Proving again that amazing things come in small packages
Seven years ago, Jeff and Gail Lang of Eugene lost their beloved 21-year-old Cockapoo, Holly. Jeff, an environmental health supervisor, and Gail, a teacher, were absolutely devastated.
Deeply concerned with Gail’s grief, Jeff felt strongly that it was important to find a companion for her to love — fast. So he set out on a mission; he searched numerous animal shelters and replied to classifieds, driving up and down the Willamette Valley, looking for just the right new friend to love.
He found just what he was looking for: a beautiful 4-lb. bundle of joy in the form of a Jack Russell-Poodle Mix. Grace has a unique curly crop on top, and when out and about, Jeff and Gail often hear: “How’d she get that hairdo?”
It was love at first sight, says Jeff. “Gracie was smart, energetic and bright-eyed. One look and I knew she was the one.” Jeff called Gail, and soon they were taking their new girl home to meet the couple's other companions, three ring neck doves and 35 pond fish.
The Langs say they prefer mutts from a shelter or private parties over any other dogs. “In our experience they are more intelligent and (for us) have always been healthier animals.”
As far as intelligence, Grace proved them right . . . in spades. In fact, Jeff says he realized very early that she needed a way to express her abundance of smarts and energy. They took her to obedience training with Chris Denning of "His Kennels." Denning (now in Idaho) had worked for Disney and other filmmakers, on television commercials, and had trained dogs professionally. That, coupled with her experience with her own seven Jack Russells, made her uniquely qualified to groom Gracie.
Just add Grace, who possessed undeniable “star quality” — the looks, smarts, personality, and penchant for performing — and what the Langs had set in motion would “bring experiences and people into their lives beyond their wildest dreams,” they say.
Gracie quickly learned the basics, and soon Denning moved her into the fun stuff — jumping through hoops and waving good-bye with her paws. Today, Gracie’s kit bag is packed with over 40 tricks, including jumping rope, dancing on an exercise ball and playing a toy piano. She also crouches to "pray" and plays basketball. Gracie was a natural.
One day Denning called a Eugene television station to gauge their interest in a story on Gracie and Denning's own highly-trained Jack Russells. A crew went straight out, shot the dogs going through their paces, and aired the segment that night. CNN picked it up and ran it as well. Of course, the Langs were delighted and amazed. Then it got even better: Jay Leno caught the segment and was smitten. He clamored to have the dog on his show, too, so, Gracie, the Langs, Denning and her Russells, were soon on their way to the Los Angeles (Burbank?) studios of Leno's popular late night show.
And so, as the saying goes, a star was born. And in case you’re wondering, yes: Gracie even had her own dressing room.
Soon Gracie was hired to do national commercials, including ads for Bissell SpotBot carpet cleaner and Nature Made vitamins. She also did local spots for Wags Dog Boutique and Willamalane’s Splash.
Amazing Grace, as she is fondly called, not only went on to appear in local television segments, she’s also conquered the theatre, appearing in a Eugene Symphony children’s show, being cast as Toto in several different productions of The Wizard of Oz, and even lending her magic to the Oregon Festival of American Music.
Once they realized how brightly their little star shone, the Langs worked up a 30-minute revue in which Amazing Grace struts her stuff. In a move reminiscent of Vaudeville, each show opens with Gracie pulling a cord to release a banner that proclaims “Amazing Grace Dog Show.”
The Langs began allowing charities to auction Gracie's half-hour show to the highest bidder, which so far has reached a high of $1600, to support their efforts. In all, Gracie’s work for charity — which has included gigs for the Boy and Girl Scouts, local Rotary clubs, the Oregon Mozart Players and DoveLewis — has given area nonprofits a boost to the tune of over ten grand.
Gracie also often performs at schools, giving what the Langs call “life lessons” to the kids — teaching about the expenses and responsibilities of having a companion animal, and the importance of vaccinations.
“We had no idea all this was going to happen,” says Gail. “I guess she was just born to be a star.”
What a double treat when that star turns out to be a blessing to so many. After sharing their story with Spot, the Langs were heading to Bend to assist Healing Reins, a group bringing kids and horses together to boost the confidence of kids with disabilities.
“Gracie has been given to us as a gift,” says Gail. “She’s a gift that we share with so many others. We are not professional trainers . . . we just thought we were getting a companion . . . . She is so much more.”
Of course, that’s a Wonder Dog for you.
Connie Theil is a freelance writer, master landscaper, and lifelong animal advocate and rescuer. Preciously she served on the Multnomah County Animal Safety Advisory Board, and years ago she and her son helped eradicate greyhound racing in Oregon. Connie has recently returned to Spot, and we're thrilled to have her back! Contact Connie at firstname.lastname@example.org.