Meet Stacy. She’s middle-aged, a little on the heavy side, and a total survivor. She is endlessly enthusiastic, talkative, and brave. She’s also a dog.
Stacy is my 8-year-old, nearly-obese Rat Terrier, sitting in my lap as I write this, licking the keyboard because I just ate chips over it and there’s approximately 7 crumbs left. She has changed my life.
I’m 22, a recent college grad, and a first-year teacher at one of the toughest schools in Kentucky. When I started in August, I thought, “Wow, I’m really making a difference.” When September rolled around, I thought, “Wow, I really need a drink.” So my dad sent me a screenshot of a dog at a shelter in Louisville. “Go check her out!” he said. Her name was Miley, and she was this gorgeous basset hound.
Remember: my dog’s name is Stacy.
Miley was already adopted by the time I called the shelter. Damn! Well, now I really want a dog. I start scrolling through the Humane Society website during class, and there she is: Zooey. Adorable. Great smile. A little chubby. Perfect.
But remember, my dog’s name is Stacy.
My roommate and I go to check out Zooey on Saturday morning. She’s already been adopted. Double damn! I text my friend, telling her “Didn’t work out with Zooey, I’m really bummed.” So she and her boyfriend take me to a different shelter, “just to pet some puppies.” Famous last words.
At the second shelter I see two dogs I like: Boris, a 10-year-old Shih Tzu, and Stacy, an 8-year-old Rat Terrier.
Remember what my dog's name is?
I meet Boris in one of those little rooms they have at shelters, and he barely acknowledges me. Ouch. He’s not the first man to ignore my attention, but it still stings. So I tell the volunteer, “I’d like to see Stacy.” She says, “Oh! Fat Stacy? I’ll get her!” My dog’s name is Fat Stacy.
Stacy and I click in a way that I can only imagine Stephanie Meyer had in mind when she wrote that weird thing about the werewolf falling in love with his ex-girlfriend’s infant daughter. (Y’all remember that? I do.) It’s love at first sight, and I spend about an hour and a half just hanging out with my girl. My phone dies, so I can’t call my parents or my roommates for their approval. I adopt her anyway.
When it’s time to sign the papers, I walk Stacy toward the back of the shelter, where the counter is. She mistakes this for me walking her back to the kennel, where she had been living for a month. She lays flat on her back, refusing to move, practicing passive resistance.
I get in the car and plug my phone in. I wait a few minutes, wondering what the hell I’ve done. Stacy is all smiles, probably because it’s hot and she’s obese, but I like to think it’s because she loves me so much. We go to the pet store and get all the things you need for a dog, like a harness (size large) and a food bowl (size small).
You see, Stacy is literally obese. Well, she’s lost some weight, but she was obese when I got her. She weighed 39 pounds when they got her as a “stray,” and the vet told me she should weigh 18 pounds. Let me say it again: Stacy weighed DOUBLE what she was supposed to. Fat Stacy indeed.
But let me tell you what, this girl has ENERGY. She can RUN, she can DIG, she can ALMOST catch a squirrel. Stacy doesn’t let being old and fat stop her.
The first few weeks I had her, I attempted to crate train her. She seemed to like her crate at first, but soon she hated it. Not long after, she figured out how to open the crate door. She would give me no trouble getting in her crate in the morning, but she’d escape before I got out the front door! Like I said, Stacy doesn’t let being old and fat stop her.
Some of you may not know that you can get kicked out of obedience school, but I’m here to set you straight. You absolutely can get kicked out of obedience school. Especially if your dog won’t do any of the tricks and refuses to stop barking for the entire 90 minute class. After the first session, the trainer pulled me aside and said simply, “So…what are we going to do?”
We switched to private lessons, which were very successful, and now Stacy can sit, stay, and…well, that’s about it actually.
Speaking of classes, Stacy teaches her own. You read that right. My 8-year-old, obese, kicked-out-of-dog-school dog is now a teacher. She comes to Saturday School with me every weekend, and she works very hard. Her duties include: chewing on her Kong, resisting the urge to bark, and receiving pets from students failing 8th grade English. Yes, it is difficult, and YES, she is a hero. Thank you.
Look, I know this is silly, but Stacy has honestly changed my entire life. She makes me more responsible, she keeps me on a regular schedule, and she licks my face when no one else will. This first year teaching has been the most difficult thing I have ever done, and I don’t think I would have made it without Stacy. Teaching is basically a 24-hour-a-day job, and it is really difficult, especially in the first year, to find a work/life balance. But with Stacy, I have to stop working at some point and pay attention to her, and she is not easy to ignore. Stacy reminds me on a daily basis to just stop, breathe, and be a person. She gets me out into nature, and she makes sure I get some exercise. She helps me to eat at home more and not stay out so late, because I want to spend more time with her. She really is my favorite person to spend time with.
Could I have adopted an adorable little puppy? Probably. That puppy, though, would have gotten adopted anyway. Not a lot of people would take a second look at an older, obese dog, particularly a black one. Statistically, black dogs are more likely to spend longer in shelters and to get euthanized than dogs of other colors. Stacy isn’t all black, but she is mostly black. She has little white gloves on her front paws, evening gloves I call them, because she is a very sophisticated lady.
If I could sum up what Stacy has taught me it would be this:
Speak loudly and often
Take some time off – that assignment can wait until tomorrow
Don’t let the man keep you in a cage
Go for long walks in the afternoon sun – it’s good for your soul (and your weight)
Love your body, no matter its shape or size
Rebecca Howell is a teacher in Louisville, Kentucky.