Month: November 2021

Little Miss Sassy Jane – Sterling Tribute

Writing about Sterling is a little bit difficult.  Not because of emotion but because it’s hard to put her personality into words.  Sterling had a lot of personality and you just kind of had to be around her to understand it.

Before I attempt to put her personality into words I have to to tell the story of how I happened to get Sterling. I’ve written a lot of stuff but the best thing I’ve ever written in my life was the note to Sterling’s foster mom.  When I was ready to add a replacement for Chopper’s original sister I was pretty specific on what I wanted.  When I saw a picture of Sterling on PetFinder.com I knew she was the dog for me.  She’d probably be okay for Chopper as well…

I wrote her foster mom a note explaining how Chopper’s original sister didn’t survive a severe sickness and he was now ready for a new little sister.  I explained what kind of life they would live along with too many details like I tend to write.  Well, it worked. The foster mom wrote me back a note saying Sterling was already promised to someone.  However, she thought Sterling would be a better fit for me.  She wanted to talk to the other person and make sure they were okay with it.

The foster mom responded back Chopper and I could get Sterling.  I was extremely elated.  The first person interested in Sterling wanted to turn her into a dog that did those obstacle courses.  You know those courses where they must jump over and run through things?

Holy cow.  I thought I was lucky to get Sterling.  EVERYONE was lucky I got Sterling.  Sterling was not made to be an obstacle course dog.  The girl was made to be a damn princess.  I can’t imagine the hell Sterling and the other owner would have experienced trying to get her to go around, through, and over obstacles.  No way Sterling would have enjoyed that life. She would have made whoever was trying to make her do that stuff pay for it.  Her foster mom made the perfect call.

Funny how life tends to find the right course.  Pun intended…

As for Sterling herself I think it’s easiest to break her down in little vignettes of her personality and stories of her life.

Sweet and Sassy:

I always joked Sterling had two settings – Sweet and Sassy.  I’m not really joking.  She basically had two personalities.  The one where she just wanted to lay around and sleep or snuggle and the one where she was awake and either barking her head off or looking to see what she could get away with.

When the sweet setting was on there was no sweeter dog in this world.  She really was.  She just wanted to lay around and sleep.  Even better if someone was next to her snuggling or cuddling on her.  She just wanted to be loved and share love.  So sweet.

When she was awake, she was VERY demanding of things.  She didn’t speak English but she did her damndest to tell you what she wanted.

The girl made three sounds:

  • Whine: This was her warning she needed attention.
  • Woof: This was the second level warning she needed attention because you missed her whines.
  • Bark: This was full throttle top of her lungs pierce your ears the girl needs something and you better figure it out.  Sterling went about 50 pounds but she was part hound dog so she had the lungs and vocal cords of a jet engine.  The girl was LOUD.  When she barked at you there was hell to pay.  It would hurt your ears and you couldn’t think clearly.

I loved each of her settings.  When she was Sweet you had your own little angel you could love on.  She reciprocated the love.  When she was Sassy you had a devil on your hands and you better get things corrected right away.  The girl seemed like she could bark for 30 minutes straight so you weren’t going to ignore her demand for corrective action.  You were just going to have to do it.

There really was no in between personality with her.  She was either sleeping or barking.  She didn’t need tasks to complete.  She didn’t need treats or food.  She wanted sleep or attention.

I sometimes joke if my ex-wife communicated with me like Sterling did we might still be married.  I suppose that’s why Sterling and I lasted a lot longer.  Good communication really is key to a successful relationship.  Sterling certainly knew how to communicate.

Daddy’s Girl/Uber Possessive:

Anyone that spent any time with Sterling knew she was a Daddy’s Girl.  There was one person in this world that mattered more to her than anyone.  That was me.  I don’t know how it happened but it did.  I suppose a lot of it was me being a total sucker for her.  I loved her personality and looks.  I thought she had the funniest personality and she was a beautiful dog.  She had those floppy hound dog ears.  When she perked them up at me I’d melt.  I make no apologies for how I treated her. I thought she deserved to be treated like a princess so that’s how I treated her.

In addition to being a Daddy’s Girl she was also super possessive of me.  Whenever she was roaming around off leash and another dog was in the area she’d often walk in between my legs if I was standing.  She’d put her front legs about where my legs where and she’d look up at me as I looked down because I felt something between my legs.  We’d make eye contact as if she was saying, “Don’t forget I’m yours.”  Then she’d lower her head waiting for another dog to come near.  When that dog came near she’d snarl and growl at it. 

