I started calling her “Crazy Gracie” whenever my nephew visited my house as a toddler.
As soon as Xander came through the front door, Gracie would run up to him, sniff and then race through the house in excitement.
This made Xander giggle uncontrollably.
This game would continue until my nephew, dog or both tired of it.
When my niece Molly came along a few years later, the same thing would unfold.
And every time, visit-after-visit, year-after-year, I would sigh, shake my head and mutter.
Oh, Crazy Gracie
And Gracie was crazy.
I learned this shortly after bringing her home nearly two years before my nephew was born.
The last of her litter to be adopted, Gracie was nearly six months old when I got her.
I suspect the extended time she spent without her siblings, and quite likely much human interaction while living locked up in a barn on a farm deeply traumatized Gracie.
She never liked being left alone.
The first time I left Gracie to go to work, I kept her in the kitchen with water and a wee pad.
I imagined her crying, scared and alone while I worked.
I remember rushing home as quickly as possible and gasping when I got to the kitchen door.
The aftermath of Gracie’s first major freakout was epic.
She not only clawed up the linoleum flooring in front of the safety gate I used to keep her in the kitchen, she managed to shred a majority of the flooring by peeling it back and tearing it with her teeth.
I had lived in my house for less than a year by that point and had not planned on remodeling the kitchen any time soon.
Gracie taught me that plans can change in a minute.
After absorbing the shock of the scene, I noticed a rhythmic sound near my feet.
There sat Gracie, her dark eyes peering up at me from behind the gate and bushy tail thumping on a bare patch of kitchen floor she created.
I looked down and muttered . . .
Gracie . . . I’m going to kill you
Of course, I didn’t.
Instead, I learned how to remove the remaining linoleum and lay new flooring.
The incident also created an opportunity for me to bond with my dad. He helped me buy cheap faux-wood slats and then showed me how to install them.
And Gracie got her first crate to stay in whenever I wasn’t home. (Oddly enough, the confined space seemed to help calm Gracie too.)
This was not the last time I either learned a new skill, practiced creative problem solving or realized something new about myself and/or others thanks to Gracie.
As Gracie got older, I realized she could bark for hours at anything and everything outside of my fenced-in backyard.
I’d often watch as she waited for the chance to pounce.
I would then spritz Gracie with a hose, yell at her or sometimes chuck a shoe her way to try and get her to stop barking every time she saw a neighbor’s dog.
One Saturday afternoon I decided to see just how long Gracie would bark before stopping.
I quickly realized the experiment wasn’t the most considerate thing to do to the other people living on my street.
A red-faced neighbor eventually started pounding on my front door and threatened to call animal control if I didn’t . . .
Shut that effing dog up!
Gracie was still barking in the backyard.
Looking back, I can state the test of Gracie’s barking fortitude wasn’t a complete failure despite never learning what her threshold for yapping actually was.
The incident became the first piece of evidence that the neighbor raging at my door was a grade-A asshole and douche bag.
He’s never spoken to me since that incident, which took place nearly 13 years ago.
I tried to say hello and mend fences, so to speak, multiple times after pissing him off. He’s never even acknowledged me.
He also owned a dog for a time.
That dog was a very friendly golden retriever mix who would occasionally hop his own fence and stroll through the neighborhood.
The dog would greet people and shit in various yards as he went.
Most of the time someone, myself included, would coax the renegade pooch into its backyard.
No one ever yelled at the man nor threaten to call the dog warden.
Thanks to Gracie, I learned to judge someone by how much they identify with those in similar situations to their own, along with the level of empathy and support they offer.
The situation also led me to invest in a good leash and walk Gracie often. She always enjoyed our strolls through the neighborhood.
And whenever Gracie barked at a new dog while on those walks, most people would say . . .
She’s just being a good dog, saying hello and/or protecting her owner.
Those are good people.
Gracie settled down some as she grew older.
I eventually got a cat. After a short adjustment period, Gracie and Buds became best friends.
In some instances though, Gracie became a bit too chill.
Taking Gracie to dog parks was no fun after a while because Gracie would not play while there.
Instead, she would sit next to me until I was ready to go or bristle whenever an aggressive-looking dog approached me.
It’s okay, Gracie. Go play!
She’d look up at me, tail wagging, but not move from my side.
Gracie was loyal.
With age also came things I wished I had noted earlier.
I didn’t recognize at first when Gracie started losing some of her bladder control.
I thought she was just being lazy the first time she peed in her sleep while on the couch next to me.
Damn it, Gracie!
Gracie did this occasionally while awake as a pup.
The vet and I at the time determined young Gracie likely did this fearing that if she moved, she’d somehow lose me. That behavior only lasted for a brief period before I started crating Gracie.
It took a minute, but I finally realized how old Gracie was getting to be when the peeing started happening again.
Specifically, I realized it after coming home to let Gracie out of her crate and seeing her sitting in puddles of her own pee on two separate occasions.
Back to the vet we went and Gracie was prescribed some medicine to help with bladder control. It worked, mostly.
This marked the beginning of Gracie teaching me how to care for an elderly loved one.
First, the safety gate and wee pads came back out. I left the crate out and open but gave Gracie the option to decide what was most comfortable for her.
One day she simply drug her doggy bed out of the crate and put it near the safety gate so she could comfortably wait for me to come home.
After that day, I collapsed the crate and put it in the basement.
I then started noting other gradual changes in Gracie’s normal “crazy” behavior.
For instance, my 40-pound pup never realized she was too big to be a lap dog. She loved to leap up onto me whenever I was on the couch.
Gracie, you’re squishing me!
Then one day, Gracie started staring at me whenever I was on the couch instead of jumping on it with me like she normally did.
Gracie, stop staring at me! You’re creeping me out!
During the next vet visit I learned Gracie had arthritis. The pain in Gracie’s hips was too much for her to jump onto the couch anymore.
I’m sorry, Gracie.
I put a blanket on the floor close enough to the couch for her to comfortably sit on so I could scratch behind her ears as I watched TV.
Then came the hair and weight loss, along with more and more time Gracie spent snoozing in her doggy bed.
I tried to deny these symptoms when they first showed up a few months ago. Gracie still ate and drink plenty of food and water.
She’d also muster some excitement whenever she saw her leash or another dog as she stood in the backyard.
But finally, a couple of weeks ago, I could not deny that it was time to take Gracie to the vet again.
After three visits and two blood tests, the vet conducted an ultrasound.
The blood tests revealed a high enzyme count indicative of liver disease. The ultrasound showed the lesions on Gracie’s liver and gall bladder.
The vet offered more tests but said she felt certain Gracie had cancer and the disease was spreading.
I asked the vet if it would be worth putting a 13-year-old dog through more tests and possible treatment.
The vet gave me an honest answer.
She’s doesn’t appear to be in pain right now. I’d take her home and do the things she loves to do while she still can.
So, I took Gracie home that day. I sat in the backyard watching as she waited for a neighbor dog to come out. I let Gracie bark for as long as she liked.
Lucky for that neighbor, he didn’t come out to curse us.
Sadly though, Gracie wasn’t really up to staying outside too long.
Are you sure you’re ready to go inside, Grace?
When we did go in, I fed Gracie as many dog biscuits and piles of shredded cheese as she wanted.
(Gracie once ate a whole pecan pie I had left unguarded while rushing to get ready to go to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving dinner.)
I then laid on the couch so Gracie could stare at me until she was ready to be scratched behind her ears.
I would have scratched until my hand locked up, but Gracie yawned after a few minutes and then went to her doggy bed in the kitchen to take a nap.
I cried, a lot.
I got up the next morning and fed Gracie one final meal.
We then drove the long way back to the vet’s office, Gracie’s nose poking out of an open window the entire time.
My fiancee, family and many good friends offered to meet me at the vet’s office.
Thank you, but I think this is something I need to do alone.
I held Gracie as the vet administered the initial sedative.
I was told Gracie would get woozy and then fall into a deep sleep within five minutes.
The vet left me alone with Gracie so I could comfort Gracie as the sedative took affect.
The stubborn old dog fought sleep. I put my forehead to her forehead.
It’s going to be okay, Gracie. It’s going to be okay.
She finally went under and began snoring in my lap . . . after the vet administered a second small dose of sedative.
I picked Gracie up as she slept and put her on the examination table.
I held her head as the vet injected Gracie with the euthanasia solution near her front left paw. I watched as Gracie let out her last breath in one big sigh.
I didn’t cry or breakdown in the moment. The vet left me alone with Gracie after Gracie passed.
Take however long you need. Just turn out the light and shut the exam room door when you leave.
I didn’t stay in the room for too long. Gracie had already taught me how to say goodbye. I had made my peace with her the night before.
Gracie also taught me what it meant to be a little less selfish.
She wasn’t in horrible pain when I let her go. But I knew it would have been wrong to have kept her alive until she truly hurt, just so I could avoid that moment for as long as possible.
After thinking Gracie was always getting on my nerves, I realized Gracie devoted a life time to loving me.
That was her greatest gift to me.
Letting her go in in peace when peace was still to be had was my gift to her.