Case Study-Grace and Barnie

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Grace Castellano was retired, a widow living in the Phoenix area. She was a petite little woman, full of compassion for others. Her voice was soft and sweet. She and her husband had raised a family in Pittsburgh, where she taught second grade for 35 years. Her students affectionately called her ‘Mrs. C.’ When she wasn’t raising kids or teaching, she had played the organ at St. Albans church. It amazed all who knew “Gracie” that such a quiet little woman could make so much noise on the organ, as she thundered out hymn after hymn, the sounds resounded throughout the cavernous cathedral.

She had recently lost her Herb to a heart attack. Herb had worked at Bethlehem Steel, all the way up from the mail room to senior VP of Sales. He was her rock, a pillar of strength. In almost forty years there at the company he hadn’t taken over a dozen sick days.

For months after Herb’s passing, Grace felt a kind of hollowness in her soul. Each of her three children would call, generally on different nights of any given week, as though they had worked out a system of some kind. But after several months went by, daughter Natalie was becoming increasingly concerned.

Mom didn’t really seem to be getting over her grief. On the phone, her already soft little voice sounded almost lifeless. Natalie and her husband Rick didn’t have kids of their own. They had talked about adopting. But for now, they agreed that Natalie should fly to Phoenix and stay with mom for a while.

Gracie was happy to have Natalie with her, of course. Natalie learned that mom’s church there, Sacred Heart, sponsored a grief counseling program for its parishioners. She took her mom the first few times, twice a week, for about a month. Her therapist recommended that Gracie a get a dog. They had once had a golden retriever, much beloved, when little ‘Nat’ was still in grade school.

Natalie was concerned about buying from a ‘puppy mill’ though. So she went online, and found a Craigslist ad, touting four new puppies from a private litter, just arrived. “If we hurry, we can get the pick of the litter.”

And they did. The four little fuzzies were all impossibly cute, each one more so than the next. Their little coats were several shades of golden-red. The lightest and ‘goldest’ colored one seemed to take to Gracie straight away, licking her profusely while the others nursed. She named him Barnie. Home he went with Gracie and Nat.

At first little Barnie would howl long into the night, crying out for his canine mommy. Natalie wasn’t sure that this was good for mom after all. Gracie would tear up herself, and cuddle the little pup to sleep each night. But after several days little Barnie got over his homesickness, settled in, and was even getting potty trained. Another week and he was fully bonded with his human mommy. Natalie could see that her mom was recovering. She was getting out and about now, walking Barnie. Her doggie-walks forced her back into contact with neighbors, mostly retirees walking their own dogs. With each passing day, her spirits were lifting like morning glories. With the mission accomplished, it was time for Natalie to go home.

Now about two years had elapsed since Herb’s death. Barnie was a strapping adolescent – big, fluffy and full of energy. Gracie would still take him on walks, of course, but by this time he weighed over a hundred pounds, and it was really Gracie that was getting walked. So often she would simply let him out into the fenced back yard. It was summer time in the Valley of the Sun, and hot – too hot – really, for Gracie to go out. Plus the ‘yard’ was really more like a bed of rocks.

Gracie thought that maybe she could take a vacation of some kind. But how, with Barnie? Now Gracie still read the paper each morning, getting her news the old fashioned way. She noticed a little ad one day, plugging a five day cruise-and-stay to the Catalina Island Resort. Normally it would be impossible with Barnie, and she wasn’t about to leave him at some pet ‘hotel’, but this was a dog-friendly cruise. Best of all, the whole thing, including airfare to Long Beach, CA, was only $399. Impossible!

But sure enough, the nice customer service rep assured Grace that this was an all-expense-paid vacation. Grace called Natalie, ecstatic. She loved to travel, but hadn’t done anything like this since before Herb passed.

“I don’t know about this Mom, did you read the fine print?”

“What fine print, Honey? I just read it in a little ad in the newspaper, called up, and they confirmed everything. I don’t think there was any fine print.”

And so off she flew, with Barnie in the cargo bin. There was a little separation anxiety, maybe, as Barnie had whined away from inside his port-o-cage at the baggage check, but the flight was only an hour, and they were soon reunited a LAX. Gracie had always been so neat and tidy, but she would tolerate things from Barnie like no one else, like a thousand tongue-lickings – lashings, almost – upon being reunited with Gracie at the baggage claim.

After a taxi ride to Long Beach, they were duly processed there at an office right on the pier. They then crossed over the gang plank with a porter, and boarded the cruise ship Bravado. Barnie was leashed and on his best behavior. The Bravado was specially equipped with a open-air grassy court yard to accommodate pooping pets. There was even a full time staff of poop-picker-uppers to keep the place relatively clean. Gracie wondered to herself how much they had to pay these people to do such a job.

Finally, they arrived at their state-room, Gracie tipped the porter, and settled in. The cruise itself was fairly enjoyable. Barnie was allowed everywhere. He was there by Gracie’s side during bingo, live entertainment, and copious free food. “Gormet” dog food was served at the foot of the table. Gracie even met a nice older couple at dinner the first night, Ben and Julie. Their little schnauzer, Pepper, was fed scraps off the table, a violation of protocol. But who was going to bust them?

They told Gracie about how they had somehow ‘bought into’ the Catalina Island Resort, about how much they loved it, what a great ‘investment’ it was, and so on. This was interesting. She wondered how one ‘bought into’ a hotel.

