In 2012, my husband and I embarked on a mission to save a young female Boxer mix, found as a stray in Los Angeles County, and taken to a very crowded high-kill shelter. When no one claimed her, she was scheduled for euthanasia.

We, however, were determined to prevent that.

At the time, I was working for DAWG (Dog Adoption and Welfare Group), a remarkable no-kill shelter in my hometown of Santa Barbara, CA. Not only did they support my decision to rescue this dog, they also offered to take her in and provide her with any medical care she might need.

After finding her a foster home, we traveled to the high-kill facility to pick her up.  When we first met her, she appeared to be very underweight, weak and lethargic.  We had seen this before with dogs that come from crowded shelters and we hoped that once she was able to be in a loving environment and get some much-needed TLC from her foster family, we would see her bounce back.

On the drive to her foster home, my husband and I decided to call her Gracie. It seemed a very fitting name, and she quickly responded to it.  My husband, the foster family and I were all so happy that we were able to help this beautiful girl and give her the second chance she deserved.  Unfortunately,  our celebration was short lived when the foster family contacted us to say that Gracie had stopped eating and was still quite lethargic.

A swift examination by our shelter’s onsite vet and subsequent testing revealed Gracie not only had pneumonia but was also 
positive 
for Leptospirosis, a bacterial infection that attacks the organs. My husband and I promptly took her to an Emergency Vet Hospital, capable of providing her with round-the-clock care, where she was put on Intravenous fluids and held for observation for several days.

Gracie had little to no appetite and was rapidly losing both weight and strength. And yet, through it all, she never stopped giving kisses, tail wags, and cuddles. She eventually began eating again on her own and seemed well on her way to a full recovery. We returned her to DAWG, where she was kept in isolation in a room of her own in our Medical Ward.

Soon she was back on her feet and thriving, thrilling us with a playfulness we hadn’t seen before. We were so very, very relieved that she had made a full recovery, allowing her the chance to be put up for adoption and to find the loving forever home she so deserved.

Sadly, her health deteriorated once again. After what seemed an endless testing and blood draws, we were saddened to learn that Gracie 
had Canine Distemper, a viral disease that affects a dog’s respiratory, gastrointestinal and central nervous systems. There’s no known treatment to destroy this virus and it’s usually fatal.

Once again, Gracie was started on IV fluids to prevent dehydration and given antibiotics to prevent any secondary infections. I became this darling dog’s primary caregiver, spending hours with her each day, hand feeding her, and coaxing her outdoors for some fresh air and exercise. She had become so weak that sometimes during our walks, she would simply collapse. But she would always summon the strength to get back up and continue.

Gracie was a fighter, a true fighter, in every sense of the word. Her courage and determination as she fought so valiantly to live were both inspirational and humbling, impacting my husband and me in ways we never thought possible.

She soon stopped eating on her own, and although I began feeding her via syringe several times a day, she continued to deteriorate. My husband and I brought her home with us so that we could watch over her and keep her stress level to a minimum. But it soon became clear that she was in pain. Then, one morning she woke up, unable to use her legs, most likely from a stroke.

Understandably frightened and confused, she began to cry and wail. After six months of fighting so valiantly, six months of playfulness balanced by pain, six months of loving offset by agony, it was time, finally, to let her go. And so, this dearest of dogs, once lost and then found, and so aptly named Gracie left us, peacefully, and surrounded by love.

How brief those six months were, and yet those same six months changed us forever. By her strength and spirit, heart and grace, she taught us lessons impossible to define or describe. To put into action what we couldn’t put into words, my husband and I chose to honor Gracie’s life by starting Graceland Animal Rescue in the hopes of saving other lives in need of saving.

To date, we have saved more than 250 dogs, and we have only just begun.

We love you, Gracie!