Gracie came into our lives as a whirlwind, thrust upon us at a time of sheer vulnerability.
Friends of ours had taken in Gracie as foster "parents" but their landlord restricted them to having one dog in their home, and they already had a dog, so Gracie was going to be sent to the Humane Society. When our two small and impressionable children heard Gracie would have to go away, they could not fathom how anyone could simply give a dog away. But we already had a family dog, Ezekiel Spot, a large male dalmatian. When my wife thought about the idea of bringing Gracie into our family, I balked. We already had a dog, we did not need another. But Zeke was getting old and the kids had no memories of him "in his prime." And Gracie was young and wild, flying around their house, jumping on the furniture with tongue flying and tail wagging as if she was about to take off like a helicopter! Between my wife and two children, my resolve to stay opposed to taking Gracie began to melt. You can probably imagine the continuous pleading by my kids, aided by a crazed dog jumping in my lap and slobbering my face to the point of forcing me to gasp for breath. Knowing full well my resistance was wearing down, my wife and kids conspired on Gracie's behalf, and the flashing tongue and whipping tail won me over. Gracie was packed up and in our van heading to her new home.
Introducing her to Zeke was a gentle experience. Gracie was filled with youthful exuberance, Zeke was stoic and proud in his elder years. Gracie jumped on Zeke's place on a large ottoman, and flew into the kitchen to drink from his bowl. Zeke took it all in, but gave us looks that said, "really?" When we opened the door to the deck and the backyard, Gracie slammed through the door, casting Zeke as an irrelevant nuisance. Gracie was oblivious that another dog claimed the home as his. Watching this unfold, I feared we made a bad decision. A young vibrant dog with an old and slow dog? What were we thinking? The kids were excited as ever, as was my wife. I watched Gracie carefully. I wanted to make sure she would accept that this was Zeke's home first!
And then something happened. By the next day, Gracie (still full of youthful energy), had seemed to slow down near Zeke. When fed, she actually waited for Zeke to eat first as to not crowd him. She only ate at her bowl when Zeke had finished. When laying down, Gracie was clearly accommodating Zeke. Perhaps we had made the right decision after all?
After taking Gracie, we learned she had been a stray, found wandering in Hocking Hills, Ohio actually living in the wild. No collar, no sign of ever being part of a family. Gracie exhibited behavior around other animals that reflected this history...the fur on the back of her would stand on end at the slightest glimpse of another animal, including dogs. Our Vet opined that Gracie was roughly two years old, obviously experienced with the wild, but otherwise healthy and clearly willing to be loved by humans. Bottom line, Gracie was a keeper! With that, I decided to give her a name that tied her to our family...Gracie would be formally known as GracieMae!
My wife was happy. My kids were happy. I was happy. Gracie was happy. But soon, Zeke began to deteriorate, and at 14 years of age, Zeke died of cancer. My kids and wife had Gracie to comfort them. But I could not be comforted. Zeke was MY dog. His death hurt so much. Like every owner of a pet, easing the pain and loss took time. But Gracie became the focal point of our family. She filled the void created by Zeke's death and traveled with us by van every time we headed to Indiana to visit family. She went with our daughter to watch our son's baseball games. She went with the kids to my ball games. She had evolved into becoming a loving member of our family. Slowly she began to hang around me, seeming to know I would always compare her to Zeke, but that did not stop her from trying. But she became even closer to my kids, especially my daughter. Sleeping on my daughter's bed, Gracie was on guard for her. During the day, Gracie would wait with typical loyal anticipation for my kids to come home from school. She enjoyed their attention and looked forward to Mom feeding her (she loved all the attention except the trimming of her nails and occasional baths)!
In 2005, our daughter graduated high school and headed to New York for college. My son and I headed to Venice, Florida to live in paradise, but my wife needed just two more years to retire as a speech and language pathologist in a local school district. Knowing how hard it was going to be to leave Mom behind while everyone departed, Gracie became the family's anchor. Mom stayed behind in a large and quiet house, but she was not alone. Gracie made sure to keep her company, both physically and mentally! And when the two years had ended and retirement was achieved, my son and I drove the family van from Ohio to Venice, loaded down with a variety of plants, clothes, fish and of course, GracieMae. Gracie was with Dad and brother while Mom earned the right to fly ahead of us and prepare Gracie's new Florida home. Gracie was a great traveler and the three of us (and the fish) made it a straight trip to Venice (with necessary breaks in between, including a stop to have dinner with Aunt Ellyn in Atlanta). Upon arriving in Gracie's new home, she immediately ran to look for Mom. After showing her pleasure of being reunited with her, she went to investigate her new home. When let outside, she spotted the many squirrels and as usual, took off....right through a screen panel in our lanai! Welcome to Florida, Gracie! She also found out quickly that sliding glass doors may appear open when they are not. A couple of crashes into a "slider" convinced us to add a small glass window figurine so she could tell the door was really closed. Gracie was smart enough. She never ran into the closed "slider" again.
Over the years, she began to slow down, but remained our GracieMae. About a year ago though, we began to notice she was having problems with her hips, or as I would call it, her "transmission was going out." With the aid of medication, Gracie was still able to get around and enjoy "sniffing the air" and barking while outside. But other signs of age began to surface. She started to stare into closets and failed to hear us enter the house. And then the problems began to multiply. Making messes inside the house became a regular occurrence. Her hips, despite the shots she was now routinely receiving, continued to deteriorate. My wife decided to keep her alive long enough for our daughter and her family to see her over Passover. Gracie perked up around our daughter and our two grandsons. It was obvious, Gracie was proud of our daughter having watched her grow up and become a Mommy herself.
And when they all left, my wife decided Gracie was no longer interested in doing much except sleep. She wasn't able to get up on her usual chair to sleep. The quality of her life was clearly declining. And the ultimate decision was made to ease Gracie's pain, even if it brought my family to tears. Keeping a pet alive beyond the time it can enjoy life is selfish. So today, we both came home at the same time, entered the house at the same time, and saw Gracie at the same time sleeping peacefully on our bedroom floor. We took our pictures. We gave her our loving kisses and hugs. We took her to the vet.
The pain will ease, the sadness too. The love for our GracieMae though will never fade. I hope she finds Zeke and walks with him forever, because my family knows for certain, all dogs go to heaven!