This is a very different story than the one I wrote about our beloved dog Callie, who died two years ago at 15 (read This Is Not Just a Tail, But a True Love Story). This is a love story that’s just starting. We are in the dating and mad about each other stage, but it seems like a love that will last. Gracie, is a love at first sight kind of dog. Gracie is hard not to love. She gets to almost everyone who meets her. If they don’t melt under her big brown-eyed gaze, they’re sure to surrender to her playful dances, or her tenacious determination. She’s my son, Middle Man’s dog. I didn’t want to love her, but as I said: Gracie gets to almost everyone.
I should start with all the reasons I was sure that I would not like Gracie. First and foremost, she’s a small dog. Very small. Nine pounds small. I like my dogs big. Gracie is a Chiweenie. You read that right: a Chihuahua and a mini Dachshund (“wiener dog”) mixed. Two breeds I do not like. Sorry. If you own one of those breeds, please don’t take offense or write and tell me what I’m missing. I don’t like them. As a child, my grandparents had a Dachshund and I remember a yippy, nippy dog that scared me. I remember my mother being bitten (not serious, but a bite), and I was sure I was next. Chihuahuas… well they are generally little, bug-eyed, fragile looking dogs. A breed that only reminds me of tacos… fast food tacos. So, putting the two breeds together was not a cocktail I anticipated falling for. That was before Gracie. For the record, she is much cuter than many of the Chiweenie’s I saw on Google.
Despite all that, I’ve fallen hard. I’ve become that small dog person who talks in syrupy sweet voices, swoops their dog up in cuddly hugs and thinks everything she does is clever and full of “character.” Suddenly, I’m one of those small dog people who thinks everything their dog does is cute. She curls up in a little ball to sleep, and I smile. She skips along on her walk (and she does in fact skip) and I grin. I am one of those small dog people, after years of being a stable, solid, big dog lover… I don’t talk in a baby voice to big dogs. I don’t cuddle our big dog; I pat and scratch his neck and back, vigorously… because he likes it, and he can take it. He’s a big, studley dog. She is a sweet, cuddle dog. Oh, I can’t stand people like me.
Gracie came to us via Middle Man, my 20 year old son. Last year he found her on Craig’s list and adopted her. When I first heard that he’d gotten her from Craig’s list, all kinds of bells went off. What kind of person gets rid of their dog on Craig’s list? She was bound to be damaged goods, I thought superiorly. Middle Man would be home #4 for Gracie. Ding, ding, ding! Don’t ask how he kept a dog in the dorms at his college; it was never “legal.” Middle Man just has a way of making things happen, even if they’re not allowed to happen. His enthusiasm is infectious. “Let’s get a dog,” becomes something an entire dorm can cheer on. So Gracie moved into the men’s dorm at school, and lived happily for part of last year. Never mind that it was against the rules; the entire dorm kept her under cover, because everyone loves Gracie. Over the summer, she came to live at our house and we all were crazy about her right away… Well, everyone but Luke, our wonderful yellow lab.
Luke saw through her cute factor right away. He’s easy going, but he hated the way she just usurped his bed, and much of our attention. Suddenly he realized that humans sometimes talk in much higher pitched voices with dogs, and he wanted that too. He hated when I played fetch with Gracie. Luke has never been a fetch dog. He runs for the stick/ball/toy and then drops it. Gracie chases her toys: her little body hopping like a rabbit across the kitchen floor/lawn/ground, and then sprinting back with the toy, to play tug-o-war. Who wouldn’t fall in love with that? She smiles and grins, she charms; we melted. Gracie stands on her two hind legs when she wants her food, doing a combination of a little pirouettes and mad dashes to her dish; while Luke waits patiently to be fed and then eats in a dignified way. He did not fall for Gracie’s cute factor. Luke is the one person who didn’t love Gracie.
Gracie however saw that she had us wrapped around her delicate little paws. China and Denmark, who were still living with us when Gracie first arrived last May, fell in love with her. Even China started using a “cute voice” with her. We bought her toys to play with, because she loves toys. What’s cuter than a tiny dog with a giant bumble bee in it’s mouth? (I hate people like me!) Luke was jealous. I’d play toss with her across the kitchen floor each morning and Luke would nudge my hand first, thenstand between Gracie and me, or finally just flop down in my lap, demanding the attention back. He’d never been a lap dog in his life! But he stepped right out of his big dog persona, when that little thing arrived. And Gracie milked it. She took his bed, and when he refused to budge, she boldly stared him down and barked once, to tell him to move. Big, affable Luke moved. She watched his dog bowl like a hawk. If he didn’t eat his food right away, she was all over it. Literally. He learned to eat when I put the food out. Though we all fell under her spell, Luke was not happy to have Gracie living with us. All summer we had a sulky lab and a bossy Chiweenie, who
demanded loved to be held and cuddled.
At the end of the summer, when Middle Man packed his stuff and got ready to go back to school, I suggested that maybe Gracie would be better off with us. I had taught her to sit, and stay, over the summer. She loved walking on the Interurban with me. She was getting used to the dog park, and she seemed happy with us. I had gotten accustomed to her excited little face each morning, as I headed for the dog food bin. Middle Man loves Gracie however, and he had no intention of leaving her here. So off they drove in mid-August, Gracie’s little head poking out the window, and we all felt sad. Even Luke, who suddenly realized that he too maybe liked Gracie. He sulked for weeks. I missed her far more than I anticipated.
