Monday, February 6, 2012

Amazing Gracie: A Bulldog's Tale

Today I'm taking a slight departure from the usual health and fitness post because I wanted to bring you this little piece. Sometimes we get wrapped up in our health (I must eat these carrots) and fitness (I must get to the gym tonight!) and forget that health is happiness also! So here you go. This is the story of a sweet little dog that avoided a very lonely death thanks to two very big hearted people.
It is 1:00pm on an overcast Saturday afternoon in upstate New York and there is a loud snoring emanating from the bedroom… a wet, gurgling snore. I live in this apartment with my girlfriend of almost three years, Kara. She is asleep, but that snoring is not coming from Kara. The snoring is coming from the third member of our household: our bulldog, Gracie.               

Kara had always wanted a puppy. “What kind?” I would ask. “A fat one!” she would reply. “A fat one that loves me! And loves you… a little less.” Unfortunately for the first half-year we were living together, getting a pet would have been impossible and unfair for everyone involved. I was working hellish hours and before Kara got her new job, she would also be gone for 12 hours a day. Once Kara knew she could be home an appropriate amount of time, we decided that the time was right to get a dog.

We first had to decide what kind of dog to get. We knew we wanted a puppy. We also needed a breed that would do well in a relatively small NYC apartment. We decided on a bulldog, since they are usually pretty sedentary and they do not bark very much (which is a must for apartment living). Also, they are pretty damn awesome looking!

We did some research online, found a breeder in Brooklyn and set up an appointment. We arrived at the breeder’s house/shop. He was jovial and welcoming. The shop was little more than a single room with playpens arranged on the floor. In each pen were bulldog puppies of various ages and sizes crawling over each other and being absolutely adorable. We spend the next couple hours holding and playing with the puppies trying to get a feel for which puppy was right for us. We decided on a little girl who melted our hearts when she cuddled up in Kara’s arms and slept. She was 8 weeks old and 6 pounds. We then got all the paperwork in order, paid the breeder and left with our new little bundle of joy. The breeder assured us that we could call him if we had any questions or concerns.

Kara and I were thrilled with the new addition to our little family. We decided to name her Gracie. She was a fat little ball of wrinkles. She looked like a tiny piglet. We arranged an area of our living room for Gracie which had a bed, her water and food dish, some toys and her paper (since she was not house broken yet, obviously). Everyone that visited her marveled at how impossibly sweet she was.

It was only a few days after we brought her home that things took a turn for the worse. It started with what we thought was simply an upset stomach. Gracie would vomit and have loose stool but we figured that it was due to the transition of living with us (new home, new diet, new everything). We would call up the breeder with our concerns and he assured us that everything was fine. Then Gracie became lethargic. I called the breeder again and again he said she is probably just tired from the chaos of being in a new home. At this point, something didn’t seem right. Gracie was getting worse and Kara and I were worried. We could not get her to eat and had to manually give her water. All the more upsetting was that she would intermittently seem fine. She would seem sick but then roll around and play for a little while, which made me think we were out of the woods. We weren’t. At night, we set up a baby monitor in the living room so that we could hear if she was crying out. We would hear little whimpers and Kara would get up in the middle of the night to let Gracie fall asleep on her chest as they both lay on the couch.

Not even a week after we brought Gracie home, Kara decided to take Gracie to the animal hospital. Gracie was diagnosed with parvovirus (Parvo) and was given only a 30% chance of survival. Parvo is exceptionally contagious and about 80% fatal, causing gastrointestinal tract damage and dehydration as well as a cardiac syndrome. The vet told us that it would be $3000 to get Gracie the care she needed (which involved Gracie being quarantined at the hospital and stuck full of IVs).  If we were unable or unwilling to do that, we could either bring Gracie home and hope for the best, or allow Gracie to be (hopefully) adopted by someone else who would then pay for her treatment. Gracie had been part of our family for less than a week, but we were already so emotionally invested. We decided to go ahead with the treatment: all we could do was sit back and hope.
The next few days were very difficult. Our vet would send us updates on Gracie’s condition as well as pictures of Gracie. It was heartbreaking to see our little puppy all skinny with IVs in her little legs. Everything seemed so unfair. Why her? She had done nothing wrong. We told the breeder what was going on and he advised us to remove her from the hospital and bring her to Brooklyn where he could take a look at her. At this point, we realized this breeder was not legitimate. I was upset with myself. I should have spotted it. I should have walked out. I should have done more research beforehand (he and his wife change their names frequently and they used one of their aliases in our original correspondence). After we brought Gracie to the hospital, I called him and told him all the horrible things we found out about him and that we planned to sue him.

