Gracie and me

I am suffering from post-election withdrawal.  I turn on CNN in the morning and immediately ask myself why I bothered.  What did I think I would find that could cure this ailment?  I was briefly interested in yesterday’s story that they may be closer to finding Natalee Holloway’s killer, but then realized they were just going after the Dutch guy that they’ve already arrested twice before in connection with her disappearance.  Not that closure isn’t needed, but it hardly seemed like a big break when he essentially confessed about a year ago.  And I’m trying to remain interested in Obama’s appointments, but even that has given me little to think about.

So, with that in mind, I think I will write about the story of Grace and how she came into my life.  I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, as we will celebrate our five-year anniversary together in January.  I’ve been thinking about how much comfort she has given me and how lucky I am to have her.  I’ve also been thinking about how close I was to not having her at all.

The scene: Richmond, 2003.    Well, wait, let’s back up.  As many of you know, I am severely allergic to dogs.  To illustrate this, I will briefly relay the story of when I was in elementary school and my family and I were visiting my aunt Jane’s family in La Crosse.  All I really remember from this weekend was playing super fun badmitton in Jane’s parents’ backyard and being taken to the emergency room because my eyes had swollen shut from being around a dog.  The badmitton was definitely more fun.  So, we did not have a dog for what seemed like an eternity to young Kate.  I would look longingly at my parents’ pictures of the dogs they had before I was born (3), and the pictures of me and Molly, the black standard poodle they kept around for awhile until they finally relinqished her to Jane and Mike when I was a toddler.  I REALLY wanted a dog.  I loved dogs and it seemed so cruel to me to be deprived of one, especially when my parents clearly adored the animals themselves.  So, one night when I was in fifth grade, I had a breakdown.  I couldn’t stop crying.  My parents came into my room, sat on my bed and asked me what was wrong.  “I want a dog!” I blubbered.  “I NEED a dog,” I implored.  My parents looked at each other, at me, and decided we could try to get a standard poodle because (a) they don’t shed and (b) my parents don’t tolerate small dogs.  So, with that, Casey came into our life.  We bought her from a breeder in Oregon, WI and she was the cutest thing I’d ever seen.  She was a puppy and so we had to do all the puppy things: training, training and more training.   Only I think we stopped at the second training because after learning to hold her bladder and sit, there wasn’t much else Casey was good at.  Except being an excellent sleeper.  In the winter mornings, while I was still nestled in bed, relishing the last minutes of sleep before school, my dad would call upstairs to Casey to come down to go outside.  She would pretend she hadn’t heard.  I’ve never really seen that quality in a dog since that time.  Anyway, Casey was a sweet pooch, but in the fall of 2000, she developed awful tumors on her spine that made it so she couldn’t walk straight.  She would fall down the stairs and was generally out of sorts.  Though my parents had divorced by this time, they went together to take Casey to the vet to put her down.  Sweet puppy.

So, with this background in mind, you may now understand how committed I was to having a dog in my life.  At the same time, I did not think college or law school were good times for me to commit to a pup.  When I finished law school, though, one of the first things that crossed my mind was, “Now I can get a dog!” 

June 2002.  Ben and I moved to Corpus for my job and we ended up taking a 6-month lease on an apartment (sight unseen, Corpus unseen for that matter) that didn’t take dogs, was in a complex and had a name: the Breakers.  I had never seen myself living in such a place before (or since), but it was Corpus and that’s how they roll.   Anyway, after 6 months, I thought we would be in better position to find a cute place to live and a cute pup to join us there.  Well, I was wrong.  Despite scouring the town, we couldn’t come close to finding a cute place to live.  Or eat.  Or walk.  Or hang out.  Really, there is just nothing cute about Corpus.  We did, though, find another apartment complex down the street that took dogs.  We put a $100 deposit down on another 6-month lease, but backed out a few weeks later when we realized we didn’t want to move again unless it was moving out of Corpus, which we did the following June.  So, no dog, but no Corpus.  A step in the right direction.

