Dog Gone

Originally Published: Dec. 26, 2001

The stores have it all wrong.

They design their ad campaigns around cheer and joy and the kind of inner peace that can only come from tearing the wrapping paper off the latest model geegaw. They show families crooning toothily over the roast beef and passing the endless sides that pepper the perfectly set table. They show a couple insuring marital bliss when the man smoothly garrotes the wife’s flawless neck with a timeless (now 50% off!) diamond necklace. Marital bliss, maybe, but one is left with the definite impression, by her sly smile and his smug leer, that there is sure to be lots of Yuletide cheer in the bedroom that night.

 Am I wrong in thinking that this Christmas should have been different?

Sure, every holiday season the stores – which count on about 33% of their yearly sales to transpire in those few weeks – pull out the stops and try anything to get our dollars into their coffers. Most of us tend to look at it all with a mixture of horror and resignation, although I confess to finding more sympathy with Ebenezer each year I revisit him in this or that production of A Christmas Carol. I find myself thinking, “Now wait, guys. Let’s hear him out this time.” There are certainly some retailers who ought to be buried with a stake of holly through their miserable hearts…

I am not suggesting that this year, we should have spent less. When the economy started flagging and we were asked to go out and spend, spend, spend, our family took up the challenge and went forth and multiplied our debt substantially. The very computer I am writing on might as well be a blazing red, white and blue, rather than the more tasteful gray shimmering translucence it is. This year I didn’t mess around with price comparison– I went straight to Lego direct, spending most of the boys allotted share over the phone to operator # 15. Sure lots of the money’s going straight to Denmark, but everyone keeps telling us it’s a global economy now  - no country is an island anymore, they say.

But if so… please, what about Argentina? The once proud Euro-centric country is teetering on the brink of collapse, its people holding their breath and dodging the rocks already shattering bakery windows. Bank accounts are frozen. Travel agencies are only accepting cash – only a limited amount can be withdrawn at a time, not nearly enough for a plane ticket. Perhaps we are all connected now, yet this December, Christmas was cancelled in Buenos Aires, once considered the most wealthy, cosmopolitan city in Latin America. It is home of the Tango, for God sake – how can they be slipping down the drain of economic and civil collapse?

 And what about all the families in all the countries affected by the violence of 9/11? The ever widening ripples from ground zero, the sucking undertow still displacing the sand from under our feet.  Global connection clearly has its dark side. But then, there was that moment of silence – that truly Global moment of silence – a week after the awful day. Scenes from … everywhere, of people mourning the dead, showing support, sending the message of strength in numbers previously unimaginable. Global grief is a powerfully unifying force. Thank you, Osama. Didn’t know we had it in us.

And what about those of us who feel so helpless in all this? Sure we can bolster the economy by buying new stuff, sending our money to the causes of our choice, reading the newspaper while shaking our heads over our dark roast, telling our kids how lucky they are, that they should stop complaining about this and that because look how many kids don’t even have food on the table at Christmastime. We remind them that there are kids in their own school who don’t have winter coats. And we fret about all the rest – Argentina, Africa, Afghanistan, Annacostia…

Then we get a horrible wave of homesickness when we call our families who are far away, gathered together for the holidays. We hear the kids in the background shriek and giggle, and miss seeing them growing up…

And in the midst of all this, still the damn ad companies have the temerity to try to get me excited about a shiny new electric grill, guaranteed to drain away fat, and a load of products aiming to keep the dirt in my home at bay? I may be Home for the Holidays, but I sure as hell don’t intend to spend my time cleaning up.

 Boy, have they missed the boat.

They should have poured all their advertising dollars into gut-wrenching, guilt-inducing fund-raising campaigns. That, and ads for booze. And I don’t mean Korbel; I’m talking about the real mind-numbing stuff, the cheap swill that can ease the pain for a week at a time between de-toxes. They could make a killing on that right about now. Maybe even start up the old cigarette commercials again– I’d bet a lot of people are ready to give smoking another chance.

