06.03.2011: A Gracie "Funny"
THE DOG WHO WALKS ME
It's been 8 short years since my spinal cord injury. Since year one, I've needed more than my husband, Bob, as my caregiver. I didn't choose my second helper. She chose me.
Often, I'm not in good spirits but I know someone who is. Someone who never gets frustrated with me; who never gets in a bad mood because I need more and more of her help. Someone who will never, ever let me down whether we're hobbling along together in a downpour, or through mud, and no matter the time of day; my 15-year-old dog, Gracie.
I believe there is something even deeper than we've already discovered about human/pet communication that has yet to be fully embraced. I don't think I'm crazy when I say that there is a look in Gracie's eyes, as a friend recently said, that tells me she can read me like a book.
Gracie has selflessly cared for me all along. If I ever allowed it, she would go without eating for days if I was in bed. Anywhere – on the uneven ground of the backyard, on the sidewalk of our street, on what has become a treacherous walk from my bed to the bathroom, it has always been because of her that I rarely fall. She would rather fall herself than allow me to trip on any object in my path.
Gracie can still climb steps. At this point, I don't think I will ever be able to climb even one. But a doctor friend told me that neural passages can learn to re-route themselves, so I keep trying. Each day, Gracie waits for me at the top of the one step which leads to our porch.
I see her standing on the porch, near the step . . . waiting . . . urging . . . assuming I can do it. After a dozen tries, when I still can't make it, I grab onto her as she stands firmly so I can pull myself up.
Does holding on to her for help mean that I've failed? No. True victory is not found at either the top of a stair or at any finish line. True victory is all in the attempt.
Now, in her advanced years, I laugh at what a pair she and I make. Out back, when her limbs occasionally give out, I put my body on the ground, my hands under her belly, and lift her. And those times that I can't get up, she sits as tightly next to me as possible, like a statue, staying good and strong, so that I can pull myself off of the ground.
Sometimes we just stay in that position on the ground, resting against each other, loving each other, knowing our time together will soon come to an end. When I'm laughing, she smiles, as all dog owners know that dogs truly do. When I am crying, she softly puts her pretty face under my hand.
Gracie thinks of me as her hero. But she is mine. Without her, I'd never be walking; I wouldn't even be alive.
She has put herself in harm's way by protecting me from traffic, from joggers, bikers and dogs off leashes. She would give up her life for me. She is my biggest fan and my greatest supporter, my lifeguard and guardian. Gracie is my champion.
Saralee Perel is an award-winning nationally syndicated columnist. Please visit her website, especially if you'd like to see other stories about her four-footed caregiver, Gracie: www.saraleeperel.com
Copyright 2011 Saralee Perel. Permission is granted to send this to others, with attribution, but not for commercial purposes.