The Grace of Gracie
Dogs are my friends, my companions, furry children who make life calm, happy and a pleasure. I am a widow who lives without another human in the house, but I am never alone.
Before the pandemic started, I had four small dogs, all rescues. Lorenzo, a mistake when his pedigreed Yorkshire Terrier mom had a night of pleasure with a randy little teacup toy Poodle. When his owner searched frantically for good homes, I was lucky to know the family.
Daisy, a Maltese Poodle cross arrived at my house in an infant’s snowsuit hood. She had been dropped off at the Cruz Roja store in Rosarito, Baja, MX. A friend, who was volunteering, grabbed the tiny pup, announced she knew someone who would give it a good home or at least find a foster. What was I to do when this tiny snowball with dark frightened eyes arrived hiding in the fur hood? All right, I am a sucker, she’s now 13 years old and spends her days snoozing up against my leg.
Then came Henry, a black poodle. He was being held up by a man trying to sell him to tourists on a busy street in Mexico. Enrique, a friend, screeched his car to a halt and ran to take the pup but someone else had been faster and was negotiating first. I dragged Enrique back in the car and agreed if the pup was still there on our way back we could stop and try to take him. Smart me, I figured he’d be long gone. How was I to know the pup and his negotiator were still there, ripe for the taking. On the way home, the puppy cuddled in my lap, I remarked “What are we going to call him?” The response was immediate, “Henry, of course, like me.” Henry is the translation of Enrique. Friend Enrique left us long ago and surely is waiting at the rainbow bridge for his namesake puppy. Now, years later, the black poodle is the major domo of the household. He runs all of us, reminds me to check the doors when we leave, and not to forget my purse. His other jobs are telling me the water bowl is empty, it’s time to eat, take a walk, go to bed, stop working at the computer, and generally boss me around. I have no choice, he’s pretty demanding.
The fourth was named Alice, like me. She was a foster, a beautiful white long-haired Chihuahua, rescued from a bi-polar woman who threw the dog against the wall when manic. Alice needed to find a home where she could be the princess. She also shed and I was so allergic to her I sneezed, my eyes teared, but I still let her sit on my lap and sleep in my bed when she was so inclined. I needed to find her a permanent home but the pandemic hit and suddenly we were all in lockdown.
It was a bit of a chore walking all four at once, but I got used to it. When we are in Mexico they can run around the large patio or snooze on the cushions or trampoline mats outside. When we are in our little condo in California, we walk at least four times a day. So that was my life. Until another friend, Maggie, a rescuer, called and announced on the phone, “You like poodles, don’t you.” It was clearly not a question.
“Yes, I do. I’m better with the non-shedders.” Maggie said she was in the area and would be over in a few minutes. When she arrived, she rummaged in her handbag before pulling out and handing me something that looked like a fuzzy mouse or a little stuffed toy about the size of my hand. Two black eyes observed me while a tiny black nose wiggled as she sniffed her surroundings.
We were socially distancing and being careful not to get within breathing distance of each other as Maggie shoved a can of evaporated milk and a little bag of kibble at me. “Got’ta go, got a bunch of rescues in the car. Don’t think she’s been weaned yet so you may need to give her the diluted milk and soak the kibble in it to see if she is old enough to eat.” And with that, she was out the door, leaving me with the tiny creature. Holding her to my cheek, my eyes teared. “I’m way to old to have a puppy, you’ll outlive me by a lot of years. But for now, you can stay with me and I’ll take good care of you.” I was rewarded by a lick on my nose. My little cereal bowl was on the kitchen counter when we walked inside. She was so tiny she fit right in. Delicious!
Lorenzo and Alice decided right away they were not fond of puppies and growled at her.
Daisy mostly ignored her but let her sleep next to her if she was quiet and didn’t bite. Biting was a problem. She was growing tiny razor-sharp shark teeth and began biting everything and everyone within teething distance. Henry didn’t mind, she was his to take care of. He was her protector, guardian and adopted poppa. She adored him and followed him constantly. He knew it wasn’t easy being tiny.