Fast forward to late September. Gracie was happy in the new dorm, where Middle Man and a band of good friends and similarly minded guys had given her run of the sixth floor. She roamed from room to room as he pleased. She was prone to digging through garbage bins, some better than others. She slept where she wanted; was played with often; and had a constant source of laps to snuggle in. Gracie was Queen of the floor. Until one day Maintenance came to call. Gracie doesn’t like men with hats. I am convinced she was was abused in one of her 3 (pre-Middle Man) former homes. The fact that she’s as sweet natured as she is after several homes, is a testament to why we all love her, but Gracie barks at guys more than women, and if you have a hat on, she barks, and barks and barks. Maintenance was not happy. They reported Gracie. While it was no secret to anyone in the dorms that she lived there (girls wandered up to visit her on the 6th floor, guys kept her hidden), once it was officially out, they could not keep her. Doing so would have put the Resident Advisor, who lived on the 6th floor, in danger of losing his job. The guys have ethics, and they were not going to let their friend go down, to hide Gracie. So she was moved to an apartment off campus. Home number 5.
So Middle Man called me, Mom. Frankly, I had wondered how it lasted as long as it did. I had certain images of what a dorm full of college age guys were like. Caring properly for a little dog was not on the list, in my mind. I was sure that I could love and care for Gracie better, and I hated that she was in yet another home (being ruined). From the moment I got that call, I was determined to go get her back. But this love story had some twists in store for me.
I flew there, and then drove a long way to get that dog, sure that it was all for the better. When I arrived on the 6th floor, it was all that I expected… and not at all. There was a keg. There was left over food in plastic or paper containers, sitting around. The floor was sticky and the fabric on the chairs felt dirty. There was a big flat screen TV and video games. There was everything
this a mother expected to find in her boy’s dorm lounge. But there above the TV, in a place of true prominence was a poster of Gracie. One of the young women on another floor had taken the picture and my son had it blown up. It popped off the wall bigger than anything else anyone would notice in the room, and I started to realize that maybe I’d had it all wrong.
And the guys pointed it out. “Isn’t she adorable?” One coo’ed. “Oh my God, we miss her so much!” Another one told me. One by one, these college guys… these keg drinking, bocce playing, party going, swagger-aged boys, all had a love story to tell me about Gracie. They all loved her, and they all were broken up about losing her. They all knew I was there to take her with me, and they shared the things she likes, and little details about her personality that they thought I might need to know. Their sadness at losing her was palpable. I was totally shocked. A big, fat Boy did I have that wrong to swallow, as I listened to each (and I mean every) guy that I met over the weekend, tell me something about why they’d miss Gracie.
But in the end, it was my own boy’s loss that really rocked me. I knew he really cared about Gracie, but I thought he was a bit more blase than was true. I know he has a tender heart, but it’s surrounded by a hard shell sometimes. I figured Gracie was fun to have; a dog that he enjoyed, but when push comes to shove… he’d give up. Wrong! I was wrong about every single thing I thought I knew about Gracie and her boys. Middle Man was so sincerely sad about sending her off, that I spent my final two days with a big lump in my throat. I felt guilty bringing her home to our “stable home,” when she’d be missing all the energy and affection, all the fun and love, that she’d had with Middle Man and his friends. They were all going to miss her so much, and I had not really expected that.
We all agreed that she should spend her last night in the dorms. It would have been much easier for me to keep her at my hotel- both were forbidden.- and just get in the car in the morning, for my 1.5 hour drive to the airport. But the guys all wanted her with them for one last night. I took a bunch of them out for dinner that last night and assured them all that I would take very good care of Gracie, and I swear I saw on their faces the very look I had arrived with: You won’t care for her as well as we (I) can. You won’t love her as much as we (I) do. My bleeding heart skipped a few beats and I felt such affection for those boys. I had gotten it all wrong, and the proof was in every mushy comment made and every unguarded, adoring look they gave that dog.
The next morning when I went to pick her up, it was hard to watch my boy hold his dog. He buried his face in her little neck and hugged her goodbye, and I just about burst into tears. He would have smirked at me, but not Gracie. I am happy that he trusts me, his Mom, enough to take her home and love her, as well as he does. He ran through all over her food needs (“She needs more fiber, Mom”); he handed me the tiny nail clippers he’d gotten for her. She settled into her bed on the front passenger seat, and as we drove away, she watched out the window, excited for a car trip.
Gracie didn’t like flying. She wasn’t happy in the little carrier I got to put under the seat in front of me. She could still stand up; she’s that small, but she didn’t like it. When we arrived back in our small town, she skipped across the parking lot to our car, thrilled to be out of the carrier. She jumped up and excitedly watched out the window for the twenty minute ride home. When she got out in our garage, she paused; she sniffed for a second and then ran to her favorite place to go “potty” just outside and did her business, then ran to the kitchen door. When I through it open, Luke was there with his big-dog-exuberant welcome home: leaping and happy to see me. He paused for a minute when he saw that Gracie was back, and then he wagged his tail and licked her. I let them out the door and they spent fifteen minutes chasing each other in giddy circles around the yard.
Even Luke is happy to have Gracie back. She has surrendered his bed to him and he has offered it to her. She brings her toy to me first thing in the morning, and he sits beside me as I pat his back and she chases her toy. We are all in the falling in love stage with Gracie, but it’s clear that she has enough love for all of us.
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