In Loving Memory of Gracie: My Emotional Support Dog



As an adult, I have had three pets – Winnie, Roxie, and Gracie. My daughter was 5 years old when we got Winnie, a beautiful Labrador-golden retriever mix. She looked just like a golden retriever, but she was black. She had a wonderful disposition, as most golden retrievers do. My daughter, parents, neighbors, and all my parents’ grandchildren loved her. She died after my daughter’s first semester of college at age 14. I drove her home to my mom and dad’s and buried her there. Eight years later, I got a grey American Staffordshire terrier. She was a beautiful pup, gray with a white thumbprint on her forehead, white paws and crystal blue eyes. She was only 10 weeks old and weighed 3 pounds 7 ounces. On her first day with me, she wandered along the baseboard of my dining room, crying for her mother, brothers, and sisters. I bought baby formula to feed her. I cuddled her and carried her around, swaddled in a blanket. She slept under my shirt during the day or on my neck at night. She was content, and so was I.

Her gray coat and blue eyes changed to brindle, and she grew to 65 pounds. She was strikingly beautiful. On walks in the neighborhood, strangers remarked on her beauty. When Gracie was on a walk, she seemed to say “peace” to everyone, as one ear was forward and the other backward in a peace sign. She was always nearby, either following me around or burrowed behind me on the sofa sleeping. When Gracie was about 3 years old, I rescued Roxie. That wasn’t part of my plan, but I thought Gracie needed company and Roxie needed a home. Roxie was a pit bull-mix with coloring like a brown and white cow. Roxie was timid, shy and quiet, while Gracie was loud, bossy and rambunctious. They were a great pair.

Roxie had five good years with Gracie and me. She passed away at 14 years old in the summer of 2019. I began working remotely when COVID-19 started. It was just Gracie and me. I often told my oldest sister of Gracie’s exploits. Perhaps I talked about Gracie too often. She always laughed and asked about Gracie when we talked. One day she told me, “When you call and tell me what Gracie said, I will know that it is time for me to pick you up and have you placed somewhere.” On another occasion, I sent her a picture of a slice of bread smeared with peanut butter cut into six pieces with a baby carrot in the center of each piece served on a salad plate. My sister asked, “Is that your lunch?” I told her, “No, that’s for Gracie.”

Of course, Gracie never spoke, but we communicated daily. I asked, “How did you sleep?” I told her she was a pretty girl. I commented to her about whatever I watched on TV, and she always listened attentively. She sighed contentedly during a belly rub, and when I tucked her in at night with a blanket. Gracie communicated that it was time to eat as if she had an internal alarm clock. At 6:00 a.m., 12 noon, and 4:00 p.m., she barked to let me know what time it was. Obediently, I got up to feed her. We played fetch, but she wasn’t very good at it. She never brought the ball back. She loved playing tug-of-war. To break up the monotony of being stuck indoors during COVID-19, I chased her around the house, and we danced. I also dropped raisins and cranberries around the house, and she loved to prowl around looking for them.

Gracie and Roxie loved sleeping in the sun. When it was just Gracie and me, Gracie would bark at me to move her bed as the sun moved. On a sunny afternoon, I would move her bed at least two or three times. Bath time was a special time for Gracie. She followed me upstairs, and with a little help, she happily got into my soaker tub. Her favorite part of the bath was drying off with a warm towel out of the dryer. She burrowed her head into the towel between my knees for a good “drying off.” Then she would take off running with the towel.

Gracie didn’t do tricks, but she had the uncanny ability to catch a fly. She was not a guard dog either. She barked if there was a knock at the door. Anyone behind the door was welcome to come in to pat her and tell her how pretty she was. If there were an unexpected sound in the house, she would look at me as if to say, “Are you going to check that out?” She followed behind me or stayed where she was as I went to seek and destroy. The intruder was usually a piece of ice that had fallen from the ice maker. If I asked her, she would eat the ice that fell from the dispenser onto the floor, so I didn’t have to pick it up.

Last summer, Gracie’s hip dysplasia worsened. I built a ramp, but it only helped for a little while. I started sleeping downstairs because she was afraid to go upstairs. Slowly, her mental status changed, and she only wanted to sleep. When she was hesitant to come to me, I knew then that our time together was coming to an end. I cried because I knew what I had to do. I took her to the veterinarian in February. Gracie loved to ride in the car. She came willingly for that final ride. Although it was painful, she came down the front steps and allowed me to help her into the back seat. She never laid down on a ride. She was always between the front seats of my Mini Cooper convertible, drooling and breathing on me. This time, she lay in the back seat on a Vera Wang comforter for the entire ride.

I needed help to get her out. She refused to go inside with the vet tech. She waited for me. I took her inside and ran back out to park my car. The veterinarian confirmed that it was time. I lay on the floor and cuddled my girl close to me. I stroked her head and told her that I loved her and that she was a pretty girl. She was gone in just minutes. I didn’t tell anyone about Gracie for over 24 hours. I told my daughter first, and she came home to be with me for the weekend. I told my family several days later because telling someone about it, even those who loved her too, caused me to relive those final moments. I just wanted to be alone with my loss.

This was not the first time I had lost a pet. But, two months later, Gracie’s beds were still in the same place. Somehow, I couldn’t move them. I felt sad much of the time. But because I was working, I thought I was okay. I finally admitted to myself that I wasn’t. I was very sad and lonely. I had it all wrong. Yes, I took care of Gracie, but she also took care of me. She was not just a pet; she provided endless emotional support to me. She was a constant companion at a stage in life when I was more alone than I had ever been. Her presence helped to relieve my stress and anxiety, and her love and attention was unconditional. I changed my mind about getting another dog. At the end of June, I picked up Willow, a miniature poodle. She is gorgeous. She was the last of her litter, alone for almost four months. She needs me, and I need her. This time I know that she is my gift to myself – part of my personal self-care – my therapy.

Kelva Edmunds-Waller, DNP, RN, CCM, has over 40 years of nursing experience, including over 20 years in leadership roles. She has clinical experience in acute care, home health, infusion therapy, public health, managed care and long-term acute care. Kelva earned a DNP degree at Loyola University New Orleans and an MSN and BSN at Virginia Commonwealth University. She serves as president of the Central Virginia Chapter of CMSA and is a member of the CMSA Editorial Board.

Photos by Kelva Edmunds-Waller


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