Swapping Syrian Strife for Rehoboth Life
Sandy Neverette and Pam Cranston had a long history of rescuing bichon frisé pups. Visitors and weekenders at the beach since 1993 and full-timers since 2015, they were ready to adopt a bichon again.
They’d just come back from a dream trip to Australia, not even unpacked, when they got a tip from a Baltimore rescue organization that an adorable female bichon, between two and five years old, was available. They filled out the 10-page adoption application and waited to be approved.
It was only two days into the 2020 COVID pandemic lockdown, March 15, when they found themselves on a nearly empty I-95 heading for Baltimore to meet the dog.
According to Gracie’s foster mom and the rescue organization, a Syrian woman from Northern Virginia returned to her country, spied the pup at a Syrian rescue site outside Aleppo, and arranged to bring her to America. It cost a lot, but after four days in a crate, traveling from Syria, to Turkey, to Germany, and finally to Virginia’s Dulles Airport, the dog was on American soil. From there, the rescue group sought a home for her.
Was she a bichon? Um, probably not. More likely she was a cross between a little white schnauzer (and this reporter would know) and several other small breeds. It didn’t matter. Pam and Sandy took the cute dog home and named her Gracie.
Driving from Baltimore, “she was perfect in the car,” Pam says, “no barking, no car sickness, just silent.”
Back in Rehoboth, even as Pam and Sandy seriously questioned Gracie’s bichon credentials, they fell madly in love with her. She did have the bichon (and terrier) loyalty gene, sticking close to her humans, wanting the whole pack to be together at all times. “She gets upset if we’re not a matched set,” Sandy says.
In the early days of the adoption, Pam and Sandy, wondering how to communicate with Gracie, tried Google translator to speak her Arabic language. No need; Gracie picked up “sit,” “stay,” and “treat” in English really quickly.
Fast forward a year to March 14, 2021, when late at night Pam got a Facebook messenger note from a Syrian woman, now living in another mid-east country. She wanted to know if Gracie was her dog, originally named Lexie, who had come from Syria. Pam and Sandy panicked.
“We quickly asked the rescue organization if they had given our names out, and they said, ‘No. We’d never do that.’”
The answer was the same from the Syrian woman who brought the dog to the US. But it was clear that the rescue organization was all over Facebook, and posts made by Pam and Sandy connected the dots for the woman named Hala who had contacted them.
In time, the girls responded to Hala and were relieved that she only wanted news of the dog, not to get her back. In fact, Hala shared Gracie’s baby pictures (she adopted her at 40 days) and many photos through the years. A lot of years. Gracie turned out to have been at least eight at the time of her adoption.
Pam and Sandy learned that Hala, who moved to Kuwait, left Gracie in Aleppo, Syria, with her parents, a nephew, and other relatives hunkering down amid the war. Life was hard for them, as they had no heat or water, and suffered terribly during the conflict. Due to the hardship, Hala believes a family member gave the dog to a friend, but she somehow wound up in the streets of Aleppo where the Syrian rescue organization picked her up—the first step in her improving fortunes and journey to America.
These days, Pam and Sandy hear from Hala every six months or so, just to check in. And even Hala’s mother texts from time to time. They love following Gracie on Facebook.
As for Gracie, she rules her Rehoboth roost, barking furiously (not a prevalent bichon trait) when guests enter her house or get ready to leave. And the calm car-riding demeanor she showed on first her trip home? “Oh, she’s a horror in the car; she needs drugs,” Sandy says, laughing.
Bichon or not, world-traveling Gracie, the Syrian immigrant, is now a proud citizen of the Nation’s Summer Capital. Pam and Sandy are thrilled to have helped a refugee and nobody cares what breed she is as long as she’s home with her humans. I still vote for majority schnauzer. She’s got the eyebrows and the strut. ▼
Fay Jacobs is the author of five published books and is touring with her one-woman sit-down comedy show, Aging Gracelessly.