Pet Connections

Intertwined – A Dog’s Life and the Heart it Belongs To

When we start a new chapter in our lives with an animal, we aren’t always aware of how profoundly that journey will affect us. Sure, we know of the daily things – feeding, cuddling, company, probably cutesy nicknames and more pics on our phones than family. But the little niche they carve out in our hearts is the biggest – and most important – part of the adventure.

Topper, a chihuahua from rural Greene County, and Lisa Stoekle, shelter volunteer, have one of those stories. Lisa shared her time helping dogs and was thinking about adopting a pit bull after learning how sweet the bully breed could be and had thoughts of working with the dog towards possibly becoming a therapy pet. She had no plans of even considering a chihuahua, having had them in her family growing up and remembered those particular dogs as being unsocialized and “nasty little things” that no one was allowed to touch or even look at.

One day while cleaning kennels, she looked up and saw a tiny little guy watching her. “You better eat your food,” she told him. “They’re going to take that away in a few minutes.” The dog looked at her again, then a small puddle formed under him. “I’ll clean that up for you,” she said to him. He watched her mop up from as far back in his cage as he could, then moved to the front as she stepped out and walked down the kennel hall to return the mop. “I’m going to take him outside and hand feed him,” she thought. As they sat under a tree together, the bond formed instantly.

For the next few days, Lisa carried him around the shelter in the crook of her arm, the tiny, timid, almost broken little dog taking comfort in her kindness. She decided to take him home for a cage break to spend the night and as she drove away from the shelter, she told him “You never have to go back there.” The next day she called the shelter to tell the staff what they already knew; she wanted to adopt him. “Come on in,” they said. “We filled the paperwork out last night.

It took some time for Topper to get used to his new life. He mostly slept for the first few weeks decompressing and taking in his new surroundings, and months before the love and patience made him feel like he was finally home. “It was a full year before he found his voice,” Lisa recalls, “and I heard him bark for the first time.” 

Slowly, Topper started blossoming with the time and care Lisa put into helping him become comfortable with the world around him. She took him out to meet new people and other little dogs, and to some doggie classes and discovered that he already knew a lot of commands. He tried so hard to please her, and the ever-growing bond that came from those experiences became an emotional glue for both of them. The first time she had her large family over for dinner, she shared that she had adopted a dog, and everyone could meet him when they arrived. “They all wondered how this pit bull I planned to adopt would be,” she says. As each member arrived and rang the doorbell, her father would announce “release the hound!” and Topper would come barreling down the steps to smother them with doggie greetings and kisses. “We all had a good laugh and Topper loved all the attention”. 

He would strut around guests and show off when he was in a room full of new people; of course, they were all there to celebrate him. At the pet store, he allowed strangers to hold him while mom ruffled through her things to pay. When he welcomed a man in a wheelchair (which is very scary to a lot of dogs) and sat in his lap, Lisa thought maybe he had the personality to be a therapy dog. Alas, it was not to be. Like expectations for potty training in schools, dog therapy class frowned upon his enjoyment of leg lifting and he moved on to a different career.

Topper loved Lisa’s parents as well. When her dad auditioned for an amateur role in a play called “The Last Romance” (about a couple who meet at a dog park), he jokingly mentioned he could bring his own dog. He got a call saying he didn’t get the part, but would the dog still want a role? They used a stuffed animal up until that point, but once Topper got on stage he really shined. His stage name was “Peaches”, and he took to the part instantly. He became the star of the play and had his own fan club. The actors loved him, he gladly wore the costumes and greeted the audience after each performance.

Topper and Lisa shared many escapades together. He didn’t like to go potty on wet grass, so Lisa would put a tarp in the yard to peel back so he always had a dry spot to use. Neighbors would honk when they drove by and saw “Toppie’s Tarp”, knowing it was a harbinger of bad weather. He had his own chair at the kitchen table, so he didn’t have to look at feet when company came over. He once led a parade.

Sadly, Topper and Lisa’s time together was stopped short in August when his kidneys suddenly failed with no explanation. Brokenhearted, Lisa shared the news in her circle of friends. When word spread of his passing, Lisa received over 60 cards expressing sympathy and sharing stories of how Topper, and watching his connection with Lisa, had touched their lives. 

Drop a pebble in the water,
Though its end you may not see,
It may reach, like widening ripples,
Down a long eternity.


December 14, 2023
December 14, 2023


November 22, 2023