She was just a Blount County stray that entered our lives a few days shy of 14 years ago. A scruffy, smelly, scared out her mind little thing that ran onto the porch of an isolated church at Graves Gap, one Friday night in August of 1999.

The intersection of our lives made a profound impact on my thinking over the years and convinced me to take action that would save thousands of Blount County strays, like Grace, over the last 14 years.

Grace opened my eyes to all of the unwanted animals that were being dumped in the county that had become my new home. I joined Blount County Animal Shelter and the movement to build a first animal shelter for our community, got involved in support of rescue and educated myself on pet overpopulation.

I became a Certified Humane Education Specialist and began a movement for a change in thinking for Blount County residents. I took classes on non-profit management, grant writing and animal advocacy. The result has been grants that have spayed and neutered thousands of animals; many more have been feed through BCASI's HAND program that shares food with other humane welfare organizations and the pet food bank administered through the Hope House. There have been major changes in animal welfare with much more to come.

Through all of these years, Grace has reluctantly shared her home with dogs and cats needing a temporary place of respite and recuperation. She was always first to greet me when I returned home often times tired from an adoption event that found forever homes for her brothers and sisters.

RIP Mama's Girl. You were brave and loyal through all the years we were together. And, you gave us every bit of love you had until the end. Grace, just a Blount County stray who made a big difference. See you again one day.