“Saving Gracie”

“Saving Gracie” by Carol Bradley. Wiley Publishing, Inc. $21.99.

Powerful, insightful and compelling are just a few of the adjectives characterizing this emotional roller coaster ride inside the horrific world of American puppy mills.

The central figures are Gracie, a once beleaguered Cavalier King Charles Spaniel; owners of the filthy and over-run Mike-Mar Kennel in Pennsylvania; legal authorities and animal-welfare staffs of nearby shelters; Pennsylvania state legislators and the commitment of Gov. Ed Rendell to strengthen laws discouraging puppy-mill operations; and Gracie’s eventual owner, Linda Jackson.
Puppy mills operate everywhere: How many raids have you read about in Washington state alone the past year?  While Bradley’s focus is on one raid that rescued 337 victims, she seamlessly transitions to the bigger nationwide problem, noting it is at its worst in the Midwest.
Unless you’ve seen it, you really can’t grasp the filth, stench and unimaginable challenges facing an animal to survive, the author emphasizes. But the vivid literary picture she paints with a splash of black here and a splash of white there is damning and provocative.  Each breeding animal and its offspring are viewed simply with dollar signs and without consideration for any incurred physical or emotional baggage.
The American puppy-mill undercurrent cannot be stopped overnight, Bradley re-emphasizes, but this runaway business train can be slowed by stiffer legislation, committed legal staffers and Americans eschewing the emotion of buying a puppy from a pet shop.
Initially, Gracie (estimated to be 6 years old) is identified as Dog 132 (all animals were numbered as they are removed from Mike-Mar Kennel and carefully documented for ailments) then later assumes a  name as she slowly develops a personality and trust with humans around her. Consider, she has been virtually a crate creature only, never having set foot on grass and seldom on solid ground.

The neglected dogs removed in the raid are found with skin, eye and ear infections, decayed teeth and are shy and skittish around humans. For some, it takes weeks of bathing and grooming to clean them and remove the urine and feces odor.

Skyrocketing care costs in area shelters and litigation extend the frustration for all and delay the opportunity for these once woeful animals to find new homes. But when that day finally comes, Jackson heads to the shelter hoping to find that promised Cavalier for her children.
But shortly before arriving, she receives a phone call all nine have been adopted. Resolved to not returning home empty, she confers with a shelter official who heads to a back graveled kennel run and brings forth a bewildered Wilma (her given kennel name).
Soon it appears to be one giant mismatch, as Gracie clings to Linda and quickly loses appeal for the three children.  But here’s where Bradley’s poignant work takes a new twist. Gracie gradually blossoms into Linda’s Velcro soul mate, prompting her into a lifetime commitment of campaigning for the rights of animals.

In summation, Bradley, characterizing Gracie, says, “ . . . she had accomplished something. She had survived a puppy mill. She had learned to trust in people, to love and be loved. And in her own humble way, she had helped focus attention on the plight of the hundreds of thousands of dogs like her.

“At the end of a workday, when Linda walked through the door and announced, ‘Hi girls, I’m home,’ Gracie ran toward her with absolute joy. That alone seemed like a small miracle.”

While packed with large doses of sentiment, “Gracie” is also heaped with a rich tapestry of bluntness and candor to inspire and empower anyone gripped by her story.