Archive for January, 2011

Goodbye to a gentle girl

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

Those of you who have followed my writings and blog posts since the release of Marley & Me already know about Gracie. For the past six and a half years, she has been our sweet girl. We brought her home in September 2004, nine months after losing Marley. Even though she, like Marley, was a Labrador retriever, it was hard to believe they were the same breed. They couldn’t have had more different personalities. While he was wild and untrainable, hopelessly incapable of containing his unbridled energy, she was calm, sedate, and shy. He was big and powerful; she was delicate and petite. He was a bull in a china closet; she could daintily tiptoe through the most crowded glasswares shop without disturbing a single teacup. We called her the anti-Marley.

Gracie was well-behaved to the point of being a little boring. I used to joke, “Gracie, you’re a great dog but don’t expect me to write a book about you. You never do anything!” And yet she had a fairly hefty resume. As my book climbed the bestseller lists, more and more reporters and talk-show hosts wanted to interview me, and they often wanted me to bring along my new pet. Gracie appeared with me on Good Morning America and the Today Show. She was featured on The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Milan, and her photo appeared in countless magazines and newspapers, including People, The New York Times, and USA Today, not to mention on the back cover of tens of thousands of copies of my children’s books. A television crew even came all the way from Brazil to film her and our other Lab, Woodson, at my side walking through the meadows surrounding our home in Pennsylvania.

For the Good Morning America appearance, the show’s producers sent a Cadillac Escalade limo to drive her (I was allowed to tag along) to New York City, where they put us up at the fancy Millennium hotel in Times Square. I was a little nervous sitting down across from Diane Sawyer, but Gracie was not stressed in the least. She sniffed Sawyer’s hand, then curled up at our feet, yawned, and closed her eyes as we went live across the country. Yes, the anti-Marley.

I’m writing today to tell you that we lost Gracie last week. It’s a long, painful story, but the short version is she died from a rare complication of Lyme disease. We began noticing she wasn’t quite right in the second half of December. Her appetite was a little off, and her usual energy (she could sprint like a leopard) was down. I thought she might have a bladder infection or some other minor malady. Our local vet did a blood test and discovered Lyme disease and put her on a course of antibiotics. But the next day she called back with much more dire news: another test had found high levels of protein in her urine, a sign her kidneys were malfunctioning.

We rushed her to the University of Pennsylvania veterinary hospital, one of the best in the country, where she remained for the better part of a week as she underwent batteries of tests, including a kidney biopsy. It seems her immune system in its attempt to attack the Lyme cells had caused irreversible harm to her kidneys. All the vets were in agreement; there was nothing they could do for her. We brought her home and kept her as comfortable as we could for as long as we could.

On this past Friday, she let us know it was time to let her go. She had stopped eating and drinking, even stopped licking snow, and had grown very weak, just a shadow of the glossy-coated vibrant dog of a few weeks earlier. A vet came to the house so Gracie could end her life in her own home surrounded by the family that loved her. She slipped away peacefully.

With the help of my kind neighbor Neil Wotring, I buried her on the edge of the meadow behind our barn, right beside Marley. Two dogs, so different yet both so great in their own way, and both so dearly cherished members of our family.

Farewell, sweet Gracie, our gentle girl. Your home is now in our hearts.