Kelly’s Christmas

german shepherdKelly rested her head on her paws and groaned. Her hips hurt, and she missed her pack mate. She hadn’t seen Toby for over a week.

Her people wept and spoke of Toby in hushed tones. Why was he gone? Toby was a good dog. He never did it in the house. He always came when he was called, even though he had to struggle to his feet. He loved his people.

Kelly wanted Toby back. Ever since he left, her people were sad. Nobody threw the ball, and even if someone had, the pain in her hips and the ache of loss inside made her do nothing but lay still. She didn’t touch her food, not even when her people poured bacon grease on it.

Kelly didn’t even move to sleep at the foot of the bed that night. She stayed in the living room instead, under the flickering lights of the Christmas tree.

She woke with a start, and her ears perked up. She rose to her full height and paced, brown paws clicking on the wood floors. Who was making that noise outside? Was it evildoers? She had to protect everyone by herself if it was. Toby wasn’t here to help.

She ran out through the dog door, ready to repel intruders. But the voices were coming from next door. Kelly stuck her nose through the chain link fence.

Short people were laughing by the side of a big sled in the yard, and several deer stood in harness, occasionally stamping a hoof. What were children doing out by themselves at night? Somebody should be watching them. She’d never trusted deer.

Kelly dug furiously, even knowing she’d be scolded for it tomorrow. She was a good dog; she just had to keep the children safe. That was the most important thing.

She emerged from under the fence, catching her fur in the neighbor’s holly bush. But she pushed her way through and began a circuit around the laughing strangers. No one else had come to investigate. Not even the unpleasant gray cat had shown up to hiss at them from the top of the fence.

One of the strangers asked, “Where’d that German shepherd come from?”

Kelly crept forward, slowly and carefully. Sometimes, children were afraid when she ran up to them. That always bothered her—she was there to protect them. She put her ears down so she’d look smaller.

“It’s okay,” a soothing voice said, and someone gave her a pat. “Everything is fine.”

“More than fine,” the first voice said. “It’s Christmas.”

Kelly gave him a long look. These children should not be alone at night. Where were their parents?

An older fat man emerged from the house. Finally. He should have been out here all this time. “All done here,” he said cheerfully, striding up to his sled. His face was friendly, and Kelly took a step toward him, attracted to the warmth in his voice.

He looked into her eyes and gave her a quick caress. “There’s nothing here you need to guard against,” he assured her, and something about the way he said it made Kelly believe him. Maybe he could cheer her people up? They were just next door. But the man gave her a dog biscuit and called out to the others, “We’ve got to get moving. These presents won’t deliver themselves.”

Everyone climbed into the sled, and the man shook the reins. The sleigh slid forward, its runners gliding over the frosty grass. No! He couldn’t leave. Her people needed to laugh again. Kelly sprang forward, ignoring the pain in her hips, and grabbed the runner with her teeth.

“What the—” The sled ground to a halt, and the fat man stepped out again. He strode to Kelly and bent down to look into her eyes. “Ah, I see,” he said after a long pause, and he ran a comforting hand over her head. “I think I have just the present for you.”

He reached into a box near the front of his sled, and when he returned, he had a black-and-brown puppy in his arms. He set it on the ground in front of Kelly, and the puppy immediately sank into a play bow, its rump wriggling as it wagged its tail for all it was worth.

Kelly took one step forward, and then another. She sniffed the puppy. He licked her face, and Kelly stepped over him, sheltering him with her body. She would keep this puppy safe.

Santa looked into her eyes. “Guard him well,” he said gently. Then he sprinkled something over her hips, and Kelly moaned as the pain eased. “That should give you enough time to raise him right,” he added with a final pat.

This time Kelly merely watched as the sled rose up to the sky. The fat man waved, and Kelly bent down to sniff the puppy again.

She led him under the fence and through the dog door. Then they curled up together under the tree. As the puppy snuggled into her, Kelly breathed a long, shuddering sigh of relief.

Then her ears shot up. She hoped the puppy knew about not doing it in the house.


