Sunday afternoon came. Sharon knocked on the Perkins’ front door. Their hearts were pounding with anticipation, excitement, and just a little bit of uncertainty about the future of their little dog. Just as with the previous phone conversation that Lynne had with Sharon, this meeting went just as well. The bond was there. Sharon sat on the couch looking at Gracie, talking to her, and trying not to frighten her on their first meeting. She told Lynne about the work she did with the Alzheimer patients and her intentions to include Gracie as an encouragement to the residents she sat with. Sharon knew from the first moment she laid eyes on Gracie that she wanted to take this little one home with her. When Lynne asked Sharon what she thought, she immediately said, “Oh yes, I want her.”
Even though this had been an answer to prayer for the Perkins family, the reality of sending off little Gracie brought such a wave of emotion; it took them both by surprise. Tears began pouring from Lynne’s eyes, and Dan had to excuse himself, leaving the room with great sobs. Sharon was so touched that she said, “Oh please don’t cry. I don’t have to take her.”
“No, no,” Lynne said, “This is right. I know you are the perfect one for her, it’s just that I love her so much.”
Sharon, being so kind and understanding, said, “Its ok. If you find that you cannot bear to let her go, I will bring her back anytime. Just call me and I will understand.”
“No really, I will be ok,” Lynne responded. “I want her to go with you. She has a mission to accomplish, and I cannot provide her with the opportunities that you can. But I will want to see her from time to time. Is that okay?”
“Of course,” Sharon said, “Anytime.”
Then Gracie left with her new companion. Dan and Lynne cried together all that rainy Sunday afternoon. One week later, Lynne called Sharon to see how her beloved dog was doing. Sharon was so excited! “You will never believe what happened,” she said. “Our first night at the retirement home was so amazing. I have been staying with Ms. Bailey and it has always been such a struggle to get her to sleep. She is so restless and most of the time can’t remember where she is.
When we arrived, Gracie jumped from my arms and ran directly to where Ms. Bailey was sitting in her favorite recliner. It was so strange because, she had never seen this lady before in her life, but it was if she knew her somehow. Of course, Ms. Bailey was thrilled to have a dog to pet once again. She said she missed her own pet so much since coming to Pinehaven. She talked to Gracie, combed her hair, and petted her until they both fell asleep. Gracie never moved all night, and neither did her “patient.” It was the first time Ms. Bailey had ever slept all night since I began staying with her. When morning came, Gracie gave her a big lick on the face and off we went. This happened again and again, night after night.”
But Ms. Bailey wasn’t the only person to whom she brought joy. Sometimes Sharon would have to call and call down the hall of the retirement facility to find where Gracie had spent the night. Often she would come hopping out of the kitchen, where she had found bits of supper on the floor from the previous night. The joy she brought to the residents of Pinehaven could not be measured. It was hard to tell who was being blessed the most, the humans or that special little Yorkie.
One afternoon, Sharon took Gracie to a special wing of the retirement facility, which was locked at all times. These patients had the most severe cases of Alzheimer’s. One man in particular, Mr. Williams, cried from waking in the morning until he fell asleep at night. This went on, day after day, night after night. Nothing anyone could say or do could reach him. This particular day was to be eventful, especially for him. As Sharon entered the special wing, she closed and locked the door behind her. Gracie leaped from her arms, eager to greet each new friend. She went from lady to man, licking fingers, jumping in laps, and running with her special hopping manner. Laughter exploded all around her as happy memories of pets, once loved and now left behind, flashed in the minds of the residents. Then Sharon’s eyes rested on Mr. Williams. She had never seen him when he wasn’t crying. In fact, evidence of his tears still remained on his face, but he was not crying any longer. The sight of this little furry bundle of joy brought a smile to his time worn face. Sharon was speechless. She stood and watched as Gracie went to him as if to say, “Everything is all right now. No more need for tears today.”
Gracie greeted each and every person, making sure that all had a chance to know that she found them special, even at this time of their lives, when even their own families may be absent. Time and again, Gracie worked this special “magic” around the handicapped, mentally challenged, and just the aged ones who needed to know that they were loved unconditionally. Each morning, after the evening shift was over, Gracie left her friends and joined Sharon in a new adventure. The two were never separated; they shared everything, even ice cream cones from the local Dairy Queen, where of course, Gracie got her very own vanilla cone.
There was not a place they went or a person they knew that did not realize that Amazing Gracie was very special. Sharon traveled quite a bit in her blue van, and Gracie was just as much at home there as anywhere. She would jump back and forth from seat to seat, eating her food, using the “puppy pad” for the bathroom and sometimes just playing. Sharon even taught the little Yorkie to ride in a backpack for their trips on the airplane. She would zip her into the pack with nothing but her furry little head peeking out. She would ride, contentedly knowing that she was safe and the world belonged to her.
Gracie has taken her last airplane ride for a while. Texas has become her home away from home now. Sharon’s mother is her temporary guardian, or should it be said that Gracie is her temporary guardian. She has taken over the role of caregiver to Ms. Graham. Since breaking her hip, her movements are a bit shaky and walking is done slowly and carefully. When Ms. Graham has to go to another room, Gracie walks just one step ahead of her new friend, watching for anything that is out of place. If a shoe or newspaper is not where it should be, Gracie barks to let Ms Graham know that her next step has an obstacle. Without fail, she will look down and see the object misplaced and then go around it.
Gracie has prevented several mishaps from taking place. Sharon’s brother, James, stayed a week with his mother after Sharon came home to Alabama, and he was utterly amazed at the therapy skills this little animal possessed. He told Sharon, “If anything is out of place anywhere in the house, Gracie goes to it, sits down on it, and barks repeatedly until I come and put it up. “Did you teach her that?” he asked Sharon one day.
“No,” Sharon said, “Somehow she just knows.”
The community Ms. Graham lives in is a retirement village with friendly faces all around. Her next-door neighbor, Ms. Danfield, has taken a special liking to “Little Angel,” as Sharon’s mother calls Gracie. So much so that both ladies installed “doggie doors” on the back of their homes so that Gracie can come and go as she pleases. Sometimes, she stays the night with Ms. Danfield, but even when she sleeps at home, every morning she scoots out the doggie door to have morning coffee with her next-door neighbor.
When will Gracie’s mission end? Sharon does not know. She misses her so badly and cries almost every day since coming home without her. “Gracie made the choice to stay,” Sharon remembers. “Mother put her down and I called her repeatedly and asked her to jump in her backpack to board the plane with me. I had a ticket for her and everything. She had never refused before. It was then that I knew that she was staying for a reason. The joy that she brings my mother is so obvious that I could never take her back, not right now anyway.”
Will Gracie ever come home to live again? “I don’t know,” Sharon says. “My heart wants her to come home, but I have decided that she doesn’t really belong to me anymore.” She belongs to those in need of a reason to live, a reason to laugh, a reason to be encouraged, and a reason to be loved.
Lynne asked Sharon, “Will you ever get another dog if she doesn’t come home?”
“I don’t know,” Sharon said.
Lynne already knew the answer to that question. “The next litter of puppies we have will have a special one born just for you. And if you send that one out on a mission, more will come.”
What you sow, that shall you also reap. When you give something out of a heart filled with love, it shall be given back unto you in great measure.
God bless you, little Gracie, with long life to serve mankind.
Part 1 | Part 2