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The Christmas Dog

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Dec. 25, 2002 – Christmas away from home.

Our house across town is being remodeled, so for six months we're living in a room at a residence hotel.

It’s a pleasant enough part of town, full of older houses with character – even if some need a good coat of paint.

It’s early Christmas Day, but we're not in the holiday mood. The weather is warm. Our oldest dog, the American Eskimo that has been my devoted companion for 10 years, can barely walk. She will not live another month.

After breakfast, my wife and I are looking for something meaningful to do. So we walk about a mile to a local restaurant that puts on a free holiday meal for the needy. Maybe we’ll catch the Christmas spirit there.

There’s a bustle of activity inside and outside the restaurant. Smiling workers haul pots and plates of food. People are enjoying a meal. Old friends talk and laugh. We know some of the people and we greet them.

But it still isn’t a real family Christmas.

We do not know it then, but at that moment a special gift is entering our lives.

—————————

On the busy street in front of our hotel, a car pulls over. A door opens and something is pitched out before the car speeds away. It is a small dog, a Chihuahua, frightened out of its wits.

The puppy races to the grounds of the residence hotel for safety, darting between cars, hiding behind bushes.

Someone notices it and the chase is on. But the puppy runs for its life and eludes capture.

Animal Control is called and the pursuit heightens. After four hours, the exhausted puppy is no match. The terrified animal is hauled away to the animal shelter.

—————————-

The next day, my wife learns of the incident from a neighboring resident. She had wanted a Chihuahua, a female that she could name Frida Kahlo, after the Mexican artist. She tells me she will go to the shelter that afternoon and adopt the homeless pup.

But when she gets there, the shelter tells her the puppy, a male, is not available. Workers have determined the dog is vicious and thus ineligible for adoption.

The traumatized animal — a 6-month-old, curled-up ball of yellow and light brown fur — is marked for death.

—————————-

My wife isn’t ready to give up. She can see in its eyes that the puppy is scared, not vicious.

She starts making phone calls in a desperate attempt to save it.

Eventually, she reaches a fellow dog lover at an animal welfare agency. She puts in a good word on my wife’s behalf. But the shelter director says the decision has been made and can’t be rescinded. He cites liability, potential lawsuits.

But the fellow dog lover also knows that one of her agency’s board members volunteers at the animal shelter. So she gives her a call, too.

The volunteer immediately goes to the shelter and prevails upon the director to take the puppy to a visiting area to see how it will react to human contact. My wife can drop by if she wants, he says, but he is not optimistic.

At first, the Chihuahua seems to prove the shelter director right. It sits, shivering, in a corner opposite the two women and growls at the slightest movement made in his direction.

They sit in the cage with him for two hours, trying to pet him or engage him in play.

Just as they are about to give up, the puppy stands up and slowly starts toward them. Midway, he stops briefly and looks directly at them. Then he crawls into my wife’s lap and smothers her with wet, sloppy kisses.

——————————-

That night, when I get home from work, I enter the hotel room and find my wife sitting on the bed watching television.

Something in her lap moves.

I step closer and there he is, the puppy. She says she has named him Diego Rivera, after another Mexican artist..

But I’ve already figured out who this puppy was - and still is as he sits next to me today.

He is The Christmas Dog.

(This updated story first appeared in The Denver Post, 2010. Reprinted with permission)

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