2: Message Received

2: Message Received

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Touched by an Angel

Message Received

Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen.

~Orhan Pamuk

I had never had a dog, and at first was wary of surprising our young sons with a chocolate Labrador Retriever puppy for Christmas — until I met that little bouncing ball of silky brown fur. Gracie won me over instantly. She was beautiful and affectionate. She had loads of personality that made her tons of fun. And boy, was she ever smart!

Her first summer with us, for instance, Gracie discovered that she could cool off by lying across an air conditioning vent in the kitchen floor. One day I thought the first floor was too cool compared to the rest of the house, so I closed a couple of vents downstairs, including one of those in the kitchen. Gracie’s routine didn’t occur to me until she walked over to the vent and lay down. Immediately noticing the lack of airflow, she stood up and studied the grate for a moment. I watched in wonder as she then plunged her claws into it, pulled it out, and calmly flung it aside. She settled down onto the open space in the floor and looked at me with a triumphant grin. “Okay, Gracie, I get it,” I said, smiling at her ingenuity. “From now on, I won’t mess with your vent.” Every summer, that was her favorite resting place.

We all grew close to our furry family member. We loved her, and she adored us in return. I guess she wanted to thank us for taking such good care of her because she wanted so much to please us. She did her best to be a good dog. And she was. She was a great dog. But she was more than that — she was a great friend.

Gracie also made it her responsibility to watch over us. Though she was gentle by nature, she fiercely guarded her family and our property. One night she scared off the thieves breaking into the car in our driveway. “You really take care of your family,” my older son told Gracie, giving her the pats and praise she cherished.

“Yes, she’s sure here for us,” my husband said.

“How does she always know what to do?” my younger son asked.

Actually, it was kind of uncanny the way Gracie sensed what was needed and when. She knew when my husband was coming home, even at unusual times, and she would “tell” me he was on his way by running to the window to watch for his approach. Sure enough, within five minutes, he’d enter our neighborhood. She knew to move slowly around the elderly grandparents. If you could use some fun, she grabbed a Frisbee, ready to play. If you wanted your space, she rested and awaited your call. If you were sick or sad, she tenderly placed a huge paw on your arm or snuggled up by your side, comforting you until you recovered. “Such a good girl,” I told her. “You always know how to help.” She seemed to understand everything I said.

And I always understood her. Often, when I sat in my favorite chair she parked herself directly in front of me, gave me her “hand” to hold, and stared into my eyes, as though trying to project her thoughts. Her communication came through loud and clear. I knew what every look, gesture and sound meant. Whether it was a request for a scratch behind those soft floppy ears, a reminder to freshen her water bowl, a reassurance that she loved us, or something else she had on her mind, I got the message.

For ten years Gracie added joy to our family. But one Sunday evening in mid-July, the dreaded moment arrived. Our beloved Gracie passed away, and we were heartbroken. My grief was overwhelming. I cried for days. And every time I walked into the house, I ached with sorrow. I was used to a loveable big dog, with nuzzling nose and wagging tail, running to welcome me, thrilled that I was home. Charging through the kitchen, her nails clicking on the vinyl floor as she tried to stop, she often would slide right into my feet. Her greetings had been clumsy and charming, hilarious and heartwarming, all at the same time. I missed them. I missed her terribly.

After arriving home on a hot afternoon a couple of weeks after she had passed, I poured a glass of iced tea and stood in the kitchen sipping it. When I caught sight of that vent that she’d always lain on, a tear rolled down my cheek. “Oh, Gracie,” I sighed, “how I wish you were still here.”

I heard the air conditioning kick in, and then something special happened. Tiny puffs of brown Gracie fur began to rise from the vent and gather into a little ball. I watched, mesmerized, as the ball of fur quickly rolled across the kitchen floor toward me, mimicking the enthusiasm that its owner had shown. Like her, it stopped right at my feet.

I picked up that small bunch of fluff, and as I smoothed it between my fingers, the heartache began to ease. Here was reassurance that Gracie’s love would always be with us. Her legacy would live on in our hearts, in our memories, in the ways she had helped shape our family.

Message received, Gracie, loud and clear.

~D. Riley

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