Gracie Alexander, Wonder Dog

Now that I know how the most current chapter in Gracie’s story is to be written, I can say with great certainty: Gracie is a Wonder Dog. You can substitute Miracle Dog, Stubborn Dog, Gonna Do it My Way Dog here. The point is, Gracie has lead a charmed life; she has the scars — and we have the bills — to prove it.

Gracie is one of our first wheaten terriers, part of the Gus, Grace, Evelyn tribe who all came to us in last than a year’s span.

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Evelyn, Gus, and Grace

For the very longest time, that’s how it was, Gus, Grace, Evelyn, but then we lost Evelyn in May of last year and, equally unexpectedly, Gus in October. Devastating. And Gracie remained. Monroe has since joined us, not quite 2 yet and the funniest, whirlwind of a pup; in other words, all wheaten.

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Miss Monroe in a rare state of repose.

And now, of course, there is also Molly, rescued at the lovely age of twelve and with us just six months now.

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Happy, healthy Miss Molly.

So, we are now three wheatens again and I would like things to go on this way for a good, long time. I am realistic, though. Gracie is 13 1/2 and Molly is somewhere behind her by about a year. That’s already asking a lot on the dog life span continuum. Which is why when anything is the tiniest bit wrong with the old girls, I get a bit twitchy about it. Also, I do truly believe that Grace has used up more than her fair share of get-out-of-jail-for-free cards.

Grace has always been a fiercely independent soul. She has the call of the wild in her blood and mostly, it calls “squirrel”, sometimes “mouse”. Only she can hear it, but we have learned from hard, hard experience, Grace is never wrong. A squirrel cost her the third of her get-out-of-jail-free cards, but now I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Wild child on the left.

Grace’s first brush with death came shortly after we made the move from Minnesota to California. Lyman (our nephew) and I drove the truck and horse trailer in a four and half day epic journey cross country. The trailer was filled with Gordy’s crated up wine collection which we desperately tried to keep chilled by dumping ice on it at every gas stop. The truck was filled with Lyman, me and three wheatens. The first day was a great adventure, the second day a little trying, the third day no one wanted to be in that truck, and on the fourth day, Gracie lost her mind. She refused to sit in the back with the other dogs, forcing herself upon the passenger seat human like a canine wood tick, panting relentlessly. The last night at a hotel room in Sacramento, I got no sleep because she spent the entire time laying on my chest in the same fashion. It was a living hell.

Still, she improved, as we all did, once upon solid ground and we chalked it all up to the stress of the trip. Weeks passed and Gracie would seem back to normal and then … not quite right. One weekend I noticed (or so I thought) that Gracie’s left eye seemed receded in its socket and that was enough for me; we were going to the vet. “Odd”, the vet said when he saw it. Well, yes, odd indeed. It turned out that Gracie had anaplasmosis, a life threatening, tick-borne infection often diagnosed quite late in the disease state because its symptoms are so vague and non-specific. Except that for Gracie, a symptom included neurological contraction of the eye, the left eye, only. Go figure. It took antibiotics, steroids, and finally, chemotherapy to get Gracie back to health again, but she kicked it and that was her first get-out-of-jail-free card.

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Gracie, in recovery.

I might be a bit dramatic calling this the next get-out-of-jail-free card, but it involved a rattle snake, so I think that pretty much qualifies regardless of the circumstances. We lived in a rugged part of California; in the foothills where native life roamed freely, including rattlesnakes. All of the dogs were vaccinated for rattlesnake. The vaccine mitigates the effect of a rattlesnake bite and gives the dog a high chance of survival without the need for anti-venom.

My first encounter with a rattlesnake was in the closed up part of the pole barn. I had been in and out the service door a few times and Gracie had done her mouse patrol ahead of me, but now I needed to open the garage door. Reaching in, I heard the rattling, a sound I mistook for the wind at first. When it registered with me what was really making that sound, I freaked and the next pieces of the story are simply too embarrassing to tell, because I continued to freak at a disproportionate level. I will pick up with where Gordy comes to save the day and we think we are lucky nothing bad happened and then we notice Gracie standing kind of stunned in the corner. She had been bitten.

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Gracie on ice. In recovery mode … again.

It was the weekend, but we called our vet who assured us that he hadn’t lost a vaccinated dog yet and that he wasn’t going to let us ruin his track record. Sure enough, with lots of supportive therapy, Grace recovered. Use of card. Definitely.

I already revealed to you that the third get-out-of-jail-free card involved a squirrel. It also involved a truck engine and deer antlers. Gracie is never wrong when it comes to discerning the hiding location of a squirrel or a mouse. If she whines and goes into hunter mode, you’d better clear your calendar and go help her ferret the thing out because there WILL be damage to whatever stands between Gracie and her prey. For example, this is what happens if you dawdle and don’t help Gracie dislodge the mouse setting up house in your tractor undercarriage.

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Loss of electrical wiring = loss of tractor. Sigh.

When we bought the house in California, it was festooned with numerous antler chandeliers which we immediately took down and, for a time, stored in the pole barn next to the truck. The largest was six feet around and was almost too heavy for two men to carry. Late one afternoon, Gracie chased a squirrel into the pole barn and — I suspect, not for the first time — the squirrel scurried up into the engine block of the truck to hide. There is no hiding from Grace though, who proceeded to burrow through the wheel well to get at said squirrel. Gratefully, Gordy was nearby and attempted to intervene. The squirrel, sensing its chance, jumped to freedom. Not so lucky. Grace made a wild lunge, catching (and killing) it in mid air and, in landing, impaled herself upon the antler chandelier.

Gordy’s doctor hands were right there, flipping her over and pressing hard against the gaping hole in her chest. It was Sunday (all of Gracie’s adventures happen on the weekend), but our vet was at his parent’s house just down the hill from us and because he also does large animals, his truck is fully outfitted. We drove down the hill, Gracie on her back, our hands stuffed in the hole in her abdomen. In the light of the barn yard lamp, on the tailgate of his truck, the vet stopped her bleeding, stitched her up inside and out, and got her walking again. Because of the curve of the antler, its path had slid between her ribs, just side-passing her heart. Definite use of a get-out-of-jail-free card.

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Gracie recovering from impalement.

Perhaps Gracie is mellowing with age, but it has been several years since that last get-out-of-jail-free card. We have settled into our new life in Florida and nothing bad has happened — to Grace, anyway. No late night or weekend emergency vet visits. No near-death experiences. Then, one day, Gordy laid his still sensitive doctor hands upon her and said “I think her spleen is enlarged, perhaps I feel a mass”. So we brought Gracie to the vet and they humored us with an ultrasound which showed just that. She was in for emergency surgery the next day, to have her spleen and a baseball size mass removed. It took a week for the lab results to get back. Unusual. But they tested twice to be sure. You see, most of the time for a dog, tumors on the spleen are hemangiosarcomas — cancerous and fatal. Most of the time for a dog, tumors on the spleen — cancerous or benign — go undiagnosed until they rupture and the dog bleeds out. Then, emergency surgery is needed and tricky and often does not save the dog’s life. Gracie’s tumor was not cancerous. Gracie’s tumor was a rare type of BENIGN tumor. No, REALLY rare. EXTREMELY rare. The tumor, along with her spleen, are gone so there’s no risk of rupture and she’s now quite famous down at the vet clinic. Get-out-of-jail-free card. Yup, that’s Grace. She still had one up her sleeve. Here’s hoping she never needs another.

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Good to go, Grace, good to go.

Writing about what sings to me from a life made full with animals.

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