So at the end of the second day at sea, they arrived at the pier of the Catalina Island Resort – the “Cat”- as Ben had called it. “The Cat’s cool”, he kept saying. Gracie and Barnie went through the porter-to-room ritual again, but the front desk sent Gracie to the concierge, who ‘reminded’ her that she had to sit though a brief ‘investment’ presentation. Hmm…This she did not remember at all.

And so the next morning they ate breakfast in the dog-friendly café. Barnie’s victuals included a special steak cutlet diced and covered with gravy. He seemed to savor every morsel.

Afterwards, Gracie dutifully took her place in one many seminar rooms, and leashed Barnie to her chair in the front row. Not all of the dogs were as sanguine as Barnie. For some reason, Ben and Julie were there. Pepper their schnauzer yapped at the heels of another patron, setting off a general din of barking commotion. Each dog was given a complimentary bone, though, as pacifiers. This seemed to work fairly well, and by the time the presentation was underway, things had subsided.

“Oscar” was the emcee. He voice resonated like a professional orator, and his rhetoric was smooth as silk. He flashed though frame after frame of photos depicting resort amenities, including a dog friendly water park, replete with showers, pools, flowing canals, and even a water fall. “The water is constantly flowing and filtrated so that it stays clean”. The Catalina Resort Group had other facilities “all over the world.” Oscar then commenced to show a video of about them. It was all very professional, very impressive.

But there was something about it all that just seemed a little untoward to Gracie. She couldn’t really put her finger on it, but she was very intuitive and her instincts told her that something was amiss. Maybe it was Oscar himself. As smooth as he was, he seemed to be blinking a lot. In 35 years of teaching second graders, Gracie had seen her share of blinking seven year olds fibbing to cover up for some naughty deed on the playground.

So at the end of the presentation, Gracie got up, and with Barnie at her side was on her way out. Suddenly, Ben accosted her, actually physically blocking her from the door. “How about it Gracie, is this place some kind of cool, or what?”

Hmm…why was Ben even here (?), Gracie wondered. Hadn’t he already bought into this place? Now someone named Rudy had come around, trying to coral her into one of the side rooms. Gracie resisted. “Please, I just want to go back to my room for now….”

But Rudy somehow got her in there, and commenced a high pressure sales pitch so emphatic that it took on a kind of messianic tenor: “”As God is my witness, this is the most dynamic investment concept to come along in decades…think about your dreams….think about the uniqueness of this place, think about all those years of hard work you put in…working, working your life away, yearning for your own little piece of paradise, a place to relax, a place to unwind, a place to get away from it all, and most of all, a place that you actually can call your own, that no one can ever take away, your own little slice of heaven…and best of all, an investment in the future, that you can enjoy forever with your best friend, indeed man’s best friend, your beloved Barnie…Sounds too good to be true I know, but soon it will be if you don’t jump on it, …. as God is my witness, there are people waiting in the wings for this opportunity, and we’re selling this real estate so fast that it’ll may well be gone tomorrow.. and all because it’s the hottest concept to come along in many years — vacation ownership! You don’t just rent it and just forget about it, you don’t just dream about it…, you own it, …you have title to it..are invested in it…you own it, it’s there for you any time you want…”           

Now this was good. Really good. So good that Gracie’s defenses were beginning to weaken. But alas, she couldn’t help but notice that Rudy was blinking just a profusely as Oscar had. And so she tried to get up and leave again, but again Rudy blocked the door. As she tried to push past him, he grabbed her forcibly by the arm, and she gasped a little, but just then Barnie leapt forward and locked onto Rudy’s leg with a bight so fierce that Rudy shrieked in pain. This was just the break that poor Gracie needed, and she fled with Barnie as quickly as her seventy year old legs would let her.

When she got back to the room she noticed that there was no air conditioning. She called the front desk, but got no response. Finally, when it was no longer bearable, she went to the water park with Barnie. They splashed around together under the falls, floated down one of the canals, and Gracie started to relax a little, trying to get over the trauma of the entrapment earlier.

That evening, on the way back to the room, she stopped by the front desk to ask about the a.c. But the receptionist asked her to wait while she called on a ‘supervisor’. Hmm…a supervisor? This was a new wrinkle. After a while, a somber looking man, Mr. Truncheon, appeared.

“Unfortunately, Ms. Castellano, you’ve violated the terms of your contract with us, and we can no longer accommodate you here.”

Poor Gracie could not believe her ears. “Wh, what terms? What on earth have I done wrong?”

“Read your booking reservation. You must exercise good faith in attending a sales seminar. You’ve failed to do this, and now your stay with us is over. It’s just that simple. You’re lucky we don’t prosecute you for what your dog did to our salesman.”

“Good faith…my goodness I sat there for hours, how can you say this…” Gracie was crying now. “The cruise ship doesn’t even leave until day after tomorrow, where will I stay until then?

“You won’t be going anywhere on that ship. The porter is here with your luggage. Goodbye now.”

“What, you’ve stranded me here on the Island with my dog? How will I ever get home?

“That’s your problem.”

And so Gracie was ‘expelled’ from the “Cat”. Once outside under the portico, Gracie tearfully called around, but there were no hotel vacancies on the island that night. Barnie rested his head on her lap as she sat there sobbing on a little bench. Eventually she hailed a cab to the little commuter airport, where she tried to sleep in a chair that night, waiting for the flight that she booked for the next morning.

And so eventually Gracie got home with her Barnie. But in all her seventy years she had not suffered this kind of indignity. Still, in reflecting on it all, at least she didn’t let them beat her. And so she stays upbeat about it, and now some months later can even laugh a little. And if you ask her about the whole affair, she’ll giggle softly, and tell you that there’s even a moral to the story: “Never take your dog to the Cat”.

 

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