The Christmas Dog

The Christmas Dog
--Steven G. O'Dell 2012

Few things in life leave you totally speechless and on the verge of humble, happy tears as this experience does for our family. The kids are all fairly grown now, but even the one who was a toddler at the time will wipe a tear when we recount the tale. But then again, the dog that performed this miracle was ever-so-much her dog and now lies at her feet for perhaps his last Christmas. Let me tell you the story.


We still don't know what possessed us to get a dog just before Christmas that year, but we did it anyway. Lydia and I already had three kids to contend with, one still a toddler and the oldest only seven, all three girls. I guess it was only right that our dog be male so we might have somewhat a balance in the household.

This dog was possibly two years old when we got him, fluffy and furry as a dog can get be and had the sweetest disposition ever. He would actually sidle up to you and lean against you as if giving a hug. You couldn't help but love him and you just knew he was saying he loved you, too. There was only one time anyone in the family ever raised a voice to him and thank God he didn't listen. He had at least three names and answered to every one of them, oddly enough. Our second daugthter picked up on the idea that he was a gift from Santa Claus, so she called him Santa Dog,' eventually shortening it to 'Santa.' I called him 'the Christmas dog' once and our toddler, with her adorable twist on the idea, called him 'Kiss-mas,' eventually being shortened to 'Kiss' for her. I simply referred to him as 'Fuzzball' most of the time. As I said, it didn't matter what he was called. He answered to all of them, knowing instinctively each name was reserved for him by different family members.

One Christmas Eve as I came home from work, I was met at the door by my wife and she shushed me and hurried me into the house and to the hallway, not allowing me time to remove my snowy shoes or heavy coat. With me in tow, thoroughly puzzled,
she firmly led me to where I beheld the dog standing and looking down the hall intently, his head cocking back and forth now and then, and finally sitting back on his haunches as if listening to someone. This went on several minutes before he stood up, tongue out and smiling as dogs do, and turning to us for a scratch behind the ears and a welcome home to me. Something made me keep looking down the hall as he had, hoping to get a clue as to what he had seen, if lucky enough to be allowed the same supernatural insight. Maybe I should have been creeped out by it, but the thought never occurred to me.

"What was that all about, Hon?" I asked my wife.

"No idea," she explained, "but he's been doing that for a few days now. In fact,

I saw this a few times a day myself. Who knows how many times it's happened when I wasn't in the room with him...."

"Well, if that's as odd as he gets, I'm okay with it," I laughed.

That Christmas came and went with little difference from any other, except for our hyper-attentive dog listening in on the spirit world, or whatever he was doing. As soon as Christmas was past, he was back to normal and we soon forgot all about the strange behavior. But it didn't end there as we suspected. The next
year just before Christmas he began doing the same thing. It wasn't limited to the hall this time. He might be caught watching and listening intently to some invisible presence in the living room, the kitchen or the bedroom at any time,
cocking his head and sitting as if paying close attention to something of utmost importance. We began to take this more seriously now, seeing more than coincidence in the pattern. For two Christmases now the dog had done this. And again the season passed and he behaved normally for the rest of the year. When the third Christmas neared, we watched closely for any evidence that he would again repeat his actions. We were not disappointed. Surprised, yes, but not disappointed. We now had deep discussions over the meaning of it. What purpose did it serve? If only he could talk to us. This Christmas was different in one way, though. It was the last time he behaved this way and we were soon to know why.

It was the day before Christmas and my wife went to the door as usual to get the newspaper. When she opened the door and stooped to take the paper, Kiss literally jumped over her and ran into the yard and down the street almost before she was
aware of it. No amount of calling him back had the desired effect. Normally the obedient dog, it was entirely unlike him to leave the yard or ignore us when we called. Now he was bounding down the street and soon rounding the corner and out
of sight as my wife called after him in her loudest voice and then stood in mute shock at what had transpired. It was the only time a voice was ever raised at him and it had done no good.

When I arrived home to have my holiday off with my family, I was greeted with the news that our loving dog, now as much a family member as anyone else, had suddenly fled and there was no possible way to track him, as it had begun again
to snow heavily just after he left the house. The girls were devastated and my wife was not far from tears herself. I admit to being taken aback and close to crying myself. I had learned to love that silly dog unconditionally, because that is how he gave love to us in return. I had seen him instinctively take the street side on walks with the kids, as if to protect them from possible harm by traffic. I had seen him stand between the girls and strangers, on full alert to any threat that might arise. Everything about the animal spoke love. And now he was gone. It was nearly destroying my girls and it was my responsibility to find him and return him home.

I drove for what must have been two and a half hours, now and then answering the cell phone to report my lack of success. I frankly had not a clue as to where he may have gone and why it was so urgent for him to do so. There was no precedent
to this. When I returned home, the girls were at the door already, waiting, having heard the car arrive and the door slam. They could tell by my expression that I had not succeeded in my search and the tears began flowing like a waterfall. They were positively inconsolable.

