The day started like every other day here at the Farm. When the Man rolled out of bed at 5 am as he usually does for work, I reset the alarm and moved over into the warm spot he left behind, eager to enjoy a couple hours of quiet slumber before the hustle and bustle of Farm life started. When I finally shuffled groggily downstairs, Gracie was waiting for me as usual, her tail wagging so fast you could barely see it, and with that squinty eyed look that always started my day with a smile. The boys were behind her, knowing that with my appearance breakfast was on the horizon, and if they let her do the wagging, it would arrive sooner rather than later. As with every other morning, they patiently waited while I started perking my much needed first cup of coffee, and when I moved to pick up her food bowl from the same corner spot it had sit in for nearly 13 years, their excitement grew. As the smell of freshly brewed coffee filled the kitchen, I added the pain medications that she had needed for many months to her food, and placed her bowl in the corner where she waited. Sebastian quickly gobbled down his breakfast in true Golden style, but Dewey patiently waited for her to finish her meal before he started his, something he had done since he first arrived as a pup. In his mind, the Alpha always ate first, and that morning’s meal was no exception.
The next hour or so also went as usual, with no variation from the countless mornings that had come before. Hot coffee flowed through my veins, each soothing sip warming my body until it felt young and limber enough to slip on my muck boots and go tend to the barn full of hungry horses and donkeys. On my way, I looked in on the chickens, who were loudly proclaiming that a new shipment of eggs had arrived, and that they were happy to be alive. By the time I closed the door on the chicken pen, Sassy, the resident queen donkey, had worked herself up into a bellowing lather anticipating fresh hay and freedom from her stall. By the time I rounded the corner, all of the horses and donkeys were saying “Good Morning!”, each in their own special way. Although my Alex was just as anxious to head out to survey his kingdom, he stopped to take the time to gently rub his massive head on my back a few times, showing that he was as happy to see me as I was him. It was the perfect start to my morning, and I had no reason to believe that it wouldn’t continue on that path for the rest of the day.
All three dogs knew the routine well enough to know that when I return from the barn in the morning, it was time for them to go outside to greet our friends, Chris and Levi, who have been a near daily fixture for the past few months helping us give the Farm a badly needed facelift. The pups adore them, and their arrival in the morning is always a cause for celebration. Even I look forward to the mornings when the two guys arrive, as the cheerful morning chat over coffee as the pups swirl around us has become a central part of my day, and it will be sorely missed when the work on the Farm is complete. Dewey and Sebastian are always first out of the gate when the porch door is opened, and Gracie, as always, waited for me to bring up the rear. All was going according to habit, and life was good. Until she stepped off the porch onto the grass.
When I heard her cry out in a sharp yelp, my heart sank, and I knew it wasn’t good. Gracie’s tolerance to pain of any sort has been well documented, so her reaction to simply stepping down a few inches onto the ground ran a chill down my spine. The scared and confused look on her face, as well as how her left front leg was dangling, told me all I needed to know, and in my heart, I knew that for Gracie, there would be no coming back from this injury. Her other arthritic legs trembled as she struggled to stand, and she buried her face into my chest as I tried to support her body. Levi helped me get her get back into the house to her spot in front of the fireplace, and then I started making calls, first to the Man at work, then to the vet, who said to bring her right over immediately. Chris gently cradled her in his arms as he carried her out to my truck and laid her on the blanket in the back seat, and by the time I arrived at the vet’s office, Jack was right behind me, still in his hospital scrubs.
Although we had been mentally preparing ourselves to the inevitable the past few months, we had hoped that we at least would have the summer to spend with Gracie, and as bad as her injury looked, we still held out the tiniest bit of hope that this wouldn’t be our last day with her. Our good friend, Denise, who works at the veterinary hospital and who also has been our house sitter for many years, met us in the waiting room, and it was a great relief to see her approach. Denise is family to Gracie, and over the years they had developed a deep bond. She did her best to comfort and reassure, but her face told us all we needed to know. She quickly brought us into one of the exam rooms, where she had already prepared a warm bed of blankets for Gracie. I laid on the blankets beside the one that had been my best friend for the past 13 years, and I cradled her head and tried to calm the tremors that were wracking her body. The Man was beside us, trying his best to comfort both Gracie and me, but struggling to control the floodgate of tears that were welling in his eyes. Dr. Burgess, who had been Gracie’s vet for many years and had helped us navigate her arthritis issues, arrived soon after, and she joined us on the floor, speaking quietly and gently stroking Gracie’s face. We quietly watched as her hands passed over Gracie’s trembling, but useless, leg and shoulder, and when I looked at her face for any sign of hope, I saw none. What I did see, though, was not just a Veterinarian in a lab coat, but another part of Gracie’s extended family, who was also struggling emotionally to see a dog that she had come to care for deeply in as much pain as Gracie was then. A shot of Morphine was given, and as it flowed through her veins, the pain in her body and the fear in her eyes subsided.
