by Slo Mo
As of this afternoon, Dog and I were humbugging on the whole Christmas deal...
My family isn't speaking to me since I missed my half-brother's wedding.
And Dog's friends are all out of town.
And neither of us are religious.
And we don't believe in Santa.
And we don't like eggnog.
And we aren't impressed by tacky displays of excess and wealth.
And even Dog agrees that Ron Howard should have his balls ripped off and shoved down his throat for taking the best Christmas story ever written and turning it into a putrid Hollywood marketing vehicle for McGrinch Meals and green Oreos.
Because that, ladies and gentlemen, is what this season boils down to: cheap sentiments, chintzy marketing ploys, and a chance to make the less fortunate people of the world feel even less fortunate by openly and unabashedly celebrating our culture of greed. We take a message of brotherhood and peace and salvation, and twist it into an excuse for blowing the wad on glitzy presents to satisfy our empty souls, and huge feasts to fill our bloated bellies. Talk about spiritual bankruptcy!
Plus, the music sucks.
That was my frame of mind when I took Dog to the state park this afternoon. I didn't want to listen to cheesy carols, I didn't want to wade through tinsel, I didn't want to see any more drunk Santas at the mall. I just wanted to lose myself in nature and find a little inner peace.
So you can imagine how I reacted when Dog, suddenly and inexplicably, froze at the trailhead and refused to budge.
"Dammit, Dog! We're here to relax in tranquillity, so get your ass in gear!"
He stared at me with the oddest expression, a mixture of pleading and determination.
But he just lowered his head and stood firm.
"Is this about me not buying you a banana shake at the Tiki Burger? Because I already apologized- "
And then Dog did something remarkable, the first remarkable thing of many that he would do today. I swear, he pulled a total Lassie - he used his snout to point at the bushes beside us.
There, crumpled in the weeds, was a small, furry, grey object. Then it opened its eyes and I realized what I was looking at: a dog. A half-dead, beaten up dog. And she was pregnant.
Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit...
I ran to the car and grabbed our picnic blanket out of the trunk, then scrambled back to where Dog was still standing guard. He watched as I wrapped her broken little body in the blanket and gingerly lifted her out of the weeds. Then Dog did his second remarkable deed of the day: he picked up his own leash and, without needing to be told, followed me across the empty parking lot to the warden's station.
I was in tears by the time our little procession made it to the warden. I showed him what was in the blanket and sobbed, "Can you please help us?"
But all he did was shrug and say, "Sorry, we only deal with wildlife." Then he went inside his station and shut the door.
I thought back to all the Christmas plays I'd seen as a child. No room at the inn.
I hurried back to the car, with Dog still trotting along at my heels in an unparalleled display of obedience, and drove to a roadside pay phone just outside the park gates, where I proceeded to use up all my tollbooth change calling every animal welfare agency in the book.
"Hi, my name is Mo and I just found a stray dog and she's sort of grey and small and she's not wearing any tags and she's really thin and she can't even stand up and she has rope burns all over her legs and her paws are bleeding and she's bruised and she's really, really sick. And she's pregnant. Will you help us?"
The city pound was full, and they referred me to the county shelter. The county shelter was full, too, and they referred me to the next county. The next county had space, but they informed me straight up that an animal this sick from out-of-county would be euthanized without even waiting to find an owner, for cost reasons alone.
No room at the inn.
They had all assured me that I'd done a good deed for this dog, and it would be humane to have her put down. She's just a stray. But I couldn't do it. I looked at her lying there, wrapped in her blanket on the front seat, and something told me to keep trying. Meanwhile, Dog stared at me with a steady, knowing gaze.
So I got back on the phone and called some private rescue orgs. Two of them were on skeleton staff for the holidays and couldn't accept new animals, one was closed, the others were full.
No room at the inn... No room at the inn... No room at the inn...
I returned to the car and rested my head on the steering wheel. I thought about how she was quietly trusting me, while Dog guarded over her from the back seat. Someone had treated her horribly. She'd been betrayed by someone in the worst way. Yet she trusted me. Almost as if she knew something. Almost as if she'd been waiting for us, Dog and me. I reached out my hand to comfort her and felt how she shuddered with every exhale, too battered even to breathe.
Did I want another dog? No. Did I even have permission to keep another dog at my cousin's house? No. And could I afford another dog? No. Could I afford this little grey dog, with all the vet care she would need? No.
But could I be like everyone else and turn my back on her when she was in such need, and I had the power to give?
So I did the inconceivable: I drove us to Dog's high-price, fancy-shmancy designer animal hospital, marched past the waiting room full of snooty clients, informed the receptionist that we had an emergency, and demanded to see Dog's vet, Dr. Heckle.
I demanded to see Dr. Heckle, NOW.
Dr. Heckle is on vacation. What I got instead was Dr. Heckle's son, Ben, fresh out of veterinary school and filling in for his father over the holidays.
And, as it turned out, Ben was exactly who we needed to see.
He gave it to me straight: this dog is too sick to be a mother - the litter is already dead inside her. Except for one faint, almost inaudible signal, which may or may not be the heartbeat of a live pup. She should have surgery, but she's too weak to survive it. All we could do is bandage her paws and clean her wounds and give her liquids and medicine, and wait, but it may not be enough, and it may not even be worth it in the end - after all, she's just a stray. "Plus," he said, "it's the holidays, and we're really busy."
So I gave it to him straight: I'm broke, and there's no way I can pay the hospital fees. But Dog and I found her, and Dog and I will see her through. And I'm willing to work for it. I'll scrub cages, scoop poo, run errands, answer phones, fill water dishes... Whatever the hospital would like. Whatever they need. Just so long as this little dog gets what she needs. So long as someone, please, will find room at the inn.
By now, the receptionist was poking her head in the room every few seconds to remind Ben that they were closing soon and he still had patients waiting. He needed to decide about us fast. And that was when Dog performed his third remarkable act of the day: he picked up the blanket she had been wrapped in, and dropped it at Ben's feet.
I guess that was the clincher.
"Well...." Ben sighed, "the hospital's closing for the next few days and I'm on call by myself. Our kennel assistant quit. So I tell you what - if you don't mind staying here and helping with the non-vet chores, I don't mind caring for this dog and seeing if we can't save her. Maybe, maybe, we can get her to deliver a live pup." He sighed again. "Beats sitting around watching It's A Wonderful Life for the millionth time."
We shook on it, right there, and then we shook Dog's paw too, for good measure. All for one and one for all.
So maybe there is something more to this season. I mean, what else could bring together such an unlikely team for such an unlikely cause? A girl who was too cynical to see straight, a new vet who was already jaded, and a big silly mutant dog who'd spent his entire life being spoiled. Yet here we were. As if we'd been guided, kicking and screaming, by something special, something pure, that maybe, just maybe, still survives beneath the holiday glitz.
And so, if you come by our animal hospital and peek in the windows this Christmas Eve, here's what you'll see: three strangers who watched for a miracle, Ben and Dog and me, our odd little trio keeping vigil through the night. And at the center, surrounded with calm and care and love, all the gifts we could bring, you would see the tiny creatures who redeemed us - Star and her new son, Noel.
They're not out of the woods, not by a long shot. Star is still too weak for the surgery she needs. Noel is smaller than a kitten. They'll both need a whole lot of medicine and a whole lot of attention and all the luck two mutts can get. But you know what? We got them this far, me and Ben and Dog, and I believe our faith will carry them the rest of the way through.
I'm not saying "humbug" anymore.