Today was not a bad day, but it was a day my husband and I had to do something really hard. For sometime now, our old Labrador, Grace, has been going downhill physically. She had lost most of her muscle tone, she struggled getting up from her bed, avoided sitting, and we could tell that she just didn't feel really great anymore. We both knew this was coming and had made the decision that it was time, but neither one of us wanted to rush it, either. But today, I just knew it was time to put Grace down.
"Jana Selchow's Gracie Lu Freebush" was not an impulse buy. For one and a half years my kids and my husband nagged me about getting a puppy. We already had an elderly yellow Lab named, Poppy, and the tribe felt that she needed a companion. Each week, they would search the dog section of the classified ads in the Tucson paper and every week there were either no affordable listings or I found some excuse to "sink their battleship". My excuses were logical. Money was tight/We were too busy/Poppy didn't seem to be lonely/It needs to be a black Lab/No Corgis!/No hounds!/More dog poop to clean-up/It's winter, who gets a puppy in winter?/Etc... I held them off four 16 months for my own selfish reasons. I did not want to replace the Lab who started it all, Gussie. Because in the end, it was she and me with our vet when she crossed over the Rainbow Bridge. I didn't want to do it again, but I didn't want to say it out loud. However, after 16 months of lame excuses, I caved.
The advertisement for black Labrador puppies in the Tucson paper was found by Bosco. He told the tribe that the phone number looked like it was from McNeal, which is close to our home. I called and asked if one of the puppies was a female, and there was one. They only wanted $200 which fit our budget. I asked for the address and we hit the road for the McNeal area. What we encountered was not what I expected. Our first Lab came from a small kennel in the backyard of a Tucson home. The next one came from a friend. When we drove up Frontier Road to a huge dog/horse training facility we were not prepared for what we saw. "Zauberberg," we learned was an uber special training home for dogs that are used for protection, law enforcement, and other jobs that require specialized canine behavior. We just wanted one to hang-out with Poppy and love the family! These dogs could wear their own uniforms and fight crime! However, we found three pups in a chain-link kennel that just wanted to be petted. A black male, a black female, and a German Shorthair that was being trained as a drug sniffing dog. Of course, the kids loved the female and I walked away with the owner to write the check for our bargain basement dog from the exclusive training facility. After I wrote the check, I filled out the AKC papers and registered her name as "Jana Selchow's Gracie Lu Freebush or Jana's Amazing Grace". (A nod to Sandra Bullock's character in 'Miss Congeniality' and God's love)
She was adored by all of us, no exceptions. Gracie was held, petted, pampered, and even Poppy didn't seem to mind her. Two weeks after she came to live with us, I came home from a PEO meeting to find the family staring at our precious puppy lying in the grass in the backyard. She couldn't stand and she whimpered when we moved her leg. A call to our mobile vet left us distraught when he said she had probably broken a hip and euthanasia would probably be the kindest thing to do. We called the veterinary hospital, but as it was after hours, we could not get through to a human voice. Meg and I carefully lifted her and put a towel under her belly to hold her up but not put weight on her back legs. That seemed to help. She used the restroom and actually wagged her tail. We carried her like that and took her into the house. She spent the night in the sewing room on big pillows and we all took turns taking her outside every few hours for breaks. She drank water and ate a little, so we had hope. The next morning, I called the doctor's wife from the veterinary hospital at her school where she was a counselor and she called her husband. We all said our goodbyes in case he had to euthanize Gracie. I had three phone calls at work that morning. Two from my kids whose hearts were breaking and finally one from the vet who said he thought he could help her. Gracie Lu had her broken leg repaired by the surgical insertion of a long metal pin with a mesh cage wrapped around the area to keep it from splintering. The vet, Dr. Michael Ames, charged us a minimal fee and gave us back our puppy. She recuperated under the supervision of the family, slept in a crate in Meg's room, and napped each day in the family room. Six weeks later, the pin came out and she needed water physical therapy. As we have no swimming pool or pond, we snuck her into a pond on the golf course in the evenings and the pool at my mother-in-law's condo. Gracie never walked with a limp, but we did everything we could to keep her from re injuring that leg.
Gracie, aka Grace, never rescued anyone from a burning house. She never had to protect us from a home invasion. She never rode a skateboard or surfed, but she would retrieve anything we threw for her. She tolerated a younger Lab named Miley until Miley died unexpectedly but she shamefully never seemed to miss her when she was gone. We like to think she could have been a hero-dog who worked for US Customs or the CIA, but we'll never know about that. She lived her life in the backyard of our home, greeted us happily every time we saw us, and made us feel like we were the most important things in her life. We all felt that we were her favorite person. She had that way about her. Everyone liked Grace.
Time really does seem to fly. Poppy lived for a few years training Gracie to be an old dog in a young body. Meg went to college, graduated, got a big girl job at really big company, moved to Kansas City, KS, moved to Quincy, IL., met Kevin, got married, and still works for the big company. Jordan went to high school, graduated, went to college, met Tiffany, graduated, got a teaching job in Phoenix, married Tiffany, and is teaching agriculture at that school in Phoenix. Every time they came home, they wanted to see "their dog". And every time they came home, she was waiting for them.
Bosco retired first and she spent her days with him. He would mow the yard and she would follow him and roll in the clippings. He would let her hang-out with him in the front yard and she never left the property. She was so good. Once, when I was leaving for school, I heard a "woof woof" from the direction of the front gate. There she stood with her head sticking out looking at me like, "Uh-oh, look what Dad left open!" She stayed where she knew her boundaries were. When I retired, she came to know me as the person who would feed her a little more or share a snack. Always a happy face. Always there.
She did have a flaw. She hated cats, especially our cat, Sophie.
This spring, when our vet came to give her her shots, he examined her closely and told me that she didn't need them anymore. He also told me that winter might be hard on Grace. Like a prediction coming true, she seemed to age more and more each day. We brought a new dog, Luke, into the family and that sparked her up for a while, but it didn't slow down the aging process. One minute she would look so weak and frail then zip! She would chase a ball across the yard! But lately, not even fetch could make her happy. We knew it was time and I made the call.
Logic and the heart are often at odds. Someone once told me that the most important two events in life were to see life begin and to see it end. Together, Bosco and I walked Grace to the alley where the man with the shots was waiting. She went very sweetly, full of trust, and we never left her side. Until this, she had never left our sides. Logically, I know this was the right thing to do. It is responsible and it is kind. Heartwise, as I spoke to her, petted and loved on her, I felt such a loss. There will be other dogs because I can't imagine life without one. But I don't think there will be another dog like Grace.