It was pretty common at parks.  I’d just be standing and feel this dog walk between my legs.  I’d look down and there was Sterling just looking up at me.  Then I’d see another dog in my general vicinity.  The girl wanted everyone to know who belonged to who.  I always laughed even if it meant Sterling was ready to fight another dog.  She never did as I’d step away and call her to me if another dog got near.  It was a fun game we played.

The best story of Sterling’s uber possessiveness was after Kelly and I moved in together.  Kelly and Sterling’s relationship was one of love but moderate toleration.  It’s the classic tale of two females fighting over one man.  I’m not kidding.  They did love one another but they really just tolerated each other when I was around.

One day I was upstairs in our sports room watching the Astros.  Sterling had found me and was laying on the floor next to the couch where I was.  Kelly came in to tell me something.  Not more than a minute or two into our conversation Sterling jumps up and just lays into Kelly with her loud barks.  We tell Sterling to be quiet but she’s not piping down.  Kelly walks out of the room and downstairs into the kitchen.  Sterling follows her all the way downstairs into the kitchen still barking her head off.  She spent another minute or two just barking at Kelly.  I’m sure it felt like an eternity to Kelly.  When Sterling was done barking at Kelly, Sterling makes her way back up the stairs to where I was.  She just lays down on the floor resuming her position before Kelly came in the room.  I’m sure if we could translate Sterling’s barks it would be something like, “Lady!  This is my special time with my dad.  You get yours.  Get out of here and leave us alone!  Don’t come back either!”

Let me be clear – Kelly was a wonderful mother to Sterling.  She was always very loving on Sterling even if Sterling didn’t always reciprocate it.  Kelly was EXTREMELY loving on Sterling after she had her stroke.  Kelly was her main caretaker during the day.  Without Kelly we would have had to make a difficult decision much sooner.  I know Sterling certainly appreciated it even if she didn’t always show it.

Still, it was funny to see the back and forth between those two over my attention.

Love Language – Affection:

Chopper was a treat machine.  That dude would do ANYTHING for a treat.  Sterling didn’t give a damn about treats or food.  Sure, she enjoyed them when given to her but her love language was affection.  If you wanted her to do something you better love on her.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’d try to get her to do something.  If she wasn’t feeling it she’d just lay down on the ground.  I’d go over to pet on her and talk sweet to her.  After a minute or two I’d get up and she’d follow me to do whatever it was that I wanted her to do.  She just needed a little affection and she was good to go.

This was never more evident than in her final moments.  We had a vet come to our house to put her down.  Sterling was on the couch while Kelly and I loved on her while the vet got things ready.  The vet came over to give her the anesthesia and brought Sterling a treat.  It was a treat Sterling liked.  Sterling refused the treat from the vet and me as if to say, “Nah.  You’re not buying me off with a treat in this moment.  I want to be petted!”  So she got lots of pets as she took her last breath.

It was only appropriate her final moments were full of pets and affection.

Ageless Wonder:

Sterling’s greatest gift was the fact she never aged.  Seriously.  The girl never aged.  If you go back and look at puppy photos of her she just looks like a mini-version of her current day self.  It was uncanny.  She never grayed and she never gained any weight until after her stroke.  She basically looked like the same dog for 14 years.  As Chopper grayed people were shocked to learn Sterling and her big bubba were only 4 months apart.

The two funniest stories of this involve visits to the doggy emergency room.  Chopper hurt himself one day at the park a few months before turning 14.  He couldn’t get comfortable that night so around midnight I decided to take him to get checked out.  I took Sterling along for moral support.

The vet comes in to start checking on Chopper.  As we’re talking about things she mentions Chopper is almost 14 and things just don’t work as well.  She looks at Sterling and says, “He doesn’t have the benefit of youth like her.”  I tell her Sterling is only 4 months younger and she says, “You’re kidding me?”  I tell her Sterling will be 14 soon too.  She says, “I thought she was 9 or 10 at the most.  She’s gonna be 14 soon?  Girl, I need your secrets because you’re killing this aging thing.”

The other time was when Sterling had her stroke.  We took her to the Doggy ER and talk to the vet on duty that night.  She gives us the initial analysis that nothing dramatic has happened and they believe a recovery is possible.  She said we could go home and they would call us in a couple of hours once they’d run some X-rays and tests with a further diagnosis.  She calls us and tells us they think Sterling has had some neurological event and they want Sterling to see their Neurology Department in the morning.  We hang up and a couple minutes later they call back.  I’m worried something else has happened.  The vet says, “I was looking at her chart and the age they put down shows her turning 14 next week.  Is that correct?  I think that’s an error.”  I tell her it’s not an error.  She says, “Holy cow.  This girl looks good for almost 14 years old.  I really thought it was wrong.  She looks amazing for her age”

Sterling was the J-Lo of dogs.

