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edge staff writer


Bangor’s Renaissance dog!

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BANGOR – My dog Stella is a good girl. The best girl, really.

And this isn’t just because she is an adorable little Carolina dog – although she is that. It isn’t because she’s friendly and loving and more than a little weird – although she is those things as well.

No, it’s because over the past few years, Stella has reached for the stars in ways that few (if any) non-animated dogs ever have. Over the course of the past handful (pawful?) of years, she has achieved greatness in a variety of seemingly unrelated fields. She has shined with a bright intellectual excellence that is unmatched by any of her fellow canines.

I’ve shared Stella’s accomplishments in these pages many times over the years. Granted, my initial efforts were disguised in an effort to maintain some degree of privacy – and besides, there are some stories that you know will prove difficult to believe even as you tell them – but I have still chronicled a number of her stellar doings in print and online.

I’ve decided that the time has finally come for me – us – to lay it all on the table. It is time for us to lay out the tremendous talents of this singular canine once and for all, for all the world to see.

It is time for me to officially introduce you to Bangor’s Renaissance dog.

We’ll start with the ongoing project with which you’re all likely the most familiar.

Stella: Football expert

I started “Kibbles and Picks,” a web-oriented feature for The Maine Edge, way back in 2013. It was conceived as a fun way to write about the NFL, with the hook being that both I and Stella would pick the winners in each week’s slate of games. A goofy, silly exercise, right?

Not so much.

As anyone who has followed K&P with regularity knows, it turns out that Stella is surprisingly good at picking football games. Now, we’re not talking “good for a dog” – like, legitimately good, to the point where she regularly outperforms paid experts who make their selections on national television broadcasts.

(Seriously – there used to be a website out there, I think it was called Pundit Tracker, that would monitor various experts and keep track of their picks. Stella always landed very firmly in the upper-middle of that list – a list that included a lot of VERY famous football knowers, by the way – outperforming a number of names that even casual fans know.)

One could argue that I am, at least in part, paid for my football knowledge (feel free to keep your opinions regarding the wisdom of that payment to yourselves). It raises the question – why continue to place myself in the position of having my own alleged expertise undermined by a dog? It’s a fair point, one that I have considered myself in the past (usually after a particularly brutal week of picks wherein I’ve been buried by Stella). Ultimately, I think it boils down to the idea that this silly little experiment has unearthed something greater, albeit no less goofy. I like being right and I like to win, but if I have to lose, well … there are worse ways to go out.

For the record, we recently concluded our ninth season. Stella has triumphed in seven of those nine seasons. Not always by a huge margin, but she’s defeated me far more often than I’ve taken her down. It’s also worth noting that one of my two wins was way back in our second season, before Stella had really started building her now-considerable level of expertise.

Now, that alone would be enough to render Stella a very impressive specimen of dog. However, as we’ve seen over the years, she has done so much more than pick the winners of football games. Let’s go on a journey to recount just a few of her many accomplishments.

Stella: Chess master

Back in 2016, I inadvertently discovered that my precious dog was an incredibly gifted chess player. Obviously, I knew she was special – I’d already gotten housed by her several times with regard to football picks – but my understanding of just HOW special was taken to a whole new level by this discovery.

I was so taken aback, in fact, that I initially presented the story as having happened to someone else. I created a false name, projecting the story onto someone else. If I’m honest with myself, I’m not entirely sure what my motivation for trying to keep the secret might have been. Perhaps part of me was worried that the world would be unable to deal with the idea of a canine genius such as my Stella. I know I certainly found myself struggling to grasp the wider ramifications of a dog who can play expert-level chess.

Because make no mistake – this dog can PLAY.

If anything, she has grown more sophisticated and advanced in her tactics over the past few years. She has engaged with a number of chess engines online, using their technology to enhance her already considerable holistic understanding of the board at any given moment. She has also become a prominent figure – albeit a mysterious one – in the internet chess community. I won’t out her screen name – she’s always been a big fan of the old joke “On the internet, no one knows you’re a dog” – because she wants nothing more than to be treated equally to other competitors.