Of all the stories in Twelve Tales of Christmas, this is the one that makes my eyes tear up, even though it’s probably the tale most likely to send readers into sugar shock. The real story is more complicated, although possibly more wonderful.  Kelly is our German shepherd, and I didn’t have to reach for her characterization at all. Her mission in life is to protect children—any child. She watches their parents through squinty eyes, checking to make sure they’re taking decent care of their kids. Kelly’s truly intense about her self-assigned duty.

When my border collie, Toby, died, Kelly and I both suffered. I had to take Toby to the vet, agree that he needed to be put down, and then bring him home and bury him under the buckeye tree. I hurt, but Kelly was just…inconsolable. I couldn’t reach her, not with words or even caresses. She just laid there, staring straight ahead.

I couldn’t deal with it, not on top of losing Toby. I started checking shelters. Unfortunately, the ones in my area offered mostly Chihuahuas and pit bulls, neither of which are appropriate for us. In the foothills, Chihuahuas are coyote snacks, and I do best with dogs that are highly trainable. Dogs that have at least some identifiable shepherd or collie in them are the best choice for me.

I finally found Finn at the shelter in Eureka, about six hours north of us. They’re nice people there, and they’d done their best, but the short version is…Finn was a mess. Collies are sensitive—they don’t do well with harsh treatment, and he was obviously an abuse survivor. Hand shy, foot shy—he was a complicated knot of conflicting anxieties. And he was painfully skinny. His waist was thinner than his neck.

Well, I’m an abuse survivor, too, and I don’t believe in throwing anyone away. But the dogs just couldn’t respond in the shelter environment, not to each other or to us. Finn was wound too tight, and Kelly seemed to think we had taken her there to surrender her (she had also come from a shelter).

I talked the gal in charge into taking them for a walk, hoping that a different environment might help. Finn kept sidling up to Kelly, and after a few blocks, she finally sat down and licked him. Her entire stance became protective. Okay, this would work if we threw enough patience and love into it.

Kelly had found a reason to live again, and two-year-old Finn had found an older sister—one he desperately needed. He slept curled up with his head resting on Kelly’s hips, and in return he became her willing slave. She would bark, and it was his job to leap up immediately and patrol for coyotes. He never questioned this. You could see him figuring out where he was going after he jumped up and started running.

bio pic with dogsAnd I loved and trained Finn, too, of course, but Kelly was a huge part of his healing. It’s been eighteen months, and Finn is a lot more secure. It’s never quite the same as not having been abused, but both he and Kelly take joy from their lives now. And they repay all the love we’ve given them and then some.

A gift of love to an animal is never wasted. Consider getting a dog or cat from a shelter if you’re open to the thought of animal companionship. They will love you with all the devotion no one else wanted—and you won’t be able to fathom how such a wonderful creature could have ever been yours to adopt.


If you enjoyed “Kelly’s Christmas,” eleven other stories are available here:

Happy reading. 🙂

Avid writer and reader of Faerie tales and noblebright fantasy.

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38 comments on “Kelly’s Christmas
  1. Mike says:

    Very touching. Dogs do indeed throw themselves completely into the moment, and into loving their adopted humans!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Beautiful story, Cathleen. ❤ Merry Christmas to all! ❤

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Oh, I really loved this story, Cathleen and so nice to read it’s based on Kelly’s life and character! When Oreo died, we also had buried him in the backyard and Aero walked around the grave and whimpered for hours. Sense of smell and loss! Did you get any snow?

    Liked by 3 people

  4. momshieb says:

    Oh, this made me cry….so beautiful and so real. We lost our old hound dog in November, and our puppy was equally inconsolable. Now he’s taken to guarding our grandbabies, and has a new lease on life. Merry Christmas to all of you!

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Dogs really do mourn. I’m glad your puppy assigned himself guard duty. Like you said, that sort of thing can really give them a purpose and help them recover. May your holidays be filled with joy and laughter. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Create Space says:

    Another beautiful short story from your book! Your voice and vocabulary is so accessible and real. I’m always looking for class materials and I’d like to use it as part of my communications and literacy development class if you wouldn’t mind Cathleen?

