When the riding student arrived, she approached us with a little thing in her arms that at first we thought was a baby monkey because of her coloring in the small dog blanket. It quickly became aware that, no, this was no monkey but a little pup instead and it was clear that she was uncomfortable and in pain. Charyl examined her, quickly realized that there was something seriously wrong with her spine and decided to take her to the vet in the morning. She tried to bring her inside but Gretchen (named because of her appearing to have some rottweiler in her) wanted no part of it. Instead, she was put in a large box in an empty horse stall in the barn to block any wind with three blankets for warmth and a small, warming night light. She dozed right off. We checked her several times before bed and found her comfy and asleep, but her breathing was strong and even.
The next day, Gretchen was taken to the vet for an exam. The good news was that she was not hit by a car but the bad news was she had been born with a spinal defect. While the vet thought that Gretchie would be better off being put to sleep, he did admit that sometimes dogs grow out of the problem and in such cases can live an active life. It would, however, likely return over time with age. My Dr. Dolittle opted for life and the vet suggested a few herbal remedies that might be helpful, diet suggestions and he said to get her exercising as soon as possible, just don't push her too hard. Fetching a ball was recommended as the best since dogs naturally take to it with a little practice.
Well, my assigned task with this cute little dog that soon captured my heart was to play catch with Gretchen every afternoon after work. The first time we tried it didn't go so well. She walked over to where the ball landed, looked at it and just walked away, but with daily attempts it wasn't long before she was actually running after it, then retrieving it and dropping it at my feet. If I didn't do it again, she would look at me with a cocked head and bark, then paw the ground. In no time at all she was waiting for me at the gate with a ball in her mouth. She was relentless and her pain was gone and she was as happy a dog as I had ever seen as long as she got to play fetch.
One day I came home and she had lost her ball, so she was sitting at the gate with a large stick in her mouth. It didn't matter what it was, she would fetch it and her pain was gone. She got along well with the other animals, even the big dogs and horses and she was right at home. She would never come inside, however, she was clearly an outdoor dog and loved the barn. But in the early morning, she would hear me moving around in the kitchen making coffee and would bark at the door for her good morning biscuit. She was accompanied in doing so by Yeardley, a Springer spaniel rescue who will provide the next story. Her tail was always wagging and her eyes were soft and kind and her active life with us went on for over ten years.
Then one morning I made coffee and was drinking that special first cup and realized Gretchie wasn't barking for her biscuit. I walked over to her normal sleeping place and there she was wagging her tail but as she tried to rise, her hind quarters were paralyzed. The dreaded situation the vet had warned us of those years earlier was taking place. But bless her heart, she dragged her hind end out into the sunshine and just looked at me as if asking for help. I made her comfortable but we knew this was the end. She was put to sleep, taken out of her misery and we buried her right by the gate where she waited for me to play fetch.
For the first couple of weeks as I drove home from work, I looked forward to my daily rendezvous with Gretchie and the ball until it finally sank in that she was not going to be there. But I'll tell you something that will never be forgotten. I'll never forget the grit, determination and desire to live and live well that she showed. It should be an inspiration for anyone when the going gets tough. All of our rescue dogs have provided inspiration from the ordeal they went through before finding a good home, but none could do it better and with more class than Gretchen, our miracle dog. She lives on in our hearts.