About 18 months ago I adopted a Lab/Pit bull cross named Gracie from Second Chance Animal Adoption in our hometown of Bonners Ferry, Idaho. My daughter, Mikkel Becker, Vetstreet's pet-behavior expert, and I were doing holiday events for area shelters, where we we gave each pet a toy, a treat and most importantly love and the promise that we'd redouble our efforts to find them a loving home.

Although my house and ranch were already full of pets, I'd been thinking for months that we could squeeze another dog into our hearts and homes. My wife, Teresa, was cool to the idea, so I didn't discuss my thoughts with anyone except Mikkel, who lives near us in Coeur d'Alene. Mikkel volunteers a lot at shelters, training staff and pets, as well as working as an evaluator for the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, so I thought she could help me find the perfect pet.

Because I do media and need a demo dog a lot of the time, I worked with Mikkel to develop a checklist of what I wanted in a dog:

  1. Small, easy to transport by car or plane;
  2. Long-haired that we could keep clipped short to reduce shedding (long-haired dogs shed less than short-haired dogs);
  3. Young, ideally past the 3-year-old child-with-ADHD-and-a-chainsaw stage but still easy to train;
  4. Healthy, so I could focus my media message on preventive care;
  5. Light-colored. Very important: Light dogs with distinct markings show up best on camera;
  6. Season. I intended to wait until the harsh Idaho winter was over and maybe start looking seriously in the spring.

I guess God had something else in mind for me.  I went into a run at Second Chance that Christmas Day to give Gracie a stuffed Kong and some love.  I knew since she was a Lab she'd pounce on the peanut butter oozing out of the Kong, but I was wrong. She came over to where I was squatting, laid her big black head on my right thigh and looked up at me with honey colored and ember warm eyes. That was it. She was coming home with us that very day. 

Let's see how well I did with going down my Ideal Dog checklist. Gracie was:

  1. Medium-sized. Not easy to take in a car and not able to fit under an airline seat;
  2. Short-haired. She sheds like the "hairy hand grenade";
  3. Young. 2-years-old at the time of adoption, she was more adolescent than I was hoping to find;
  4. Not healthy. Gracie is horrifically crippled in her rear legs. She'd been found running loose as a puppy and when taken to the shelter, she jumped nonstop for months, causing damage the growth plates in her knees. She has very limited flexion in her rear legs and walks very squatted.
  5. Black. Jet black with just hints of brown showing through on the lower legs.
  6. Adopted on a busy Christmas Day in the dead of winter.

Except for being about the right age, every other criteria was almost completely ignored. In fact, I chose the opposite. That's what happens when you fall in love, unexpectedly, for all the wrong reasons. She's still the right choice. I'm crazy about Gracie. In fact I call my feelings for her "Cracie," which is a combo of Crazy/Gracie.

While I can't do anything about her size, length of hair and hair color, I was able to make some significant changes to her health and well-being. She gets Rimadyl every morning and that totally relieves her pain. I give her fatty acid supplements for healthy joints and skin along with probiotics for a healthy gut. I also exercise and play with her daily. Having moved out of the run at the shelter and onto the lawns, roads and fields of Almost Heaven Ranch, she is now a lean, muscled, fit dog who loves to run, chase chipmunks, retrieve, chew sticks and play.

And remember Teresa, who was cool to the idea of getting another pet? When Mikkel and I brought Gracie home on Christmas Day, I had Mikkel stay in the pickup with Gracie while I went into the house to tell Teresa I had a surprise for her outside. Let's just say when we opened the pickup door to reveal the present, she wasn't overjoyed. In fact, she wasn't smiling.

Now? Just like all the other pets, Gracie is truly loved by all, Teresa included. In fact, I watch and listen to Teresa going outside and petting, massaging, loving on Gracie and telling her how beautiful she is (she isn't!). As with all our pets, we vow to return just a portion of the gifts Gracie has blessed us with: her love and loyalty.