This is no ordinary True Spirit of Christmas story. Every single word of it is true, and it happened right here in Enid, Oklahoma to my family. Gather the children around the computer, pour a cup of hot chocolate for everyone, and grab a box of Kleenex. This is the real-life story of a seven-year-old boy who asked Santa for a puppy for Christmas. You might think you’ve already heard this story. You have not. There is no crippled puppy, or crippled boy for that matter, in this story. Santa didn’t even bring the kid a damn puppy! In fact, Santa’s complete failure that year is the only reason there is even a story to tell.
My youngest son, Jonah, wanted a puppy for Christmas. He had recently suffered the loss of his kitty, Gus. Gus was a sweet, fuzzy, black kitty we rescued from the Enid dog pound. He only lived one year with us, as he suffered from liver damage sustained when he was just a kitten. Gus had to be put to sleep, and his absence created an emotional vacuum surrounded by despair. We still had another cat named Doobie, named that because it rhymes with Scooby. Doobie’s ferocious munchies, frequent naps and overall cluelessness were just a coincidence. We also had two dogs; a black two-year-old dachshund-mutt named Gabby, and a twelve year old basset/beagle mix (a bagel) named Blossom. All three pets came to us as rescues, and my husband and I both felt like three animals were plenty. We tried to convince Jonah that we didn’t need another pet. He could not be swayed. He asked Santa for a puppy. With our best parent logic we explained that Santa would probably only be giving puppies to children who had no pets at all, and since he already had three, he needed to understand that Santa would probably choose a different gift for him. He didn’t buy it.
Christmas morning came and went, no puppy. Jonah was devastated. He enjoyed the plethora of gifts accumulated, but a note of sadness accompanied him for over a week. Then, one cold and windy day just after New Year’s, Jonah burst through the front door talking so loud and fast I could barely understand. I tried to calm him down so he could repeat his ramblings slowly enough that I could decipher what he said. “A DOG, A DOG!” Jonah was happy and hysterical. Breathlessly, he informed me, “He was in the neighbor’s driveway, he’s not theirs, he’s lost, he’s cold, he’s hungry, and HE LOVES ME! I THINK GOD SENT HIM!” He led me on to the front porch where I expected to see some mangy, smelly stray. At first glance, I didn’t even see him. Jonah redirected my sight, “Mom, he’s right there, at your feet.” Sure enough, this tiny little dog was silently shaking only inches from my slippers, so close I could have stepped right on him.
My parenting instinct was preparing a forceful NO to come out of my mouth. I looked down at this small dog’s huge brown eyes poking out of his pitiful little face and a most bizarre statement uncontrollably came from my mouth, “Oh my God, he’s adorable!” Then the same disembodied voice, coming from my body, throat, mouth, and heart said, “He’s freezing Jonah, Bring him in!”
He was drop dead homely gorgeous! About twelve pounds, mostly white with big light-brown spots. His face was heart melting. He had huge brown, buggy eyes accented by bushy white eyebrows, and his chin was decorated with a little white beard. He had a stub of a tail that wiggled with glee along with his entire back-half. We brought him in to warm him up and give him something to eat. Of course, our two dogs, Blossom and Gabby, gave him a full dog work-up immediately. He passed the sniff test with flying colors. Doobie sneered at him and then ignored him, our cat’s highest form of approval given to a dog. I braced Jonah for the inevitable, explaining that he was a healthy dog and obviously not a stray even though he didn’t have a collar. He belonged to someone, and we had to try to find his owner. Jonah was curiously comfortable with this. His comfort though, came from his firm belief that this was going to be his dog. “I prayed for a dog, God sent him to me,” he said again with complete conviction. His rationale was that Santa never fails, so Santa didn’t bring him a puppy, because Santa knew that God was sending him this dog! If there is anyone more powerful and magical than Santa, it’s God! Jonah named his new bug-eyed best friend “Gary”, after Sponge Bob Squarepants’ bug-eyed snail that meows like a cat.