She blew by me in terms of playing ability a long time ago. We’ll occasionally play if she’s bored, but you better believe that she’s not screwing around. If I sit down across from her, she’s playing for real. No mercy.

At this point, any opponent short of a grandmaster is likely going to leave her unchallenged. Her tactics are impeccable, of course, but it is her wider understanding of the metagame that truly brings forth her excellence. In truth, there are probably only a few dozen chess players in the world with enough juice to give her a game at this point – and none of them know that she is a dog.

And no, she still won’t make a move if anyone is watching her.

Stella: Tech developer

In 2018, the scene shifted again with the release of Stella’s custom app.

Even as she was playing competitive chess, Stella found herself drawn to the possibilities presented by the exponential growth of interactive technologies. She immersed herself in the tech world, teaching herself a variety of programming languages and design programs; while her initial interest was purely theoretical – she learned largely for the sake of learning – it wasn’t long before the epiphany struck her and she got to work on developing her own project.

You might remember hearing about FetchR a few years ago. It was the first dog-friendly app, designed to help canines track down nearby playmates and make arrangements to meet up for romping, wrestling and/or just walking around sniffing stuff. Stella was the sole designer on the project, building it from the ground up.

Again, I’ll confess that I hid behind the previously-constructed false identity when I crafted the story. If anything, I was more worried about maintaining Stella’s privacy. It’s one thing to be a dog who is good at chess; it’s quite another to be a dog with legitimate tech savvy and design chops.

A lot of that nervousness proved well-founded. See, after a few months of massive success as a free download, FetchR was acquired for a considerable sum by a large tech company that shall remain nameless because Stella and I both were required to sign a comprehensive and potentially ruinous NDA as part of the deal. Much to our disappointment, Stella’s work was cannibalized for the programming advancements and FetchR was removed from all available platforms. Not surprised, of course, but still – disappointed.

In an effort to counteract that loss, Stella dedicated the entirety of the proceeds from the sale to an assortment of charities intended to improve the lot of rescue dogs like herself. She has done so anonymously, opting to keep her philanthropic efforts on the down low. She wants to raise awareness for the causes she supports, not of her own achievements.

In the years since, she has continued to dabble in the tech space, but seems little interested in pushing the boundaries like she once was. Every once in a while, a potential project comes up – she was working on a Bluetooth tracking system for squeaky toys at one point – but for the most part, she’s moved on from the coding space in favor of other interests.

Stella: Literary virtuoso

And of course, who can forget Stella’s writerly ambitions and accomplishments?

When it all started with “Kibbles and Picks,” I was the man at the keyboard. Stella was simply making her (extremely accurate) picks and I was doing the writeups. It was a nice division of labor, one that I enjoyed even as I continually got crushed.

But as it turned out, Stella had dreams of her own. Dreams of becoming a dog of letters.

It was just last year that Stella asked me about writing a story for The Maine Edge. During Penobscot Theatre Company’s digital season in 2020/21, they put together a series of Dog Operas – adaptations of famous operas starring dogs – and Stella thought that she should be the one to write about them. Now, to this point, I had no idea about Stella’s writing talents, but I figured she’s good at everything else, she’s probably a good writer as well.

That story turned out wonderfully and proved to be one of the more popular TME pieces of 2021. Ironically, it was that very popularity that led to Stella’s increasingly-open secret finally being laid bare in the light of day.

You see, Stella had, without my knowledge, been working on a manuscript. A novel. The reception her Dog Operas story received inspired her to share with me the book that she had been working on for the previous months. I agreed, figuring that I would get to enjoy a book about a dog. Write what you know, after all.

Instead, I was treated to a sprawling multigenerational epic, a work that follows a single family through the centuries as they climb from early obscurity to the very heights of economic and political power, all rendered through a series of bildungsroman snapshots and utilizing the tropes and techniques of historical and speculative fiction. It is very much a “dog writes man” situation – brilliant and oddly apt.