It must be obvious that this year will never be remembered by any of us as having contained the greatest holiday season. There’s just too much back-story.

But to be honest, I have an additional problem coloring my feelings about these last few days. I am feeling guilty, saddened, and oddly bereft - for a pair of puppies I never even met.

Until yesterday, we were in the market for a puppy. It seemed the perfect time. We paid almost $1,000 to finish fencing in the yard in preparation. We had decided to adopt a rescued animal, feeling it was important to teach the kids about the wonderful chance to give a needy animal a good home and lots of love. We looked around the local shelters with no immediate luck – the dogs all too big, too old, or too… odd.

I started checking the websites of different ASPCA affiliates. Then, a few days ago, I read about 2 10-week-old female beagle-mix puppies at a hound rescue organization in a far-away, unattractively named place called Bivalve, MD. Sight unseen, I applied, as one couldn’t even get much information until approved for adoption (the paperwork was more involved than taking out a mortgage). Next day, I got this response:

“Dear Russell,

Your application has been approved for the most part. I apologize for taking so long. We have been swamped with applications. Either or both of the beagle mix pups are ready to go to their loving forever home…Do you have a vet in mind for their health maintenance?


In hopes of hearing from you,


There followed directions to the farmhouse. It would probably take us 4 hours.

Shocked at the suddenness of it all, I wrote back that I was nervous and excited. I said we’d probably visit on Wednesday and then asked a few more questions about how they came to be up for adoption. I also relayed my own sketchy memories of our ravenous beagle we’d had when I was very young.

“Dear Russell,

I was raised with the adage:"when in nothing". We look forward to your visit on Wednesday. Please bring the family.

Both pups have come all the way from Point Pleasant, W VA. They are some of the few lucky pups that made the relay North to this rescue. The stray population is so great out in the boonies that this shelter still routinely gases their animals. We are working with Mason City Animal shelter to have this practice abolished. As we are a hound rescue, we take in most of the hounds large and small and make every effort to adopt them out. Little if anything is known about her parents.

You description of eating everything in sight made me laugh. Many's the adopter that has become a food slave to a beagle! HA!

Take care,


That was Christmas Eve. I slept badly that night, and took note that when I did sleep, visions of needy beagle pups danced in my head. They were not happy visions. I had to admit to myself that being responsible for twin puppies suddenly terrified me. But now that I knew something of their story, I felt connected, at least emotionally. I cared, damn it.

Christmas morning, after the carnage of dismembering the presents, I surveyed the floor, and tried to imagine the horror that would be brought upon us all if, thrown into the mix, there were two chewing puppies who would not only destroy precious new toys, but probably perforate their own intestines in the process.

As a family, we talked. We agonized. We decided. We weren’t ready. Not yet. Not now. The kids ran off to play, and I slunk upstairs to the shiny new computer, and told “Marth” that I was backing out. The pups would not find a home with us after all. I said it very nicely and all, but the end result was the same – we rejected the puppies that had known nothing but rejection since birth. Talk about your stake of holly through the heart.

So here I am, missing a pair of mutts I’ve never even met and who, until a couple of days ago, were not even on my radar.

But then, Christmas can be a time of surprises. This year, Sebastian, for the first time, went into a store alone and, using his own money and judgement, bought me a present. He was so proud when, with shaking hands he gave it to me Christmas morning. It was a single wineglass. It’s as heavy as a brick and has an odd multi-colored rim that manages to dribble liquid no matter how one tries to curl ones lip to prevent it. It is the most precious glass I’ve ever had, and I mean to drink out of it every night, whether I’m having wine or not.

And then there was Gabriel’s surprise. A week ago, he’d secretly kneeled at the living room table and written a note, cut around it with scissors, and asked for an envelope. Into it he slid the letter and a quarter. He addressed it to Sebastian and slid it into the branches of the tree. I leave you with what it said, verbatim. Happy Holidays to you all. We made it, didn’t we?

            Thans for being a nice big brother,

I know some-tims you’v bin rouhg with me but

            the rest you’v bin good for all these years

            you disrve the qorter.



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