What a 23-Pound Pug Taught Me About Love

To Sarah.
Thank you for sharing your furry child with me.

This is Stella.

No living being has ever won my heart as fast as this tiny dog.

Some facts about Stella:
  • She's not actually a Pug, she's what's called a Muggin: a Pug/Mini-Pinscher mix.
  • She weighs 23 pounds. Maintaining her weight is a bit of a struggle because...
  • She lives for food. (Overeating is actually one of the traits of this breed.)
Stella is not my dog, she belongs to Sarah, one of the owners of the co-working space I work from. The co-working space is a dog friendly environment, and both Stella, and her companion Rudy (a French Bulldog who belongs to the office manager) are the mascots. Other dogs come and go, but since both of their mamas work in the space, I can count on the presence of these two furry beings everyday.

Double trouble

The two of them have a well-established morning routine that has now become part of my daily entertainment.

Rudy and his mama usually arrive first.

Although he generally sticks to his mama's side, he will always take a look around to see if Stella has arrived yet. Once he's satisfied that she's not there, he goes back to the reception area to wait.

The moment Stella arrives, the shenanigans begin.

Rudy chases Stella around the entire office. Round and round in circles; then zig-zagging wildly all over the place. Usually there's no barking unless one of the two gets really frustrated during the chase. (Generally Rudy.)

Now, although Rudy is the one doing the chasing, make no mistake that Stella is the mastermind behind this morning ritual.

She definitely provokes Rudy so that he has no choice but to chase her.

She's also the one who leads the route, and she knows he's not as agile as she is, which is why whenever she gets tired and wants to slow the chase, she starts with the zig-zagging. (Because it's the one being chased who determines the route, right?)

Although Rudy is pretty fast, Stella is faster than he is.

The chasing ends when Stella gets tired of it. I don't think she stops because she's physically tired, I think she just gets to a point where she says in her little doggy mind "I've become bored with this game now."

This is when she involves me in the mix: she jumps up onto the plushy blue sofa where I sit everyday and looks up as if to say “I know I shouldn’t have started this again, but I need you to save me...puh-lease...”

So I let her press herself into my side and I pet her as we both look down at Rudy.

Since Rudy doesn’t jump, he just looks up at us, infuriated. He sometimes lets out a frustrated growl and makes a (generally failed) attempt at jumping up onto the sofa.

Finally, he waddles away disgusted.

I’m sure he’s thinking “I’ll get you tomorrow Stella...”

This is what happens when dogs take over your life, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

I take a lot of pictures of Stella because:
  1. She's ADORABLE.
  2. She doesn't mind having her picture taken (whereas Rudy is as camera shy as an over-photographed celebrity trying to avoid the paparazzi).
  3. She's glued to my side for at least half the day so the opportunities abound.

When I told my therapist about my new co-working space, I of course had to mention the dogs, and specifically Stella. I also showed him a picture of her.

When he saw it, he said "Wow, look at her eyes. She's an old soul."

Ah-ha! I knew it wasn't just me.

Here's the thing about Stella: she makes eye contact. But not just eye contact, like, she really looks at you, almost stares sometimes to the point where you might find yourself asking "Is this dog reading my soul right now?" (And if you can see it, oh furry clairvoyant, please let me know what's in there because there are days I'm not quite sure myself.)

When I talk to her, (because I talk to her on and off all day) she does her little Stella stare, and I'm convinced that she either understands exactly what I'm saying, or that her wisdom extends far beyond that of our human comprehension and she's merely looking at me from her vantage point of ancient wisdom. (Look at the pictures of her; she appears as composed and Zen as an ancient monk in every single one.)

I'm not sure exactly how the bond formed between us.

I do know that the very first day I spent in the coworking space, Stella was at my feet. I hadn't even committed to the space, it was only day one of my trial-run, but there she was, this tiny furry creature staring up at me.

September 10 - Day 1 of Stella's doggie hypnosis

I hadn't done anything to encourage her; I didn't call her over, or offer her food (always a safe bet with Stella). She just showed up and kind of stuck around.

She did the same thing on the others days I was there that first week. She'd come wandering over and curl up at my feet, and I'd think "What does this dog want with me?"

The truth is, I like animals but I've never had any animal take a shine to me. They like me enough, but not in any particular way.

Growing up, my family had a dog, Sparky. He was part hound, part collie, and he was massive. (He was over 100 pounds.) He was a good dog, but he never showed any real personality, and somehow I never felt any attachment to him.


After Sparky, there was a parade of cats.

They were all awesome: Junior, Xirra, Cookie, Lewis, and most recently, Eddie.

Eddie the day he decided the roasting pan was his new favourite spot for naps

Although I loved all of them, Eddie was by far my favourite. He had this curious, rebellious spirit, and all he wanted more than anything was to be free to explore the world. That's how he died; he was out exploring and he got hit by a car. My parents fell to pieces over it. Part of my heart went up to cat-heaven with Eddie (I still cry when I look at his pictures) but I had never let myself get too attached to him because I knew in my heart he was on borrowed time.

