Goodbye, Grace

I guess everyone thinks their dog is the best. We told her this a hundred times in the week before we said goodbye, and we meant it. Grace was a black lab mixed with a little bit of something else – we were never sure what. It didn’t matter. She was her own sweet self – patient, loyal, a bit sensitive if she thought you were angry at her, which we never were. She came into our family as Alison’s dog, and quickly became the family dog. But it was Alison’s bed she ran to when thunder roared and fireworks exploded. Grace was a shelter dog, rescued from Tulsa Animal Welfare when she was only three months old. We got lucky. After walking through the entire shelter more than a few times, we realized we missed the last row, and found her at the end of it in a huge crate, alone, waiting. We didn’t know it at the time, but she was a very sick little girl, harboring both a viral and bacterial infection that raged full on the week after we got her home. She had to spend a couple of nights in the emergency animal hospital, but she pulled through, with the help of a little nine-year-old girl who tucked a handwritten note under a picture frame on my dresser one night.

Please, please can I have a puppy? I promise I’ll feed her and I’ll always take care of her. Please?

Alison wanted this dog, and Grace wanted Alison. She had a rough couple of years after her illness and developed allergies to almost everything. She was on steroids to combat the allergies, and we were warned that it might do internal damage to her in the future. Overnight, the allergies went away and so did the steroids. For nine years, she’s been a healthy dog until a month ago. She had no organ failure, but probably some type of undetectable cancer that slowly took away her appetite and her strength. In the last week she was alive, we resorted to appetite stimulants, but even then, she would only eat ground beef mixed with a little salt, and rotisserie chicken. She got weaker, and eventually her quality of life was too diminished. She could no longer take walks, play with the other dogs, or enjoy food. Her breathing became labored, and when she stopped eating, we knew it was time to say goodbye. We wouldn’t allow her to suffer for even a minute, so we made the appointment. She died slowly and peacefully with Kyle’s face next to hers, and he told her, one more time, what a good girl she was. She belonged to all of us in the end, and we all knew how lucky we were to have her.

It seems that with the passing of each of our dogs, a season changes. I’m never prepared for this and will spend the next week – or longer – reminiscing about the season we’re leaving behind, and the new one to come. I’ll do this in Colorado. We were planning on taking her with us so she could see the sky from the top of Wolf Creek Pass, breathe the mountain air, and walk with us through Durango. But I’m one of those people who believes she’s somewhere better now, chasing all the cats, eating bread and pancakes, and waiting patiently for us. Grace always was a patient girl.

As a kid, I brought home stray dogs and wept loudly during movies where the dog dies. So, you know what I’ll be doing for the next few days. I told Kyle that when I get an opportunity to question God in the afterlife, I’ll ask, “Why such short lifespans for creatures that give so much love?” I hope there is a good answer.

Grace gave until the last moment, tail wagging, watching Kyle’s eyes and listening for one more word. I’m not sure we’ll find a dog that compares, so we won’t make comparisons. Wouldn’t be fair. Some dogs are just once-in-a-lifetime. That’s our Grace. Farewell, good girl. We’ll catch up with you a bit later.

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