Stell.  Mommy has to do her business,” her owner pleads.

Stella replies with an irritated high pitch howl.

“Now Stell, Stell.  Mommy waited patiently while you did your business.”

Stella responds with a series of barks.

“Stella, I insist.  Don’t use that tone with me!” Mommy states in a high pitch wail.

Stella emits a twenty-one gun salute of rapid fire woofs.

Silence.

Shrugging, I figure mommy won out.  That’s when I hear surprise voices – “Oh, my.”  “Dear, me.” “Goodness sake” – from the hidden chorus of fellow stall dwellers. Staccato renderings in rhythm with a dragging sound – the leash.  Little furry feet stop outside my door.  Stella peers underneath.  She enters, sniffing my trousers, “Shoo, shoo,” I admonish with gritted teeth; frantically gesturing with my hands.  Stella ignores my efforts.  She hops into my jeans, curls into a ball in the underwear pooled at my feet.

Great.  Why me   Afraid she would bite if I take hold of her, I attempt to twist my foot upwards in an effort to dislodge her.  Stella falls inside my pant leg head first with her tail wagging, fanny in the air.   “Mommy’s Little Girl” is written on the jewel leash flowing out of my underwear.  Knowing I have to dislodge her, in one smooth motion I reach in, grab her and set her on her feet; swiftly pulling my pants up to my knees.  Minus the option of the underwear bonding experience, Stella turns, curls up at my feet with her head on my sneaker and closes her eyes.

What now   There’s no Emily Post bathroom etiquette for encounters with a dog when you’re expecting privacy of a personal nature.  I try nudging her with my hands. “Go, get, GET OUT OF HERE,” I whisper fiercely.  No luck.  Stella wasn’t budging.  She didn’t even lift her head.  Amid the bathroom noises of flushes, hand dryer and running water, no one spoke.  Finally, a familiar voice rings out.

“Oh, Stella.  Where are you   Where did mommy’s little girl go ”

What now  Invite mommy in   A moment of inspiration flashes inside my desperate brain.  Taking hold of the leash, I throw it under the door.

“Stella, oh Stell, Stell.  Are you making new friends ”

Apparently mommy either didn’t notice or was not acknowledging the leash.  Maybe she thought Stella made a play date.  This is ridiculous!  Bending over uncomfortably, I put my hands on either side of Stella. With monumental effort, between my hands and feet, I push her rigid form back under the door.

“There you are Stell. Stell.  Did you make a new friend   Let’s thank the nice lady.”  Stella responds with an affirmative bark.  Good grief.  Fearful of mommy’s head appearing underneath the stall door, I pull my pants up further.  Instead Stella reenters the stall, tall wagging and drops a foil wrapped Hershey’s Kiss encased in dog saliva at my feet.  She whirls and marches back out to her owner.  Life turns upside down.  I’ve been given a human treat by a dog!

It’s all I can do to keep from growling a response.  I remain in my stall long after I’m finished to ensure Stella’s left the premises.  Sometimes avoidance can be the better part of valor.

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