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Gracie was born in 1995. She was one of three fawns, a male and two females, in a litter of eight. The rest were blacks. We kept her partly because of her personality. From the very start it was clear she was very un-Dane like. We joke that she is really a Golden Retriever in a Great Dane suit. I just didn't feel it was fair to ask someone to try to deal with a dog as big as she was going to get, and as wild as she was. Now that doesn't mean my wife and I don't love her like crazy. We did right from the start, and it is inconceivable to us now that we could ever have lived without her. Gracie was to be "my" dog and she and I bonded very closely. To this day she and I dote on one another. Her off-beat personality wasn't the only reason we kept her, however. Even as a puppy it was clear to us there was something special about Gracie. She had a warm, loving spirit that operated from a base of pure trust. She just naturally embraced everyone she met and showered them with love and affection. She also was certain that the universe revolved around her and that everyone and everything was put on this earth just for her. Her sense of wonder and joy were simply infectious.
Gracie was pretty much the runt of the litter and has never weighed more than 110-115 lb. To this day she is shorter and stockier than the rest of the litter. When she was a puppy she went though a phase where she outweighed most of the rest of the litter, simply because she seemed to be adding weight rather than size. But they all soon outgrew her again and she was back to being the smallest of the bunch. But through it all, she has always been the top female. She has a dominant personality and she just assumed the role of top pup. She never had to fight with any of the other pups, just assert herself, and they would always back down. We frequently baby-sat her sister, Lucy. Lucy was much taller than Gracie but she was also much thinner built. For the first couple years she was always submissive to Gracie. But one visit all that changed. Lucy came in and simply refused to be dominated. She played to win, something she had never done before, and Gracie soon found herself the one on her back in their play fighting. While this didn't phase Gracie a bit, it was heartening to see Lucy finally come into her own and stand up for herself. We heard just a week or so ago that Lucy died from what the vet thinks was a form of lung cancer. It was very, very sudden. Their vet was scheduled to stop by that day about a sick horse, and only hours before the vet arrived Lucy started acting strange. By the time the vet got there it was already too late to do anything and she was put down almost right away. We were very sad to hear about this and her owners are still too upset to even talk much about it.
other fawn sibling, her brother Caesar, is living happily on a big rural
county park. His owners are the caretakers of the park. We had not spoken
to them in quite some time, and a few months ago we got a knock on our door.
It was one of her owners who just stopped by to tell us how Caesar was doing
and to invite us out sometime. We haven't gone out there yet, but he told us Caesar grew up to be a very *big* boy. Caesar got his
name because we told the owners to name him something that sounded like CS.
We had taken to calling him that because he was so timid. Everyone dominated
him and he was scared of nearly everything. We started jokingly calling him
CS short for chicken... well you get the idea. They came up with Caesar which
we thought was great. It was an easy transition from CS to Caesar for him,
name was much better for a Dane, especially the big regal Dane
he grew up to be. The owners tell us he is not scared of anything anymore,
by the way.
Early on it became clear Gracie had two speeds, crazy and cuddly. When she was awake and active all she wanted to do was play. She could play for days on end. Her other speed, cuddly, is what she uses when she is sleepy. She wants nothing more than to curl up in someone's lap, or snuggle up against them, and purr. As wild as she is most times, that's how loving and cuddly she is when it's sleepytime. She is very vocal at all times, but her cooing and purring when it is cuddle time is really something, especially given how long she will keep at it. She can cuddle and coo for hours.
In 1999, when Gracie was four years old, she was hit by a car. She had always been the kind of dog that was more interested in me and what I was doing than in the rest of the world. She never wandered away from me and she always obeyed me. But, for some reason that night she got confused, I think by all the remodeling work that had been going on at our house. She got out and instead of coming to me when I called, she headed down the driveway and into the street. She proceeded to walk in the middle of the traffic lane, into an oncoming car's headlights. I could not get to her fast enough, nor get her to come to me. A car hit her at about 30 to 40 mph, just feet in front of me. The car's bumper hit her dead straight on, right in the middle of her chest, a head-on collision if you will. I watched in horror as everything slowed down and I got to see it all in horrible detail. Her chin hit the hood and her back legs came up and over her head. Her neck and upper back was bent over until her butt nearly touched her head. She was then launched into the air, up and forward in a long arc. She didn't hit ground again for at least 25 or 30 feet. When she did hit ground she bounced and rolled like a rag doll for another 10 feet or so. The car was a newer car and was designed to do this to a pedestrian in an accident because this sort of hit will do less damage to them and will ensure they are not run over. It worked with a Dane too, though it really was something awful to have to watch.