We had a friend who judges dog shows identify him as mostly Jack Russell terrier with some other small mix breed, maybe Chihuahua, in his pedigree. This gave us what we needed to start the search for his family. We did the newspaper ad, called animal control, and the SPCA, and left his description along with our information. We hit several vets in Enid as well. We braced for his owners to call any day. Jonah went about turning the entire living room into obstacle courses made of pillows, couch cushions and cardboard boxes that Gary would happily scamper through, up and over to get his treat at the end.
A romance bloomed as well. Gary had a strong liking for our little Gabby, and she returned the affection. We only lacked the spaghetti scene as a reenactment of “Lady and the Tramp” played out daily between these two small dogs. We were all getting very attached to Gary; it was as if he had always been part of our family. Several weeks had passed and no one was responding to our detailed “found dog” pleas around town. Jonah was not worried, his mantra remained, “Mom, I told you, God sent him to me. No one is going to call.” He was convinced, and we were all falling in love. Our two older children, Christian and Annie, were equally as smitten with our new little love bug. We continued to watch the newspaper after our ad ran out. There was a missing black lab, female rat terrier, male pit bull mix, but no male Jack Russell mix ever showed up in the “missing” ads. Six weeks had passed, and we all settled into the realization that Jonah may have been right all along, God sent him this dog, and he was perfect! Gary spent the days curled up in my lap as much as possible, and afternoons were spent playing whatever game Jonah devised for him. Jonah’s every day revolved around this little dog. After school, most kids run for the bathroom, or to the fridge for a snack, not Jonah, he would run through the door and yell, “GARY!” and scoop up his little dog. Gary would go to bed with Jonah, and then after Jonah fell asleep, he would climb into our bed and burrow under the covers until he found Gabby, and curl up next to her.
Mid-February graced us with some lovely weather and my husband Byron, and I took Gabby and Gary for frequent walks. They were an adorable pair, one black, one white, both tiny, and cute as could be. Neighbors, and even strangers, would comment about what a cute pair they were. If a chat ensued, I usually managed to tell them that “Our son says God sent him this one,” about our little Gary Bear as we affectionately called him. One Saturday afternoon we were wrapping up a walk and heading back to the house. We were only a block from home when two men and a boy approached us at the corner. They were smiling and looking at Gabby and Gary. “Hi,” the man said nicely as his boy knelt down to pet Gary. Gary wagged his whole back-end, not with happy curiosity, but with total recognition. The whole world started spinning. I felt sick and dizzy. I heard only fragments of what the boy’s father was saying to my husband, “That’s our dog…..dog-sitter lost him…..we’ve looked everywhere…..his name is Eddie.” I lost control.
Tears instantly flooded down my face. The only words I could muster were, “no, no, no, God sent him, God sent him, Jonah thinks God sent him.” I just cried and cried. I got down on the ground and held Gary and he licked at my tears. I was crying so hard I couldn’t talk any more. I started to do the hyperventilating, ugly cry. I was sad for myself, but absolutely heart-broken for Jonah. This can’t be happening, he will be crushed, he will be torn apart by this. How do I tell him God did not give him this dog? How do we take his dog away? The pain was unbearable.
My husband kept his cool and attempted to quell their concern for the now crazy lady sitting on the ground bawling and clutching their dog. He asked them if we could take Gary home to say goodbye to the kids, and give Jonah a few minutes to spend with him before we took him back to their house. He said, “of course.”
The scene that ensued in our front yard was right out of a Disney movie that makes grown men cry. Our kids were a wreck, and taking turns mauling Gary with hugs, kisses, and a lot of tears. My oldest son’s friend was there to pick him up for a movie, and even she was reduced to tears at this gut wrenching scene. Within minutes, the poor dog’s little head was literally dripping wet from all of our tears. It really seemed like a horrible, horrible nightmare. Jonah’s heart-break was beyond any consoling a mother can offer. Byron took Gary, who was really named Eddie, back to his real home, where he already had a little boy who loved him very much.
