Saving Gracie, by Carol Bradley is a many-layered, true story of how one Cavalier King Charles dog, is rescued after spending the first six years of her life in a puppy mill. Bradley relies on her journalistic background to peel back the layers of the many lives that intersect in this absorbing saga.
She begins by imagining the birth of a litter of Cavalier King Charles’ puppies born into puppy mill squalor. ” The Cavalier … was born in a large-scale and shoddily run commercial kennel …She shared a crate with her mother and the rest of the pups in her litter, but there was no room to frolic; there was barely any room to walk. The darkness of the room left little to see. She smelled plenty of scents, but they were disagreeable odors: the stench of feces, the caustic vapors of urine. Her eyes stung from the fumes.” (p. 3)
This particular puppy’s markings are so striking that the “breeder” decides to keep her to “Turn her into a breeding machine.” (p.5) .
“…breeding dogs in puppy mills languish five to ten years or more in a cage before they are finally put out of their misery. Even death, when it mercifully comes, can be painful. The last thing many worn out, vacant-eyed puppy mill dogs experience is a bullet to the head.” (p 5).
After introducing us to the stark reality of this puppy’s birth, Bradley begins by describing how a tip to the Chester County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) opens the door to one of our nation’s most despicable industries: the commercialized buying and selling of puppies.
It is 2006 when that tip – a phone call – alerts the local ASPCA that a kennel needs to be investigated. “The breeder,” said the caller, “had emerged with a young dog covered in dried feces and stale urine. The puppy reeked, and the breeder didn’t seem to notice.” (p. 7). Horrified by what she saw, the woman refuses to buy the puppy, leaves quickly and makes that phone call.
Investigators will find a total of 337 dogs, 3 cats and two parrots as they go into this kennel to remove animals. The seizure of animals was described as the dismantling of “…one of the largest puppy mills ever discovered in the United States.” (p. 46)
Gracie is dog number 132 and the first time we see her is on page 42. She’s being held in the arms of one of the investigators as her photograph is taken to be entered as evidence. She is six years old. She has lived every day of her life in a cage.
Bradley follows behind Gracie every step of the way as she is moved into the shelter system, held there while the legal battle plays out, and then finally placed into a home. There are plenty of statistics, a wide-ranging cast of human characters to tell their individual stories, and, there are the dogs themselves.
They are in varying stages of physical distress and are emotionally distant – especially the older dogs. Especially dog number 132, who the shelter staff has named Wilma.
Two months after being removed from the puppy mill, this dog “…still soiled her kennel and stepped in her own feces. Emotionally, she remained maddeningly out of reach…She was so tiny, so devoid of personality.” (p. 67).
The story of how dog number 132 finds a loving home, is renamed Gracie and learns to trust – as best she can – the human family she will live with for the rest of her life – is adeptly woven into the legal, social and economic issues surrounding puppy mills.
Read this book if you are researching the ugly business of puppy mills and need current statistical information and up-dated resources. Bradley is thorough in her own research made all the more memorable because she is also an excellent story teller.
Read this book if you are a dog lover who lacks an understanding of what puppy mills are all about.
Read this book if you find yourself going through a dark episode and you want confirmation that both humans and dogs really can transcend bad, ugly and traumatic experiences.
If you know about puppy mills and think that they don’t touch you as an individual, you need to read this book more than the rest of us. What Bradley shows us is that the tentacles of puppy mills snake out into every state in this country; that until we completely eradicate this seamy industry from all 50 states, it does affect us all.
Disclosure: If you do click on the book cover in this post to order Saving Gracie, I will receive a small commission from Amazon. However, the book is easily found in public libraries, and that would be the first place I’d suggest you head for to get this book.