Grace the Wonder Dog (part 4)

The first adoption attempt had not gone in Grace’s favour. Sure, she’d wandered into the house chowing down on the exhumed skull of the recently deceased family pet, in front of the toddler and ten year old, but that’s just doggy grossness. Or calculated manipulation, the equivalent of the cocked head on one side, the fluttering of eyelashes above baby blue eyes, and the coy statement that ‘There were 3 of us in that marriage….’ There are few more disgusting or unacceptable things a new dog can do when its on a parole period for adoption. She made pretty sure they didn’t take to her. You had to hand it to this dog, she certainly got what she wanted. And she didn’t want to stay with that family.

So, back home she came, leaning on me in the car all the way home, her head finally resting in my lap and her eyes gazing up at me. Cocky was delighted, he cheered over the phone when I told him Gracie was coming back for a while. And the work of Educating Grace continued. Metaphorically I was tearing my hair out. Everything I read on the internet told me I would be looking after this rescue animal for a very long time. I advertised everywhere I could think of, and no-one took the bait. There was a race against time as well; I knew the longer she lived with me the harder it would be for me (and her) to separate, and I didn’t want to add to her troubles by causing her separation anxiety. The sooner I found her new owners the better. In the end it was lateral thinking and my sketchy knowledge of business (being a business English teacher, I must have absorbed it somewhere from some marketing seminar) that saved the day. I got to thinking that as it was going to be so hard to adopt her out, why not focus on her USP (Unique Selling Point)? Like Marks and Spencer I could sell her as ‘this isn’t just a rescue dog…. this dog is a Husky dog.’ There might be some husky-fancier out there who would fall for her Siberian charms. So I advertised her with photos on the biggest animal adoption database in Madrid.

That’s why a few weeks later I found myself in the car with Grace and TioPepe the Pimp, on a jolly to Navarra and on the way to a potential new home. A couple of days after I had posted the ad, a girl had called asking if they had any Huskies or Husky crosses. My number had been passed on, and here we were, negotiating a hand-over. The sketchy information I had from our phone conversations was that the girl was going to adopt the dog, but as part of the family. They were Argentinian and they lived in the countryside. They had a garden, they had always kept dogs, and they specifically wanted a rescue animal. Again, on paper it all looked great, but would the chemistry be there after all?

As it turned out, Grace and this family were a match made in heaven. By the time we left I felt like a matronly match-maker who had just pulled off a particularly beneficial matrimonial negotiation. Tio Pepe’s GPS took us straight to their door. We were met by a roly-poly family who warmly invited us in and upstairs for soft drinks, biscuits and a getting-to-know-you session. Grace took one look at the pale chintz sofa and went to jump up and make herself at home, but she sat obediently on the floor when informed that in this house doggies don’t get to sit on the sofa. As we chatted, and I recounted the story of her background and rescue, she sat quietly in between myself and the father who gently tickled her ears. A strange thing started to happen. Grace, who normally skulked in the presence of unknown men, seemed unable to take her eyes off him. Here was the weakest link, you see, right here was the target. Of all the family members, who obviously were dog lovers, here was the Soft Lad who didn’t just love dogs, he adored them. She leaned against his leg, she swivelled her snout to follow his every move and word. Her eyes started to roll with pleasure as he tickled her, and her head eventually came to rest on his lap. I could hear the faint strains of the soundtrack to Love Story piping up in the background.

On the other hand there may have been a simpler explanation than love at first sight. It could equally have been love at first smell. Daddy was a butcher by trade, it turned out, and for a carnivorous skull-chomping hound like Grace he must have smelled like one great big warm, succulent burger. Soon he suggested we go down to the garage and give her a snack. Himself a charicature of a butcher- tall, round as an egg and with rosy red cheeks, he was clearly moved by the tragic ribcage, the pathetic bony haunches and the Nancy Reagan carnival float head. In the garage the teenager took over. Dad handed her a huge bag of meat scraps ‘I bring this stuff back every day from work.’ he said, with a shrug. ‘There are 2 dogs next door and we feed them’. True enough, in the next door’s garden there were two sleek, well-fed dogs knocking themselves out against the fence because they had caught a glimpse of him. The girl began to feed Grace scraps. She sat eagerly poised like a kid waiting for sweeties, and very gently took each piece from the girl’s hand. There were chops, sausages, bits of steak, ham. Eventually Grace had eaten so much she began taking scraps and reluctantly hiding them in the corner of the garage, too puffed and full to even contemplate eating them. Dad smiled and said ‘I think she’s had enough for now, don’t you?’