August 2003.  Richmond.  Yay!  Life was good again and Ben and I were about to be married.  Since we were getting married in Madison and honeymooning in Italy, Ben reasonably argued that we should begin the dog search after we were back settled in Virginia in November.  November came and went without a dog.   Richmond seemed to me to be the dog capital of the universe.  They were everywhere!  And the humane society came every Saturday within a few blocks of our apartment with a car-load full of dogs available for adoption.  Ben always found an excuse to say no to these dogs and the dogs I was finding on petfinder weren’t working out, either.  I was committed to trying to find a non-shedding dog, but also a rescue.  Not easy to do (Obamas: take note).  I put in applications to local airedale and standard poodle rescue groups.  I applied for several specific dogs.  I even had some phone interviews.  No takers.  I finally had a lead on a cute wheaten terrier named Hobo, but communication problems led to another family taking Hobo with them.  One day I was visiting Ben at the furniture store at which he worked at the time and we went across the street to where our car was parked.  We got in the car to talk and I had a major breakdown.  “I want a dog!” I blubbered.   “I NEED a dog,” I implored.  “I’m so lonely!”  “You promised!” etc, etc.  So, Ben agreed to be more supportive of the dog effort and said that he was backing it 100%.  Reengerized by this, I went back online to petfinder and found a cute, scruffy, part wheaten available in the area.  I emailed the organization and heard back immediately (rare) that the dog had already been adopted but that they would keep me in mind for similar dogs (I had mentioned my allergy issue).  I didn’t take too much from this, but was happy to have actually made contact with someone in the rescue world.  And then maybe a week or two later, I get an email from the organization (which it is clear by this point is just one woman) asking if I am interested in a dog very similar to the one I asked about, but this one was a girl.  Well!  I said not only was I interested, I preferred a girl and it sounded great!  The next bit is a whirlwind.  The woman calls me and says she is north of Richmond, coming through town any minute on her way to Virginia Beach, and would I like to take the dog for a week and foster her?  Um, yeah!  So, I hastily leave work, run down the street to catch my bus, lose one of my favorite mittens, get a call from my woman on my cell asking for directions, call Ben at work and ask him if someone there can give her directions (still relatively new to town and not familiar with the highways yet), call her back, rush into our apartment, straighten up, call my mom, see van pull onto our street, rush outside, van pulls over, puppies are barking and howling and yipping and crying, woman gets out of van, comes over to me and introduces herself.  Then she opens the back of the van.  There are crates of dogs piled high and deep.  Apparently, this woman gets calls from kill-shelters all over Virginia and just drives around and picks up dogs that are set to be executed.  That day she had gotten a call from a fellow at a shelter north of Richmond saying that he had a super sweet dog there but if no one adopted her by today, she would be put down.  As she’s telling me this, we’re unloading crate upon crate of dog, which is no easy task as dogs are mobile creatures.  We come to a crate with the only dog in the bunch that is not making a noise and she tells me this is my dog.  Well, this was no wheaten terrier.  This dog looked like the weirdest, mangiest dog that I had ever seen.  Possibly a burn victim.  She had black and grey stringy fur and was not at all cuddly.  I was terrified.  But, after all this production, I tried so hard not to let it show.  “Oh, well, hello, isn’t she something?”  We put the other dogs back and took this dog out of her crate.  Unfortunately, she had gone to the bathroom in the crate, which was too small for her, and was now covered in ick.  Without making much noise or much tail wagging, she jumped up on me.  She wanted to look me in the eyes, I thought.  Nice trick.  Soon, Ben came walking down the street on his way home from work.  I brought the dog up to him and I believe he said, “What is that?”  The woman couldn’t have been more delighted, telling us we were made for this dog.  She left, saying she would call back in a week to arrange for the dog to be spayed and to ask us how it was going.  We never saw her again.

We went inside our apartment.  Ben was not happy.  At first he told me I needed to call the woman back immediately and tell her we are not keeping this dog.  I couldn’t do that, I said.  I didn’t want the dog, either, but I was too embarrassed to give her back after ten minutes.  We agreed to keep her for one week and then we would say she wasn’t working out and we would be onto our search for our real dog.  I went to the grocery store to get some dog food and Ben (kindly) gave her a bath.  After her bath, she perked up and ran wild around the house shedding everywhere.  Yes, that’s right, shedding.  Anyway, over the course of the next week, I don’t think she was alone in the house once.  We were both scared of that.  Though she seemed trained, we didn’t really trust her.  We didn’t want her on the bed, for example, because she was scary.  I remember saying, “I can’t have a dog that I’m scared to have on my bed.  What would be the point of that?”  Our schedules worked out so that when Ben was at work, I could be with the dog and vice versa.  The adoption woman called us once to say that the dog’s spaying appointment had been moved, but that was about the last we heard from her.  The exception being some strange email I got from her instructing me to tell the dog that her “auntie” missed her.  After about a week of talking about how we were not going to keep the dog, getting the blessing from our friends and family that it was ok not to keep the dog, we looked at each other and reluctantly said, “We’re keeping her, aren’t we?”  And then we named her Gracie.