Then came the call we were hoping for. The vet told Kara that Gracie had perked up, had her appetite back and had successfully made it through! We were ecstatic! When we picked her up from the hospital, she was under 5 pounds. We carried her home and started our new life together as a family. Gracie has now been part of our family for over a year and a half. Honestly, it’s hard to remember what our life was like without her. She has brought so much satisfaction, love and humor into our lives. She has had some other health problems from time to time (as true with many bulldogs), but she toughs it out every time.

Having a dog is a very unique experience. I come from a family that always had dogs. There is not a time in my life when my family did not own at least one dog, so I knew what having a dog was like… sort of. I had never had a puppy and I had never been the OWNER of that puppy. I had never been the one that the puppy looks to for comfort, guidance, food, etc. Kara had a dog growing up as well, but she was in the same boat I was. It’s awesome and a little daunting knowing that this unassuming little being relies entirely on you. It is your job to protect it and to teach it (or try to teach it). Because of this, my bond with Gracie is stronger than with any other dog I have ever had.  

Every day I am thankful that Kara wanted a dog. Gracie is much more than just our pet. She is truly a member of the family with a very strong personality of her own. She makes us laugh every day. That is not an exaggeration. We laugh HARD. Gracie is fully grown now but she is still a very small bulldog. She is a compact 40 pounds but still rather trim (we always try to keep her weight in check). She can jump onto the couch over the arm and can hold her own in the dog park (for a few minutes) while running with other more athletic breeds. Gracie loves a long walk, but will occasionally decide she has had enough exercise, will stop dead in her tracks and insist she be carried home like a baby (which means Kara’s arms are super sore the next day). She brings a smile to the face of everyone she meets. She will waddle along in her pink argyle sweater (Kara’s influence) with her tongue hanging out over her tusks and you can’t help but laugh.

I have also never seen a more affectionate dog. Actually I have never seen a more affectionate… anything! At one point, Kara came down with a nasty flu and Gracie refused to leave her side, just like Kara did when Gracie was sick. Even though Gracie is 40 pounds, she still thinks she is a lap dog. If Kara and I are sitting on the couch, not only will Gracie join us, but she will insist on sitting between us or on top of us! She never wants to be away from her family. I never thought I could love a dog the way I love Gracie. Every so often I get frustrated when I think of how were taken advantage of by the breeder. However, it has turned out to be a blessing. We are so thankful we were able to rescue her and she shows her appreciation every day in big, wet bulldog kisses and warm, suffocating bulldog snuggles. She is stubborn and farts a lot and snores too loud, but I can’t imagine our lives without her. 

Do your research! Find a reputable breeder before you choose to adopt.
While all this was going on, Kara’s mother had managed to dig up some dirt on this “breeder”. We discovered pages upon pages of accounts of him selling sick puppies with false vaccination records to unsuspecting people. Once the sale is made, it is final. Sometimes the puppies would live and sometimes the puppies would die. Upon finding out all this information, I was beyond furious. I couldn’t imagine how someone could jeopardize the lives of innocent animals but I was also furious because I felt like I had been had. We spend hours in this man’s company that day we purchased Gracie. There were some things that I see now as red flags but hindsight is always 20/20. For instance, his shop is very difficult to find. He locks the doors at all times. He had us pay in cash. The contract we signed was poorly written.

The shady breeder we got Gracie from goes by many names. Anton, Tony, Anthony, etc. with the last name Maize or May. His wife usually goes by Rose or Dawn. Their business is sometimes called “Just Puppies”, “D&A Kennels” or “D&J Kennels” or simply “Puppies Ltd.” Their address is 177 West End Ave, Brooklyn NY 11235 but Google Maps lists it as 167 West End Ave. Actually, the true address is the one to the right of where Google Maps puts “167” but the building still has “177” on it. We did sue him in small claims and won. He never showed up. When I tried to put the ball in motion to collect our judgment, the sheriff told me I did not have enough information about him to collect (where he banks, his license plate number, etc.). Basically, he said our judgment is worthless. We are now considering getting a collection agency involved. BE WARNED, PEOPLE!