Gracie Becker

I have a really hard time going into shelters to deliver donations, attend events, or even do special surprises for the animals. Why? Because I want to take a bunch of the animals home and feel so, so very sorry for all of those greybeards and other less-adoptable pets who so want to move from a cage at the shelter to a couch at someone's home.

While I have to admit I’m always drawn to a wriggling mass of puppies or kinetic pile o’kittens, I have a special place in my heart, and home, for those pets who linger in the shadows of plain sight, overlooked because they’re old, have chronic illnesses, have been injured, are deformed or need special help in turning around some serious — even deadly — behavior problems.

I know a first-hand case. There was a Labrador/Pit Bull cross in our local animal shelter, Second Chance Animal Adoption in Bonners Ferry, Idaho. Besides being half Pit Bull, which makes many people think and think again about taking a chance on a dog like her, Gracie had three other strikes against her:

  • She's black. Shelters say it's more difficult to get black animals adopted.
  • She had been in a shelter for more than two years, her whole adult life.
  • She's crippled. Picked up as a stray puppy, Gracie was taken to the city shelter, where she jumped up and down in her run for months. This ruined her growth plates, and she matured very crippled in her rear legs.

Week after week, Gracie showed up on the adoption page of our local newspaper, but nobody wanted to give a black, crippled, lifer of a Pit Bull mix a chance. That was until she captured my heart on Christmas Day and made the trip from a run at the shelter to the run of Almost Heaven Ranch. We love her and call her Amazing Gracie.

At the recent CVC veterinary conference in Kansas City, I gave a lunchtime talk on “Creating a Fear-Free Veterinary Practice."  I’m not sure if the great turnout was for the topic or the food, but after I finished there were people who stayed to say they enjoyed the talk or to ask questions.

I noticed one man waiting until all the others had left before he approached.

I had no idea this was the Midwest veterinarian to whom I’d sent a thank-you card to show my appreciation for the incredible dedication he’d to shown to a rescue group who took in a mother and litter of puppies, only to find out they all had distemper. If you’ve never seen a dog with distemper, consider yourself lucky, as it’s a miserable disease and a terrible way to die. And die, unfortunately, these dogs all did, to the heartbreak of all who tried so hard to save them. Finding out that they all died made me even more grateful for the compassion and dedication of my colleague, who fought so hard for each of these precious animals, only to lose them.

We moved on to a happier topic. He told me about a couple who live on a small acreage. They have decided they have the resources to have 12 older, unadoptable pets at any given time. The veterinarian goes out to their place once a year — like a farm call of sorts that a large or mixed animal practice would do — to manage their "herd health." The pets get complete physicals, vaccinations as needed and wormed. Any animal who needs more extensive care (such as a dental, biopsy, etc.) is transported back to the clinic. This couple has modified their house to be super-friendly for senior pets, with ramps, steps, carpet runners, orthopedic foam beds —  the works. They have a rule that when one pet passes, another unadoptable pet gets a home.

On his most recent visit, the veterinarian stopped and watched the whole “Over The Hill Gang" making the slow walk down to the mailbox. A dozen dogs and two elderly people in a curious fan of legs walking toward him. He watched them stop twice for the slower pets to rest and get a drink.

He walked back to his vehicle and thought, “Bless those who help those who can’t help themselves.” I couldn't have said it better myself.

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