Stewart the Joyful

 Stewart was a small bouvier puppy, one of 11. We noticed that he got the least of the nursing and the most knocking about by his siblings. 


We counteracted that with extra bottle-feedings and by monitoring him in the whelping box, tucking him as often as we could under the protection of his mother’s chin. But at about ten days we noticed that his front legs were always straight back and he was unable to knead his mother’s teat for milk. The other puppies were starting to wobble about but he just lay there, whimpering plaintively. 

The vet diagnosed fading puppy syndrome. He advised putting the pup aside in a box and making him comfortable with a hot-water bottle, a soft blanket and a stuffed bear, and he would just slip away. 

Well, Stewart didn’t think so. My husband was sleeping on a palette in the whelping room, to be near if any problems arose during the night. Stewart cried and fussed for quite a while. My husband felt that, dying or not, he must be missing the closeness of his mother and siblings. He tucked the pup into bed with him. Stewart settled down and they slept through the night together. 

The next morning we put Stewart back in the whelping box and thought we would just let be what would be. We would bottle-feed him, make sure he didn’t get too roughed up and let nature take its course. 

Stewart rallied. It’s true that he got knocked over a lot, and was constantly tromped on and squashed and pinned in uncomfortable places. When the pups were big enough to romp around outside, they would all pile out the door, trampling Stewart flat in the process. As they cavorted and ran about, Stewart was left behind by faster siblings, knocked over or stepped on. He reminded us of a tall, spindly-legged, top-heavy Louis IVth table. He was so stiff-legged that it took just a small shove to tip him over. But, every time, he got up and continued on. 

The vet eventually diagnosed cellabellar hypoplasia, a congenital condition where the brain/nerve connection has not totally formed. The brain either forgets to send a message to the legs (for example, Here is a sidewalk, lift your feet) and other extremities or sends them the wrong messages. 

Stewart drags his toes when he walks. It was two years before he wagged his stumpy little tail. Before that, he didn’t know there was an appendage to wag. He falls down a lot. He trips over shadows across the path. He sometimes forgets halfway up a flight of stairs how to ‘do’ stairs, and stumbles. On the way down, he slides the last four or five steps. 

Every time he falls down, not a whimper, not a yelp – he picks himself up, shakes the dirt and leaves from his beard, and shuffles on. He has a constant slap-silly smile on his face. 

Whenever we feel put upon by the world, we watch Stewart. His positive attitude puts our self-pity to shame. Whenever we feel like quitting on something, we watch him. He picks himself up … and goes on. Whenever we feel short-changed, we watch Stewart and his quiet pleasure in a face rub with his favorite humans. 

And Stewart teaches joy. We take him to a nearby field and let him run off-leash. He has the most awkward way of running I’ve ever seen. He exhausts himself ‘running’ in this peculiar fashion. But the joy! My husband and I stand at opposite ends of the field and Stewart runs back and forth between us. His front legs fly out to each side and windmill crazily to gain speed, while his back legs rabbit hop and sometimes get ahead of him. But the teddy bear eyes are bright and gleeful. He takes such grand, uninhibited joy in being able to run. Such joy with life, such joy with himself. 

Other breeders have told us we should have put Stewart down. 

Ah no, our lives and the world would be so much smaller without him. Stewart’s registered name is long and complicated; though a knightly name. But Stewart is a simple little guy with simple little pleasures; he’s just Stewart the Joyful. 

Rating: 47 paws up 


Linda Hegland
True Story?: