Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Saying Goodbye to Gracie

It's not often in life that we get to experience unconditional love. I think that's what leads to a special bond between a dog and her owner. And, when you find a dog who really knows what it is to love and be a loyal companion, you are doubly blessed. So has been the last 10 years of my life. When I was in college, on a night that was no different from any other, I went to a friend's house and came home with someone new to love. I didn't go there with the intention of bringing Gracie home, but when I saw her, I fell in love with her. She chose me that night. I knew it was irresponsible to bring her home when I lived in an apartment, but she just sat right in front of me and looked up at me with this face that just said, "Take me home and love me...I think you're my mom". And, so I did. I took her home and, as much as I loved her, I think I was more the blessed for having done it.





For 10 years, she brought me joy, companionship, comfort and loyalty. She was one of those dogs who loved no matter what. And, although she was a big dog, she was more gentle than most. She had a beautiful temperament that made her an easy companion for children or other animals. She seemed almost human in her personality. And, since she came home with me before she probably should have left her mother, she seemed to genuinely believe she was my child. And, I was ok with that. Because, she had a sixth sense when it came to what I needed from her. Through joy and fun times, stress and craziness, heart breaks and tears, she was there - Always by my side, like a shadow. I'm not sure any person has ever been loved more by their dog. I am blessed.

Yesterday was one of the hardest days of my life. As we were unable to get in to see the vet before I left town on Sunday, my Mom and Dad took Gracie in to see Dr. Mike on Monday. We thought she had a tumor in her stomach and had hoped that it wasn't a huge problem. At worst, I thought any decision could wait until I returned in a week. But, when Dr. Mike examined her, he discovered that her spleen had ruptured and she was bleeding internally. There was nothing that could be done and she probably wouldn't make it through the week. So, the Tuesday morning, I boarded a flight from Fort Lauderdale and headed home for the last moments of the dog I loved so dearly.

For more than 20 years, Dr. Mike Younkers has been our family vet. He's walked us through a number of these days. When it comes to the final decision for the life of our canine family members, we trust no one but him. So, when Dr. Mike told me that nothing could be done, I believed him and steeled myself for what was next. My parents had made all of the arrangements. My brother, Eddie, picked me up from the airport and took me to Dr. Mike's office. My Nana and Papa were waiting there for me since my parents had to fly out that morning and couldn't be there. I was taken to an exam room and they brought Gracie to me. I am so thankful that I was able to spend those last moments with her. We played on the floor and I just took time to say goodbye to my friend. My family graciously allowed me a few minutes alone with her to say my goodbyes in private. Then, the time came to call Dr. Mike back to the room.

I had struggled over whether I should stay in the room with her as he put her to sleep. Friends and family had made their arguments for which way they thought would be best. But, I knew I couldn't walk out on her in those last final moments. You see, Gracie gets really anxious at the vet. When I arrived that morning, she thought it was time to go home. I didn't want my last memory of her to be her expressive, questioning face watching me walk away and not knowing why she didn't get to go too. Eddie stayed with me to help me through those last moments. So, as we got her up on the table, I wrapped her up in my arms, spoke sweetly to her, and stroked her head as Dr. Mike gave her the injection. After a few seconds, she relaxed in my arms and went to sleep. I'm so thankful that I chose to stay there in that moment and let her leave this earth knowing how much she was loved.

I stayed a few more moments with her as Dr. Mike again explained how bad things would have gotten in the next few days if we hadn't made this choice. And, although I wouldn't want to ever be faced with this choice for a human family member, I'm so thankful that the end of Gracie's life could come quickly and with dignity in the arms of the one who loved her most on this earth.

As I left the room, I saw my friend, Katie Gridley, and ran to her and again burst into tears. I feel like a piece of my heart is permanently broken. But, once it was all over, I found peace in knowing that I had made the right decision, the last moments couldn't have been any sweeter, and Gracie wouldn't die in pain.

Those who have never known the love of a pet like Gracie may find my reaction ridiculous and over the top. Some may ask if it is wise or worth it to become so attached to an animal with such a brief life span (Gracie was approximately 86 in human years, yet she lived only nearly 11). And, my answer would be a thousand times yes. My life was enriched because of Gracie's presence. When my heart was broken, she quietly came up beside me and assured me of her presence and her love. When it was time to play, she threw herself into it 100%. And, maybe that's why she chose me. We both do things and love people with all that we have or nothing at all. She gave me all that she was and she loved me unconditionally. And, although it hurts to let her go, I know that my life is better because she was part of it.

Gracie, my friend, my baby, thank you for loving me. I thank God that He brought you into my life and I will never forget you.

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