A Dog is for Life (a Xmas story) …

There are always a lot more abandoned puppies after Christmas. Nikki and Richard Attree wrote this story, hoping to encourage people to adopt a rescue dog. It was published in the local paper and Richard read it on a local radio station. It’s a bit sad in places, but it also has humour, a happy ending, and a message …

A Dog is for Life

It was Christmas Eve in the puppy farm—not that you’d know it. There was no light, no warmth, no love—just the usual cruelty and squalor; no Merry Christmas, just a bleak mid-winter; no wise men and no silent nights—just the usual bedlam. The cages were crammed with dogs— hundreds of them, huddled together in the darkness. The noise was unspeakable. The stench took your breath away.

The shed door groaned and a man entered, ears muffled against the cacophony. He grabbed one of the Boxer pups, wrenched him from his siblings, and dumped him in a cardboard box, yelping and shaking. He chucked the box in the van and delivered it to the pet shop on the high street. The shopkeeper put the petrified pooch in a glass cage in the window. They’d be closing in an hour, but there was always the chance of an impulse purchase on Christmas Eve.

Kev paced the high street, cursing the crowds of smiling shoppers. All afternoon he’d been scouring the toyshops for a RoboPup. Sharon had been nagging him for weeks to get one before they sold out. He shivered as he imagined the tantrum Tracey would throw when she twigged she was facing Christmas without this year’s must-have present.

The pet shop was his last chance. A real dog would be a poor substitute for the canine robot, but at least it wouldn’t need batteries. “How much is that puppy in the window?” he asked the shopkeeper.

“Ah, yes. The one with the waggly tail?” Kev scowled at him.

The shopkeeper shrugged. He glanced at his watch, then at the Boxer. “Look, it’s Christmas and I can see you’re desperate. You can ’ave ’im for ’alf price.”

“I dunno. We never had a dog before. I’m not sure my wife will—”

“And I’ll throw in a lead, a bed, and a bag of food. How does that sound?”

Kev stared at the pooch. It gazed back with puppy-dog-eyes and a quizzical, head-to-one- side look. “Okay, mate. I’ll take ’im.”

Across the road, Ana was fighting back the tears. It was time to say goodbye to her best friend. She’d been praying they’d have another Christmas together, but he was in so much pain. The vet called her name and she carried Charlie into the surgery.

The nurse put her arm around Ana and told her she was doing the right thing. “Fifteen is fantastic for a Spaniel. He’s had a good life.”

Ana held Charlie in her arms, stroking his head as the vet gave him the injection. He looked up at her, licked her nose for the last time, and drifted away peacefully.

Christmas morning. An angry shout interrupted Kev’s snores. Downstairs, Sharon stared at the ripped wrapping-paper, the chewed presents, the pool of yellow liquid beside the tree … “Get that mutt out of ’ere now!” she yelled. “And clean-up the poo in the kitchen.”

Tracey chased the puppy out of the living-room, screaming with excitement. Kev tried to grab him, but he was too slippery. Sharon glared at him. “Your parents are comin’ round in an hour and I ’aven’t even defrosted the turkey. I can do without this…” She was shouting now.

“Calm down, love. It’s Christmas, for Christ’s sake.” He hugged her.

The puppy yapped until Sharon picked him up. “Why the ’ell did you buy it without askin’ me?” she demanded. “Who’s gonna look after it? Take it for walks? Take it to the vet?”

Kev shrugged—she had a point. He cleaned up the mess in the living-room and Sharon stormed back to the kitchen. The puppy sneaked upstairs to Tracey’s room and hid under her bed. All this excitement had exhausted him, but the little girl wanted more. She grabbed his tail and dragged him out. He yelped and nipped her hand. Tracey ran to the kitchen, howling like the puppy. Her mother examined the teeth-marks. “That’s it. I’ve ’ad enough! Either that dog goes, or I do.”

Kev scooped up the Boxer and dumped him in the spare room—and that’s where he stayed—all day and all night: alone, listening to the family eating, drinking, and arguing.

Ana did her best to ignore Christmas. She’d been invited to a friend’s house, but she didn’t want to impose her grief on them. So, we’ll pretend it’s just a normal day, she decided, grabbing Charlie’s lead, as she’d done every morning for the past fifteen years … and her eyes filled again. She closed them; shook her head; put the lead back on the hook; took her coat off … No. She needed to escape. A walk in the park would be good.

The other dog-walkers were sympathetic, of course. They said all the right things, quietly and carefully, stared into the distance, and hurried away. She didn’t blame them—they didn’t need reminding how quickly a dog’s life passes. Most of them had gone through this. They knew nothing could ease the pain—except, maybe, another dog … But they couldn’t say that. It was too soon—disrespectful to Charlie.

She got through the rest of the day with movies, ice-cream, and old photos of him—avoiding Facebook and the images of smiling people surrounded by friends and family. She had a few glasses of wine and toasted his memory. Then she went to bed … but she didn’t sleep.

It wasn’t until Boxing Day morning that Kev remembered they had a new member of the family. Christmas Day had been hectic. His mum made her usual sarcy comments about Sharon’s cooking; there was the predictable tantrum from Tracy; the karaoke machine packed up; and they’d drank themselves stupid … but no blood had been spilt.

Kev woke first. He was staggering to the bathroom, with the mother of all hangovers, when he heard a pitiful yelp from the spare room. He opened the door and yesterday’s turkey lurched mouthwards. The puppy had done what any prisoner in a cell with no facilities would do—relieve himself wherever he could.

That does it! He grabbed the mutt by the neck. It stared at him, wide-eyed, pleading … But Kev wasn’t a monster. I’m not gonna hurt you, mate. He just had to get it out of the house before Sharon woke up.

He shoved the pooch back in the cardboard box, looked up the address of the nearest animal refuge and drove straight there. It was closed, but that was fine with him—he wouldn’t have to speak to anyone, justify himself, feel guilty. He left the box outside, with a note: “No way can we keep this dog. It pees and shits in the house and it bit my little girl!”

Half an hour later, Ana arrived. Charlie had been adopted from the refuge, and she often took their dogs for a walk. Hopefully, it’ll cheer me up, she said to herself.

“Hi Ana. Happy Christmas.” Marion, the manager, greeted her with a cardboard box in her hands.

Must be a present, Ana thought, feeling guilty for not bringing a gift. She explained why she was ignoring Christmas this year.

Marion hugged her and said it was a good idea—getting out of the house to walk some dogs. She told Ana the refuge was full of puppies that had been abandoned over the holiday. “Somebody dumped this poor little chap outside, just this morning.” She pointed to the cardboard box. “Look at their pathetic excuse …” She handed Ana the note.

Ana read it, frowning in disbelief. She reached into the box, lifted out the puppy and held him up to her face. They gazed at each other …

… and something extraordinary happens.
A spark passes between them …
a connection, like love at first sight.
Two strangers look into each other’s eyes,
and know, immediately, they’re soulmates.
Love and loss—two sides of the same coin.

“People can be so cruel,” Marion said, bitterly. “They treat dogs like toys they can just throw away when they get bored with them. How many times do we have to tell them: a dog is for life, not just for Christmas.”

Ana nodded. “Right. For life…” If only they could live a bit longer. The puppy licked her nose and the sadness began to melt, like a snowman who’s past his sell-by date. She smiled—for the first time since Christmas Eve. “Well, this one is going to spend the rest of his life with me.”

Illustration by Nikki Attree – NikkiAttree.net