She was a waitress. A widowed young mother with a four-year-old daughter.
Her shift was almost done. She was tossing garbage into a dumpster behind the restaurant. She heard something. Whimpering.
She saw a shape in the shadows. She saw four legs. Long ears. It was a stray, and it was hungry. She almost turned around and went back inside. But she didn’t.
The last thing she needed in her life was a dog. She was too busy with a daughter to be bringing home more responsibility. But when this dog looked at her…
Well, you know how dogs are.
She fed him leftovers. The old boy ate his food in only a few bites, and he didn’t run when she pet him.
He was brindle-colored, with a white face. He let her place a leash around his neck. She was going to take him to the shelter, the first thing in the morning, that’s what she told herself. But once she brought him home all bets were off.
Her daughter named the dog “Dave.”
They placed Dave in the shower. They used expensive shampoo on him, and lavender conditioner. Dave sneezed when they blow-dried him.
That night, she didn’t sleep much. She could see Dave’s silhouette in the darkness, staring at her. She caved.
“You wanna get in bed with us, Dave?”
She patted the bed once. He was beside her before she patted a second time.
“I’ve never really been a dog person,” she tells me. “But Dave just looked at you with that face, and you just fell in love. You know how dogs are.”
Yes. I do.
Dave wore a green collar. He loved to run. They tell me when he was off his leash he could sprint all the way to China and still make it home in time for supper.
That Christmas, Dave rode with them to visit her parents. The whole family doted on the animal. They bought him presents. Her mother even knitted Dave a sweater. He became family.
For eight Christmases, Dave was beside them. It was Dave who bid them goodbye before work and school. He waited in the den each evening for them to return. He shared their pillows, their sofa, and watched television with them.
But nothing lasts forever. Not even dogs.
Earlier this year, Dave ran into the street. He was hit by a van. He suffered internal bleeding. So she made a decision on Dave’s behalf that nobody wants to make. She cried for weeks after they buried him.
This year has been a difficult one.
But three weeks ago, things sort of changed. She was out for a walk. She was strolling through an upscale subdivision down the street from her. Her daughter saw a sign by the road.
“Free puppies,” the sign read.
She knocked on the door. She was taken into a garage. There, she found a litter of pups romping on the floor, chewing on their own ears, making yellow puddles. The mother of the litter was black.
But the puppies were brindle.
She asked the owner about their coloring. The owner told her that several months earlier, a brindle male in a green collar had shown up in their backyard. And the rest was history.
She finishes telling me the story with a few tears in her eyes. “Dave was the father of the litter,” she said, laughing. “We had no idea, that little rascal.”
The woman leads me to the laundry room where they introduce me to a puppy with a marbled coat of brown.
“This is Dave Jr.,” says the daughter.
The puppy crawls into my arms and falls asleep. This holiday will be his first Christmas. Dave Jr. already has nine presents under the tree. Nine.
“It’s funny,” the woman tells me. “I was never a dog person before, but one dog changed my whole life.”
You know how dogs are.