A Memorial Day tribute to two influential females

Gracie Lu at the Rockwall Animal Shelter in May 2011.

(ROCKWALL, TX — May 3, 2016) Memorial Day will be exceptionally meaningful for Rockwall-area animal lovers. We lost a pair of influential females recently. They were instrumental in Rockwall’s move to become a No Kill community five years ago. One of them is well-known to Blue Ribbon News readers. The other stayed under the radar, but she was one of the first volunteers to help the Rockwall shelter begin saving the lives of homeless pets.

The first female we lost was Gracie Lu Twisty Kitty, the most famous kitten in Rockwall history. You met her in these pages back in the spring of 2013, when her YouTube video surpassed 50,000 views. Produced to improve her chances of adoption, Gracie Lu’s video has passed the 80,000-views mark and is still going strong.

It didn’t take long after the video’s appearance in May 2011 for Susan Knoll to adopt Gracie Lu from the Rockwall shelter. “She’s a diva for sure,” Susan described Gracie Lu at the time. “But she’s earned it. Not many kitties can say they’re famous from a YouTube video.”

Susan Knoll holds Gracie Lu during treatment at the Tufts University Foster Hospital for Small Animals. Photo courtesy of Susan Knoll.

Susan and Gracie Lu moved to Boston last year, but Gracie soon began suffering from a cascade of health issues. Even though she received the best care possible at the Tufts University Foster Hospital for Small Animals, Gracie’s health continued to deteriorate. She passed away just before Christmas last year. She was only four years old.

At the same time Gracie Lu was starring in her video in 2011, Dixie Stiegelmar became one of the first volunteers for Rockwall Pets. Dixie joined the fledgling crew as they volunteered at the Rockwall shelter and at weekly adoption events at the Rockwall Petco. She came equipped with brushes and combs and took pride in making sure all the homeless pets were well-groomed and ready for adoption.

Dixie often coaxed her husband Larry Helser to volunteer as well. They proved to be a formidable team, as Larry sat patiently nurturing a homeless dog while Dixie lovingly went about her grooming. Dixie became an integral part of the Rockwall Pets volunteer team, and took pride in the August 2011 vote by the Rockwall City Council to set a minimum 90% lifesaving goal for the city’s shelter.

Dixie Stiegelmar, Larry Helser and Pam Kitkoski hold an impromptu Rockwall Pets reunion on the Big Island of Hawaii in 2012.

Dixie even apologized as her volunteer efforts became sporadic, taking a back seat as Larry’s health began to decline. (He passed away in January.) The homeless pets of Rockwall – and the humans as well – lost a true friend when Dixie passed away at the end of March. She was 85 years young.

This Memorial Day, please join us “pet people” as we remember two unforgettable females in Rockwall history. Rockwall wouldn’t be the community it is today without Gracie Lu and Dixie Stiegelmar.

Story and photos by Blue Ribbon News guest columnist Michael Kitkoski, co-founder of Rockwall Pets and No Kill Solutions.

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