Kelly 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.
And 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. 🙂