Survivor dog now helps breast cancer patients

HENRICO, Va. (WRIC) -- Gracie is officially on duty for the day at Planet Hair Wigs and Accessories. As the long-haired Chihuahua mix sits gently in Madeline Cason's lap, healing is happening.

"She's so calm. She calms you," observes Cason, who was diagnosed with Stage 2 Breast Cancer in July, only three months after moving to Richmond from New Jersey. "It's almost like she knows."

Gracie came into Salon Owner Cheryl Tankersley's life in March when she asked the Richmond SPCA to find her a suitable therapy dog for her hospice outreach. It was at the salon, though, that Gracie found another purpose.

"She's doing what she's called to do," explains Tankersley.

Gracie was diagnosed with mammary tumors and had several masses removed. Now she helps women facing their own breast cancer diagnosis.

"She knows what it is to hurt," says Tankersley. "We call her our little compassion giver."

By now, Gracie is as much of the wig-fitting experience as brushes and combs.

"I would come here just to be with Gracie sometimes," says Carol Jones, who is a survivor of both Breast Cancer and Lymphoma.

Jones noticed an immediate connection with the canine, from one survivor to another.

"Oh, Gracie is just so precious, and she's just becoming a little star," Jones chuckles. "When I come in the door, she marches right over to say hello, and I pet her and then she goes back to her throne."

Gracie is at the salon when women take what is often a traumatic first step, shaving their heads and finding a wig they will wear through treatment.

"Knowing that this little girl has been through so much and helps so many people just made me feel better," says Cason, who lovingly pats Gracie while a group of her friends looks on, offering their own support.

Time and time again, Gracie is a pint-sized prescription for happiness.

"I have never experienced the power of healing that an animal has until I saw it with my own eyes," Tankersley says.

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