On Jan. 23, the Merced Sun Star newspaper printed a front-page photo that showed both of the Stayner boys together in 1980, shortly after Steven Stayner had been reunited with his family. Steven’s story was remarkable. Steven disappeared when he was 7 years old, simply vanished from his neighborhood one day. It was 1972. Missing for more than seven years, he was reunited with his family only after his captor kidnapped a second child. Steven couldn’t endure seeing this child’s anguish and he hiked the little boy out to a police station. Although rarely mentioned, he also brought with him a dog. The child Steven aimed to rescue ultimately led to his own rescue. It was an incredible story, one that mesmerized the nation. This photograph, taken during the family reunification, shows Steven with his older brother Cary and their father, Delbert Stayner. The portent was only realized in hindsight: one brother, Steven, had saved a life. Sadly, Steven died an untimely early death in 1989. Ten years later, in 1999, his older brother Cary Stayner was to gain notoriety for committing the unbearable murders of four women. Overall, a very grim and sad story for the family and the town of Merced.
This was a rare photo that captured both Steven and his older brother together, a moment in a time of celebration. But my eyes saw only the dog. Hey! What about Queenie? That’s a picture of Steven and his DOG! She’s right there, just to the side of Delbert Stayner’s elbow! A little black dog with tan legs, Queenie had been with Steven throughout the years of his captivity. She looks happy in this photo, bright eyed.
I’m a veterinarian. Of course I noticed the dog. That, and I knew Queenie. Knew them both, she and Steven. I knew them because I took care of Queenie at her life’s end. That was many years ago. Her importance was to Steven, her passing private. I share a bit of this story because in today’s world we talk about the “human-animal bond.” We use scientific methods to analyze the effects that animals have in sharing our lives. C’mon people – it’s simple: love.
Queenie. Steven was very young, only 7 years old, when he was torn away from home and family. Queenie entered his captive life early on and remained a constant throughout the years to follow. She gave him unwavering loyalty, and non-judgmental constant cheerful companionship. It is notable that when he left that night to return the little boy, Steven never considered leaving his dog behind.
I met Queenie and Steven in late 1982 or early 1983. She was very ill. The little dog looked thin compared to her bloated abdomen. Steven was very quiet. A polite young man, he desperately wanted to save her. I think, in many ways, she had saved him.
Queenie’s abdomen was enlarged due to fluid build up, a condition called ascites and often caused by liver failure. Back in the early 80s, blood tests, ultrasounds and other diagnostic tests were not readily available in the Central Valley. Neither was overnight care. I lived in Turlock and commuted to my job in Merced that year. So I started Queenie on IV fluids and other medications and drove her home with me that night. I rigged her IV fluids first to my car door strap, then used a coat hanger to suspend them from a towel rack. She was a sweet dog, but had no energy left to fight her illness. Queenie passed away quietly in my living room at home in Turlock. Steven took her from me the next morning. Although no autopsy was performed, I believed she had liver cancer.
Although I saw Steven with other pets after that, we did not have a personal friendship and I lost touch with him over the years. The love that he and Queenie had for each other has stayed in my heart and I was touched to see her once again, that doggie laugh on her face as she forever follows the love of her life, Steven.
Christine McFadden holds a license to practice veterinary medicine and surgery. She has cared for the family pets of Merced at Valley Animal Hospital for more than 30 years. Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.