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Spinal Cord Injury Paralysis Resource Center

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Someone to Watch Over Me

Gracie

Author Saralee Perel's dog Gracie

By: Saralee Perel

Gracie, my beautiful 13 year old shepherd/collie mix, has found her purpose.

Six years ago, when I came home from a Boston hospital after my spinal cord injury, I was wearing a huge rock-solid brace that went from my chin to the middle of my chest.

When my husband Bob helped me to our couch, Gracie hopped up to give me her usual 3 million "Yippee you're home!" kisses. But before she landed her sloppy tongue on my face, she abruptly stopped herself upon seeing my brace and, I believe, sensing my pain.

And in that instant, I was no longer her caregiver. I was in her care.

Ever since then, Gracie's reason-to-be has been to watch over me.

When morning comes, Gracie won't leave the bedroom until I'm up. Even while our other pets are noisily having their breakfasts. I am her charge. Her new mission is to keep me out of harm's way.

Although she's nearly deaf now, she feels the vibration on the floor when I get out of bed. She rouses herself from her heated doggie bed. As I head to the bathroom, she leads the way as if saying, "I'll protect you, Mom. Just stay behind me." If there is anything such as a slipper in my path, she will come to a stop, turn sideways to block me, and then wait until she's sure I've seen the obstacle.

Lately, I've been re-learning how to walk. And just recently I made my first trek to walk with her at her favorite spot – a woodland path around a pond. I used to walk there with her every day . . . before.

It was emotionally brutal seeing my old dog amble so lamely now. With her head down, she tried her best to walk a straight line, but she couldn't.  

The next day something wondrous happened during our walk. A dog about 30 pounds bigger and many years younger than Gracie raced in my direction. I was terrified. If another dog jumps up to greet me, I lose my balance and fall.

Gracie raced toward me. She barked, "I'll get him!" and moved as fast as she could to shield me. Then she planted her old, weak body right in front of me as a barrier.

Renewed as if granted a second life, she was happy and purposeful in her ever-vigilant new role as "Grand Protector of My Mom."

She faced the large, spirited dog. Then she barked a loud warning, "You better stay away from my mom!" The dog tried to get around her to reach me. Gracie growled, which I have not seen her do in over 10 years, "I mean it!"

And then, as well as every single time since then that this same scene has occurred, the dog backed off. Gracie has taken on 4 dogs at once, to stop them from getting to me.

You see, she has shown me something I had not known before I became disabled. Gracie would give up her life for me.

Today, I said to my wise friend Connie, "Gracie has become my caregiver." I could barely get the words out. "She won't be on this earth much longer. Do you think that having her is worth the pain of losing her?"

Connie said, "Oh yes. Your sadness is so deep only because your love is so deep. What is a life without love?"  

And so, I knelt on the floor next to my Gracie. "Thank you for protecting me from all of the evils you think could ever come my way." I rubbed her bony hips and shoulders. "You have done a great job." I kissed her golden forehead. "I will always love you." She sighed, then fell asleep, tired from a long day of watching over me. I whispered so as not to wake her, "You are my true friend."

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Service Animals (PDF)

Assistance Dogs InternationalA coalition of not for profit organizations that train and place assistance dogs.

Canine Companions for IndependenceA national network of highly-trained assistance dogs and ongoing support.

Helping HandsProvide highly trained monkeys to assist people with severe spinal cord injuries or mobility-impairments.

Loving Paws Assistance DogsSpecializes in placing assistance dogs with children who are spinal cord injured as well as children with Muscular Dystrophy, Cerebral Palsy, and Spina Bifida.

Owner Trained Assistance DogsAn email discussion list for those who train their own assistance dogs.

Top DogOffers assistance in training your own dog to be a service dog. They sell a book and video on the topic also.

Paralysis Resource Center The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm ET. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

Reeve Foundation Online Paralysis Community Connecting people living with paralysis, families, friends and caregivers so we can share support, experience, knowledge, and hope.

Quality of Life Grants DatabaseFind resources within the PRC Quality of Life Grants Database. Search by Zip Code, State or an Entire Category.

Library Books and VideosFind resources within the PRC library catalog.

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The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Eastern U.S. Time. International callers use 973-467-8270. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

This project was supported, in part by grant number 90PR3001, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.