Eddie in a gift bag, one of his favourite hiding places

They say cats have nine lives, but Eddie got double that in his short life. The shit that cat got into, I'm surprised he lasted as long as he did. He would crawl into spaces he had no business squeezing himself into, climb onto tree branches no thicker than your thumb, and just take the most reckless chances.

Eddie trying to squeeze himself through Venetian blinds

I adored Eddie, but like I said, I never let myself get too attached because I knew he was on borrowed time. And Eddie loved all of us; he was the family cat, and he spent his time equally among us. It's like he knew better than we did that he wasn't going to be around for long so when he wasn't out exploring, he portioned out the love equally.

I guess I'd just never had an animal make me feel as though it specifically liked me until I met Stella.

One of my friends in the coworking space says that all is not right with the world until he sees me and Stella sitting together on the big blue sofa.

One afternoon I moved from the blue sofa to the red sofa on the other side of the office because there was too much sun where I was sitting. Stella followed, and curled up beside me, and when he saw that he said "So it's not just the sofa, it's actually you."

I smiled. Maybe Stella actually liked me.

You might be wondering why that's such a big deal, so let me give you the short version of the answer to that question.

My entire life, I have been made to feel profoundly unlovable. I was physically abused until I was 23-years old. I was shown and told in every possible way that I was profoundly unworthy of being liked, let alone loved.

My body, my heart, and my spirit have been broken again and again, to the point where I felt so hopeless about ever healing that I have repeatedly tried to shuffle off of this earthly plane.

It is only now, at 39-years old, that I am standing up and out of that brokenness, and that I'm finally allowing myself to say and to truly believe - "I deserve to be treated with kindness and respect, and I deserve to be loved. I am worthy of love. I AM WORTHY OF LOVE."

There was one day at the office when I was writing about something particularly upsetting. I had started to cry silently, and out of nowhere, Stella jumped up onto the sofa and pressed herself into my side so hard that I felt like she knew. She knew I was sad and she knew I needed her, and she wanted to let me know she was there. She didn't move until long after I'd stopped crying.

Maybe that's why Stella is on the stage in this act of my life: because she really is that wise, and what she's doing with her presence is helping me to heal my heart by helping me open up to the possibility of being loved. I didn't know that the mending of a broken heart could at times be just as painful as the tearing apart of it was. Stella is making the process of being put together again softer, easier.

Maybe the reason she spends so much time with me is because she does have the spirit of an ancient healer in that furry 23-pound body of hers. Maybe when I walked into the office that first day, she saw me and said "You there, with the broken heart; you need me. I shall heal you with my deep soulful eyes and at times noxious doggy breath."

I'm 39-years old. I'm beautiful, intelligent, funny, kind, talented...so why am I still single? I get that question all the time.

Because until recently, I didn't allow myself to believe that love was something that was possible for me. I couldn't imagine that anyone given the option would ever pick me.

But Stella picked me. And because of that, she's giving me hope that love is possible; even for someone with a heart that's been broken as many time as mine has.

Here are the things I've learned about love from Stella.

Love is...TRUST

Stella has taught me what it means to trust love. Although her attention is fickle when food is involved (any food - I've seen her eat a ball of lint), her love is not fickle in the least. She knows who she does and doesn't cares for and she acts accordingly.

In the last relationship I had, we went from shopping for engagement rings to ending our relationship a few weeks later. How is that possible? Because it wasn't real love. Real love doesn't change it's mind overnight.

Stella is solid and steadfast in her affections, and she's shown me that real love doesn't change its mind from one moment to the next.

Love is...FREEDOM

Love is about allowing the other person the freedom to explore what they need to for the satisfaction of their own soul.

Love means each individual has the space to pursue their own interests in a way that doesn't threaten the bond they have with each other.

I don't feel worried or afraid that if I let Stella go, it will be the last time I see her. I've never felt that before because so many of the men I've dated, or even friends I've had, have disappeared out of my life so fast without any real explanation that it's left me afraid of getting attached to anyone.

Stella is curious. I know this about her. And she also LOVES food. (I've caught her chewing on a piece of tin foil presumably because it used to be wrapped around a piece of food.) When she jumps off the couch to go explore opportunities to satisfy either her curiosity or her palate, I don't try to stop her because I know once she's done, she'll be back. (Freedom goes hand-in-hand with trust.)

Stella knows that I like to leave the office at lunch to go for a walk. She crooks her head to one side when I stand up and start putting on my coat, as if to say "Where ya goin' hooman...? I was just gettin' comfy..." I always tell her "I'll be back, you keep the couch warm for me," and she lets me go. I know she's alright with me leaving her because when I get back, there are no hard feelings as evidenced by the fact that one of my thighs will inevitably serve as a pillow for her afternoon nap.

Stella has sleepy days; days when she spends most of her time napping by my side. And then she has hyped up energetic days (if I didn't know better, I'd say she was having a sugar-rush) where she runs around and comes and goes. Hops up onto the couch and back down again. Up and down, up and down all day.

I let her do her thing, and she lets me do mine.

Love is...BEING SEEN

Stella makes eye contact. And not just eye contact; she will hold your gaze and look into the very depths of your soul.