Since the old dogs wouldn't play with a puppy, I was designated playmate, as was anyone who came in the house. We had to throw balls for her to fetch, grab toys to play tug-of-war, bounce anything that needed a jump to catch. Her favorite to sleep with was a little stuffed toy we called Lamby, almost as big as the pup when she arrived, but she quickly got bigger.
The little one needed a name. What to call a tiny furball with a big personality? I posted the question online and suggestions poured in. But somehow, Grace stuck. Grace is something given by the gods. She was a tiny gift to keep me safe and sane while locked in my home in fear of dying. Not only from the usual old age maladies, but from a virulent pandemic when someone my age was the poster girl for catching the virus and not surviving.
Every day the statistics for death got worse. I was particularly careful to stay inside when not masked while walking the dogs, kept away from people and very few people allowed in my house. My greatest fear was getting sick and not being able to take care of the dogs and my daughter wouldn’t be able to travel to get them. My shopping was confined to Amazon and Walmart delivery and guerrilla runs to the market every other week during senior shopping times. The rest of the time I was home binging on Netflix with dogs on my lap, or playing with the puppy.
Gracie became her name and she was truly a gift. She loved everyone she saw on our walks and wanted to play, kiss and bite them. Every dog was a challenge to puppy wrestle with, no matter the size or age. Soon she knew everyone in the neighborhood and struggled against her leash to run and greet them with her pure puppy love. Her joy, packaged in a pocket-sized fluff ball with two round black button eyes was irresistible. Our whole senior community knew her, played with her, had their noses licked and their fingers nibbled on and always left with a smile.
Her teeth grew in and the bites were no longer funny funny. Training was in order and I began to refer to her as the ‘barbarian’ or ‘ruffian’ instead of Gracie. And then Gemma arrived. Stephanie, daughter of Sandy, my bestie next door, wanted a small puppy. I went to Mexico and returned with a sweet white Maltese terrier cross about Gracie's age. Another puppy to wrestle with. Gemma was a bit larger but just as goofy. They rolled around the house, wrestled, bit each other, played games and when totally exhausted, snuggled together and slept. They also taught each other it hurt to get bitten by razor sharp little teeth and the biting stopped except as soft mouth play and nose kisses.
Gracie has since learned to play all kinds of games by herself. She lies on her back and tosses her toys in the air and catches them. She takes her ball to the edge of the sofa, pushes it off and then jumps and runs to catch it. Her next favorite is to grab a floppy toy and shake it viciously while growling, perfecting her squirrel or rabbit hunting skills, which she will never use if I have anything to say about it.
Gracie is now almost a year old. She walks on a leash, is perfectly housetrained, knows how to sit, not so great on ‘down’ or ‘come’ but we are working on them. She sleeps with Henry and Daisy, all three curled up next to me every night and I couldn’t be happier.
Mid pandemic, the perfect person for Alice appeared. She is now the queen of her own house, harnesses and leashes in every color, elegant raincoat and sweaters, comfy beds she doesn’t have to share, and a lady who loves her to pieces. I knew if I waited, I would find the exact match for her. They live down the street from us and we all get to greet each other from time to time.
Life now goes on outside of our homes for a change. We have mostly all been vaccinated and move about with a freedom we had almost forgotten. My littles all can go to the groomer they like and are sporting post-pandemic haircuts with pride. The world is trying to adjust to a different lifestyle once again and the dogs along with the rest of us. When I first started to go out rather than spend every minute at home, they howled and barked about being left alone. Now they are getting back to their old habits and calm down if I leave. Gracie didn’t have those old habits so she is having to adjust to something new, but I have faith in her. I admit she is a failed foster, I’m not giving her up. My daughter agreed to take the dogs if I can no longer take care of them so I know they will always be all right.
I have survived the pandemic, in no small thanks to those gods who found the grace to provide me with a beautiful tiny life to keep me company and cheer me up along with everyone she comes in contact with. Who could imagine such a minuscule package could bring so much pleasure to so many people?
Thanks to the grace of Gracie.
Alice Donenfeld, entertainment attorney, TV producer, international TV distributor, former VP Marvel Comics & Executive VP of Filmation Studios. Now retired, three published novels on Amazon, and runs Baja Wordsmiths creative writing group.