My Dog Grace: Grief Counselor

Anyone who knows the love of a dog will likely tell you that dog is their baby. What many folks don’t share is that said dog is their world. I’ve been admitting that since the day I found Little Miss on the Wake County Animal Center website. I met her, and my heart melted. She was mine, but more importantly, I was hers.

I was going through a tough time when I adopted Grace, and it is no secret that she rescued me as much as I rescued her. She was homeless, emaciated, and had heart worm disease. I had just moved back to my condo and found myself alone for the first time in decades, and I was only beginning to deal with the psychological aspect of breast cancer. Grace and I were destined to save each other, and you will not convince me otherwise.

That was over three years ago. Fast forward to two weeks ago when I lost my Mom, my first best friend, and I couldn’t conjure the emotional strength to leave my bed. I got up at 7 a.m. to let Grace out for her morning business, but then went right back to bed and curled up with my heart aching. I could have stayed there until it was time for Grace’s evening break.

Typically, Grace will fuse to the sofa or the bed right along with me during a Netflix binge or while I read a book, but on that particular day, she got restless. She had stretched out next to me with her snout on my chest long enough. Around 10 a.m., she made a show of jumping out of bed and left the room. I could hear her huffing somewhere in the house. Large inhales followed by audible exhales.

I got out of bed to see what was going on, and this is what I found right outside my bedroom door:

Waiting for her Mum

She was feet from my bedroom, impatiently waiting, giving me the gentle signal of her huffing and puffing until I got myself out of bed. As soon as I stood in the doorway looking like an extra from The Walking Dead with bed head, puffy eyes, and still in my PJs, Grace jumped up and greeted me as she always does. With joy, gratitude, excitement, and unconditional love.

With her beautiful, soft brown eyes, and her gentle flicking of my hand with her muzzle, she convinced me that a walk was the best thing for us. And so I got dressed and we walked. Exercise, fresh air, and my whole world walking next to me. Just what the doctor dog ordered.

I recommend letting your friends and family help you through difficult times, and talking with a professional counselor. I’ll likely seek that out in the weeks to come. Also, I highly recommend adopting a dog.


Why Rescue?

Where to begin?

First, I’m a sucker for the underdog.  It’s tough, I mean really tough, to turn my back on an animal in need.  Dogs, cats, any shelter animal really, are struggling to beat the odds.  Shelters have a finite amount of space and resources.  It doesn’t take a whole lot of grey matter to do the math.  But, when you adopt one furry friend from a shelter or rescue group, you actually save two lives – the one you adopted and the one you just made space for at the shelter.  Super bonus.  If you’re not in a position to adopt, you can always donate your time, cash, or supplies.  Every little bit helps.

Grace was a stray, an underdog for sure, and just look at that grin!

Second, how do you know if a breeder is reputable or just another neglectful puppy mill?  Seriously.  If AKC registration gives you comfort, think again.  Global Animal posted an article in 2012 noting that it estimates up to 80% of AKC’s annual income comes from puppy mills.  Still think that registration means something?  Here’s an article from wherein an AKC representative admits the AKC has only 9 inspectors for the entire country.  My opinion?  No way, no how, are they inspecting even half of the AKC registered breeders nation-wide.  There are currently 20 AKC registered Labrador Retriever breeders in North Carolina alone, and the Labrador is just 1 of 178 different breeds listed on the AKC website.  With 17 puppy mill busts in North Carolina since 2011, I have to wonder how many continue to fly under the radar.

Third, adopting an adult animal from a shelter or rescue group gives you the benefit of talking to the caretaker about personality and temperament.  If it doesn’t matter to you and you’ll love and keep that dog no matter what, that’s awesome!  But it matters to some folks, and the shelter staff or foster can tell you what that dog’s personality and energy level have been.  Perfect example is a beautiful female pittie I was gaga for.  But I talked to her foster mom and learned she was a sweetheart and a barker when left alone.  I live in a condo with two neighbors working from home and another working 3rd shift.  As much as I wanted to adopt that sweet girl, she would not have been the best choice for my housing situation.

Now don’t go thinking I’m against puppies – I can assure you I am not.  If you want a newby, certainly adopt one (or three)!  There’s nothing cuter.  But if you need a specific personality to fit your lifestyle, consider adopting an adult.  You’re setting yourself up for fewer surprises, and in my opinion, you owe it to yourself and to the animal to make an informed decision.

And lastly, this smile.  This smile!  It took 4 1/2 months for Miss Grace to give me that big pittie smile, but every minute of spoiling her, comforting her, and building her confidence has been worth it.  THIS is why I rescue.

March 22, 2014 – Grace’s first giant smile!


