Even the words make those who love dogs cringe: puppy mills, places where living, breathing creatures are treated like machines, where adult female dogs give birth to litter after litter of pups who will be sold through pet stores or to unsuspecting consumers. What happens when their breeding days are over?
If they’re exceptionally fortunate, they share Gracie’s experience: rescue, rehabilitation and adoption. In Saving Gracie, Bradley chronicles the story of a tiny Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who was removed—along with more than 300 other small-breed dogs, both adults and puppies—from a ghastly kennel operation by the Chester County (Pa.) SPCA in 2006. Known first as Dog 132, then Wilma, and finally Gracie, the six-year-old was born in and confined to a crate her entire life. She had multiple and persistent health problems but, of more concern, she was emotionally shut down; rescuers wondered if she’d ever recover.
Bradley profiles all the players in this drama, among them, the CCSPCA humane police officers who initiated the rescue; the shelter workers and volunteers who tirelessly fed, bathed and cared for the dogs; the attorneys who tried the case against the kennel owners; and even the kennel owners themselves.
Set within this account is another touching story, that of Linda Jackson, the woman who eventually adopted Gracie. Jackson had always liked animals— cats more than dogs, truth be told—but this adoption galvanized her. She became passionate about not only saving and improving Gracie’s life, but also the lives of puppy mill dogs everywhere.
It’s impossible to read this book without being moved; the picture it paints of both puppy mill conditions and what they do to the dogs who are unfortunate enough to be confined to them is grim, though presented in a non-sensational way. On the other hand, those who advocate for the dogs are utterly inspiring. And the best part is, for Gracie, the story has a happy ending.