Gracie did not move much for a few seconds and then her movements were slow and clumsy. I got to her before she could even roll into a normal laying position and kept her still. At the time I didn't know what injuries she had sustained but I feared she was gravely wounded. Later, after I found out what her injuries were, I was so very thankful I didn't let her try to get up onto her elbows. She started to cry and howl but she recognized me and was somewhat mollified by my presence. By now the driver of the car had gotten out and was trying to help, as were several other passers-by. My wife Carole, who had heard the crash, came running out of the house asking what happened and what I wanted her to do. I told her Gracie had been hit by a car, and to get our car ready because we had to take her to the emergency hospital. There was now lots of howling and screaming going on, and I am sure some of it was me. I was certain Gracie was dying. The accident had just looked so bad, and she had been flung so far, that I was sure she could not possibly survive. Carole called to me and I picked Gracie up and carried her to the back of our station wagon. But I was quicker than Carole expected and she didn't have the hatch open yet, so I had to stand with Gracie in my arms for a moment. Gracie wiggled around and got her back feet on the ground. I didn't see the problem with that, since she didn't seem to be in any more pain because of it. So I held her chest and she stood on her back legs. Unfortunately it allowed her to jump right out of my arms as soon as Carole opened the hatch. Drives for Gracie have always been a big treat and she obviously felt she deserved one just then. The problem with this was she hopped right into the back of the wagon, landing on her front feet.
As soon as her front toes touched the car she let out the most blood curdling scream I have ever heard and collapsed into a thrashing mass of fur. Fearing she would hurt herself even more, I dove in and pressed her down, trying to restrain her. She did settle down but continued to howl and scream in a way no dog should ever do. She was in some serious pain and wanted to bite something to make it stop. She did get my arm in her mouth once, but as soon as she realized it was me in her mouth she let go, bless her soul. The trip to the hospital was quite an experience, but not one I suggest anyone have if they can avoid it. Thankfully we live only a mile or so from the emergency vet hospital. We carried her in, and her condition and vocalizations ensured we were whisked right in. They did their ER thing and got some x-rays of her. The initial exam and first set of x-rays showed a badly shattered front leg, but no other injuries. She did seem to have a minor pneumothorax but it was so minor no one seemed to even care about it. This seemed to be better news than was possible, and unfortunately it was. The next x-ray showed both front legs were badly broken, with each one having a section of pulverized bone maybe an inch or two long. To make matters worse it was the humerus that had been broken on both legs. This bone is not castable and that meant any fix was going to involve surgery and the use of metal plates to stabilize the bones. This would be bad enough on a dog as big as a Dane, but the bilateral nature of the injuries, that is both legs being broken, meant that Gracie would not have a leg to stand on, as it were, during the recovery period.
To make a long story short, we took Gracie to our vet the next day (Saturday) and had him evaluate the injuries and try to help us find someone to fix her up. The injuries were so bad, the course of treatment so involved, and the prognosis so poor, that only one vet was even willing to try. Most, including our own vet's surgeon, admitted that they were not competent to perform the required surgery. We are a smallish city, with a combined metro population of just over 200,000 and we did not have an orthopedic surgeon in the area at the time, so this wasn't all that surprising. We did find one vet, Cary Heyward, who would try, and who, while not an orthopedic surgeon herself, did have an out of town orthopedic surgeon who consulted with her and would give her long distance help with this surgery.
