After I lost Dusty I experienced one of the deepest despairs of my life. Perhaps because he had been so brutally abused as a young dog I always felt that more than with any of my other companion dogs I had to show him as much love as my soul possessed. As much as I tried I was never certain that was sufficient to overcome the abuse he had known.
Of all the companions I have had throughout my life, I have to admit that I took his death the hardest. His good friend, my Golden Retriever, Spenser whom he had raised clung even more to me than before Dusty died.
I knew there were people who were well-intentioned and would ask me, “Are you going to get another dog.” People who made that remark generally didn’t have dogs in their own lives. Their view of animals was that they were possessions, like a lamp or a rug. If it wears out or the fashion changes you get a new one. They’ve sadly missed one of the most important relationships that helps us understand our humanity.
On the one hand I did want to get Spenser a companion. I wanted him to have the companionship he had known – and perhaps grow into being the teacher rather than the student. It was, however, far too soon for me.
A year and a half went by and I was looking to list some items on Craig’s List, searching for the appropriate category. As I was perusing the items that were listed, I happened to see a picture – a picture of a beautiful puppy with a loving face. She was the last of a litter of ten and was being given away to a good home. I knew that this was to be Spenser’s new companion – and mine.
When I called, the family said that she had been tentatively adopted. The family’s kids had named her, Spike. I put forth my emotional best, telling them how I had enjoyed the company of dogs my entire life, had taken care of my blind Irish Setter, Finney for over fifteen years; in general I talked myself up as a responsible, caring and loving person who, if Spike and I were to come together as a family would provide only the best food, the greatest care and as much love as anyone could offer.
So they agreed to meet with me.
I drove to their home about an hour later and fell in love with Spike (although I was less fond of her name). So after we chatted for a bit they said they would be happy for me to have her (the previous adopted parents had backed out while I was driving there. They decided this puppy was going to grow up to be too big for their apartment).
I asked them if they would hold her to the following day so that I would have time to buy the stuff necessary to “puppy-proof” the house. I think that they would have preferred that Spike and I leave together so that they could break down the area where they held the puppies, but they finally agreed to my request.
So I left Spike with them, went to a variety of places where I found stuff that made drawers baby and puppy-proof and got all the rest of the accoutrements necessary to welcome a new member of the family into a house that was secure from her intrusions. I also stopped by Border’s to pick up a CD for the kids.
When I met with the family it was clear that the kids had enjoyed the experience of seeing the ten puppies grow during their eight weeks with them – and that they missed those puppies as they disappeared one by one. Dad assured them that they would have family “reunions” and they would see the puppies again. But that never happened – although I would have enjoyed meeting Spike’s siblings. So, believing that this might actually be in the cards in the future, I had a plan to change Spike’s name and I wanted the kids to agree to this change – hence the CD.
The next day I returned to pick up Spike as we had agreed. It was Sunday and the kids were home. Now the family lived in an area all of whose streets had musical attributions. There was Verdi Way, Arpeggio Lane and they happened to live on Handel Street.
When I met the kids I showed them Spike’s new collar and lead and the toys I had bought for her – just to reassure them that she was going to be happy in her new home with me. They seemed to think I was okay – so that was step one in my plan for changing Spike’s name. Then I handed them the CD.
I explained, that once upon a time, before there were CD’s we had something to play music which we called records. The very first record which I bought was “Messiah” written by a man named Georg F. Handel – the same man for whom their street had been named. (This seemed to impress them – at least a little).
Then I explained that on that record, there was a soloist who was a black woman. I pointed out that Spike was also black and a girl. (They seemed to be warming up to my presentation a little).
And I explained that woman was a very famous singer. Her name was Grace Bumbry.
So, in conclusion, I said, “Since you live on Handel Street, and since Spike is black and a girl and since this wonderful singer was named Grace – would it be okay if I were to change Spike’s name to Gracie?” They smiled and agreed with me.
And that’s how Gracie got her name.