We all agreed on an overnight stay. TioPepe and I had decided to go to Pamplona as it had been a long drive and we preferred to stay overnight somewhere interesting than drive straight back to Madrid. Consequently, if the next day they decided after all not to keep her, we coud pick her up on the way back. This allowed the family the chance to spend the night with the dog and see how she fitted in before making a decision. I didn’t want to pressure them to take her. Once again Grace barely looked at me as I got into the car. Hmm.. do I go with Mummy or do I stay at the House of Meat?….. oh well, they seem nice here….’

I knew these people were the right ones to adopt Grace because they fell in love with her after one night only, just as I fell in love with her under the olive tree after nothing more than a few meetings. They saw exactly what I saw- a noble, beautiful creature with a gentle disposition who would one day be strong, healthy and extremely fucking grateful. She was no fool. Dogs can have the emotional intelligence of a toddler, and a vocabulary of several hundred words. She had perfectly understood ‘I am going to get you out of here.’ Because I had rescued her she loved me and would do so for ever I imagine. But she also seemed to understand that she would be better off with these people in the long run. She seemed to understand the deal. Big house, big garden, long walks in the countryside, never left alone for more than four hours in the morning, fed fresh meat daily, doted on by a kind-natured family of Argentinian Weebles, what more could a dog ask for, really?

Cocky wept on the telephone when I told him.

‘I hate you….’ he whimpered into the phone, ‘You’ve taken my dog away from me. First my boyfriend’s left me, now my dog…. how could you? What reason have i got to get up in the morning now…’ He can be a touch dramatic, but he’s ever so good at it.

I cried too, but only after lights out in my cosy little alcove with the duvet rouched up around my neck. I’d given my wolf puppy away. The house was empty and silent without the clickety-clack of her claws on the parquet, her soft breathing at night and the finality of those great dog-sighs as she settled her muzzle onto her paws. Now there was just the ticking of the clock.

It was another six months or so before the pictures were emailed to me. Now I could physically see what my mind’s eye had always seen- a healthy strong animal. I could tell from her posture that she no longer staggered drunkenly, her head low and her nose close to the ground. Now she pranced like a Lipizzaner stallion, paws raised confidently and her head held high as she surveyed the world as though a little bit of it actually belonged to her. There was entitlement and sheer doggy intensity in those photographs. The family told me it had been difficult to take the photos as these days she never sits still ong enough. From a dog that was virtually comatose on my sofa for a month and a half, and who had useless, wasted limbs, that’s pretty good going. I immediately forwarded the photos to Cocky who replied shortly after ‘You are a bastard. You always know how to dig the knife in, how to make me cry.’ which wasn’t my intention. He did then go on to say she looked amazing and he was really happy for her.

A couple of months later I left the job. I had invested time, money (new suits) and a huge amount of energy into it, but Angel and Pili were at the end of their tether and I don’t think recruiting me had been thought through properly. It was mutually agreed that it wasn’t really working out. A couple of months after that the Summer came and the business went down the pan anyway. They headed for the hills and began their happy ending out in Soria. I was thrown back into the tricky, ever-diminishing job market. Beset by financial problems, denied unemployment benefits due to contractual complications, cursing myself for having given up another job for this one, and the proud owner of two new business suits I would hardly ever wear now, I sometimes asked myself why I had bothered going to work for them. But I knew (and know) that in fact there had been a point to the venture. Life often teaches us a sneaky lesson which is the opposite of what we were expecting from it. In this case I remain convinced that the reason I had to go and work for Angel and Pili for 6 months was purely to find and rescue Grace. It’s possibly the kindest, most philanthropic thing I’ve done in my life so far. She would never have lived through that winter. It was a cold one. Tied up out there she would have died of cold or starvation, or she would have died while giving birth yet again (the year before she had given birth in the snow alone, according to Angel and Pili). I only had to think of her life now compared to what it was, and a warm, contented feeling suffused me, as though I had weed myself. Her story for me is an inspirational rags to riches tale that illustrates how one kind deed can cause profound changes and reap abundant rewards. There are too many tragic blonds out there, too many sad endings. It was time to wrestle things out of the hands of the Gods and into my own and make a happy ending for once, and I had pulled it off. You never know who is going to turn up out of the blue and give you a helping hand. If there was hope of such a happy ending for Grace, whose life was so obviously screwed in every way imaginable, then there’s hope for all of us.

... but my heart belongs to Daddy...

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