She does this every time I talk to her, and I talk to her a lot, because, well, she listens, and seems genuinely interested. I feel as though she's trying to understand me. And when I look back into her soulful brown eyes, I'm trying to understand her.

"Where have you been little one? What have you seen? What do you understand in that wise, old soul of yours?"

So many people are uncomfortable making eye contact. I don't trust those people. I wonder what is it that they don't want me to see because making prolonged eye contact requires being vulnerable enough to allow others to look into our souls. If you can't meet my gaze, what's inside your heart that I should be afraid of?

Stella has nothing to hide; she is pure love, joy, curiosity, fun and wisdom. She's a tiny creature being entirely herself, creating an example for the rest of us on how to be ourselves.


Stella and I are both equally excited to see one another every morning.

There was a time last month when Stella and I hadn't seen one another for about four or five days. But the day when we saw one another again, she was so excited to see me that she was actually vibrating and her tiny half-corkscrew tail was bouncing from side-to-side. I felt the same. If I had a corkscrew tail to shake like she does, it would have been bouncing. (I didn't feel that shaking my booty in the office was a good idea.)


Love means loving the whole person - the whole package - despite their imperfections.

Stella isn't perfect. Her breath and her farts can, at times, make a person dizzy. I love her anyhow because that's just Stella. (Although I will admit that sometimes when I nuzzle her and kiss the top of her head, I breathe through my mouth. It doesn't stop the kisses, it just moderates the manner in which they're delivered.)

I'm certain that I'm not perfect in Stella's eyes either. I'm pretty sure she thinks I don't give her nearly enough dog biscuits, or that the pieces of chicken she gets from my lunches are far too small. And if I try to pet her while we're eating lunch, she pulls away almost annoyed as if to say "Yes, yes, there will be enough time for the love later, right now I need you to give me some of whatever you're eating."

As I'm writing this, Stella is sitting beside me. She just let out a sneaky little fart. Like I said, love is accepting the whole package.

The little stinker

Love is...HONEST

You know what the best thing is about Stella's love? It's honest, it's for real.

The love of animals and children is pure, unfiltered, and authentic. When an animal or a child loves you, that's all it is, LOVE. There's no agenda, there's no need to question their motives. They don't know about moderating their authentic reactions, they haven't learned to pretend. They react to the world authentically.

Stella's love cannot be bought. Her attention yes (FOOD), but not her love.

Real love has no motives. It's just there.

Love is...GENEROUS

This is a lesson I learned from Sarah, Stella's dog mama. Sarah is very generous with Stella, allowing her to spend her days at the office with me. I know that a lot of dog mamas wouldn't like this at all, but that's not Sarah. She, like Stella, is a free spirit with an open heart. The idea that dogs resemble their owners is certainly true in this case.

Sarah doesn't worry about Stella during the day because she knows she's with me.

Nine out of ten times, when Sarah passes by, Stella perks up and keeps her eyes focused on her as she passes. (The one time she doesn't is usually because she's passed out cold from a full day of socializing.) I say to her, "Your mama is busy Stella." She looks at me, and then cuddles back into the sofa or my thigh. I'm not telling her anything she doesn't already know which is why she stays put.

Stella is generous too though; I saw evidence of this last week. I always give both her and Rudy a 'home time' cookie before I leave. (Admittedly there is also a 'morning cookie' and a 'lunch time' cookie. But the cookies are very small, and made with turkey and pea protein, not flour, so I figure I'm not doing any real damage to either of their waistlines or digestive systems.)

Now we've already established that Stella absolutely LIVES for food, yes? Alright, well on that particular day, I had put two cookies on the sofa, ready to give to her and Rudy before leaving. Well she didn't wait for me to hand them out, she just jumped up onto the sofa and gobbled one up. But...she didn't eat the second one. This dog who lives for food knew that second one wasn't for her, and so she left it there and let me give it to Rudy.

Who knew that one could learn so much about love from such a tiny creature? I certainly never expected it, but I am eternally grateful for the experience of it.

When I walked into this office at the beginning of September, the last thing I expected was to fall in love with a tiny dog. But that's what happened.

I feel so blessed to have found her and to have found this co-working space. It's bright, airy, and full of plants and great people. I feel free here, and after the gong-show I experienced in the past year working for Company X, it's an indescribable blessing. I needed this space.

Nothing lasts in life; that's both the best and worst thing about it. I know that one day, I won't get to be a part of this space anymore, and that I won't see Stella or Sarah everyday, because that's life, and specifically my life. I'm as much of a free spirit as they both are, and the truth is I'm currently going through a transition period. I have no idea what my reality will look like when all the puzzle pieces fall back into place.

Because I know that, I enjoy every single day here, and every single doggy cuddle. Although life is impermanent, our experiences and the way they change us lasts forever.

When our heart are ready to heal, someone comes along that helps us through that process. Now, if anybody ever asks me "After a lifetime of being hurt, what is it that helped you open yourself up to the possibility of love?" I will honestly be able to say "It was a 23-pound pug named Stella."

Tiny Zen Master


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