Said book was the object of a fierce bidding war between several of the big publishing houses. I am not yet at liberty to say which publisher won – it’s all being kept very hush-hush – nor can I disclose the financial terms of the deal. I can say that Stella stood her ground and the book’s working title – “Sirius” – will be the title under which it is eventually published.

A scant handful of notable literary figures have been privy to the manuscript, with all raving about its quality (though only a couple know the truth about the author’s identity). One of those in the know is a longtime friend of TME who spoke glowingly of the book – we won’t give away his identity here; let’s call him “Schmormac SchmcCarthy” – and who is already agitating behind the scenes for the book to be recognized for some of the more prestigious literary prizes.


You might find yourself wondering about the pressures that come with being the provider of food, shelter and snuggles to such a brilliant beast. And it’s true – those pressures are considerable. Taking proper care of a beloved pet is difficult enough under any circumstances; one can’t stress enough the importance of doing right by our four-legged friends. They deserve all of our love and respect.

And here’s the thing, perhaps the most important takeaway from all of this: Stella is still my dog. Even with all of her incredible gifts and accomplishments, she is still my sweet-faced girl. Sure, she understands football better than I do. Yes, she’s a better chess player and far more technically inclined than I am. Hell, she’s even a better writer than I am and I do this for a living (again – keep your jokes to yourself).

She’s still my girl.

She still loves to go for walks and to play in the park. She still expresses her undying enmity toward package delivery professionals at every opportunity. She still does a squeaky tap dance any time it is suggested that she might get to go for a ride. She still snuggles when she feels like it and remains a relentless bed hog. She still loves “Bridgerton” and hates “The Final Countdown” by Europe.

Even with all of her brilliant abilities, there’s one thing that she’s far better at than anything else: Loving.

This is, of course, our annual April Fools Day edition, so much of the preceding can and should be taken for the lighthearted goof that it is. However, there is method to my madness, and there is a reason that I chose to spotlight Stella this year.

We almost lost her to cancer last year. My wife Sheridan and I went through an absolute roller coaster of shock and fear when we discovered that she was sick – an accidental discovery, I might add. The initial prognosis was bleak and scary, with discussions of surgical options so potentially traumatic that we were forced to have frank conversations about pushing aside our own selfishness to do what was best for Stella. We were prepared to do whatever it took, but we also wanted to make our decisions based on what was best for her, not what was best for us.

And then, a miracle. What initially appeared to be one type of cancer – treatable through radical surgery and heavy chemotherapy – turned out to be a different type, one that could be treated with a relatively short and noninvasive radiation treatment and a vaccine. We spent the month of January in 2021 shuttling Stella back and forth to these treatments, hoping against hope that our beloved dog would be able to regain some degree of her health.

As things stand right now, more than a year after she finished treatment, it has been an unqualified success. Subsequent scans have been clear and Stella’s demeanor has never changed – she is still the charming weirdo that she has always been. One can never say that cancer has been “cured,” but to this point, all is as well as we ever could have expected.

Why am I telling you all this? I guess it’s because I know how much our pets can mean to us. And while I spent a couple of thousand words telling you silly made-up stuff about my dog, it’s the real stuff that matters most. And not just for my dog or your dog – for all of them and for all the pets out there who deserve to be loved without reservation or condition.

All of this nonsense aside, Stella is special. All dogs are. We’re lucky to have them in our lives. So do me a favor – give a dog some pats or a treat the next time you have a chance. Scratch their ears or their butt or whatever part it is they like scratched. Maybe donate to a local shelter – items, money, time, whatever you can spare. Do a little something to make a dog’s life better.

And hey – maybe Stella will dedicate her next book to you.

(As you’ve undoubtedly figured out, this is our April Fools Day edition. Much of this story is completely and utterly made up for our – and hopefully your – amusement.)

Last modified on Wednesday, 30 March 2022 12:39


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