Her name was Gracie, and she got it from another great female comic: Gracie Allen. If you're of a certain age, you'll recall the Burns and Allen show, which always ended with George Burns saying, "Say goodnight, Gracie,'' and Allen - in all her over-the-top ditsiness - would chirp, "Goodnight Gracie!''
Well, when this wonderful little dog came into my life nearly 15 years ago as a puppy no bigger than my size 5 1/2 shoe, she was already a vaudeville act. Irrepressible, attitudinal, fearless. I'll never forget her marching in the front door to my house, where three big dogs were already living, looking at them, me, the whole world with a look that said, "Do NOT mess with me. I WILL kick your butt!'' And then, if I recall, she took a running leap at a 65-pound Dalmatian's tail and grabbed it with her little puppy teeth.
That she lived to a ripe old age is, in part, testament to that wisdom and patience of that amazing Dal, Mickey, now long gone.
When it was time for the household to turn out the lights and go to sleep, Gracie was still looking for trouble. So we took to saying, Good NIGHT, puppy, which soon became, Good NIGHT, Gracie. It was perfect.
She was probably part Lab, part hound - mostly black, with a white streak on her chest, white feet, and a freckly nose. In old age, she was white in the face, on the legs, even in the inside of her ears - which became like a talisman to me. You remember your "blue blankee'' from childhood, or whatever it was that was soft and velvety and that you rubbed until it was in shreds? That's what Gracie's ears were to me: perfect little triangular blue blankies that fortunately, could not be worn to shreds.
As she grew to her full weight of 50-55 pounds, she found new worlds to conquer. No trash can was safe - especially if it contained used tissues or dental floss. And no style of can deterred her; she could flip any lid, or if that failed, dump the whole thing over.
She feared no dog. When my stepdog Harley - 130 pounds of wolf hybrid - came into her life six years ago, she "talked'' to him as she did to the other dogs and humans in her life: in a distinctive growl/squeak that contained no anger, but clearly said: I will be obeyed!
She was a nibbler of textiles, other dogs, and the occasional human body part. When she wanted me up in the morning, she come to the edge of the bed, bark in my face, and nibble on whatever limb was available. And she would not stop until I was vertical.
Her favorite place was the bed, so when she stopped jumping up into it earlier this year, I figured old age was catching up with her and got a fleecy dog bed for my bedroom floor. Then her back end began wobbling, which I figured was arthritis.
But it wasn't arthritis; it was bone cancer in her right hind leg. She also had age-related spinal deterioration that made her left leg unstable - and amputation of the right leg impossible. Chemo for a 15-year-old dog was out of the question.
With heavy-duty painkillers, we bought her some time, knowing what lay ahead. She began to lose control in every way, pinwheeling into things that fell on her or got her tangled up. With a breaking heart, I had to face the inevitable - as I've done with other dogs in each of the past three years.
The moment came this past weekend, after a breakfast of grilled sirloin and the absolutely verboten chocolate chunk ice cream - amid a flood of tears from me and her stepdad, Jake, and via the gentle, caring touch of Dr. Ron Tapper at Emerald Hills Animal Hospital in Hollywood. It was Ron who administered her first puppy shots so many years ago, and took such wonderful care of her in all the years between, and his kindness is a great comfort to me.
I also want to thank Dr. Michael Aronsohn of Animal Medical Center in Cooper City, who gave me an honest and realistic second opinion.
I have had nearly 20 dogs - also assorted birds and rodents - and I have loved them all. But a few have been The Great Dogs of My Life. Add Gracie to that list.
Goodnight, Gracie, my sweet, funny little girl. I will miss you forever.