Gracie: Kibble, Arthritis and 'Ookey-Ball'

A daughter, a puppy and the boy they both always wanted.

Park Centre Veterinary called yesterday to see if I was interested in having our black Lab, Gracie, treated with a new laser tool to help alleviate pain from her arthritis. A few weeks ago Gracie — the younger of our two dogs — turned 11. Her muzzle and paws might be snowy but in my head, she’s still a puppy.

Her mother, Amy, belonged to my brother’s family in Marin. When Amy had her litter of 10, our youngest daughter, Emily lobbied hard for us to adopt one. She made a list entitled  “25 Reasons Why We Should Get a Puppy” and presented it to her dad, knowing full well that between the two of us, he would be the harder sell.

She cited a scientific study about dog ownership lowering blood pressure. She played on our working-parent guilt by reasoning that a second dog would keep our older dog company during the school day, and protect her when she was home alone in the afternoon. The 25th reason, the clincher, was, ”Because, Dad —  you always told us that how we get treated depends on how we behave, and I believe I am well-behaved and therefore deserve a puppy.”

She had him there. Not only was Emily deserving, she was smart and logical. And, of course, Dad caved.

My brother’s family dubbed Gracie “Monster Baby.” Twice the size of some of her littermates, she was always first at the community kibble bowl. They chose her for us because she seemed to be the slowest, sleepiest one. They thought she would fit well in our quieter, non-hunting household.

It turned out to be a case of kibble coma.

It’s an understatement to say that she’s not a finicky eater. As a matter of fact, she eats without even chewing and in the process swallows as much air as kibble, leading to another nickname — “The Flatulence Fairy.”

But I do my best to ignore it, because she is the personification of unconditional affection. Gracie forgives us every day for depriving her of the life for which she was bred. In the right hands, she would have made an exceptional hunting dog. She fetches, comes immediately when called and is single-minded in pursuit of her prey of choice — the elusive Day-Glo yellow tennis ball.

When Emily went to college five years ago, Gracie became my dog. I walked her to Franklin Park each morning, drove home at lunchtime every day to let her out, scratched her rump and doled out countless biscuits from the square glass jar that sits on the end of our counter. And she repaid me with unfailing loyalty.

Well, that is until a year ago, when Emily and her fiancé, Marshall, moved into our basement and Gracie left me for Marshall, who is the boy she always wanted.

All those years ago, we got Gracie for Emily. When Marshall moved in, if Gracie could speak English she would have said, “Thanks Mom! I always, always wanted a boy!”

Marshall feeds Gracie kitchen scraps from the counter. Although I haven’t caught him in the act, I know he does because she never begged until just about a year ago. Coincidence? I think not. Now she stands smack dab between whatever I happen to be fixing for dinner and me, silently willing me to drop something, anything, edible down to the kitchen floor.

Marshall lets Gracie sleep on his bed with her shedding head right on his pillow in a basement that was previously forbidden territory. When she thinks she hears me leave for work, she sneaks downstairs. (You’re fooling no one, Gracie. I can hear the clack of your toenails on the wooden stairs.)

Marshall plays fetch on demand for as long as Gracie wants. The ball gets so muddy, slimy and disgusting that in our house we call the game of fetch “Ookey-ball” because the minute your clean skin comes in contact with the sludge, you can’t help but say, “Eeeew! Ookey!” But Marshall doesn’t seem to mind.

Because Gracie has no “off” switch — and she is 77, after all — she can get pretty stiff by the end of the day. So I have my fingers crossed that Park Centre’s new laser tool works wonders. Gracie’s world without “Ookey-ball” would be a dismal place indeed.

And I hope that years from now, if Emily and Marshall are in charge when the doctor calls to offer me pain management, they take the first available appointment and strap me in the car. Because it’s true that how you get treated depends on how you behave, and I think I’ve earned it.

Chris Muir June 20, 2012 at 05:24 PM
A lovely story. Coincidentally, I also have an eleven year old Gracie (a Lab/Golden mix). Also a fetching machine. It's a good thing that Rimadyl exists.
Barbara Mooney June 21, 2012 at 02:31 AM
Didn't actually talk to you today but I heard your voice in my head the entire time I read the story. I could also tell the parts where the period at the end of the sentence would be the smile that you paused to give before continuing the story. It just makes my day better.
Charlotte Tlachac June 21, 2012 at 06:32 PM
Having just lost my 16 year old "kitten" a couple weeks ago, this loving living memoir touched a warm spot in my heart. Very well written, as usual. Thanks!
Alice Lewis June 21, 2012 at 07:01 PM
On my way to the vet for a Rimadyl refill, Chris! My best to your Gracie.
Alice Lewis June 21, 2012 at 07:01 PM
And you just made mine better, Barbara! Thank you!
Alice Lewis June 21, 2012 at 07:02 PM
So hard, Charlotte. My condolences... xox
Victoria June 21, 2012 at 09:17 PM
Tread lightly on the Rimadyl and be very aware of your dogs everyday aches and pains. I inherited an 11 year old German Shepard, Dakota, from my sister-in-law when she passed away. I obediently continued his Rimadyl, and it worked great for the year that I had him, it gave him the quality of life he deserved. Then one day he was too stiff to move, must of been staying out in the snow the day before. But it didn't get better, off to the vets. Lymes? Another virus or bacterial infection? After a week we were bringing him in twice a day for pain shots while waiting for test results. In the meantime he lost all use of his rear legs and then suddenly died in the backyard. The test results came back negative for everything and I hit the internet. Turns out Rimadyl can cause loss of nerve function over time. If I had known in advance I would have had him put down as soon as the symptoms appeared.
Alameda Resident June 23, 2012 at 01:14 AM
Please keep us posted on how well the procedure works for Gracie. We also have a ball machine (lab) who is on the gimpy side - even though she's only 9-1/2. If the procedure works for you, we'll have to check it out!


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