Meet the real-life Snow White who is visited every day by a bird she saved two YEARS ago – and it barely left her side as she battled cancer.
Dina Theissen, 47, found tiny Gracie the blue jay near a tree in her garden when he was only a few hours old.
When the baby bird’s mother didn’t show up, teacher Dina, her husband Ken, 49, a personal trainer, and their eight-year-old daughter Alyssa, took it into their home.
The family spent days doting on the chick nursing it back to health in a towel-lined shoebox which they kept on their patio.
Dina hand fed Gracie dry cat food every half an hour and later taught him how to perch by coaxing him onto branches balanced between plastic chairs.
She even taught him how forage for himself by leading him towards insects and encouraging him to peck at them.
After a month, when Gracie was confident enough to fly into the nearby trees, Dina and her family tried to release him into the wild – but he didn’t want to leave.
Two weeks later he plucked up the courage to fly the nest but the following day he popped back for a visit – and he’s returned to visit every day since.
Dina’s husband Ken says the mum-of-one is like a “real-life Snow White” because like the fairytale princess she loves animals – and they love her.
Dina, of South Florida, US, said: “An unbreakable bond was developed through the endless hours Gracie and I spent together.
“It was a huge commitment for the whole family – he needed to be fed every half an hour and we pretty much taught him how to be a bird.
“Between us, Ken and I would be running home from work to check on him and my daughter used to play at the park after school, but all that changed.
“I became his mummy in every single way.
“When we released him we all cried. Nobody wanted him to go but he was a wild bird and that’s the way it was meant to be.
“The next day Alyssa was by the pool and she said, ‘Mummy, there’s Gracie.’ And there he was, doing his little blue jay call to us.
“Since then he comes to visit all the time. He has had broods of babies but he still comes to visit us every single day.
“Sometimes he will want to play. He picks up anything shiny and flies off with Alyssa’s crayons.
“Other times he will just perch on the lamp and chirp away.
“He even made his own nest on top of the fridge.”
Incredibly, when Dina was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in January 2016, Gracie began spending even more time in the family home.
When she underwent chemotherapy and surgery, the caring bird perched on her shoulder and visited for longer periods of time.
Dina, who is now in remission, said: “When I was battling cancer and couldn’t get my head off the pillow, he would fly in and perch next to me and talk to me.
“He started staying for longer and ending up bringing happiness to a situation where there was nothing to be happy about.
“Having Gracie there reminded me how brave he was going into the world and made me have courage.
“For Alyssa, when Gracie came in and would play or sit with her, she wasn’t thinking about what was wrong with her mum.
“The experience of going through cancer for our family would have been completely different without Gracie.”
Dina added: “I never thought I would have this sort of bond with a bird, let alone a blue jay.
“He is the sweetest, most kind little bird in the whole world.
“He came at a time when we needed him and he has totally changed our lives.”
More than two years after he was rescued in May 2015, Gracie – who lives in a tree nearby the family’s garden – still comes to visit every single day.
A typical visit could last ten minutes or two minutes, but he will often come 15 times a day, Ken said.
The dad, a former WWE developmental wrestler, added: “When Dina was diagnosed with cancer, there were tears and anger, but Gracie came and replaced all that with joy.
“From the moment he was there all that went away.
“Watching Dina with him on her shoulder, chirping away – he would stay for ten, 20 minutes at a time. It was unbelievable.
“Their bond is amazing.”
He added: “When I first met her 24 years ago, my dad said to me that she reminded him of Snow White. He said he could imagine all the little animals around her.
“She is a real-life Snow White.”
You can follow Gracie’s adventures on his Instagram account.