Prior to dedicating my life (it seems) to labs, I volunteered at Atlanta Humane Society, and as often as possible, I would spend 2-3 hours on the weekends walking dogs. The room that contained the “big dogs” had a chalkboard on the wall with all of the cage numbers on it and when you walked a dog you put an X by that cage number. This assured that all of the dogs got walked at least once a week. As you can imagine, there were the smaller, easier dogs and those that were not, and by the time I showed up on Sunday, you could bet that the dogs without the X’s fell into the latter category. In addition to the 100 pound rotties and pit bulls, there was always the crazy “Georgia black dog” (a lab mix…aren’t they all?) in kennel #1 that would leap 6 feet in the air when you passed her cage as if to say “pick me.” Somehow she knew that black dogs had to try harder. After several visits, I decided her shameless self-promotion should be rewarded and I took her home and added her to my “pack.”
Her name was Grace and I would soon come to understand how well that name fit her. The cough she had when I adopted her, never subsided, and after many visits to vets and specialists, an EKG finally diagnosed congenital heart failure and she was given 6 months to live. That was 9 years ago, and with a good vet and some experimental meds, she was able to live a somewhat normal life.
Normal for Gracie meant she would wake up every morning coughing for several minutes to clear her lungs. In addition, she injured her knee and elbow, which caused her to walk with a limp, but she was always the most animated dog in my house. Twirling and spinning with excitement when I walked through the door and often running into the furniture, when she anticipated a treat, you would never know she had ANY disabilities. She loved to eat and would sell her soul for marrow bones, which she would go and hide in the flower bed to eat. In the last couple of years, she had gotten less tolerant of my young fosters and in turn had taken on her “sister” Lily a time or two to prove her muster. Consequently, she was missing part of one ear and she had two large scars on her face, but her sparkly black eyes and spots of white dappling gave her an adorable puppy-like quality.
I lost “Crazy Gracie” a few weeks ago. Even with all of the other dogs, there is a strange silence in the house. The “6 feet in the air” larger than life force of nature is gone. Despite the hand that life had dealt her, Gracie’s spirit and determination were a constant source of inspiration and a reminder of what it is to try hard and persevere. With love and deep appreciation for what the black dog taught me, we say goodbye….