… but it is the story of Gracie that I’ve been trying to tell. For almost a week now, I’ve thought about her, remembered her, and tied myself up in knots over her. So I guess it’s time to put it all into words.
Gracie came to live with us several months after Buttercup. Typically when we knew a foster dog was going to be adopted by another family, I’d eagerly click the BREW beagles web site and read about all the beagles looking for a home. The ones who had just come in typically didn’t have a foster home yet, and I’d search the listings for one who “spoke” to me. One who looked like he or she needed us. One who was probably older, defnitely slower, and sounded like a match for our beloved beagle/treeing walker coonhound mix, Kepler. One who we would willingly keep forever if need be. (And the need had arisn; Buttercup’s kidneys failed her, just like her former owners had failed her. She lived with us for several months, and we were her “forever family.” We were there for her through it all, including her final hour.)
Gracie was not one of my top picks. She seemed aloof, alone, and she was so tiny there was no way that she could play with our big (50+ pound) houndy Kepler. She had no energy, no training, and basically no clue. Here’s a glimpse of a paragraph I wrote in my journal about her a few days after she came home with us, in January 2004:
Okay, I knew that fostering a hunting beagle would be a challenge. We’ve fostered others, but they’ve generally been younger, and “washed out” of the pack earlier, so they weren’t so set in their ways. Miss Gracie, however, is at least 8 years old and just retired from what had to be a successful hunting career with her kennel. She’s been a nice girl to have around the house the last couple days, but tonight we went for our first walk around the neighborhood. The first challenge was getting the harness on her, since I’m sure even a collar is new to her. Then, we walked out the door (with Kepler) and had to teach her how to walk in a relatively straight line along the sidewalk. She had no idea what we were doing! For every step she took forward, she took at least five to the side and sometimes backward. She had to be wondering why we wouldn’t just follow the scent with her! Well, we were getting it a bit under control when she caught a really good scent and started to take off with a beautiful bay. She flushed four deer out of the neighbor’s yard! Well, we just watched them lope across the street and down the sidewalk (and made a note to go the other direction!). After a few more steps, we heard a puppy cry. She stood stock-still and pointed. Since she’s been a mom several times, I shouldn’t have been surprised. The final straw was that tomorrow is TRASH DAY. So we had to stop at every trash can and bag, just to see if there were something good to eat. Only after the first five did I remember that Gracie was found living with a feral cat colony in southern Virginia. So OF COURSE she knew that good stuff to eat can be found in trash cans! Sigh. We just kept walking, though, and she learned FAST that it was okay to just go exploring too. She bumped into Kepler over and over, but he just kept going (like a team of horses, of course), and I think she learned something! I know I did. /journal mode off.
As you can see, she was a challenge. The truly weird thing about Gracie, though, was how lethargic she was. When we were inside (once we convinced her to come inside, which was almost always a challenge for retired hunters who had never seen tiled floors or carpeting), she just lay there, spread across the pillows, belly up. She was a terrific companion for work-addicted me, as she lay in the basement beside me for hours upon hours while I took care of things that I hadn’t had time to finish at the office, but I worried about her. Oh, how I worried.
And then we went back to the vet for a checkup. I knew she couldn’t be terribly healthy, as hunters often don’t take their dogs for annual exams each year (cough, cough), but I didn’t expect what the vet would tell us. Her teeth were rotten, through and through, and Miss Gracie was in PAIN.
After approval from the BREW ladies, and at not-inconsiderable expense, Gracie had nearly all of her front teeth removed. We worried about how she would eat, how she would react, and how long it took her to recover from surgery.
We needn’t have worried.
Gracie came home the next day, went straight to the food bowls in the laundry room, and inhaled her kibble. . . and Kepler’s too! After a few days, she was like a new dog. She was up and around, scratching at the door, and eager, not afraid, to go outside with all of us. She learned to walk on a leash (although not terribly well), to run in circles with Kepler and our next foster, Lucy, and to lie down in the shade when she got exhausted. In short, she became a different dog.
A different dog.
Gracie was adopted soon after that by a young couple in a fancy apartment in New York City, but I never forgot the lessons she taught us. If you take care of somebody, help them get what they need, love them, and remove their pain, anyting can happen.
Anything can happen.
And here’s where I tell you why I told you these stories, which, after all, are only about dogs, and three little homeless beagles at that.
I am out of pain.
After literally years of incredible pain, first with Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction brought on by pregnancy (that then caused 7+ months of bed rest) and then with the terrible back rib/muscle issue I’ve been dealing with since surgery, we’ve finally found an answer. Yes, the muscle was overtaxed by the giant tumor. Yes, the back ribs were (frequently) pulled out of joint. But also, the massive amounts of scar tissue on my chest were constantly pulling on the muscle that went all the way around to the back and pulled my back ribs out of joint. Constantly.
And so, after a dozen treatments with the PT who rips the scar tissue right off my muscle, my scar tissue is under control, my muscles are relaxed, and finally, finally I can relax again as well.
I am out of pain.
and I am now a different beagle woman altogether.
To celebrate this milestone, I’m changing the tagline of this blog. When we started, it was “Laugh. Play. Build. Learn.” Then when I got sick it was “Family life and fighting cancer.” As I struggled through a difficult recovery and uncertain future, I said I was “Making it count.” But now I can see past the recovery into a new life, and I’ll be blogging that too, as “The joy of life after cancer.” Thank you for joining me on this journey. Stick around … there will be a lot of joy.