Everyone we talked to warned us that there was not much good bone left to attach the plates to, and that there was a good chance that the remaining bone stubs would crack as the plates were screwed into them. The chance of the surgery being successful was slim, and the chance of her coming though the surgery and lengthy recovery were even slimmer. Plus we had no way to asses the level of neural and/or muscular damage involved, she might recover only to be paralyzed, or have severe deficits, in her front legs. They also were warning us of the long and difficult recovery period and the possibility that she would not be able to weight bear during that time. We got the feeling that most of the vets we talked to, including our own, felt it would be best to simply put her down. Now, I must admit I had agreed with that assessment (with much wailing, gnashing of teeth, and head banging) when they first diagnosed the injuries at the ER. But my wife and the Dr. at the ER hospital convinced me to at least try to save her. I think the Dr. was more worried about me than she was convinced that Gracie could be saved. But whatever the case, they managed to talk me out of having her put down then and there. Part of the whole problem was that to save her, Gracie was going to have to endure several days of pure hell, and I wasn't sure that was fair to her. Because of when this happened (10 PM Friday night) they would not be able to perform the surgery for at least 2 to 3 days. And in the meantime Gracie had to just tough it out with no injury stabilization or anything, other than drugs to dull the pain.
Well Dr. Heyward saw Gracie on Monday and performed the first surgery on Tuesday. She had to wait until Tuesday for the special oversize plates she needed for a dog as big as Gracie to arrive. The first surgery lasted seven hours. It was hard enough on me, waiting out in the vet's parking lot in my van conversion, with all our other dogs to comfort me. I can't begin to imagine how hard it was on Dr. Heyward or her assistants. Near the 7th hour one of her assistants came out to get me. There was bad news and Dr. Heyward wanted me to come see for myself and decide what we should do at this point. So I joined the Dr. in the OR and looked at Gracie and at her x-rays. The operation was essentially over, but Dr. Heyward had left the incision open so I could see first hand what was going on. The problem was that as feared, there hadn't been much good bone left to attach the plate to, and as she had tightened the last screw down on that end, the bone stub had cracked. There was only one screw on that end that was into solid bone. This meant that Gracie would not be able to put weight on that leg for 4-8 weeks. It meant she would have to be kept in bed and off her feet during the entire recovery period. Cary was not sure we would want to try to deal with that, or that is was even possible to keep an active dog like Gracie off her feet that long. She gave me my options, but for me at this point there was only one option. Gracie had already endured 4 days of hell and I just couldn't bring myself to make her go through all that without doing everything I could to make it work for her. So we agreed to go ahead as planned with the new limit that Gracie would have to be kept off her feet.
On Thursday Dr. Heyward performed the second surgery, on Gracie's other leg. Luckily this was nearly text book and went just as planned. This surgery ran only (mind the use of that word "only") four hours. Afterward we took Gracie home for what turned out to be about six weeks of convalescence. At first we setup separate side-by-side air mattresses for Gracie and I, but I soon realized that we could safely share one large air mattress if I positioned it in a large U made of our big sofa and our two love seats. This way I could pen her in by sleeping on the "open" side of the mattress. My fear had originally been that I would roll over onto her in my sleep and hurt her. But the big concern ended up being her trying to get up to reposition herself in the middle of the night, or falling off the mattress and trying to get up and get back on. By sharing a mattress I could feel her trying to move around, and by penning her in, she couldn't fall of the edge of the mattress. She would wake me anytime she tried to move around much, and I could stop her from actually getting up or from straining the legs too much. I never rolled into her (can't say the same for her rolling into me though) or even came close to hurting her, so the single mattress was the best solution.
We used an air mattress because another big concern was bed sores. Being forced to remain in bed for that long, she had a real chance of developing bed sores. The air mattress absolutely eliminated that concern. It also made for a comfy sleeping and living area for both of us that also transmitted her movements to me to help wake me up if she was trying to stand. Understand, we are talking about 6 weeks, day and night, of us in bed together. She had to be with someone 24 hours a day. Luckily, while my wife worked some long hours as a 911 dispatcher, I worked for myself, out of our home. I was able to put most of my work on hold, and what I absolutely had to do, I did from the recovery bed. Had I not been working for myself, from my home, and doing something that could just as easily be done laying in bed (I was editor/publisher of a very small magazine at the time and all my work just then could be done on my laptop computer), we would not have been able to save Gracie. Several times my wife spelled me so I could get an uninterrupted night's sleep, or just chill out and take a nice long bath or something. But most of that time I was right there, in bed with our Gracie girl.
