A Dog is for Life

The following is a short story by authors Nikki and Richard Attree, a couple who live in Spain and write books with their dog, Gizmo. Nikki created the illustration at right.

It was Christmas Eve in the puppy farm – not that you’d know it. There were no decorations, no presents, no love – just the usual cruelty and squalor. The cages were crammed with dogs huddled together in the darkness.

A man grabbed one of the boxer pups, tore him away from his siblings and threw him in a cardboard box. He chucked the box in the back of a van and delivered it to the local pet shop. The shopkeeper put the frightened puppy in a display cage in the window. They’d be closing in an hour, but it was Christmas Eve and there was always the chance of a last-minute sale.
*****
Kev was desperate. All afternoon he’d been looking for a “Puppo.” The robot puppy was this year’s “must have” present and Sharon had been nagging him for weeks to get one before they sold out. He shivered and tried not to think about the tantrum their 6-year-old daughter, Tracey, would throw when she realized she was facing a Puppo-less Christmas.

The pet shop was Kev’s last chance. The sad little boxer puppy in the window looked nothing like a Puppo, and a real animal would be a poor substitute for the canine robot, but Kev was desperate.

“How much is that puppy in the window?” he asked.

“Ah, yes. The one with the waggly tail,” the shopkeeper replied, smirking.

Kev wasn’t amused. The shopkeeper shrugged. He glanced at his watch and then at the puppy.

“Look, it’s Christmas and I can see you’re desperate, so you can ‘ave ‘im for ‘alf price.”

“Thanks, mate. I’ll take ‘im,” Kev replied gratefully.
*****
Just across the road Ana was waiting at the vet, fighting back the tears. Next to her was Charlie, her 14-year-old spaniel. She’d been praying they’d have another Christmas together, but he was in so much pain. It was time for Ana to say goodbye to her best friend.

The vet called her name and she carried Charlie into the surgery. The nurse was so kind. She put her arm around Ana and told her she was doing the right thing.

Ana held Charlie in her arms, stroking his head as the vet gave him the injection. He looked up at Ana, licked her nose for the last time, and drifted away peacefully.
*****
Christmas Day. Kev was awakened early by an angry shout. He rushed downstairs to find Sharon gazing in disbelief at the chaos in the living room. The presents had been ripped open and the chewed-up contents strewn around the room. Tracey was chasing the puppy, screaming excitedly.

“Get that mutt out of ‘ere now!” Sharon yelled.

The boxer pup barked manically.

“Why did you buy it without asking me?!” Sharon demanded. “Who’s going to look after it? Take it for walks? Take it to the vet?”

Kev shrugged – she had a point. Sharon stormed off to the kitchen. The puppy sneaked upstairs to Tracey’s room and hid under her bed. All this excitement had exhausted him. He needed a snooze, but the little girl wanted more. She grabbed his tail and dragged him out. He squealed in pain and nipped her hand. Tracey ran to the kitchen and tearfully showed her mother the teeth marks.

“That’s it. I’ve ‘ad enough!” Sharon screamed. “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’s Christmas Day began with her usual walk in the park. Resorting to her normal routine, she grabbed Charlie’s lead, as she’d done every morning for the past 14 years … and shook her head sadly, remembering she didn’t need it.

The other dog walkers were sympathetic, of course, but they seemed uncomfortable with her, without Charlie. She understood why. They didn’t need reminding how quickly a dog’s life passes and they knew that nothing could ease the pain.

She got through the day watching movies, eating ice cream, and looking at old photos of Charlie, avoiding Facebook and all the images of happy people. She had a few glasses of wine and toasted his memory. Then she went to bed and cried herself to sleep.
*****
Boxing Day. Kev was awakened by a pitiful whining yelp coming from the spare room. He opened the door and tried not to puke at the smell. The puppy had done what any dog would do – relieve himself wherever he could.

That did it. Kev grabbed the pup and chucked him back in the cardboard box. Then he looked up the address of the nearest animal refuge and drove straight there. It was closed when he arrived, but that suited him. He wouldn’t have to speak to anyone, justify himself, feel guilty. He left that box outside the gate, with a note: “No way can we keep this dog. It pees in the house and it bit my little girl.”
*****
Later that day Ana also visited the refuge. She’d adopted Charlie from there and taking some dogs for a walk might help her get over his absence.

The manager, Marion, greeted her with a cardboard box in her hands. Must be a present, Ana thought, feeling guilty for not bringing a gift with her.

“Hi, Ana. Happy Christmas.”

Ana explained why it hadn’t been so happy for her. Marion hugged her and told her the refuge was full of dogs that had been abandoned over the holiday.

“This poor little chap was dumped outside a few hours ago.” She pointed to the cardboard box.

She handed Ana the note, and she 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 happened. A spark passed between them, a connection, like love at first sight. Love and loss – two sides of the same coin.

“People think dogs are like toys they can throw away when they get bored with them,” Marion said, angrily. “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas!”

Ana nodded. The puppy licked her nose and the sadness began to melt, like a snowman who’s past his sell-by date.

“You’re right,” she replied, “and this one is going to spend the rest of his life with me.”