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!