Falling For Gracie


By Tatiana Garrett

Animal shelters deal with hundreds, and often thousands, of animals each year, with some urban animal agencies seeing tens of thousands. Every single one of these creatures has a story worth telling. This is Gracie’s story.

Gracie was found by a man and his grandson, pregnant and wandering near the side of a highway in Alabama. They could not keep the sweet blonde Lab so they brought her to Eufaula Animal Shelter. For the next three weeks, the shelter’s Executive Director, Missi Phillips, fostered Gracie and the ten puppies she delivered.


Then Phillips prepared Gracie and the puppies for a journey to Chicago. “The adopters market in this [Alabama] area is way too small in comparison to the amount of strays there are. We also do not have any microhip programs in the veterinarian offices here or a scanner, which is something I am currently working to change,” she said.

The eleven dogs were transported from Alabama to The Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago by Going Home Animal Rescue and Transportation (GHAR). GHAR is a non-profit based in Oklahoma, but they do not adopt out cats and dogs directly. Instead, they help small shelters and rescue groups in rural areas (where there may be a high concentration of breeding, strays, and puppy mills) by transporting the animals to urban parts of the country where there are more potential adopters.

gracie2On April 24th, 2013, Gracie came to The Anti-Cruelty Society with her ten pups who were now three-weeks old. The cuddly litter was shades of chocolate and blonde. All were simply too cute for words. When the pups were big enough to be spayed/neutered, they were adopted quite quickly, but sweet Mama Gracie remained.

“Thanks to the early care they received [in Alabama] and her care here at The Anti-Cruelty Society, all ten puppies survived—Gracie is just a gem of a dog,” said Karen Okura, CPDT-KA, The Anti-Cruelty Society’s Manager of Animal Behavior and Training.

Shortly after her arrival, something changed with Gracie. She became petrified. There is no way of knowing if she had some serious anxiety issues that were masked by her motherly hormones or if she developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after being frightened by a large helicopter crane that startled her on one of her walks around the Society. It is important to note that she never displayed the slightest tinge of aggressive behavior, instead she would literally just “hit the deck,” hide, and sometimes even defecate in the presence of a stranger or sudden noise.


I fell for Gracie’s sweet face and when I would go back to visit her (she was being fostered in an office just down the hall from mine), it would break my heart to see her cower away. Some days, she would be really brave and let me pet her, and even give me soft licks—it made my day to be in her good graces.

Gracie would surely need a special adopter, someone calm, patient, and ideally with a yard so she could slowly build up to walking on a bustling Chicago street. Her profile was posted on the Society’s foster blog, the Tribune’s ChicagoNow site, and on the Society’s website. Then it was simply time to wait for the ideal adoption match. The Anti-Cruelty Society is an unlimited-stay shelter so Gracie had time on her side.

Chicago residents Ron Hall and his partner, Geoff Dankert, had lost their dog of 15 years, Ally, back in May. Their remaining dog, Buster (an alumni of The Anti-Cruelty Society) “was especially lonely after losing his ‘big sister.’ [They] knew [they] were going to adopt another dog, and had talked a bit about wanting an adult dog as opposed to a puppy,” Geoff explained. Ron found Gracie’s profile online and then Geoff went in for the first of what would be many visits.

When Geoff first saw Gracie, she was cowering under the desk of one of the Society’s behavior experts. Gracie’s fear of strangers seemed to be heightened with men, but Geoff spoke softly, moved slowly, and was moved to tears on his first visit. Although he knew she would need a lot of patience and work, Geoff had fallen for Gracie. He said that he “was sad that she had already gone through something traumatic enough to leave her cowering under furniture at such a young age.” Over the course of several weeks, Geoff visited about seven times. Ron and Buster also came along to meet Gracie, but on some visits, Geoff would just sit and read the paper so Gracie would learn to relax in his presence.

After cowering under a desk on his first visit, Gracie worked up the courage to take treats from Geoff, and finally one day she set her chin on his hand and allowed him to pet her. Karen Okura and Geoff discussed a trial foster to see if Gracie would be able to transition to Ron and Geoff’s home.

Everyone was surprised by how well she adjusted. Upon arrival, she toured the deck and yard with Buster. Within an hour, Gracie was sitting next to Geoff in his living room, licking his face. She bonded quickly with Ron too. Geoff recalls, “She just looked so happy. The day after her arrival, we all went outside to the yard and she was running around with her tail wagging and what looked like this big smile on her face. It was clear that she’d found what she was looking for, and I didn’t know whether to laugh or burst into tears.”

Gracie is still working on busy sidewalks, but she has truly found her forever home; her adoption was finalized August 9th—almost five months after being found near a highway in Alabama.

Gracie’s story shows how shelters and rescue groups can work together (even across state lines) to save more lives. Eleven dogs and quite a few humans were uplifted in Gracie’s story. Adoption is the best option.



Tatiana Garrett grew up with Borzoi, a rescued Standard Poodle, cats, hamsters, parrots, rabbits, guinea pigs, and an iguana… just to name a few pets. She began her professional career with animals in 1995 at Brookfield Zoo. She has studied wild dolphins in Australia and rescued wildlife in Florida, but people are truly at the heart of her work. If it walks, hops, or slithers, Tatiana cares about it. She currently oversees the Humane Education programs at The Anti-Cruelty Society and hosts “Chicago Tails“ on Watch312.com.

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