A 2nd Act: The Power of Canine Love

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Posted By on April 2, 2020

Unconditional and Incredible

            For better or worse … but no dogs. That was the promise Marika Meeks made her husband, Brian, when they married. The Indiana couple went on to have two daughters, become partners in a restaurant chain and live what seemed a charmed life. And then, their life took a left turn. Despite being proactive about her health, Marika found a lump in her breast and was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer in 2013.

            She researched her best treatment options and found them in Arizona. It made the most sense for Marika to come to the state alone, while Brian cared for the business and their girls in Indiana. “My cancer experience included every worst-case scenario,” Marika said. “I decided I wanted to have some kind of control in my life. Riding a secondhand bike to each of my appointments fit the bill.”

            That plan delivered more than she expected. While picking the bike up, the owner’s dog ran out to Marika, jumping up to greet her. In an instant, Marika felt healing and love coming from those big paws, and her marriage promise began to wobble. It wasn’t the “for better or worse part”— it was the dog part.

            When her cancer treatment was over, Marika was left shaken, fearful and uncertain about the future. Her relationship with her eldest daughter was strained, and Marika felt sure she was suffering from PTSD as a result of the whole ordeal. And she couldn’t stop thinking about becoming a dog owner.

            “I kept showing Brian pictures of adoptable dogs. I finally wore him down in 2016,” Marika said. “One night at dinner, he said, ‘For the love of God, just fill out the paperwork!’ I did, and we took it to an adoption event that weekend. They had advertised three dogs. But two had already been adopted when we got there, and the other wasn’t a good fit. Then they brought in a young, beautiful pit bull mix and we knew in an instant she was the one. She would be our Stella.”

            The Meekses never dreamed where Stella would take them. While they gave her a second act, Stella has given their entire family a second act! Marika and Brian had fallen in love with Arizona during Marika’s treatment and decided to move here full-time. She and her daughter reconnected, and both girls became Arizona State University Sun Devils. And the family discovered their mission.

            “Everywhere we took Stella, people connected with her instantly,” Marika said. “They wanted to pet her and take pictures of her. My daughter thought Stella should have her own Instagram account. Because of our heartfelt stories and videos, a web-based news aggregate picked up Stella’s story. Suddenly we had 30 million views. It became apparent to us that we could use that force for good.”

            The Meekses left the restaurant business and founded IncrediBull Stella, initially focusing on a three-part platform. First, they publicize “adopt, don’t shop” when it comes to bringing dogs into families. Second, to cut down on all of the unwanted animals, they promote spaying and neutering pets. And finally, they advocate for pit bulls, a breed that’s gotten an unfair reputation. Because the dogs are often used in illegal dogfights, the public assumes the breed is congenitally mean. Stella is proof that is not so.

            To promote their platform, Marika and Brian have utilized a number of approaches. There’s the reality TV show, “Dog Moms of Scottsdale,” and a Stella coloring book. Marika co-authored their story in “Incredibull Stella: How the Love of a Pit Bull Rescued a Family.” Stella and her humans endorse products, and their social media exposure continues to drive more interest. The income they derive has allowed them to expand their work to include Stella’s Rescue Rehab.

            “We provide county shelters much-needed blankets and dog food,” Marika said proudly. “Last year, we delivered over 2,000 pounds of food and two pick-up truckloads of blankets.”

            And the ideas keep coming. Marika saw a news story about lost dogs being pictured on pizza boxes. “Why couldn’t we flip that?” she asked. “Why not put pictures of dogs that are available for adoption on boxes?”

            Why not, indeed? But maybe an even better way of furthering the mission of IncrediBull Stella is found in the love this beautiful dog has given a broken family. It’s unconditional, and it’s healing. It’s the incredible gift that a dog unselfishly gives its humans.

            To learn more, visit IncrediBullStella.com.

Judy Pearson

About Judy Pearson

Judy Pearson is a journalist, published author, and the founder of A2ndAct.org. Her organization supports and celebrates women survivors of all cancers as they give back to the greater good in their 2nd Acts. Her passion is finding those who have have healed themselves by helping others.