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A happy tail for Christmas

Raymond Spong went to the Waterford dog pound last month after reading my October column about Homer, the blind Siberian husky who needed a home.

He was intrigued by the possibility of adopting a blind canine.

But when he got there, the first dog he met was Grace, the American bulldog I had also written about, who came barrelling out of her kennel to meet him.

"I thought, 'Well there's a nice hunk of dog,' " recalls Ray, who will be 86 in January.

And then Grace did what Grace does best. She leaned on him. So he adopted her.

She went home with him to East Lyme on Nov. 11. Since then he has had her spayed, and is working on getting some meat on her bones. Grace, who is about 6 years old, started life in Colchester, belonging to a pet shop owner who relentlessly overbred her and kept her in a cage so small that to this day she has trouble standing up straight. When that person died two years ago, she was taken into state custody, and ended up in Waterford.

She had two failed adoptions, returned once because the family was moving to Hawaii and once because Grace went after the family cat.

These days, Grace rides around town in the back seat of Ray's Jaguar, resting on pillows. They drive to McCook Point, where they sit with the windows rolled down and chat with everyone who comes over to the car to see the great big dog hanging out with the little old man.

It took her a couple of days to figure out she could jump up on the bed, but now Ray has to wrestle for a little space every night where Grace is splayed out, snoring. She likes to sit on the couch in the living room, look out the picture window and watch the cars drive by. She likes to stand at the front door and see who is coming up the walk.

"If you have a dog and you don't spoil it, what's the point of having a dog?" Ray says. "She has the run of the house."

Ray and his wife had two boxers many years ago, and then a champion Shih Tzu, but he has not had a pet since his wife died in 1992.

"It's just changed my lifestyle, for sure. I've been living alone for 17 years and now there is someone here I have to think of all the time," he says.

Every morning after breakfast, Ray sits down on the couch in the den and slaps his legs with his hands. Grace comes over and lays her giant head in his lap, and they have "love time."

"I pet her for as long as she needs it," Ray says. "The other day, it was two hours. I almost couldn't get off the couch afterwards, my legs were so stiff."

They are working on the house training. Ray has made plans to have his yard fenced in, so Grace can go do her business without him. She is so strong, he puts her on two leashes when they go outside, one for each hand, so he won't lose his balance.

"She is skittish as hell," he notes, "a complete scaredy cat. She likes to be near me, and she always looks either scared or questioning."

He has done so much for Grace, but she has returned the favor.

"She's left me laughing all day long. I get a big kick out of just watching her. She does this thing, she wraps one of her forepaws around her nose when she sleeps. It looks very silly. And she keeps me moving all the time. She's fun, and I enjoy just doing things with her."

He's in it for the long haul.

"I have to outlive her," he says. "Nobody else would spoil her like I do."

This is the opinion of Elissa Bass.

FYI

For information on adopting a pet in your town, log on to www.petfinder.com and type your ZIP code into the search engine.

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