Every December, the members of the extended Becker family (living in three states) make their tracks up to the family ranch in extreme Northern Idaho. The house is filled with family, food, lights, laughter, lapping, yapping, and plenty of dog hair. Each year we make sure to prepare the home for the whirlwind of dozens of tiny feet scuttling around on hardwood floors.
Beyond the usual dangers of food-related illnesses, the biggest danger to pets during the holiday season is prescription medicines intended for human use. Family and friends staying or visiting your home often bring along their medications, and that means a higher chance these medications will be left out or dropped on the floor.
Any human medication can pose a risk or may even be fatal to pets. Make sure that your visitors keep their prescriptions in their child-proof containers, off the counter, in a drawer or cabinet or otherwise safely stowed away.
If you believe your pet has ingested medication, call your veterinarian, your local veterinary ER, or the ASPCA pet poison control center (888-426-4435) to find out what you need to do.
On another note, make sure that your holiday decorations are secured and pet safe. Retro Christmas has become popular once again, and nothing is more iconic than bubble lights and tinsel. The movement, shimmering light, and crinkly sound of tinsel is tantamount to kitty crack. If your cat ingests tinsel, it could pose a danger to their intestinal tract that can be fatal, or at least very expensive (the intestines bunch up like an accordion or you pushing a long sleeve shirt up; the tinsel is typically removed surgically). If you have pets, forgo the shiny crinkly stuff completely.
Are you getting sick of hearing me talk about my Gracie yet?
Today, the great folks at Second Chance Animal Adoption in Bonners Ferry sent me some more information on Gracie’s life before we adopted her on Christmas Day. And while I worry and care about all pets in sub-standard shelters and pounds, knowing that my own dog suffered in a particularly terrible one is hard to think about.
But I think it’s important, so this is Gracie’s story.
She was found by a sheriff’s deputy near a trailer park when she was a puppy. She came into the city pound during a time when it was being investigated for neglect of the animals, while volunteers from SCAA were working hard to help the pets in the old pound and get a new shelter built.
The old pound was a small concrete building with seven kennels, and inside/outside “runs” that were only 3 feet by 4 feet in size. The building was old, with inadequate ventilation and no drainage. It was too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter.
Eventually someone new was hired to care for the animals, and SCAA volunteers were able to make many improvements over the years, but it was still known locally as a “hell hole.”
All that finally changed when SCAA opened a brand new shelter for our community’s animals last July, and brought all the animals, including Gracie, over there. This is how Kate Turner from SCAA described that day:
When Gracie moved to the shelter (she rode on the float in the parade from the pound to the shelter) and crawled into her Kuranda bed, I cried. It was the first time in her life she didn’t have to lay on filthy concrete ( in her own waste). She laid on that soft bed constantly unless Kim or Dawn was walking her or putting her in an outside pen for fresh air.
I look at my beloved Gracie now, and see her lounging on her special orthopedic beds and wrestling with best friend Shakira, our Golden Retriever, and like Kate, I find myself crying.
Friends, I’ll be honest with you: This dog is such a special gift to me. I love all my pets, but with her it’s, like the coach used to say on Mad TV, “a whole ‘nother level!”
My gratitude to the people who do the hard work for the animals in our community, and all over the country, is endless. And I’ve never been so glad of anything in my life as to know that Teresa and I helped get the new shelter built through our donations and sponsorships, and continue to sponsor adoption and other programs there, too. Talk about a warm feeling!
If you have a pound like this in your area, lend a hand, or donate some money, to the animals there. They need you.
Excuse me, I have to go see if Gracie needs anything!
Photos: Gracie and me on “gotcha day,” and one of the runs at the old city pound, before Second Chance Animal Adoption volunteers were allowed to step in, and a new animal care employee hired. There are much worse photos, but I thought this one was bad enough.
Folks, I’m just so in love with my little Amazing Gracie I’m probably going to embarrass myself in this post. But I can’t help it.
In case you don’t remember, we adopted Gracie on Christmas Day from Second Chance Animal Adoption in our hometown of Bonners Ferry. Mikkel told the “love at first sight” story already, but I can tell you, it’s gone on to be a real “Love Story” for all of us — well, except maybe for Quora, but my theory is that she’ll come around soon.
I like to think I’m Gracie’s new best friend, and when she’s cuddling in my lap and wriggling and moaning as I give her a full body massage, I probably am. Her rear legs have some kind of deformity, and regular massage helps keep them limber.
But I have to admit, she might possibly love our Golden Retriever, Shakira, best of all. And playing, running and rough-housing with Shakira is probably the best therapy for her hind legs, too.
Quixote gets in on the action sometimes, but Shakira and Gracie can play for hours out in the snow on Almost Heaven Ranch.
Gracie spent her whole life since puppyhood in a shelter — they gave me this photo of her, taken on admission — so this is her first experience of being a beloved family pet. I’m so glad Shakira’s here to show her how it’s done!