A Smart and Devious Brain:

I often said, “Sterling hates being in trouble but she loves getting into it.”  I really mean that.  That girl was EXTREMELY smart but she liked to play dumb.  She loved pushing boundaries to see what she could get away with.  She knew all the rules but some she chose to ignore or knew they couldn’t be enforced when no one was around.

The best example of this was the bed and couch.  She knew she wasn’t supposed to be on any furniture.  She obeyed this rule when her daddy was around.  The second I’d leave though she’d jump on the couch or the bed when she still had the ability.  When I came home she’d either get alerted by Chopper I was home or she’d hear me at the door and jump off before I could see her.

The few times Chopper didn’t alert her or she didn’t hear me I’d look through the window and see hear.  I’d jiggle the key a few times and she’d pop her head up realizing I was home.  She’d then jump off the couch and immediately go into a stretch and yawn routine as I walked through the door pretending she’d just woke up on her bed.

She knew what she was doing and so did I.  I didn’t care.  I thought it was funny.  I loved her smart and devious brain.

Territorial:

I mentioned Sterling was uber possessive of her dad but she was also very territorial of where she lived.

At every house she ever lived she had an archnemesis.  I’m not kidding.  There was one specific dog she absolutely could not stand and would never get along with.  It wasn’t playful.  It was pure spite.

There would be multiple dogs next door and somehow Sterling and one other dog would become sworn enemies.  Every single house she lived there was one dog she just couldn’t or wouldn’t get along with.

The house before I moved in with Kelly was probably the worst.  The dog lived next door and there was a wooden fence between us.  Sterling would go outside and just sit at the fence peering between a crack waiting on that dog to come out.  Seriously.  She’d just sit there forever waiting.

When that dog did come out Sterling would just run up and down the fence line barking her head off.  Maybe they were playing but I think it was Sterling antagonizing him.

The craziest story of those two involved breaking windows.  The house was on a cul-de-sac so I’d let the dogs run around off the leash.  The neighbors had a window that went all the way down to the ground.  Sterling would run to the window in a full sprint and hit the brakes right as she got there.  She’d have her nose inches from the window and just go crazy barking at that dog.  I mean just go at each other.

Every now and then you’d hear glass break.  Sterling would antagonize that dog so much that it would charge at her breaking the glass.  This happened four times.  Every time it happened the glass would be on the outside of the house which meant their dog had charged at Sterling.  Each time it happened I offered to pay but they refused because in their eyes it was their dog that did it.  They said they thought it was funny.  Somehow Sterling always got away with it because she knew the boundary and wouldn’t go past it.  She was sure going to push that boundary as far as she could.  She loved pushing boundaries.

At the house Kelly and I live in now we didn’t have any dogs next door that became her archnemesis.  She somehow identified a dog that lived on our block around the corner.  This dog had a front yard with a picket fence so they could easily see each other.  Before her stroke that dog would see her and start going crazy.  Sterling would give it right back and they’d go crazy at each other through the fence.  I mean just an all-out war between those two.  I knew what was going on.  That was her current sworn enemy and she’d never show weakness to that dog.

She didn’t even back down after her stroke.  I’d take her on a walk around the block and that dog would be outside.  Sterling could hobble along just fine but she couldn’t run at all.  However, when she saw that dog she’d stop and make a legit running attempt at that dog and they’d just light into each other.  Usually she’d fall down and I’d pop her back up and they’d keep going crazy at one another.

I thought one time it was the death of her.  It was probably the hottest day since her stroke and that dog was outside.  Sterling did her usual quasi run and going crazy.  Right when we got past their house where they couldn’t see each other, Sterling went into the next house’s yard and passed out.  I mean just went limp and fell in the grass with no movement.  Her eyes were shut and she wasn’t breathing.  I thought she was dying.  I lay down next to her just petting her in case she really was dying.  I figure if she’s going to go out she might as well do it going after an archnemesis. 

After about 30 seconds she opens her eyes and starts breathing heavily.  She’s alive.  I just lay there with her.  Luckily the neighbor heard something going on and came over.  She went and got Sterling some water.  I called Kelly to come get Chopper.  After a few minutes we realize she’s okay so I carry her home.  We put her on the couch with some ice packs to cool her down.  30 minutes later she was barking her head off ready for dinner.