Saving Grace is Saving Me

You’ve read about Phoebe, the sweet, loveable, deaf pit bull who stole our hearts the moment we saw her. She brought so much energy and joy to us that it was hard to imagine life before Phoebe. Sadly, through the split between Ken and I, we decided the best place for her would be with her Dad. That decision was beyond difficult for me, but it was at my suggestion. We tried a week with me and a week with Ken for about a month, and it was too hard for me emotionally, and I think for Phoebe as well. I miss her terribly, but I am thankful I was in her life for a year and a half, and know she is in a wonderful home and will be cared for and loved for the rest of her life. She is in a good place, and she will always be in my heart.

Phoebe is loving life!

Prior to Phoebe, there was Sweet Baby Chubs – my kitty of 17 years. He passed away a couple of years ago, and it was sad to say goodbye. It was six months before I was open to having another pet. It took a while to grieve through the loss of Chubs, and I still miss him, which is why it came as a surprise to me when I was ready to adopt another dog only weeks after losing Phoebe.

Part of it may be that I’ve experienced way too much loss over the past few years and simply need the comfort of a pet, a furry family member, to be by my side. What also eased the sadness of saying goodbye to Phoebe was knowing that my home was now “open” and I would be able to save another dog’s life. And it just hit me – I’ve lived with a person or a pet for the past 25 years. Even with my friends being so wonderfully there for me during this transition – dinners, lunches, movies, theater, the Fur Ball, the Handmade Market, walks, and talks with my Bestie who is long-distance, this is the first time I’ve truly been alone in a silent home. Hmph.

So I began searching online at the local shelter: Wake County Animal Center; and some of the local rescue groups: SPCA of Wake CountyFugee’s Rescue; and Saving Grace. Folks, there are SO MANY animals out there who need homes. It is overwhelming and it is heartbreaking. If you have it in your heart and the space in your home to adopt a pet, please do. And spread the word about these wonderful groups while you’re at it!

One night I saw that a stray had just come in at the Wake County Animal Center. She was a petite little pit bull type dog, and she was emaciated. They estimated she should weigh 45 pounds, but she was a mere 22 pounds that first day. Her face was precious and she looked terrified. It’s odd to think that you can feel a connection based on a photo, but that is exactly what I felt. Because of her condition, she was not yet available for adoption; she needed to go to a foster home until healthy. And she needed to get out of the shelter quickly as her immune system was likely compromised by her weight and whatever disease(s) she may have come in with.

First day at the shelter

Gloria (they gave her a name that was way too big for her) went to a foster home within a couple of days. I contacted the foster coordinator at WCAC, one of their volunteers who I met because of Phoebe, and Gloria’s foster mom. Yep, I was in “crazy lady wanting to rescue this dog” mode! Even in my state of panic, everyone was so kind and helpful, and I made arrangements with foster mom to meet Gloria. When I say this little dog melted my heart, that doesn’t even scratch the surface. I didn’t actually cry, but I had that lump in my throat feeling and all I wanted was to hold her. And all she wanted was to be held.

I named her Grace.

After spending about an hour with her, I couldn’t go home without this sweet girl. Except I was traveling the next week. Foster mom was so nice and said she would keep her until I returned. She kept me posted on her progress while I was away, which was above and beyond the call of duty. Grace was gaining weight, was learning to potty outside, and was getting along with her foster siblings (dog and cat). Foster mom even sent me pictures of Grace in a Halloween costume – she was the cutest little dog-spider ever!

The day I met Grace – sweet girl!

November 1 is when I officially adopted Grace, and that will forever be her birthday. The vet estimates her to be around 3 years old. After having a closer look, I can see too many scars on her face and head, her chest and her legs. There is no way to know her history, but people can be monsters, and I shudder to think what she’s been through. It’s obvious that she had been used for breeding as well. She is a little afraid of grass and would prefer to potty on cement if you let her, which tells me she may have been kept on concrete and not in a yard and certainly not in a home.

What amazes me is her gentle demeanor, her sweet disposition, and her ability to bond with humans. This little girl likely has quite a story, one which she can never tell us, yet she will walk into your open arms, wait for a pat on the head and give you the warmest hug and tiniest of kisses. She is sweet as sugar.

First night at her forever home.
I think she likes it here.

It’s been three weeks since she landed at the shelter, and in that time she has been spayed and has been treated for whipworm, and now is being treated for a skin allergy, exposure to tick-borne ehrlichiosis, and heartworm disease. And still that tail wags when I come home and that sweet face smiles when it’s time for a walk. She loves to work on her “tricks,” and also loves to snuggle on the sofa. There is something so comforting about having a pet, about caring for a pet, about loving a pet. She’s my responsibility, my buddy, my baby.