But I’m sharing a lot of “firsts” with Gracie, too. Just today she tasted an apple I took up to the barn for the horse and went wild for its sweet flavor. She followed me up the steep stairs to the hay loft of the barn but after she made her passes around looking for kibble the cats have spilled, she walked over to the stairs and presented herself for me to pack down (I worry about her going down with those bad rear wheels) the to the ground.
Don’t tell the other dogs (or Teresa or Mikkel, for that matter), but when I give all the dogs a treat every morning, I give Gracie two. Okay, three. I figure she needs lots of spoiling if she’s ever going to catch up.
It snowed hard this weekend, and I got a real kick out of how she goes on her walks with her head down, lapping up snow — something I guess she never got to taste during her life in the shelter.
But our Gracie is an “all-seasons” kind of gal. She loves to lie out in the sun on the grassy area under a big pine tree. No matter how clean the shelter, or well-run, or how loving the people there, there’s nothing to compare with fresh air, sunshine, lots of exercise, and being part of a family!
Gracie’s been playing so much, in fact, that I’ve started her on Rimadyl. And despite the extra treats, I’m making sure she stays lean, to keep her rear legs from carrying any more weight than they have to. After we’ve gotten her loved up and muscled up, we’re going to take her to Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine for a complete checkup, and to see if surgery might not be helpful to her.
So that’s it. I’m in love, and our Gracie’s a real part of the family now. I just couldn’t love her more, and encourage all my readers to consider giving a second chance to one of the amazing dogs in shelters everywhere — even if I did already get the best one!
Gracie is a black, two-year-old Lab/Pit bull mix with deformed knees who has spent almost her entire life at the Second Chance Animal Adoption shelter in Bonners Ferry, Idaho.
Gracie has a new address now — at Almost Heaven Ranch with my dad, Dr. Marty Becker and my mom, Teresa.
My dad and I, along with the staffs of North Idaho Animal Hospital in Sandpoint and Lakewood Animal Hospital in Coeur d’Alene, spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day visiting our local animal shelters and bringing toys, greats and other gifts to the homeless pets there. It was our way of trying to make these special pets have a happier day.
On the way from Panhandle Animal Shelter in Ponderay to Second Chance, my dad was talking to me in the car about how he wanted to get a new dog in the future. He said he wanted to wait for the right dog, one who really needed a home. Some of my work as a dog-trainer is at the local shelter, so I said that I’d be on the lookout for him.
When we got to Second Chance, we were busy handing out gifts. Dad posed for photos with a black mixed-breed dog named Gracie. Although she was far from lap-sized, she let him hold her in his arms, totally relaxed — almost collapsed.
At one point I looked around and realized my dad had vanished. I walked back to the kennels and found him sitting in Gracie’s run. She was cuddled up next to him, staring up at his face while he petted and held her. The treat-stuffed Kong toy we’d given her for Christmas did not mean nearly as much to her as it did just to sit next to my dad.
Although there were dozens of people in the area, it felt like there was no one else in there at all, like it was just the two of them. I was witnessing something amazing.
When I asked dad what he was doing, he answered me in a voice I’d never heard from him before. He sounded like a little kid excited to open his stocking on Christmas.
“She’s a special dog, Kel,” he said. “She’s just really touched me. I don’t know what to do, but she has really stolen my heart. I think she might be the one!”
I knew then and there we were bringing home a new dog for Christmas. She and dad had an immediate connection, as if they were soulmates.
As soon as dad, after a few minutes of deliberation, decided he was taking her home, the entire staff and volunteers were in tears. They said they had all spent many anxious nights worrying about Gracie and if she would ever get a home with her special needs. They figured she had a good chance of always being a shelter resident.
Instead, it turns out she had just been waiting there for the special person who was going to be her forever friend.
On the way home she was sitting in my lap, but kept inching closer and closer to my dad in the driver’s seat until half her body was lying in the center console so that she could have her head resting right by him.
When we got home to Almost Heaven Ranch, dad marched in with her, so much vigor and joy in his step. He reminded me of a little kid who just got his first pet, or even like a mom who just brought her new baby home from the hospital.
My dad speaks at veterinary meetings and conferences about the connection people have to our pets and how much we love them — he calls it “The Bond” — to help motivate veterinarians to improve their connection to pet owners as well as pets. I’ve always known how sincere he is about that, but this weekend I’ve seen it in action in a way I never have before.
I see dad looking at Gracie and seeing past her crippling ailments to the pure soul that lies underneath. I see him crying while he holds her in his lap, Gracie just staring up at him with such calmness, such a sure sense that he is going to protect her from now on.
This Christmas, we thought we would be giving out presents to pets to make their day special. I never expected one pet would steal my dad’s heart at first sight and, as my mom said yesterday, turn out to be the greatest Christmas present he has ever had. I know each day with her will continue to be a gift.
Welcome home, Gracie!