Dinner was the quietest I recall in my entire married life. Four females in the house and hardly a word from any of them. It was otherworldly in nature. We tried to tell the girls that he would find his way back and that he must have heard something that set him off. We tried to calm their nerves and give some peace of
mind, but the truth was that we had none ourselves and I think they knew it. By bedtime there was still no word as to what had happened to Kiss. He wasn't home and calls to neighbors produced no new information. I was sure that not only the girls would be crying themselves to sleep that night.

Christmas morning arrived and it was a somber event without our loving dog Kiss. We passed gifts to the family and opened them with muted pleasure. The past two seasons Kiss had been there and barked approvingly with each squeal of delight from the girls, his tail wagging furiously in anticipation as each package was torn opened. He was fully as excited as they were. And now he was missing, along with a piece of our hearts.

At sundown, we still had no clue as to where he might be, despite my trolling the streets again for an additional three hours. I had all but given up, knowing that now we could only place an ad in the paper and post pictures in the local stores.

When I awoke early the day following Christmas, I called to leave a message at work that I would be late that day and I spent the time designing a flyer with a picture of Kiss on it and printed out fifty copies. I left them on the counter
with a handwritten note and left for work with a heavy heart.

Lydia called during the day to say they were going out to post the flyers and to put an ad in the paper and would call to let me know if they had any other ideas. I didn't expect much. I was out of ideas myself and couldn't see how it would do any good to do more than hope and pray, except perhaps to check the animal shelters in the event that he had been picked up. But he had a tag and it should have been easy for anyone to make the call to let us know where he was. He was friendly enough with others so long as he was not concerned with protecting his
family members.

The arrival home bore nothing new in the way of details and we simply did what we could to distract the girls from their worries. It was while I was in the kitchen helping to grate cheese and dice onions that I heard our eldest scream at the top of her lungs. Even having three girls in the house did not prepare me for the
level of emotion contained in that one scream and I dropped everything and ran to her, almost without touching the floor, it seemed. I found her, mouth open and staring at the television, pointing and now wordless in shock. And when I saw the reason for her actions, I also mirrored her reaction, as did my wife and remaining two daughters.

The news was on just before my girl's favorite prime time show and the human interest story was being covered.

"And tonight we still have no idea who the dog belongs to or why it should have done such an amazing thing. One can only call this a true Christmas miracle. As you may have already heard in our broadcasts earlier today and last night, the
baby that was left on the doorstep of the St. Michael's church would have frozen to death had it not been for the loving care of this big shaggy dog that lay over the baby and kept him warm with his thick fur and body heat. The dog himself was
covered with matted chunks of ice from snow that had obviously thawed and re-frozen on him. That would seem to indicate that he had been there quite some time, keeping the baby warm. The local animal shelter says he has lost his tag, which somehow was torn off during perhaps an attempt to go under a fence or
through a gate. The baby is being cared for as well, having some signs of dehydration. Here in the studio, this reminds us of the animals who attended the Christ child lying in the manger so long ago. The same loving care was shown here by this big fluffy dog who saved the life of a helpless infant. If any of our
listeners have information as to the identity of the baby or the owners of this wonderful dog, please call the number that you see at the bottom of the screen. We want to make certain that each of these Christmas mysteries is completely
resolved. And that's our news for tonight...."

"Dad, it's Kiss! He saved a baby! We have to go get him!"

If the three of them could have said this in perfect unison, it would not have been more intense and heartfelt. And I knew they were right -- we had to go get him and bring him home. I called the number and we all packed into the car and
headed for the animal shelter that held him, after making certain it would be open.

That walk down the hall to the cage which held Kiss was one of the longest we ever took as a family...and one of the happiest ever. I recall being only slightly happier when each of my girls was born. Kiss meant that much to us. And apparently we meant that much to him, for as soon as he heard the familiar squeals of my girls, he jumped against the wire enclosure and began to bark excitedly. The girls now sped ahead of the attendant and pasted themselves to the door of the cage, as did Kiss from his side of the wire.

"I guess that is pretty solid evidence that he is your dog," the attendant said, laughing pleasantly. "We have a few details to take care of and then we can release him to you."

The paperwork filled out and the small fee for his care paid, I ordered another ID tag for him and herded him to the car, followed by another herd of joyful girls who never stopped talking and laughing for a moment all the way home. Something told me they wouldn't be able to sleep that night, so we made it a night of popcorn and cocoa and staying up late. Kiss got a very special treat that night, too, although I had the distinct impression that all he really wanted
was to be back home with those he loved.


Kiss now lies at Katelyn's feet and is quite old. Katelyn is no longer the toddler she once was. Christmas is drawing near again and we are not sure he will live long enough to see it with us, but his tail still wags, albeit a lot more slowly now, when he hears a familiar voice or feels
an affectionate scratch behind his ear. As I sit and think back on those three Christmas seasons with a dog that was acting so strangely, I now think I have an inkling of what was happening then. I think he was being trained for a mission he
had to perform for one very special Christmas that was yet to come. And I reflect back, too, on that night so long ago when a small boy child lay in a hay-filled manger, with his parents near and the soft lowing of the animals that kept the room warmer for him. And when I think on these things, a lump develops in my
throat and my eyes cloud up and I thank God that I was blessed enough to have known such an incredible animal as Kiss. He is nothing, if not love incarnate. He is certainly one of God's most precious creatures.

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