I’ve heard people say that not only do you save two animals when you adopt (the one you adopted and the one who gets their space at the shelter), but that they save you right back with their unconditional love. Color me cheesy, but right now, this little girl is my saving Grace.


We went in for a Pug and came out with a Pit Bull

Meet the newest addition to our family – the fabulous Miss Phoebe! Phoebes is a 4-year-old American Staffordshire Terrier mix, also known as a Pit Bull mix. We adopted her from our local SPCA back in July. Hard to believe it’s been over three months already! It’s a funny story how we happened upon Phoebes. I had some free time AND energy on a Friday evening (already this is odd), so of course browsing pics of the babies at the animal shelter was at the top of my list. As Ken walked in the door from work I pounced with the iPad squealing “look at Nana! isn’t she cute? let’s go see Nana!” Nana was a full-figured pug who, if memory serves, had been rescued from a puppy mill. We had talked about getting a dog someday, but no solid plans had been set.
Sweet Baby Chubs was so handsome
Snugglin’ with his Teddy
Sweet Baby Chubs was exactly that – my baby – for 17 years, and when he passed away I was devastated and swore it would be a ‘long time’ before I could think about another pet. Well, turns out eight months is a ‘long time.’ So we talked some more about whether we were ready. Determined that Little Pug Nana was meant for us, I convinced Ken that now was the time. So off we went Saturday morning to the SPCA. Yay!
When we got there I had to see the kitties first. All of the kitties. Maybe 7 rooms of kitties. We started with the kittens. So sweet! I could have snuggled all day. Then the adult kitties. My weakness. I think about how nobody adopts the adults and they’ll be in the shelter forever and they’ll never be loved like they should be and on and on and on. But Chubs was irreplaceable, so we moved on. We finally made it to the dogs and puppies. Cuteness everywhere! We saw Nana and I said “hmph.” Not sure why, just no connection. We checked out every dog there and it was “meh” at every turn. We decided it was a good first visit, a scouting day, and headed out to lunch. On our way out, we saw in the lobby the sweetest, most beautiful dog sitting so nicely with one of the volunteers. We went over to say hi and give her a pat. Ken squatted down to her level and she very slowly and gently put her paws up on his shoulders and licked his face and head. The hook was set. When she let him loose, I reached down to pet her, and she sat next to me and leaned in against my legs. She reeled us in. We hadn’t planned on a dog that size (we later learned she is 52 pounds of pure love & snuggle), so we peeled ourselves away and off we went to lunch.
We couldn’t stop talking about the beautiful dog in the lobby. Finally, Ken suggested I look her up on the SPCA website to get her story. And so I did. I couldn’t tell how long, but Bianca (that was her name then) had been with the SPCA for a long time. She was considered by the staff and volunteers to be sweet, and she was deaf. She had me at deaf. How could we not adopt this special needs dog? Clearly she needed us. Neither of us had owned a dog for 20 years. Neither of us had any experience with a Pit Bull (not since I was 6 years old anyway). And certainly neither of us had any experience with deaf animals. So clearly she needed us. Haha! I was nearly in tears for this dog and what might happen to her should she fall into the wrong hands. Ken was on board. So away we went straight back to the shelter…only to find there was already an adoption application pending. What?! But she needed us! I was sure of it!
The folks at the shelter were unbelievably kind and helpful. They convinced us to complete the application anyway and do the interview just in case the first application fell through. The folks who were trying to adopt our baby (right out from under us) already had a dog, and although Bianca loves people, she is selective with dogs. They were scheduled the next day to introduce their dog to Bianca and have a little doggie mixer. Guess who stalked all over that? I had nothing better going on that day anyway.
Love the pink around her nose. So cute!
Long story short, things didn’t go so well at the puppy mixer, and we got the call the next day that Bianca (later to be known as Phoebe) was ours if we were still interested. We were ecstatic! We picked her up Wednesday evening and met with her foster Mom, Liz, who not only handed our 52 pound baby to us, but also a bag of toys, dog food, a list of directions on how to care for her and continue her training, and a box of American Sign Language flash cards. This woman was an angel sent from heaven. I think she had glowing beams of light emanating from around her. No? Ok, but the most commonly uttered phrase in our home over the past three months has been “Liz said…” We may have eventually figured things out on our own, but who knows when. Liz cautioned us that it might be a couple of weeks before Phohebes would be comfortable in our home. It was literally 30 minutes and she was on her back in the middle of the living room wiggling from side to side to get a good scratch. Then she was on the couch snuggling with Ken. She was home. And so were we 🙂