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Emma Bower met the rescue Chinese Crested-Chihuahua mix eight years ago, and she credits Gracie with changing her life forever.
The sound of a dog’s bark can mean so many things. It could be anything from a hello to a warning. To 10-year old Emma Bowers, it was the sound of hope. Now 19, Emma fondly remembers the first time she heard her dog Gracie’s voice. She was in the car with her father — something that wasn’t unusual since her parents had recently separated and were living three hours apart.
“I heard a dog bark, and my dad made me feel like I was crazy,” Emma remembers. “When we stopped, I checked the back because I heard a bark again — and there was a dog in the back seat.”
For the pre-teen Emma, seeing a little Chinese Crested–Chihuahua mix in her father’s car was like a dream come true. She had desperately wanted a dog, and fell in love with Gracie’s big brown eyes the second they met her own.
“She had a cute Chihuahua face and the naked body. She was the sweetest girl ever,” she remembers.
It’s tempting to cast a puppy in the role of the backseat barker when imagining this scene that could so easily fit into a TV movie, but Gracie was already 2 years old when Emma’s dad sprung her from Ontario SPCA Renfrew County Animal Centre in Petawawa, Canada.
Gracie was lucky — rescuers had plucked her from a roadside where she’d gone for days without food or water. The hairless dog’s condition indicated a possible history of abuse, but she was great with kids and was just what Emmas’ father was looking for.
“My dad could have easily gone to a pet store and gotten a dog — and that dog would have been wonderful because all dogs are — but the soul and depth of a dog that’s in a shelter is unreal,” Emma explains. “Gracie’s personality and soul and uniqueness changed my life forever.”
From the moment of their surprise introduction, Emma and Gracie were completely inseparable. They took walks together before learning how to run together. They ate together, played together, and slept together.
“She’d crawl underneath the blankets, and we’d cuddle up next to each other and fall asleep every night.”
Gracie quickly got used to her new family’s custody arrangement, making the three-hour road trip to Emma’s mom’s house every weekend. According to Emma, the only time she was separated from her dog was during the school day. Gracie’s constant companionship proved invaluable in 2010 when Emma’s mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, further complicating an already difficult adolescence.
“I think definitely she gave me the confidence I needed. No matter what — if at school I had a hard day or dealing with my mom’s sickness or my family’s issues — she would be there at home. She would be the one consistent thing in my life.”
Gracie’s unconditional love inspired Emma to advocate for rescue animals and against puppy mills and backyard breeders. Because a Chinese Crested-Chihuahua mix isn’t exactly the typical breed found wandering Canadian roadsides, Emma believes Gracie must have been intentionally bred before she was dumped.
“A combination like that in a pet store runs for like a $1,000 plus,” she says, adding that a chance encounter at a drive-thru window leads her to believe Gracie might have been the product of backyard breeding in particular.
“The girl at the window says ‘Gracie! It’s you!’, and Gracie kind of got scared,” explains Emma, who was sitting in the passenger seat with Gracie on her lap at the time. “You could see Gracie kind of tense up, her eyes got big, her tail went between her legs, and she kind of like crouched down towards me more.”
Emma was shocked. She hadn’t changed Gracie’s name after the adoption, as she and her father both felt the name on the shelter records suited the dog. The woman working the drive-thru window volunteered that she still had a few of Gracie’s sisters, giving Emma the impression that Gracie may have been born in her home.
Gracie likely entered the world under less-than-ideal circumstances, but she left it knowing that she was extremely loved. After eight years by Emma’s side, Gracie passed away on March 17, 2014, after a battle with pancreatitis and possible stomach cancer.
“Even though she’s not here today, she still gives me the confidence I need today to go out and speak about adoption awareness and puppy mills and where those dogs come from,” says Emma, who was 17 years old when Gracie passed.
In her grief, Emma decided to support dogs like Gracie, and spent the first year after Gracie’s death collecting toys, treats, and other items for the shelter where her best friend once lived. Eventually, Emma started The Gracie Fund, raising cash for shelter dogs in need.
It’s now been more than a decade since a little girl thought she heard a bark in the back seat. Emma is now a successful athlete, college student, and retail manager — and she credits Gracie with helping her achieve the life that she has today. Her short-term goal is to graduate in the next year and a half and move into an apartment that will allow her to adopt again. Her long-term goal is to use her skills and the lessons Gracie taught her to open up her own non-profit animal shelter.
“I am saving for the shelter, to open up that in honour of Gracie and hopefully create many more stories like the one I had for other people and their dogs.”
Heather is a wife, new mom, and former TV journalist in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. You can follow Heather on Twitter and Google+.
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