Hippie Squared: Saving Gracie


a blogum by Jeff Rogers

My wife Elise saved Gracie more than once in those first months.

gracie-kitchen-at-the-beachOne evening in the spring of 1997 Elise was coming home and saw two dogs running along the sidewalk on Glendale Boulevard just south of Temple, not far from where we lived. She had the feeling they were lost or needed help, so she slowed the car and pulled up alongside them. She leaned over, pushed open the passenger door, and called, “Hey dogs!” The mottled one that would later become Gracie—dogs tend to change names when they change addresses—jumped in the car. The other, a black lab, shied away.

Elise was pretty sure she knew who these dogs were. For months she’d seen a homeless man in the park at the corner of Glendale and Temple. He had three dogs, a mottled gray and black dog, a black lab and a yellow lab. She wasn’t positive Gracie was one of those dogs, but she was pretty sure.

Meanwhile back at the craftsman guest house in Angelino Heights, I was sitting on the couch minding my own business, when I heard an unusually heavy and quick set of footsteps on our wooden porch. I had the front door open, but the safety door was closed so I couldn’t see very far through the white paint the landlord had slathered on it before we moved in. But when Elise approached the door I saw that she had a double armful of dog.

Elise has always maintained that the dog looked at her and told Elise that her name was Gracie. Eventually Elise added the last name Kitchen. So Gracie Kitchen was her full name, but generally she just went by Gracie.

It wasn’t long before Elise noticed her prominent teats and decided she must be pregnant. Elise cleared out a hall closet and lined it with blankets to make a den for her. Gracie recognized its purpose and moved in.

Gracie had her first small seizure the day before she gave birth.

Elise didn’t know what she was seeing. She also leaked some green fluid from her vagina. Worrisome, but again, who knew what it meant. When Gracie was ready to give birth she came and found Elise to let her know. The first puppy came out dead. That explained the green stuff. The rest were fine, four little blind wriggling things, looking like that black lab had been their father. But with Gracies’brown and black face mask.

Within a day or so Gracie had her first grand mal seizure. On her side in her den, paddling her feet and working her mouth spasmodically. While we waited for the test results at the vet Gracie was frantic to get back to her pups. She was diagnosed with distemper. Conventional veterinarians consider distemper to be a pretty reliable death sentence. But Elise had already been studying herbalism, natural diet and healing for animals for a few years. She consulted with Juliet DeBarcli-Levy, an old master herbalist in England, who prescribed skullcap and garlic for the seizures. The seizures stopped. In fact, when Elise thought they had ended and stopped giving the skullcap, Gracie seized once more. Elise immediately put her back on the medicine. No more seizures. Elise has since cured several adult dogs and a litter of puppies of distemper. She’s also a whizz with parvo, but those are stories for another day.

However, the puppies all died, one by one, within a few days. Gracie continued to try to lick and nurse them. Elise removed them one by one and Gracie seemed confused.

The only lasting legacy Gracie had from her illness was a dry patch on her nose. Distemper dries out the nose and the footpads. Elise treated them with calendula. Gracie’s healed up almost completely, except for that little rough patch, which you might not even notice if you didn’t know her tale.

All of our dogs are rescues. I’ve often thought about the Dickensian life of stray dogs. I look at our dogs and wonder at the adventures they had before they came to us. Who were their parents? Were they abandoned? Did they run away? How many intermediate caretakers did they have before they found us? How many names did they wear?

A couple of years after Elise rescued Gracie, a young Latino guy named Luis bought the duplex across the street and moved in with his family. One day he saw us out walking Gracie, Red and Susan. He recognized Gracie. He said she had belonged to a homeless guy who used to come to the church across from Echo Park for handouts. Luis volunteered at the church. The homeless guy had left the dogs because he’d had to go back East for a family emergency and had no way to take them with him. So Elise had been right. Gracie had been one of those dogs.

But it didn’t end there. Turns out that Gracie, the scruffy, snarky alpha, boss of our motley pack, a crotchety biddy to be sure but nevertheless a dog of great guarded dignity—whom I miss like hell incidentally—when she had resided in the park with her husband the black lab and her former human, she had worn, uncomfortably I feel quite sure, the name Smurf.

No wonder she told Elise to call her Gracie.