When Monica Geyer heard that her long-lost miniature Australian shepherd had been found, 'I cracked up laughing.'

That's because the impossible can seem quite funny.

The dog, named Gracie, had been missing for 10 months, including the harshest months of the winter, and Geyer had long given up hopes of ever seeing her again. Geyer had even gotten a replacement, a golden retriever named Micah.

But just a couple days before she received that monumental phone call from Bethany Family Pet Clinic, Geyer had taken Micah for a walk, and 'I thought to myself, 'It sure would be nice to have another dog.''

Now Geyer does. Gracie is now back home, badly traumatized from her ordeal and recovering from severe wounds. But now she is getting the care she had been missing for her entire life, and because Geyer is giving her such a good home, her prospects of recovery are excellent.

The reuniting of Gracie and the Geyer family was due to a saint who loves animals. Not Saint Francis, although he did play a crucial role at one point.

It was Saint Christy - Christy Fischer that is. Not an official saint but a performer of animal miracles. It was Fischer who kept an eye on the little dog as it ran around the city of Lake Oswego's Luscher Farm for five months, eluding all efforts at capture.

It was Fischer's persistence, tenacity, sagacity and ultimately love that brought success when just about anybody else would have given up.

'I have something in my heart,' said Fischer. 'I don't want to give up on things, and this was a little, cute dog who was really sweet.'

A Dog's Life

Geyer was ready to get another dog. She was finally over the sadness from the death of two beloved dogs she'd had for 16 and 15 years, respectively. Her 13-year-old daughter Erin found this dog on the Internet on the Humane Society's Web site. A 6-month-old Australian shepherd who had been badly abused. Gracie was her name.

'When I went to get her, she was the only dog scrunched up in the corner of the pen,' Geyer said. 'I had to work half an hour to get her neck released.'

This was not the mutual love-at-first-sight encounter Geyer might have hoped for, but she had previously adopted an abused dog and it had turned out wonderfully well.

'That dog ended up being the cockiest thing on the planet,' Geyer said.

But Gracie stayed in one corner of a room and never moved.

'She was pretty much afraid of her own shadow,' Geyer said. 'She had been traumatized, and I knew it would take a little time. But she was coming around.'

Then, after Gracie had been with the Geyers for only two weeks, she came down sick and Monica had to take her to the veterinarian. In a flash, Gracie was gone.

'This dog who hadn't moved in two weeks suddenly took off running the minute a veterinarian's assistant tried to grab her,' Geyer said. 'She bolted out the door, ran across a parking lot and then through a Christmas tree farm by Cascadia Apartments.'

Geyer found out the hard way that Australian shepherds are among the very fastest of dogs. It made her feel even worse that Gracie had escaped just two weeks before Halloween of 2006 and it was the coldest night of the year. But things would get worse.

'The Humane Society called and it was terrible. Terrible!' Geyer said. 'I had talked them into letting me take their dog, then I lose their dog.'

But Geyer was determined to get her dog back, doing everything short of calling in the FBI. She put up missing dog photo-posters all over her West Linn neighborhood, she called the police, she left Gracie's bed on the front porch.

Geyer's masterstroke was hiring a pet detective (not Ace Ventura). It was Harry Oakes, Jr. of Longview, Wash., who happens to be the only detective in the country who does pet search-and-rescue.

The man gave Geyer a fascinating education about his work.

'The guy was amazing,' Geyer said. But he did not succeed in getting her dog back.

'She was so little and so afraid. I knew she wouldn't go to people,' Geyer said. 'I was expecting the worst.'

Geyer had some hope. Two people told her that Australian shepherds were the smartest dogs in the world. Also the Humane Society had installed a chip in Gracie's leg.

But after a few months, Geyer never expected to see Gracie again.

Enter Saint Christy

'I'm not really a dog rescuer,' Fischer says. But she has rescued many other animals over her life, including 12 cats and a rabbit named Rosie, who one day showed up at the yard of her home in the middle of Portland.

'Whenever an animal is wounded, sick or needs a home, somehow it finds me,' Fischer said.

Since 1999 Fischer has been employed in various capacities at Luscher Farm, where she is currently the caretaker. One day five months ago she saw a dog running across the fields, and there was something odd about it. The dog was running on only three legs, because one of its front legs was stuck under its collar.

'I thought, 'It's so fast for a three-legged dog!''

Still, Fischer was worried. There are coyotes in the Luscher Farm area and they can be especially dangerous to little animals. Coyotes had gotten many of Fischer's cats and, most unhappily, Rosie the Rabbit.

