The conversation starter after Christmas is pretty much the same everywhere.
“Wha’d ya get for Christmas?”
“Was Santa good to you this year?”
At our house, Santa was pretty good to everyone. There was a flying Unicorn that almost took my finger off and put my eye out in one swoop at my head. Remote controlled cars. Puzzles. Blankets. Thermal coffee cups. And two stuffed electronic dogs that woofed and yelped and howled until we had so much fun that we started stuffing Kleenexes in our ears.
And me. I got a real dog. He was totally unexpected. One week before Christmas my phone dings. It’s a text from my buddy in Columbus with a picture of this black and white mut pup.
DING: “You still looking for a farm dog?”
This is probably the 5th time over the last 4 years that he’s sent me a text like this one. He knows that I want a dog. But I’ve been reluctant to let myself entertain the idea.
Without trying to be too psycho-analytical, let me just say that I was never allowed to have my own dog as a kid. Animals were for working, hunting, or eating at our house. Not petting. I did have a horse once for a short time. I guess it was considered livestock and we didn’t have to buy food for it. But never a dog.
We had plenty of dogs. They just were not pets. Three bird dogs and eight beagles.
One time I almost broke through. We had lost a couple of our rabbit dogs and Dad was looking to replace them. A hunting buddy of his had some new pups and we went to look. Normally, they would have made the ride home in the back of the truck inside a feed sack, but I begged to keep one in the cab in my lap. By the time we got home I had named him, which was allowed. All the dogs had names. It just wasn’t personal, you understand.
But this pup became personal. Dad didn’t like it. Mom would protest.
“Let him play with the puppy.”
“He’s going to ruin him for hunting.”
One day I had him out of the pen playing with him in the back yard. I went inside for something. He wondered off. A car blew the horn. Tires screeched. He was gone. And Dad never let me play with another dog.
When our kids came along, we decided that they should know the fun of having a dog. So, we went to the pound and got three of them. I guess I was over compensating for all the years I never had one.
The kids grew up. The dogs passed on. And the house was pet free for a long time. There were a few cats from time to time, but who counts cats.
About four years ago a pup showed up at the tree farm. It was storming like heck. Early morning in the dark. And this black and white was huddled up against the office door. Half wagging his tail and half shaking out of control. It was meant to be, and we latched on to each other. I taught him to jump up in the truck and ride with me. He ate ice cubes off the kitchen floor at home and had the freedom to run anywhere he wanted at the farm.
Then. A car blew the horn. Tires screeched. And he was gone. I was pretty sure I was not meant to have a dog.
Anyways, back to the text message just one week before Christmas.
TEXT: “Pretty good-looking pup”, I said. He looked a lot like Max, the storm dog.
DING: “His owner is looking to give him away to a new home.”
I hesitated. I don’t know. Is this the right time for another dog. What’s it gonna do to Jack the Cat? Having a dog in the house? What if he gets run over?
DING: Picture of said dog with owner. Big brown, sad puppy eyes. On the young girl, not the dog. The dog pretty much had a sideways-I’d-rather-not-be-here-look on his face.
I text Beth and share the news. She’s a better woman than I deserve. She tells me to do whatever I want. She knows I want a dog.
TEXT: “I’ll take him.” I was like a kid when I hit the send button.
The hand-off was more complicated than I expected. She wanted me to meet the dog. So, she drove him up to the tree farm. I’m pretty sure I was being covertly interviewed. She is a young college student. She really loved the dog, but class schedules and expenses just made it impossible. I promised to give him a good home. I could drive down and pick him up on Friday. She teared up and drove away.
Friday came. I was downtown on Front Avenue to pick up the dog at the Coca Cola Space Science Center where she worked. The dog came out the door. Spotted a squirrel and disappeared in a blur. She ran by in a hard chase. Two blocks away I see them walking back. Dog on leash.
“He’s not normally like this”, she says.
She calls him Dean. I tell her I have a guy who works for me named Dean. I can’t call him Dean. She says that’s okay. I can call him whatever I want. I already have a nice leather dog collar with a brass plate that says “Max”. New name solved.
I open the truck door. He jumps right in. “He loves to ride”, she says. She tears up. Big brown sad eyes. I felt like I was stealing her child. I promise he’ll be okay.
And there he lays in the corner of the living room on his mat while I tell you his story. I didn’t expect a dog for Christmas. I didn’t even ask Santa for one. I guess I must have been a good boy this year. Unexpected gifts are often the best ones.