Over the years, I’ve shared many stories about the various animals that we’ve been blessed to share our life with here on the Farm. Most of you are familiar with old man Kody, and how he was our first, and the impact that he made upon our lives and continues to even though he has been gone for nearly 4 years now. I’ve shared the stories telling about the bond that I have with my very handsome, and equally spoiled horse, Alex. Other horses, as well as donkeys, both of various size and shapes, have been mentioned. An equal share of indoor and outdoor cats have come and gone, and I’ve shared both the joy and the sadness of their lives in my written word. Dewey and Sebastian, our boy pups, have made many appearances. I’ve happily and willingly shared them all with you. All except one. I’m not sure why I haven’t focused a blog about her before. There is no doubt that she has deserved one. Certainly, I’ve given it some thought a time or two, but my muse would fail me, and I could never put words to screen that seemed to do her justice. Perhaps this time, the words will flow easily, and you will finally know her story. This may be the toughest post I’ve ever tried to write, but hopefully you will know the special place she holds in my heart.
The Man and I had been together for 5 years, and old man Kody was still a young pup at three years old. We were both away during the day a lot, and although the Man was perfectly (and adamantly) happy being a one dog household, the idea of adding a second dog started percolating in my head. I convinced myself that if adding a puppy to our happy little family was meant to be, then who was I to argue with the Universe? Before long, we found ourselves knocking on the door of a small house that had a litter of half Lab, half Golden puppies that were looking for homes. Although he still wasn’t convinced that we needed another puppy, the Man did begrudgingly agree that IF we were to choose a puppy that day, it should be another male to be good company for Kody. He grumbled under his breath as we made our way to the living room where the pups awaited, and since we had already decided that it should be me that made the choice, he took a chair near the door in silent protest. The mother of the pups was a stunning Yellow Lab who seemed very proud of her energetic and beautiful puppies, and she quickly took up station near me as I surveyed the nine bouncing balls of yellow at our feet. I ignored the barely audible harumph behind me as I picked up the pups, one at a time, to quickly determine which ones were male and which were female. The first three were female, and although they were adorable, they lacked the hardware I was looking for. The fourth puppy had the required bits, and when I brought him closer, he wagged his little tail and smothered me with puppy breath kisses. “I found him!” I exclaimed, and turned to the Man to present him. He still sat in that same chair near the door, but this time his folded arms were wrapped around the fattest, and clearly female, pup laying on her back with one paw on his chin while he tickled her belly and made little cooing sounds. He lifted his head, and with the high pitched glee of a nine year old, he squealed “She picked me!!!”. I gently set the pup I was holding back into the puppy area, knowing that the choice had been made. Not by me, not by the Man, but by a charming, rotund, butterball female that we would come to know as Gracie.
When we brought her home a few weeks later, Kody was, as expected, quite happy with the addition to the Farm. He always had a knack for knowing when new things were meant for him, whether it was a new toy, bone, or bed, and he knew without a doubt that this fat little puppy with the sharp teeth pulling on his tail was our gift to him. Overnight, he changed from a young dog without a care in the world to an Alpha with a purpose. We quickly discovered that while a single puppy can be a challenge to train in all things domesticated, a new puppy with a brother 3 years older can be a wonder to behold. With the addition of Gracie to the Farm, we were no longer two guys and a dog, but rather we had become a pack, at least in Kody’s eyes. Kody knew the rules, and although he was fond of ignoring them, it became his mission to teach those rules to the newer, lower ranking member of the pack. He became the teacher, and she became his willing student. It only took us a day or two to finally relinquish the control of her training to Kody, realizing that dogs learn best when lessons are served with a low growl or a controlled nip of teeth. Kody did his job well, and she learned fast, but it wasn’t all because of Kody’s efforts. As we watched them interact, it became clear to us that while this fat little ball of yellow with the bad puppy breath was younger than Kody, she clearly was the smarter of the two. She did all of the usual puppy antics, right down to pulling all of the long flowing hair out of Kody’s tail, which never grew back properly and looked more like a rat tail than a Golden’s tail. The difference was that she was doing it all with an intent and intelligence far beyond her weeks. Instead of waiting to learn a lesson when the time was right, she was testing him and taking notes. Over the next few months, we watched with wonder the interaction between the two, and it was a blessing to experience. By the time she was a year old, and Kody was four, she was clearly the one in charge, but she was smart enough to let him think he was. The four of us flourished throughout that first year, and grew closer as a true pack. The two dogs saw the Man and I as equal Alphas, although we each had our specific roles to them. The Man became the fun one, who provided hugs, cuddles and treats when he came home from work. I became the one with the rules, and the provider of all things essential for a dog’s happy life. Since Kody had long since bonded with the Man and his happy go lucky rules of life, it was no surprise that Gracie would bond with me and my need for structure and routine.