The fast three-legged dog kept showing up from time to time, so Fischer started leaving food out. She also had Clackamas County put out a trap, in which the dog never went in. Then her dog sightings ceased. Figuring the dog was gone, Fischer did not put out any food for two weeks.

However, one night a friend was visiting and Fischer walked her out to her car parked behind the barn. There the two women saw the three-legged dog, trying to get into the barn. At first it was stuck, then it managed to scurry away.

'My friend said, 'My God, Christy! It's the dog! She's still here,' ' Fischer said. 'The dog was trying to get into the barn. I think she smelled catfood.'

Fischer had her mission: rescue the dog. Even though with its speed and brains it was incredibly elusive. Fischer managed to find the dog's hideout in a dirty, ugly old shed. It was a perfect spot for a runaway dog that didn't want to be caught because there was a backdoor for escape. Every time Fischer would close in, the dog would race out the back door. All Fischer could do was play for time by putting out food.

Then came a great stroke of luck. Fischer found a partner. Claudia Salzar of Bergis Road often came riding her horse at Luscher Farm, but she and Fischer were only slightly acquainted. What brought them together was the three-legged dog, because Salzar is a veterinarian's technician who has a great interest in saving animals.

As it turned out, Salzar had already spotted the dog while out riding her horse.

Salzar said, 'These landscaping people told me there was this really sad dog with a broken leg, and nobody could catch it.'

'I wouldn't have been able to deal with it without Claudia and without her knowledge of helping a dog that was scared and wounded,' Fischer said.

Finally, after hacking away loads of blackberries in the shed area, the day came when Fischer was able to jimmy-wire the back door shut and head off the dog before it passed.

'I will never forget those beady little scared eyes,' Fischer said. 'The dog freaked out. She came running out of the shed, barking, growling and tail wagging frantically.

'I called Claudia and said, 'I got the dog!' Claudia said, 'I'll be there in two minutes.' '

'We had to corner her,' Salzar said. 'She was barking and snarling and trying to act tough. But she was wagging her tail, so I could tell she wasn't really dangerous.'

Salzar had provided a portable kennel, and with great effort the two women tried to herd the determined dog into it by using a blanket. It wasn't working.

Fischer said, 'I was trying to think of the saint who helps animals and I couldn't. Then I thought, 'Saint Francis!' The dog went right into the kennel.'

Even after receiving this minor miracle, Fischer and Salzar struggled to get the dog to a place where it could really get some help. One dog-rescue operation backed out. They were finally able to find a veterinarian who would help them, Dr. Mark Norman at Bethany Family Pet Clinic.

'I told them, 'Before you open your kennel, what are your intentions? I'm emotionally invested in this,' ' Fischer said. 'Then I broke down in their office and started crying.'

Sad Bones to Glad Bones

When Geyer saw Gracie for the first time in 10 months, she could hardly believe her eyes. Having her leg caught caused the collar to grow into Gracie's body and 'she was so wounded.'

'I was so excited to see her,' Geyer said, 'and they brought out this poor little thing with its cone head. Half of her body was bandaged and her smell was out of this world.

'People said my face went white.'

Gracie smelled as bad as she looked. She had rolled in feces to keep the coyotes away, and 'she had the smell of death. It permeated our house. I went into a little shock. I didn't realize she was that bad.'

Yet Gracie is nothing if not a survivor. At first it was thought she would need major surgery, but she has healed so quickly in her first couple of weeks back home that it is now deemed unnecessary. Once again she is staying only in one room, but her appetite is excellent.

Gracie looks like the most forlorn dog in the world, which is easy to understand. This is a little dog who has known nothing but hardship in her 18 months of life, first from an abusive owner, then from being on the run. Geyer, Fischer and Salzar still have no idea of how Gracie was able to survive, especially in the first five cold months before Fischer started feeding her.

True, it will be a long, long time before Gracie will look like a happy dog. But at least now you can imagine the day when Geyer can take two dogs for a walk. Maybe even a time when Gracie can properly express gratitude toward Fischer.

'Christy really stuck at it,' Geyer said. 'Christy was so sweet and good to her and she still wouldn't go up to her.'

But Fischer says, 'I am so grateful she won't spend another winter out here.'

Anyway, maybe Gracie may have already given Fischer something very valuable: A new career as the operator of a nonprofit dog-rescue operation.

'I am considering it,' Fischer said. 'My friends say I should do it.'

Certainly, Saint Francis would not mind some help.

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