Amazing Gracie's Devotion
Saralee's dog, Gracie
By Saralee Perel
This month, I began writing one column after another for the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, but nothing clicked. I finally realized my mind's been on a subject that I've been postponing putting into words. But now it is time.
My dog, Gracie, is coming to the end of her life. From the very moment she saw me in my Miami J neck brace after my spinal cord surgery, she was no longer just my dog; she was my lifeguard. This is my tribute to my beautiful friend's life.
She was a year old when she was found abandoned on the streets of Fall River, Massachusetts. When my husband, Bob, and I brought her home, she was terrified of us.
Before my accident
One day, a few years before my SCI, she was next to me while I was making soup. As I often do when I cook, I was singing. When I belted out "Oklahoma," I raised my large spoon toward the ceiling for emphasis. She hit the ground on all fours and, petrified, scooted away as if I was going to hit her with the spoon. Clearly she had been abused. She wouldn't even let us hug her.
Finally one glorious day, Gracie made a decision. While cooking spaghetti, I told Bob, "Pasta is done when you fling a piece to the ceiling and it sticks." I balanced a gigantic clump of spaghetti on a huge spoon. "Dare me?"
I whipped the spaghetti straight up.
We watched the glob of pasta dangle from the ceiling before it plopped to the floor in one big heap. Bob said, "I guess it's not done."
Had I seen Gracie watching us, I'd never have swung the spoon. But there she stood, smiling, as dog lovers can attest dogs actually do. Then she planted happy sloppy kisses all over my face.
"Oh Gracie." For the first time, she let me hug her. "Welcome to your home, my golden dog."
Though it may seem silly, lately I've been singing my own version of "Amazing Grace" to her.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved and strengthened me.
You once were lost, but now you're found
Instead of spending her middle years doing fun dog stuff, all she wanted to do was protect me. After my spinal cord surgery, I could barely walk.
Gracie worries too much
She always worried about me. I scrunched her cheeks, "No more worrying. I want you to play, have fun. Be a dog!" But year after year, she would not leave my side, even for her breakfast or dinner. She was my keeper. Instead of playing in our fenced-in backyard, she'd sit outside the glass slider, looking in and watching me.
I told Bob how sad this made me.
"Gracie has never been happier, Saralee."
"But she's always on full alert. She never has fun."
"This is her purpose. She was born for this. She is a lifeguard in every sense. The fact that she is your lifeguard is the biggest gift you could give her. She is honored. She is noble. And she is happiest when she is serving her higher purpose."
It is because of Gracie that I re-learned to walk, though I was scared. But with her assistance, I did it.
‘Twas Grace that taught my heart no fear,
And Grace all fear relieved.
How precious was that Grace was here
The hour I first believed.
Gracie, on my left, wore a harness. I had the grip of the leather as well as her strong body next to me for balance. With no training, Gracie knew to take one step, then waited while I took one step. After we repeated this process 4 more times, I shouted, "HALLELUJAH!" Gracie gave me a billion kisses while we hugged.
Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
And Grace will lead me home.
Where did all that time go
Those glory years sped by all too soon. Now, nearly 15 years old, she is feeble and in rapid decline. Though her eyes are cloudy, she still sees shapes and knows which shape is me. Though she's stiff and aches, she always walks by my side so that I can hold on to her if I'm about to fall. Though she can no longer hear, she feels the vibrations of me getting out of bed, and slowly pulls her body up from her heated dog bed to resume sentry duty.
Sometimes I wonder if she is hanging on because she believes I can't make it without her.
Last week, out of my love for my beautiful dog, I told her something very hard to say. I believe she heard me. "Gracie, my golden dog." I glided my fingers through her fur. "I could never have walked without your help. But I can walk by myself now." I kissed her forehead. "You will forever be my hero and my lifeguard."
I whispered through tears, "No matter how far I will walk, you will always be on my left. No matter how long I live, I will always see you, looking carefully in front of my path, making sure I am safe." And then, it was painfully hard to say, "If you're too tired, you can let go now, and rest in peace my golden dog. Oh, my Gracie." I lay next to her with my head on her shoulders. "Thank you."
When her flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease.
I shall possess, within my veil
Her loyal and eternal peace.
Award-winning columnist/novelist, Saralee Perel, can be reached by email or via her website.
She also welcomes friends on Facebook and naturally would love to have friends connect with her in the new Reeve community.