While it hadn’t taken long to realize how smart young Gracie was, we also quickly learned that she possessed an amazingly high pain tolerance, one that I had never seen in a dog. One morning, a few weeks after her arrival at the Farm, I noticed a small white dot on her upper lip after she had pulled away from me and didn’t want her face touched. Within hours, she was in a fight for her life from a condition called Puppy Strangles. Her lips, her gums, and around her eyes were covered in swollen pustules that were weeping pus, and causing her intense pain. It’s a rarely seen condition, but thanks to the Man’s own medical knowledge and some frantic web searching, we finally were able to convince the vet what we thought was happening to her, and treatment was started just as her throat was starting to close shut from the swelling. Through it all, one would never have known the intense pain she was enduring other than she didn’t want to be touched on her face, something that she has refused until just recently. She returned to her quest for world domination in short order, and she developed into an athletic muscular dog who lived for chasing down tennis balls and flying through the air to catch a long thrown frisbee. Kody was content to lay in the shade, for the most part, except for the one time he decided to he had the energy to try to catch the frisbee before she did. The slow motion midair collision ended with Gracie proudly bringing the frisbee back to me to be thrown again, and Kody with missing front teeth that greatly added to his goofy grin. He never challenged her again, knowing from that day on that it wouldn’t end well for him if he tried. Her strong muscled legs vaulted her 10 feet in the air to snatch that frisbee with strong jaws time and time again, and it was a sight to behold, but what gave her the most joy would also become her downfall. A few years ago, when she was still considered a young dog, those strong legs sent her high into the air, but when she came down with the frisbee in her mouth, she landed wrong and one of her hind knees blew out. True to form, it didn’t slow her down, and as I ran to her in a panic, she was running to me, a wild grin on her face and one hind leg flopping about like it had always been that way. Needless to say, that ended her dreams of becoming one of The Flying Wallendas. Soon after surgery to repair the one knee, the other gave out, and although surgery was successful for both knees, they never were quite the same. She eventually learned to run with both hind legs acting as one, and would look like a giant yellow rabbit running through the fields chasing squirrels, or hopping through the deep snow during the winter months. When she wasn’t off hopping around the property, she was by my side. She was my faithful sidekick, both night and day, and it was clear to all that in her eyes, I was the true alpha of her pack. When Dewey joined us a few years later, it was her turn to take on the role of teacher, and she took on the role with the same conviction that she had shown in her earlier years while chasing anything thrown for her. She was on point and efficient, and Dewey learned his lessons well. Each time there was a point to be made, she made it and then quickly returned to my side where she knew she belonged.
When Kody passed away nearly 4 years ago, Gracie naturally took her place as the clear leader of the pack within a pack, especially when Sebastian joined our family a couple months later. She wasn’t impressed with the addition of another puppy at first, and she ignored both me and Sebastian for three weeks. Finally, she decided that if this unruly ball of white was going to learn to behave according to her standards, then it was going to be up to her to make it happen. One quick “Come to Jesus” moment left Sebastian with a slightly bleeding ear tip and a new outlook on life. While the Man ran after the young Sebastian to dole out bandaids and reassurance, Gracie slowly approached me with her head down, eyes buttoned up and a slight grin on her face. This form of submission from her wasn’t new, but the circumstance was. I knelt down and cradled her already graying face, my gentle touch telling her instantly that she needn’t worry, and that I approved of her teaching style. One quick bunny hop later, she was by my side, and together we laughed at the Man zigzagging through the yard, Benny Hill style, trying to catch a screaming white puppy who was clearly not having a good day. To Gracie’s complete satisfaction, each member of her pack now knew their place in the hierarchy, and life was good again.
