Another guest post by my wonderful dad, written when Gracie-the-dog died more than twelve years ago. She was a good dog.
The sign is what finally did it. Day in and day out, week after week, its message insidiously worked its way into my brain until one day I could no longer offer any resistance. Many of you will remember the sign. Perhaps some of you happily fell victim to it as well.
It was a large stuffed dog, situated along the Main Road in Southold. Attached to it was a simple–almost crude–hand-lettered sign that read, “Adopt a good dog for your home.” I always liked the sign, because of its homely, rustic charm, and because of the way it was worded. Implicit in the message, as I read it, was the idea that every home ought to have a dog, and a good one at that.
Now you must understand that I am not an animal person, and particularly had no use for canines. Although amused by that homemade sign, I by no means agreed with it. “The day you bring a dog into this house,” I would periodically intone with all the gravitas I could muster, “is the day I move out and set up a cot in the office!” That my long-suffering wife never took advantage of such an attractive offer is something that I have never thought about until I began this paragraph, but that, I suppose, is another story.
One fine August afternoon, wife and daughter took off in the old station wagon, bound for the Southold Animal Shelter. The mission of the day was to obtain a kitten. Cats had also long been on my list of household pests to be avoided at all costs, but I had previously given in. Dogs, however, remained out of the question.
I knew something was up when they came back armed with identical Cheshire cat grins, always the mark of some plot afoot. Any man with at least one daughter knows what I mean. “We found a kitten,” they announced, “and we also found a dog–a great dog, who doesn’t bark, shed, lick or slobber, and who is good on a leash.”
About the only dog I could think of that fit this description was the stuffed dog advertising the Shelter, but I knew this wasn’t going to be that easy. “Honey,” concluded the mother of my child, “if ever you were going to accept a dog in the house, it would be this one!” As though in a dream, I heard myself agree to go to the Shelter to “have a look” at this remarkable beast.
To this day I think it was that sign.
Brainwashing, they call it — subliminal seduction. I thought it was illegal.
The wonder dog in question turned out to be an American Staffordshire Terrier, which, as we soon found out, is the official AKC version of what is commonly known as a Pit Bull. They said she was a mix, but anyone who knows the breed could tell that there wasn’t much of anything else in the alleged mix. For a modest adoption fee we became the proud new owners of an abused and twice-abandoned young Pit Bull, with the apparently incongruous name of “Gracie.”
Forget everything that you think you know about Pit Bulls; it is all myth. This dog was surely the sweetest, gentlest animal ever to draw breath on God’s green earth. Everywhere–and I do mean everywhere–we went, people were drawn to her, almost magically. People who don’t care for dogs found themselves petting her. Dog lovers gushed over her. At the sight of her, tiny children in strollers cried out, “puppy dog,” stretching out their little hands for a touch. All who drew near were cheerfully greeted–dare I say rewarded–with a wagging tail, a friendly lick, and that distinctive, silly Pit Bull grin. She was, as everyone always said, “a great dog.”
Last week, exactly eleven years after that fateful visit to the Southold Shelter, I had to dig her final resting place in our yard, as my wife and daughter took Gracie for her last ride in the car. Cancer, it was — a fast-growing thyroid tumor that was choking the life out of her. Putting her down was the only thing left to do.
Whenever I am confronted with a death — even the death of an animal — I am reminded afresh of the relentless and inexorable passage of time. When Gracie entered our lives she was just out of puppy status, I was a young man, and my little girl was, well, a little girl. Now the little girl is finishing college, I am middle-aged (the careful reader will note that I tactfully and wisely avoid all reference to my wife’s age), and Gracie, our faithful dog, is gone.
As I dug her grave — in one of her favorite spots in the yard–I thought of all that had taken place during the last decade, all that we had gone through as a family. Where does the time go? I thought of all these things as I worked my way down into the earth from which we come, and to which we will all go, tears unashamedly mingling with the sweat from my brow.
Remarkable animals, dogs are. All they ask of life is a place by our fires and the scraps from our tables. In a world in which everything — and everyone, it seems — has a price, they love with a simple, unabashed devotion that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Not only have they much to give, but they have much to teach as well.
The quaint stuffed dog and accompanying sign are long gone now, victims of either the passage of time or perhaps some new Town code. The Southold Animal Shelter is, happily, still in business, and to them we offer our sincerest thanks. Gracie truly was “a good dog for our home.”