The Man and I waited in the exam room while they took Gracie away on a stretcher to take some x-rays to confirm what was suspected, and when Dr. Burgess returned a few minutes later to show us the results, the tiniest sliver of hope remained deep in my heart. In an instant, that hope disappeared when the x-ray showed the broken bones that could not be repaired. While we had been preparing ourselves for a few months that the arthritis would someday be too much for her to overcome, we had no idea that what would be her downfall would be bone cancer. The x-ray showed the thinned walls of what was left of the bones in her upper leg, with a milky cloud surrounding it marking where the cancer had slowly been spreading and doing what it did best. The following conversation is a blur, and when I now try to remember it all, only certain words remain. Cancer. Bone loss. Amputation not an option. If it’s there, it’s everywhere. Nothing to be done. So, so very sorry. Kindest thing for Gracie. Take all the time you need.
When they brought her back a few minutes later, she was gently eased back onto the bed of blankets on the floor, and the Man and I once again laid beside her. As I cradled her head in my arms, I stroked her now white face, and remembered her younger days when it was a youthful yellow. I softly whispered her name, and though her brown eyes had slowly gotten cloudy with cataracts over time, I could still see the love and trust for me in them as she rested her chin on my arm and looked up at me. In times past, it had always been her job to comfort me in times of trouble, and in her mind, that was still her responsibility. As I tried to hold back the building dam of tears, she lovingly licked my arm as if to say “It’s all going to be ok.”. I’m not sure how long we laid there with her waiting for Denise and Dr. Burgess to return, but when the door opened and they appeared, I knew that it had not been long enough. They took a few moments to say their own last goodbyes to Gracie, each with tears in their eyes, and when the time came for Gracie’s pain to end once and for all, I buried my head next to hers and let my grief flow. I felt the Man’s arm slip around my shoulders, and I felt his deep grief, not only for Gracie, but for me as well. I felt the pain loosen it’s long held power over her, and as her body relaxed in my arms, I whispered in her ear that I loved her like no other, and that Kody was waiting for her.
When old man Kody left us a few years ago, we were fortunate enough to have known what was coming, and could plan a day when all those that were important in his life were able to come visit and say their goodbyes to him. We were also able to have his vet come to the Farm so that his last moments were spent in the home that he loved surrounded by those that loved him. With Gracie, we thought that we would be able to do the same, but it was not meant to be, and as the day unfolded, that weighed heavily on my mind. But in the end, I came to realize that it wasn’t so different after all. Chris and Levi were there for her at the Farm that morning, and their love and tenderness to her when her body gave out was a blessing, and allowed them to show her how much they had grown to love her as we did. Denise’s presence both at the Farm and the vet hospital over the years had long ago given Gracie a sense of comfort when she had visited there in the past, and her being there for Gracie during her last hours was a gift we could never have hoped for. Dr. Burgess had always had a special place in her heart for Gracie, so having her beside us was a relief to us, and an immeasurable comfort for Gracie. Tears were shed, comfort provided and goodbyes were also given by others working that day, including Kathy, whose gentle touch helped ease Gracie’s fear and pain near the end. Maybe Gracie wasn’t home at the Farm, but she was in a place that she didn’t fear, and she was surrounded by those that loved her and knew how special she was. I could not have asked for more, and I will forever be grateful.
Days later, my sorrow still overwhelms me when I least expect it, and I suspect it will for quite some time. Writing this blog has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, and though the Man gently advised me that I didn’t have to, it had to be done. For me, for all the special people in her life, but most of all, for Gracie. It has helped me process, as well as to grieve. My greatest comfort, though, is knowing that Gracie is no longer shackled by an old dog’s body, but is instead now free to run on strong legs through fields of long green grass, catching frisbees alongside a young, strong and handsome Kody. I also know that just like I felt her presence by my side for 13 years, I still feel her beside me now as I write, and always will. It’s time for you to run, my Gracie girl, run like the wind…and tell Kody that I love and miss him.