By Jackie Teeple, Adopter and BWAR staff
If you met Mama Gracie today, you wouldn’t recognize her from the shell of a dog she used to be.
During a terrible snowstorm two winters ago, we received a message on Facebook about a stray dog who had given birth in a couple’s shed. Like the old telephone game, by the time we heard about the situation we were told the couple would put the dog and her newborns outside to freeze in the storm. I got the homeowner’s address and drove the hour from Asheville down unplowed roads through the squall, only to arrive and find the dog and her babies in a spare bathroom. She was emaciated and terrified, but warm and safe.
The homeowners had to no way to care for the huge new family, so I took them home that night, with no idea of what I was getting into. She might be dangerous – heck, she was a pitbull mix with newborn pups and an unknown past – and I was a cat lady!
But I had an empty room back home, and their chances were pretty grim at the county shelter. Even with their mama to care for them, neonatal pups and kittens faced disease, and any ‘unadoptable’ animal is at risk of ’euthanasia’ in many underfunded shelters.
So here I was, lugging a huge crate with an emaciated pitbull trying to hide her puppies behind her, into my home. My cats must had thought I’d lost it.
The next day I got a baby pool from the adoption center and set the pups and mama up in it, full of warm blankets. Gracie’s huge brown eyes watched my every move, but her only actions were to gently lick my hand, and gobble the food I gave her. I brought her in for a checkup with the BWAR medical staff, and found she was 20 pounds underweight, wormy, and severely dehydrated. I was sent home with a bag of fluids, dewormer, and plenty of high-calorie, nutritious food.
Over the next few days, Gracie endured the medicine and subcutaneous fluids I gave her to build her strength back up. We sadly lost one puppy, but the remaining pups thrived under her care. Days turned to weeks, and the pups grew fat and strong. Gracie gained weight too, though slowly – she was giving it all to her babies.
Eight weeks later, weaned and healthy, it was finally adoption time for the puppies! They were spayed and neutered, vaccinated, microchipped, and each found a great home. But Gracie still had some healing to do so she stayed with me.
Over the next few months, I grew to love this big, gentle girl. She was beyond grateful for every touch, every act of kindness. I have no idea what she’d gone through before, but this was clearly not her first litter and at around 10 years old, she’d had a hard life. Old scars marked her lovely brindle coat, and she cowered at loud noises or people coming towards her. But, overall, she was so happy.
Finally Gracie was healthy enough for her spay surgery and a much-needed dental. The surgeries went fine and she came back to my home to recover. I thought we were nearing the end of our time together, as Gracie would soon be available for adoption, but fate had other plans. The day following her surgery I came home to find her cold and immobile on my floor. Frantic, I called our founder Denise – “bring her in now”, she said.
I carried Gracie – now well over 50lbs – to my car and raced her to Brother Wolf’s adoption center. Our veterinary technician Alissa was waiting but after a brief assessment, she told me to take her to REACH, the local emergency animal clinic. Something was very, very wrong.
Gracie was bleeding internally and near death. Tests showed a mass on her spleen or kidney, and their best guess was hemangiosarcoma – a cancer of the blood. Euthanasia was suggested. I had recently gone through a divorce and a terrible breakup, and losing Gracie now was unthinkable. Perhaps knowing this, Denise approved an expensive blood transfusion and days of intensive care, and Gracie amazingly rebounded — but we were warned she likely had only 3 to 6 months to live. Her release paperwork noted that the ‘foster should understand the needs of a downed large dog.”
Leaving the clinic, Gracie was still unable to use her back legs. I bought a sling, and at the suggestion of veterinarian Dr. Beth Jones (who specialized in traditional and alternative pain management in animals), an herbal supplement. We scheduled acupuncture and within weeks her strength returned. Against the odds, Gracie was her old self again.
With her predicted limited lifespan, Gracie came home with me as a ‘fospice’ dog. Brother Wolf fospice foster parents provide the best care possible to animals nearing end of life. I wasn’t prepared for this, but I loved Gracie and wanted her to know unconditional love until it was her time to pass.
But Gracie had other plans. For two more years, Gracie has lived with me, helping to care for other foster animals – especially neonatal kittens. She would lick them head to toe, cleaning their bottoms like a mama cat would. I started calling her Mama Gracie, eventually becoming just Mama.
Mama came to work with me every day – she loved every single person she met. As a newly single woman, she provided me a sense of security at home that I didn’t know I needed, giving a deceivingly vicious bark whenever a stranger neared the house.
Mama became my constant companion, knowing when I was sad or disheartened and giving sweet kisses and snuggling her now ample body against me. She’s a great spooner. Despite my fear of loving again, Mama wedged herself into my heart. Everyone at Brother Wolf adored her, and asked – regularly – when I would adopt her.
In early May of 2017, Mama got sick. Just a passing belly problem, but while looking through her medical file I noticed it was almost two years to the day since she was given that terminal prognosis in 2015. She’d wagged it off with her adorable little nub, determined to live life to the fullest as she should have been able to do all those earlier years. I realized – it was time. No matter how much longer she had as a larger, 10+ year old dog, we would live it together. So on May 5th, 2017, I officially adopted my soul mate, Mama Gracie. We got matching pink cowgirl hats to mark the occasion and Mama wore a pink tutu.
Mama helped me come back from unspeakable sorrow to start living life again with confidence and joy. Thank you, Mama. I hope we have many, many years to come.
HERE ARE 3 EASY WAYS TO HELP ANIMALS LIKE MAMA:
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VOLUNTEER or FOSTER – Volunteers and fosters are Brother Wolf’s backbone. Do you have an hour to walk dogs or fold laundry? Do you want to learn to trap feral cats with our Community Cat Program? Are you a social butterfly who can help at one of our weekly adoption events? Do you have space in your home and heart for a temporary foster animal? Click here to learn more about volunteering and fostering!
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