Grace the Wonder(ful) Dog

Even Grace could find the humor in wearing a red yarmulke on Christmas.
I miss my dog, Gracie, so much. She’s been gone for a little over 24 hours and I already miss her. We had her for nine years, about half of my life as a stay-at-home mom.

I’m not one of those people who thinks of her dog as one of her kids. I didn’t sign her name to cards. In fact, she wasn’t even in any of our family Christmas card photos. But everyone knew she was the dog in our family and that we loved her.

Now that she’s gone, I feel like we’re missing more than just a member of our family. Humans are not as multi-dimensional as dogs. For one thing, all the people in my family are beige. Grace was brown and black with white markings and with a tiger-striped back. Her fur was like a luxurious fur coat that you spent a fortune on. It was so much more interesting than any outfits that the rest of us could put on, even if we went to Stein Mart and bought the jacket with the sequins. She had more texture and color than anyone else in our family. She was like a combination of a family member and a piece of furniture with interesting carvings and fabrics and a flip-out armrest.  When people met us they said, “Nice to meet you.” When they met Grace, they said, “Oh, I love you! You’re so cool!”  I suspect that at least one of our friends only came to our house to visit because of Grace (Barbara). In some respects, she was the most complex and interesting member of our family.

It’s a wonder she didn’t get bored with us and just walk out the door one day and never come back.

We got Grace shortly after the September 11th attack. We were living in New Jersey, not close enough to have the World Trade Center attack be in our back yard, but close enough that we were on red alert. We were told not to go to any malls or any large public places that day. So I put the kids in the car and we went to the shelter where soon-to-be-our dog was living. We had applied to adopt her about a week previous, but they were running the background check on us, spaying her, and generally making us wait. I thought a big homeless shelter for animals would be the perfect place to hide on September 11th. If a terrorist was going to do a follow-up, chances are it wasn’t going to target stray and unwanted dogs. I don’t think Al Queda has anything against pets.

A few days later, we brought her home and she immediately began our training.

She relegated me to the role of damsel-in-distress.  When someone came into our house, she would stand tall next to me and push against me. Sometimes, if the visitor was male and tall, she leaned so hard against me I lost my balance. Many a repairmen remember us as the short woman standing with her legs braced and the dog trying to push her over. I tried to tell her that just being an Akita is warning enough. She just pushed harder.

She loved the snow and was not happy when we moved south and then further south. Northern New Jersey was her favorite home, because the snow would pile up over her head and she could tunnel through to the middle of the yard and make a nest, where she would spend the entire day, occasionally standing up to shake off the snow that was falling on her.

She loved chasing and killing small animals. Even after she got skunked at close range and had to live outside for a few days. In Kentucky, she had to settle for the occasional opossum that would wander into our small fenced-in yard.  One day the 5-year-old twin boys from next door rang my doorbell and said, “Something happened in your yard. We have to show you.” So I followed them to where our yards met and they pointed to a ‘possum that Grace had killed and half eaten.

“Oh, shoot,” I said when I saw it. I

“What happened to it?” one of the twins asked.

“Grace did that,” I said without thinking. The boys’ eyes got big, as they tried to imagine our big sweet dog that licked their hands through the fence being capable of murderous slaughter.

She certainly was complex. She was protective and dignified. She walked like a lion and used her paws like a cat.  She was very motherly with the kids. She wasn’t happy about her two boys leaving home and she didn’t find Skype to be a worthy substitute.

I’ll miss you, Gracie girl. Now, you go running through the snow and chase something small and fast and delicious.


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