Gracie was really a champ. She hated having to potty while laying down, and my wife and I spent many hours out in the rain in our yard keeping her from trying to get up, and coaxing her to potty. She finally kind of got the idea, but she definitely never liked it. She didn't want to get messy and the position was certainly not comfortable for her. But in that whole time she only had a couple accidents. And those were all early on, and related to our medicating her to try to keep her calm and off her feet. In fact, she fought the drugs tooth and nail, and was much more agitated and active when she was on them. Plus she had incontinence problems when on them, which really upset her. So we discontinued them almost right away, and from that day forward she pottied outside only.
To get her in and out we would roll her onto a stretcher and carry her outside. There we would roll her off the stretcher and onto the grass. She would lay on the grass until she did her pottying and then we would roll her back onto the stretcher and take her back into the house. We would clean her off if needed, then roll her onto her bed again. We did this at least twice a day for 6 weeks. She ate laying down, resting on her front elbows so she could elevate her head enough to eat. While this did put some stress on her fractures, it was minimal and there just wasn't going to be any way to avoid some of that. Mind you, the first few days after the surgeries she didn't have the strength even for that, and we hand fed her. She handled this whole convalescence like a real pro. She made it as easy as it possibly could have been. And clearly, as far as she was concerned, getting to spend days upon days-all day and night-with daddy, was just too cool. She slept all over me and was constantly underhand getting pets.
Physical contact is a food group for Gracie. She can't even sleep without someone or some dog to sleep on. And I do mean on. I am probably partly to blame for this, though I think it was part of her basic nature to start with. From very early on I used to let her fall asleep in my arms, or my lap, or on my chest if I was laying down. She went from cuddling with her littermates to cuddling with me, and she never did learn to sleep on her own until her sire, Duke, died in 2001. Her period of convalescence certainly did nothing but reinforce the idea that she should always have a partner to sleep with (as well as the idea that the universe revolved around her).
It has now been over two years since the accident and Gracie is still with us. She did suffer some very minor nerve damage as a result of the accident and lost a bit of muscle mass in her upper shoulders. Her gait has been affected by this and she no longer has that beautiful, catlike grace and strength. She kind of flings her front legs forward now. And she has a big scar on each shoulder. I don't suppose most folks outside of the show world would even notice her goofy gait, but we do. We are not complaining mind you, it is great to still have her and to see her running and playing just like she always did. She seems not to notice anything at all and does not recognize any limits to her abilities.
When Duke died
in March, 2001, Gracie was left as our only dog. In less than a year and
a half we had gone from a house with four dogs, three Danes and a Golden
Retriever, to having only Gracie. Gracie was very upset, both at the loss
of her lifelong companions, and at the fact that she now was an only dog.
To make matters even worse, I had just left town a week before Duke died,
and would be away for two months. Poor Gracie not only was grieving the loss
of her closest four-legged friend in the world, she didn't have any of her
other housemates to keep her company during her grief, and she had to go
through the adjustment period without me, too. She really was beside herself
for quite some time. But she did get over it, and now she has two new friends.
PJ is a retired racing Greyhound we took in a few months back, and Tank is
a fawn Dane puppy we just bought. We think Tank will be a show dog when he
is older. Tank's "real" name is McA-dane's Pot O Gold V Bridane
by the way. His sire is BISS Ch. Bridane's
Pi in the Sky, who was ranked # 15 in the
country in 1998. Tank and Gracie
took to each other right away and are sure to become inseparable
pals. In many ways they are so close because Gracie never really grew up.
She is still the open, trusting, carefree puppy she was when she first opened
her eyes. Playing is still the coolest thing in the world to her, next to
a cuddle with daddy. She is, however, beginning to get that the universe
may not revolve around her.
Update 1/22/02: Gracie has yet another housemate.