    Liked by 3 people

  7. balroop2013 says:

    One of the wonderful stories from ‘Twelve Tales… loved it and the gift that Kelly received is awesome! Merry Christmas Cathleen!

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Ann Coleman says:

    I loved this Christmas story! And knowing that it is loosely based on reality made it even better. Thanks for not only providing a home for dogs that need it, but for also spreading the word to help shelter dogs (especially those that have survived abuse or neglect). They may have been through some tough times, but they have so much to give!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I thought you’d like this one. And despite all the images of the puppy under the tree on Christmas, going to a shelter to pick one out together is just as special, even if the dog is all grown up.

      Thanks to you for all your time you’ve given to so many dogs who are waiting for people to come love them. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Jennie says:

    Wonderful story!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Tina Frisco says:

    Cathleen, this is the most beautiful Christmas story I’ve read this season. Happy chills, and tears I’m still wiping dry… Like you, I’m an abuse survivor and animal advocate. Thank you so much for sharing this moving heartwarming story with us. Merry Christmas, sister ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  11. cav12 says:

    What a lovely and endearing story, Cathleen. I certainly felt for Kelly’s plight and after reading what you experienced, it made the story even more touching.
    I hope you had a lovely Christmas, and best wishes for the New Year.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks so much, Luciana. I’m using the holiday break to cut way back on the internet before I burn myself out again. I remember you blogged lately that you needed a break for a bit, so maybe you’ll get where I’m coming from. I’d like to start working in 2018 feeling rested. A certain lack of desperation from trying to keep up all the time would be very helpful.

      May you find the coming year productive and …manageable. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Shoumodip says:

    beautifully crafted

    Liked by 2 people

  13. My wife and I foster kittens from the local city shelter, and our Chihuahua mix — himself a rescue — thinks he’s their mother: He kisses them, plays with them, naps with them, etc. The love and kindness animals exhibit is something to aspire to, and Christmas seems a particularly good time to take a cue from the lessons these sweet souls have to offer.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Crimson says:

    Oh man! I’m not easily given to tears but my eyes sting. This was nice! Played my emotions like a trombone

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Where do I start? First of all, I’ve missed you, and in taking a look at your blog to see if I’d missed recent posts, found I’d replied to your most recent which posted on January 31, but that I’d missed this one. Don’t know why, but am very glad to have found it tonight.

    Reading this story, I’m so glad I went looking for you. It’s such an endearing story about love, friendship, loyalty, and trust, wrapped around the character of a heartbroken dog. How like a dog to ignore his own needs, to sense the children who need to be cared for, and how wonderful that Santa senses the dog’s real needs.

    Cathleen, I hope you’re just too busy with writing to post on your blog. It would be hard to face not being able to read your articles. Wishing you health and happiness and hoping you return soon. Love, Shari.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Shari, for the kind words of encouragement. As regards writing…I’m afraid launching a book at Christmas took a lot out of me, and my brain was just fried. Plus, I’ve been sick, and then we got a new German shepherd puppy. Returning to the days of potty training has been harder on my sleep schedule than I thought it would be.

      I don’t like to post unless I have something to say. Maybe I’ll come up with a Tuni (new dog’s name) story. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • So sorry you’ve been sick, hope you’re on the mend now.

        Taking time to recoup after a huge investment in launching your book is probably a really healthy thing to do.

        And new puppy – so exciting! Tuni is a fun name. My son’s family got adopted by a cat they call “Cat.” I’ve been trying to convince them she needs a real name and can’t understand why they turned down my suggestion of Murgatroid. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

        • Well…Murgatroid doesn’t exactly fall trippingly from the tongue. 🙂

          Seriously, though, I totally relate to your son’s family. When I was a kid, for a short time I had a black-and-white tomcat that I christened Kitty. My logic was that people were going to call him with, “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty,” so I wanted it to be his name. It made sense from a certain point of view.

          Liked by 1 person

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