Over the years, Gracie would accompany me when I made the rounds to check on various critters or projects around the Farm. She was a regular in the horse fields with me until the day that Alex delivered a glancing blow to the side of her head with one of his massive front feet. As she always did with any sort of trauma, she brushed it off and returned to my side, waiting to head off to our next adventure with squinted eyes and a grin on her face. She never did go inside the horse field again after that, by her own choice, but would instead sit and wait for me at the gate, keeping a watchful eye on what I was doing. Most days, at least in the summer, if I wasn’t with the horses, I was in the garden. Garden time has always been Gracie’s favorite time of the day, mostly because Dewey and Sebastian were never allowed inside the garden gate. It was our time together, and she had me all to herself. After she made the rounds to each corner of the garden, being careful not to tread on any plants or flowers, she would usually settle down in the carrot patch, happily pulling up carrots and eating her fill. As the years have passed, she has remained a constant presence in my life. Where I go, she goes, and at the end of the day when the Farm finally sleeps, she is beside me on the couch. She stays especially close when I’ve made no bake cookies, and she knows that she will get a few tiny bites when the boys aren’t looking.
Mentally, she is as sharp as she was when as a pup she figured out she was smarter than Kody. Her body, however, is betraying her more every day. Her surgically repaired knees have fused together and no longer support her like they used to, and the crippling arthritis they developed has spread like wildfire to all of her other weight bearing joints. Her front feet are gnarled and twisted, and together with her aching shoulders, failing hips and unbendable knees, she is no longer able to run and play with the boys. Our walks in the yard are slow and methodical, and because of the added strain it puts on her hindquarters, she has difficulty holding her head up when she walks. In her younger days, our time in the yard would include stopping by her favorite apple tree, where she would leap into the air to grab an apple from the branches high above her. Now, she is content to search along the ground for ones that have dropped. She has been on various medications over the past couple of years to help with the gradual but constant onslaught of arthritis, and though the edge was taken off, the pain never left her. Through it all, she has remained as faithful to me as she ever was, and the love in her eyes has never been dimmed by the pain.
Winter on the Farm has always been a challenge to both humans and critters, but for Gracie, the one that is ending has been her hardest yet. The signs are clear that her time with me is limited. When I first noticed the shift in her demeanor and her body, I didn’t want to think about it. I couldn’t then, and I struggle with it now. The pain of losing Kody is still just as fresh as though it happened yesterday. When I see her try to walk, or yelp in pain when she tries to stand up, I feel the tears well up. When her tired body needs help to jump up on the couch at night to lay beside me as she has for nearly 13 years, I grieve, both for her and for me. I know what is coming, but I’m not ready. She is currently on a new round of anti-inflammatory meds, as well as some pain medications that do help her forget her pain for a few short hours. When the pain is lessened, she is by my side, limping along to help in whatever I am doing, but when it returns, it hits her hard, and she will collapse in her spot in front of the fire place. At this point, our only option is to keep her medicated as much as she can handle, and hope that with warmer weather around the corner, she will be able to enjoy one more summer here on the Farm. When she is at her lowest, I look in her eyes and I can see how tired she is, and the pain she carries. But even when she is hurting, she still looks at me with the same love and devotion that she always has, and the desire to still be beside me is there. I’m not ready to say goodbye, and she is telling me that neither is she. She will let me know when she is, I have no doubt. She is still fighting, and her eyes still light up when I speak her name. The coming weeks, hopefully months, will be full of short, slow walks in the yard, couch snuggles and no bake cookies. I will do my best to prepare for what’s to come, but I know that I will fail. She has been my best friend and constant companion, and I know I will never experience a love like hers again. She is, and always will be, my sweet irreplaceable Gracie girl…