In addition to having an archnemesis Sterling would not allow being trash talked to.  If she was out and about and another dog started barking at her she NEVER backed down.  It didn’t matter if it was a dog behind a fence, walking across the street, or even driving by in a car.  If she got barked at she was lighting up barking right back.  I’m sure she knew her dad or big brother would cash the check she was writing but Sterling would NEVER let a dog bark at her without a bigger volley back.  Nobody trash talked the Sterls.  Nobody.

The Time She Growled at Reveille:

To further how territorial and possessive Sterling was she once totally broke my heart.  My ex-wife and I took the hounds to dog night at the Texas Rangers.  It was a little overwhelming for them as they were a little anxious but they were doing okay.

Reveille, the Texas A&M mascot, was there taking pictures with other dogs.  I thought it was a good idea to get a picture with all of us including Reveille.  This was going to be wonderful.  A photo we could frame, send to people for Holidays, or just show how big of an Aggie family we were.

As I’m trying to get everything lined up for the photo my ex-wife says, “Chewy.  This isn’t a good idea.”  I ask her why not and she says, “Look at Sterling.”

I look down and Sterling is showing teeth and growling at Reveille.  My heart sank.  Reveille was doing just fine but Sterling wasn’t having any company with her.  It was as if Sterling was telling Reveille, “There’s only one female dog in my dad’s life and it ain’t you.”  I was devastated.  I knew if I tried to get that picture with Reveille and Sterling it might not end well.  We moved on.

Sterling didn’t care if you were Aggie royalty or not.  There was only one female dog in her pack and she was it.  She defended her territory.

Bed and Snuggles:

I’ll close with how much Sterling loved beds and snuggles.  Words really can’t express how much Sterling loved both.  He favorite place in this world was snuggled in bed next to her dad.  Not even a close second.  Snuggling in a big bed with her dad was her favorite spot.

When she slept in my bed Sterling would get up several times through the night and get closer to me.  She would basically lay on top of me and I’d slide away from her.  At least 4-5 times a night she’d get up, do this little circle thing, and then fall back down as close as she could get to me.  If she didn’t feel enough pressure from me she’d make sure she got it.  It was all about the snuggles for her.

After her stroke she spent the next 9 months sleeping next to me every night in our bed.  Some of it was sympathy but some of it was she needed to be turned in the night.  It was just easier if she was lying next to me for me to turn her during the night. 

Even in her post stroke state if I wasn’t touching her she’d move herself until one part of her was touching me.  If I rolled over closer to Kelly it was only a matter of minutes before Sterling would use her legs to slide sideways until something of her was touching me.  The girl couldn’t get up but she figured out how to slide so she could be touching her dad.  It was cute.

As for beds the girl didn’t lay on the floor.  She wanted something soft and fluffy to lay on.  The softer and fluffier the better.  Throughout her life she had many beds.  As she got older the beds became more fluffier and plentiful.  She had multiple beds at my house and multiple beds at Kelly’s house.  When we moved in together there were multiple beds on both levels of the house.  If you were going to be in a room it better have a bed as she’d bark or whine until you got her one.

Her second favorite spot was on the couch.  After her stroke she couldn’t get up on the couch but she still wanted to be up there.  Kelly bought her this bed that lays on the couch.  It quickly became her favorite spot besides the upstairs bed.  When she was ready to get on the couch she’d simply walk next to that bed on the couch.  She’d stand there waiting on you to lift her on it.  If you weren’t fast enough she’d give you a bark as an indication of what she wanted.  Good communication and clear wants.

She passed on that couch bed and I’d like to think that’s how she wanted to go.  On a bed on the couch with her parents loving on her.  Sterling didn’t ask for much in life.  Just a soft and fluffy place to lay with all the pets.  She was a female afterall…

It’s been almost two months since she passed.  She was the end of a marvelous era in my life with her brother.  We’re all doing fine but we miss them dearly.  Coming home from the first trip we took after her passing was weird.  There was no one to greet us even if it was just a broke down dog laying somewhere barking for attention.  It was eerily lonely.  We missed the sound.  We loved her and her brother so much.  They made us a more complete pack.

We’ll get dogs again one day but we’re not in a hurry.  That’s the problem with perfection.  Once you have it and lose it you’re not sure if you can get it back just the way it was.  Chopper and Sterling were perfection to us.  They gave me 14.5 years of wonderful companionship and showed a girl who never had dogs just how much they can bring to a pack.  That was a remarkable achievement.

Rest in Peace Sterling.  I hope you and your brother are playing in a park in Heaven chasing squirrels waiting for the day one of us calls y’all over.  We miss you both dearly but so thankful for every moment we had together.