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8 Responses to “Gracie and me”


  1. 1 Sarayu November 19, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    I love this story so much. I’m so glad you decided to re-tell it. I missed it.

    It’s a good bed-time story. Perhaps you’ll consider telling it to me on one of my nights of insomnia. We can discuss that later.

    Tell Gracie her auntie misses her!

  2. 2 Kayt November 20, 2008 at 2:00 am

    I remember Casey as being stupid but sweet…and I think Casey chewed the hell out of a hair brush of mine, wooden handle and a mixture of boar hairs and plastic bristles that I loved.

    I think I remember that your dad gave up on training last, far after you and your mother did, insisting that disicpline and yelling would do the trick…but that might also be colored by my general knowledge of how your father didn’t think we were getting enough latin/advanced education/whatever in schools.

    Casey was in no way the stupidest dog I knew back then, that would be Ralph Waldo, the dog of the boarder who lived in our basement before I moved down and took over. Ralph ate rocks.

    I miss the cats my boyfriend and I got when I lived in VA (Charlottesvile) and was going crazy. Lucifer had thumbs and could ( and would ) jump up and wrap his arms around your waist…and Bit was hyper and would fall into the bathtub as I soaked. They have passed on, as has that relationship.

    I very much miss having pets. I can’t in my apartment and would be afraid of the trauma of quarantine process of going back to America even if I could.

    Cindy, my tabby cat with the broken tail, lived to the ripe old age of 23, passing away 3 years ago when I last visited Wisconsin.

  3. 3 Heather November 20, 2008 at 9:48 am

    I’m glad you euphemistically described my initial reaction to gracie as a blessing to not keep her if you didn’t want to.

    Interesting that that woman, who sounds just totally crazy, was so obsessed with her spaying appointment, and then she had already been spayed, right?

    Very good story. I would love to tell the story of Stewart (or Sir Edmund, Caramel Cream, or Tiger) but I fear it would pale in comparison (and make us look like bad pet owners). Let’s just say we stopped the training at trai, and, with the exception of edmund who is buried in our backyard, the story ends with the pets going to a “farm in sun prarie.”

  4. 4 kateandgracie November 20, 2008 at 10:27 am

    I was going to inject your initial reaction — and subsequent reactions for that matter — along with my mom’s, but I worried the story was too long. Suffice it to say that for Heather she was like, “What the …?” And “Hmm.” My mom asked me if she looked like Bridie, who was an exceptionally weird looking dog my aunt Jane and uncle Mike had had. I said I wasn’t sure because I couldn’t completely picture Bridie in my head. My mom not so subtley relayed that Bridie was one odd looking pooch and she was sure Gracie couldn’t compare. Then my mom came to visit. When she walked into the apartment and met Grace she said, “She looks just like Bridie!”

  5. 5 Heather November 21, 2008 at 9:24 am

    I remember hearing that about your mom. hehe. but now look at how we were all fools as gracie is so cute and such a great dog.

  6. 6 Kristin November 21, 2008 at 10:28 am

    I remember meeting Gracie in VA and after initially having a “What’s that?” reaction, I just fell in total love with Gracie. Oh what a sweet pup. I miss her.

    I’ve never had a dog. Sniff. I also used to beg and beg, but to no avail. Someday…

  7. 7 rose November 24, 2008 at 5:06 pm

    Can I just tell you that I totally cried after reading your story. I mean—I’ve heard the whole story and met little Gracie in VA, but hearing it again really got to me.
    Can you imagine what little Gracie was thinking in the back of that van? or what the other dogs were thinking? and what if you hadn’t taken her?
    I’m so glad you have her.

  8. 8 G November 26, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    I’m glad you have her too. She’s a delight. I’m also glad that you’ve learned to close your bedroom door so she doesn’t nap on your pillows during the day.


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