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Gracie is gone

A personal story of loss by Diana Kastner

Two days ago, I lost my heartdog. I don't even know how to feel right now. I'm hurting. Gracie hasn't been the first dog I have lost, but this time it is hitting me especially hard. Two days ago, we lost Gracie, and I want to tell you all about it. I feel the need to write, and I want to tell you about the important role Comfort Touch has played in all of this. If I can reach just one person, if this helps just one dog, cat, horse or other animal, it was worth telling Gracie's story.

How we met

Gracie was about 13 or 14 years old; maybe even older. We don't really know, All we knew about her was that she lived in the woods in our neighborhood in Tennessee, and that she has raised at least three litters of pups by hunting and stealing our neighbors' chickens, ducks and geese. I remember the first time I met her - a little over 10 years ago. I was fixing a section of pasture fence when she walked up to me in a straight line and stared directly into my eyes. I fell for her right then and there. To me, she was the most fascinating animal ever. A few months later, she gave birth to 8 pups under our neighbor's house - it's were the pups' daddy lived, and Gracie needed him to tend to the pups while she was out and about finding food. Eventually, we would foster the pups and find homes for them. Gracie, on the other hand, was to stay with us. She was tame enough, but in a wild way. She was different, and we didn't want a possible adopter to treat her like any other dog.

For the past ten years, Gracie would call the shots in our relationship. She knew what she needed, and she knew how to communicate her needs to us. Back then, I still believed in "training"; strangely, I never had the desire to train her ... I tried, but Gracie wanted no part of it, and I quickly dropped that idea. Today, I know that every dog guardian should be with a dog in the way Gracie expected us to be with her - without expectations but with honest emotional connection.

Fastforward to April 27th

It was 12:20 am, when our other dog Lucy woke me up to Gracie's struggles. Gracie had a couple of these episodes before - maybe about three weeks ago. They were mild and only lasted a few minutes. This one was different. More severe. Scarier. As before, Gracie had difficulties with her balance, kind of like someone who drank a bit too much. Disoriented and confused, she staggered outside. I knew that she couldn't see that well anymore, but I wasn't prepared for total blindness that night. Anyway, here is a short clip of the beginning of Gracie's ordeal.

The first thing that came to mind was a stroke. She quickly lost all ability to walk, and I needed to use her harness to help her back inside. The laundry room was as far as we could get, and thus the place for us to camp out together.

Gracie was seemingly distressed. Panting hard. Her eyes were darting left right left right; it went on for hours. Could it be Vestibular Disease? Maybe something else? I started calling the closest ER vet but hung up again. How would I get her there in the middle of the night? She couldn't walk. How would I get her all the way through the house, down the steps and into the minivan? We both needed rest. I lied down on my makeshift bed and reached for her. Her heavy panting stopped instantly.

I got tired and eventually stopped petting her. Guess what Gracie did. Barely able to move, she repeatedly tapped the floor with her front paw. I petted her again, and again, she instantly calmed down. Then she put her paw on my arm. She wanted me to cup her face in my hands and gently rub her forehead with my thumbs ... something we have done for years. The release of endogenous opioids worked wonders. Shortly before sunup, she finally found some rest.

It stormed 30 minutes before we took Gracie to the vet. Lucy and I went on our walk just in time. It was a painful yet strangely beautiful morning. My heart was breaking for Gracie, but walking Lucy, hearing the thunder, the sight of the beautiful yet dangerous sky, breathing the cool clean morning air ... it was healing, if only for a short moment. I'm grateful for that moment; it helped me deal with what was to come.

With a fresh mind, I figured out how I could move Gracie to the car. At this point, Gracie was unable to move most of her body. The head tilt was severe. Carefully, and with the help of a towel, I placed her on a piece of cardboard, and little by little I scooted her through the house and towards the front door. I say little by little, as we took several cuddle breaks to keep releasing the much-needed endogenous opioids through Comfort Touch. Gracie was a trooper.

Goodbye Gracie

Gracie's quiet presence embodied everything good in this world. She was extraordinary, she was humble, beautiful and just good through and through.

At the clinic, we discussed the possibility of Vestibular Disease, however, given the severity of Gracie's condition and how quickly it progressed, given Gracie's sudden complete blindness and the "paralysis", the vet believed the underlying cause to have been a tumor.

For the last time, my hands would cup her sweet face ... until she went to sleep. Goodbye, sweet, sweet Gracie.

Please keep an eye out for Skinny, Sharpie and Lilu, and if you can, please try to find Bazi, Sara and Liesl, too, and tell them that we love them and miss them.

Of emotional connection and Comfort Touch

This article is to help me grief. I know it's not the best writing. I am sad, and I am hurting; still, I wanted to get a point across. I don't expect to find closure any time soon, yet, there is solace in knowing how our emotional connection has made Gracie's passing peaceful for her. And there was laughter in my tears when, despite everything, she told me in no uncertain terms that we cuddled enough ... only minutes before she went to sleep. Yes, even at the very end, even when all hope was gone, she called the shots in our relationship.

And with this, I want to encourage you all to make an extra effort to meet your dog, your cat or any other animal friend on an emotional level; make emotional connection a priority. All dogs need the kind of connection Gracie and I shared; all dogs need some degree of Comfort Touch, to help release endogenous opioids; they are calming, and they also help manage your dog's pain when it matters most. Don't let your assumption that your dog doesn't want it stop you from building that relationship. Sometimes, when a brain hasn't learned yet that Comfort Touch is an option for endogenous opioid release, we may have to teach the brain slowly, but believe me, the need is there. And if you don't know how to go about it, please reach out to an ADB Coach.

Thank you for reading about Gracie and thank you for connecting with your dog.

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