Eddie did come from a very sweet family who lived only a block-and-a-half from our house. Evidently, Eddie’s family, Larry, Kristin, and their son Tyler, went to Florida for New Year’s for their very first lengthy family vacation ever. The dog sitter lost Eddie the very first day she went over to take care of their three dogs. His collar had been snagged on the fence and pulled off when he dug out. They thought their poor baby Eddie was hopelessly lost or dead. By the time they got back to Enid, our ads weren’t posted anymore. They did run an ad in the newspaper, but, it was printed as “female rat terrier” which of course yielded no response from us. When they saw us walking Eddie, they knew God had answered their prayers. They thanked us immensely for keeping him warm, fed, safe, and most of all, loved, cuddled, and spoiled in the manner to which he was accustomed. They said Jonah was welcome to visit Eddie whenever he wanted.
Three days later I went to my back door to see what our dogs were barking at. There, on the outside of our fence, was Gary-Eddie. He had escaped again and came straight to our house. Larry filled in the hole that Gary dug under their fence, and Gary went back home again. Two days later, my dogs were barking like crazy again. Gary’s here! This time he got out through a hole in the fence. Larry fixed the fence and took Gary back home again. Gary came for an unauthorized, surprise visit three more times, but they couldn’t figure out how he was still getting out. Then one day, Kristin heard him whining outside. She went outside to find that Gary was climbing a tree in order to get over the eight foot fence, but this time he had his collar stuck on a branch! Obviously Gary-Eddie thought he had two families now, and he was making a point to try to spend time with us, even if he didn’t live here anymore. Both Kristin and I, with our motherly protective natures, were worried about him continuing to run away and come here every few days. He had to cross two streets, and get past a couple of large dogs to get here. Every once in a while, if he managed to get his gate opened, he would even bring their other dog Graham, a large golden retriever, with him!
Kristin, Larry, and Tyler graciously offered to let Gary/Eddie come to our house for a sleepover with Jonah one Friday night. I had never seen Jonah happier than he was that night, reunited with his best friend. I was worried though, were we just dragging out the inevitable pain of having to say good-bye again? We still hadn’t recovered emotionally from that heart-breaking Saturday when we knew he wasn’t ours anymore. Maybe we should take the band-aid approach, make it fast and absolute, never seeing him again and hoping that in time the pain would lessen. But every time that little guy would show up over here, it made our day. He lit up the whole house with his spunk and love. Our little Gabby was even instantly catapulted to a higher level of playfulness and happiness as soon as she saw her beau. But, we were at the point where we had to make a decision. We couldn’t stay on this emotional rollercoaster. Then Larry called Byron. They were leaving for the weekend, and Larry wondered if Gary-Eddie could come to our house and Jonah could babysit him for the whole weekend! How could we resist a whole weekend of Gary play, kisses, couch cushion obstacle courses, and last but not least, bed snuggling for everyone? We said we would love to have him, but braced for the visit to end.
Four years have passed since Jonah asked Santa for a puppy, but “God gave him the perfect dog” instead. I can’t explain how the pain of losing Gary has left our hearts in shreds. I can’t, because we didn’t lose him. Our hearts are not shredded, they are full of joy. For four years now, Gary has been our dog, on Friday nights, Saturdays, Sundays, holidays, vacations, and birthdays. For four years now, we pick up “Gary” on Friday and drop “Eddie” back off at his home on Sunday night. He knows that his name at home is Eddie, and his name at our house is Gary. He still shows up unannounced from time to time, but not often. He even knows his schedule. Kristin and Larry say that he knows when it’s Friday, because on that night, he waits by the door for us to pick him up. Larry, Kristin, and Tyler share their precious little dog with us. While they have full custody, we have very open visitation rights. Can you imagine that? Can you picture yourself handing over your beloved pet every weekend to another family? Despite the fact that he is their dog and they could have handled this any way they wanted, they decided to be amazing. They don’t directly benefit in any way from giving their Eddie to us every weekend. Gary is with us only because they have empathy, only because they are givers, only because they are generous, and only because they know first-hand that falling head over heels in love with that little dog is instant and irreversible.
We get to experience the true spirit of Christmas every weekend. Jonah still has faith that God hears his prayers, after all, why wouldn’t he have faith in that? He was right all along. God did send him the perfect dog, because God sent him Larry, Kristin, and Tyler’s dog.
Amen and Merry Christmas!