(As part of our celebration of 35 years of licking loneliness, we’ve invited our volunteers to share their stories with you. This is Stelllla!’s, courtesy of one of her people, Marie Sciscione. When you join our Bullroast sponsors and donors like Jones Junction, M&T Bank and Pet Valu – US to support Pets on Wheels, you help pets like Stelllla! keep doing their amazing work. Find out more information on the event at https://www.facebook.com/events/1844806152461579/)

OUR GAL STELLLLA!

Back in 2007, we went to our favorite dog camp, Goldstock, with great excitement! We’ve been going to this camp every year since 2000 but this year was different. We were going to meet, for the first time, our little 4 month old golden retriever who traveled all the way from Austin, Texas with her breeders to build a life with us. We named her Stelllla.

She was a wild child but we put her through obedience school, Canine Good Citizenship Training and Therapy Dogs International Training and they all helped but it wasn’t until she was about 5 years old that she really settled down. We took her to malls to socialize her, to camp every year to be with 200 other dogs and introduced her to as many people and dogs as possible and she loved all of it.

A very big turning point for us was going to The Pet Expo in 2010 with Stelllla. We walked past a booth that said “PETS ON WHEELS”. We had never heard of it before so we stopped to chat with a couple of people at the booth who were wearing a really neat shirt with a logo of a dog sitting on the lap of a person in a wheel chair. That really caught our interest! After several minutes of asking questions, we knew this was a very worthwhile organization and we wanted to become a part of it.

We took Stelllla to the screening that she had to pass in order to become a therapy dog and she did so with flying colors! Then we had to see where she would fit in best for visiting. After several tries, we noticed she was not big on large crowds. We also noticed she loved people and loved to be touched. We decided she would love to be around children.

We signed up for St. Vincent’s Villa residence for children 7-14 years of age who have various emotional and physical limitations. We had to attend (without Stelllla) several hours of very stringent training to be sure we could handle the sometimes unusual circumstances, had to be fingerprinted and background checked and had to submit to a tuberculosis test. We realized at that point that we were enrolling in some serious commitment with Stelllla.

In our nearly seven years visiting, Stelllla has celebrated seven birthdays and dozens of holidays with the boys. She always gets a present and lots of hugs on her special day. We have watched, over the years, a transformation in her with the visits. Once she puts on her Pets on Wheels vest, she almost stands at attention saying she’s ready to go to work. She walks the halls of St. Vincent’s proudly and happily knowing she’s going to visit the boys. We visit the boys in DePaul who are, to say the least, rambunctious. The rule is that they can’t see Stelllla if they are screaming, crying or out of control. It upsets her. They try to be on their best behavior, at least on Thursdays. We hear people calling “STELLLLA” from all parts of the building. Since they know her regular day to visit is Thursday, they actually look for her in the hallways. Sometimes the director of the building will stop by just to spend time with her. The boys we visit come in, supervised, three at a time and play ball with her. They hide the ball in the room and she has NEVER not found it in all these years. We also take dog treats and each boy gets to ask her to do a trick and then they each give her a treat. They can’t believe they’re her trainer – at least for two minutes!

Now, I failed to mention that Stelllla is blind. This happened gradually from a genetic disorder and we had to make a decision as to whether we would continue to visit. The decision was easy. The boys loved her and didn’t care that she was blind and Stelllla didn’t care. They continue hiding the ball and playing with her and it’s only gotten better.

We have used her blindness as a learning tool for the boys. They look in her eyes and ask endless questions. These boys have very little stability in their lives but Stelllla is one they can depend on every Thursday! What do we get out of it? Lots and lots of love just watching the boys and Stelllla together!