We took in a foster dog on the 19th. She is a very sweet 13 week old deaf
merlequin who has been named Delilah by her soon-to-be
new owners. She will be helping me develop a pilot program for training and
placing deaf Danes through our local Dane rescue group. I had offered to
work with the rescue group on this, and we are finally getting started. Delilah
already has a home to go to once her training is completed, which makes her
one very lucky little girl.
Update 11/17/02: Gracie turned7 today!!!! She is going strong and still able to outplay any dog in the house. She looks great and clearly feels great too. Still that happy dog, and still as cuddly as all get out.
Update 11/17/03: Gracie turned 8 today!!!! She is going strong and still able to outplay any dog in the house, and with all the rescues we have coming and going, that is saying something. She looks great and clearly feels great too. Still that happy dog, and still as cuddly as all get out.
Update 11/10/04: We took Gracie to the vet on 7/26/04. She had been playing with Tank a couple weeks before and ran into him, taking quite a spill. Since then she had been limping on her left front leg and we were worried that she might have reinjured her leg. This happened while she was out of town with my wife, and we elected to wait until our vet could see her. As we were sitting in the vet's office, Gracie bloated. Now no one wants a bloat episode with their Dane, but if you are going to have one, this is about the best time and place possible. We rushed her into the back room and they started working on her. Got a tube down her and vented the gas and stomach contents. But she had also torsed, so the vet canceled all her appointments and rushed Gracie into the OR. Gracie came through all this in her usual carefree fashion, and was raring to go a few days later. She is still doing great now, just a week away from her 9th birthday! You'd never know how old she was by looking at her, and you would never guess how close she came to dying just a few months ago. She is still our special girl, and she is still the toughest dog I have ever known. Nothing phases her or gets her down. She is always the same happy lively girl we've known for so many years now.
Update 11/17/04:Gracie turned 9 today!!!! She is going strong and still able to outplay any dog in the house, and with all the rescues we have coming and going, that is saying something. She looks great and clearly feels great too. Still that happy dog, and still as cuddly as all get out. We certainly had a big scare this year, with the bloat episode, but Gracie is still going strong.
Update 11/17/05: Gracie is now 10 years old. She really is an amazing dog. She can still outrun and outplay almost every dog here. She is slower getting out of bed most of the time now, but she doesn't look or act her age.
Update 8/25/06: Gracie developed osteosarcoma about a month ago. It developed at the site of one of her front leg fractures. We had been warned about this possibility back in '99 when she was hit by the car. Gracie was on pain meds for the last few weeks, but she was still active and strong, and had her usual great appetite. She clearly did not want to go, and we did not want to loose her. But her tumor was getting huge and we were worried the leg was going to give out on her. One of the plates used to fix her shattered legs back in '99 was now holding the leg together by attaching into good bone above and below the tumor. But things were getting bad, and the tumor was so big we worried that the area where the screws were holding the plate in place was going to be attacked by the tumor. If that happened, the screws would pull out and the leg would shatter catastrophically. We did not want to wait too long and put her through that. Frankly our vet had never seen a tumor that had gotten as big as Gracie's, only a dog with a plate holding the leg together would have made it as long as she did. Most times the leg is removed or the dog put down long before things get to the point Gracie had gotten to. The hard part for us was that the pain meds were working and she was in most ways the same happy rambunctious dog she had always been. This last week was the first time she didn't finish a meal, she only ate about half of her breakfast one day. But other than that one meal, her appetite was great, her attitude was good, she was still running around and trying to play (not as much as she used to but enough to justify her quality of life still being good). So it was very hard for us to make the call. But last week it became clear that we were probably pushing our (and her) luck. We felt it was better for her to go happy and with a good life, than let things go until she suffered. It broke our hearts, but it was the right thing to do. This is the first time in almost 11 years that I have not had Gracie in our house. Even with all the dogs I do have (18 right now) there is still a huge hole in our home. She was a tremendously dynamic personality. Even our vet had a hard time with her death. She could barely keep herself together. As she said, Gracie is still Gracie, and that makes it hard to let her go. We had our vet come out here so she could go lying on our bed with both of us, her favorite place on earth. And we buried her in the back of our property, where we intend to set up a pet cemetery.