A Christmas (Dog) Story

Years ago I was the chagrined owner of Jake the Wonderdog. He was a non-descript yellow male Labrador Retriever who immeasurably gladdened my days afield while destroying my neighborhood relationships, lawn, home, bank account and self-esteem, in that order.

Jake wasn’t really bad. If he were a small child, he would probably be described as “busy”. He behaved like a puppy while possessing the strength of a fully-grown draft horse and even after he reached an advanced age where most other dogs had taken to lying by the fire, Jake was still knocking people to the ground and running at top speed toward the horizon.

Because of his utter incorrigibility, he was quite a burden. In later years we didn’t hunt together anymore because even though Jake was willing, I couldn’t stand the stress.

One year, right before Christmas, the Wonderdog had somehow escaped his kennel for the third time in less than a year. With each jailbreak, I increased the security measures until it is now impossible to feed him without disarming an assortment of alarms, booby traps and a trip flare. How he managed to sneak off was never determined but apparently he had some type of specialized military training as a pup.

I was standing at the kitchen sink trying to wash down two aspirin when I noticed through the window that the kennel door was open yet again. Stomping angrily around, I informed the children that Jake had taken another walkabout. This was met with very little surprise as it was a rather a common event.

During the day, a tiny thought began creeping into my head. It was immediately dismissed, but kept popping back up like sprouts from a willow stump. Soon I confronted the notion and began to submit to it: Jake would be found as usual in town and hauled to the dog pound, where he would eventually be “put to sleep” after a few days. If I simply did nothing, he would no longer be my problem.

Now I know everyone reading this story has jumped up, spit on the screen and shouted things that you shouldn’t say in front of your mother. I can see witty retorts are being sharpened as email is composed to verbally skewer Yours Truly and truth is, I deserve it all.

A day later I did find Jake in dog jail, looking forlorn. I sat in my car, considering his fate and mine, weighing the emotional burden of inaction versus the future hassles that would entail if I brought him home. I took one last look into his dark eyes, said “Good Bye,” and drove away.

I was not sure how to finish the deplorable deed. Telling the kids was not a problem; they would accept my explanation that Jake had packed his bags and gone somewhere fun with another family. My wife, however, is not naive and would demand answers. She would see right through my shoulder shrugs.

Tell or don't tell; that was the question. Eventually, honesty and that damnable conscience won the morality contest. I told her my plan while she got ready for work and was stunned at her reply: “Do whatever you think is best”.

We both knew she had absolutely no plans to give up Jake without a fight, but her strategy left me speechless. I had anticipated a fight with heated words exchanged back and forth from the bedroom to the bathroom like flying straight-razors but I was not prepared for the entire question to be quietly and cunningly lifted back onto my shoulders.

I left the house to run errands while attempting to mentally justify my decision about Jake, who committed no crime greater than simply being a dog. However, all the time and effort that this particular dog required from his owner kept weighing down the other end of the decision scale. In the end, the choice was a selfish one and I wearily wondered when the guilt would finally go away.

An hour later, Jake forced his way inside the house even before the door was fully open. My son saw the dog running toward him and smiled enough to light up the room full of holiday decorations more brightly than if I had plugged them directly into the sun. The boy and the dog, born in the same year, would be together for a little while longer.

Jake expressed his gratitude by leaping into the Christmas tree.