Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Gift of the Wise Dogs - a Christmas Tail

I'm still alive, though you'd never know it from this blog. There's so much else to do that blogging seems self-indulgent. But I want to give a gift to my readers, all seven of you. So here's the story that I will tell tomorrow evening at our Christmas Eve service. It's the latest in a long series of stories I have written to tell for the Children's Moment at my church; all of them are about my dogs Berry and Maya and their adventures.That's Maya on the left and Berry on the right.

"The Gift of the Wise Dogs"
(with apologies to O. Henry)

This is my dog Maya’s favorite toy. (Show ripped up, slobbery toy.) That is, it’s her favorite toy now that her really favorite toy is gone.

Her really favorite toy was a soft stuffed pig with a squeaker in it; we named it Miss Piggy. It was pink and cuddly (well, not so cuddly once she had slobbered all over it) with a really cute little piggy nose and pointy ears and a curly little tail. But what Maya loved most about it was the squeaker.

She would throw Miss Piggy around and pounce on it and mash it between her jaws — anything to make that squeaker squeak. In fact, she loved it so much — she loved it so hard — that she finally ripped it open by mistake and pulled out the squeaker. And then it wasn’t long before she punctured the squeaker with her sharp little teeth, and then it wouldn’t squeak any more. It was an accident!

But even without the squeaker, she loved Miss Piggy! She still threw it around and slobbered on it and held it between her paws so she could lick it and chew on it. By the time she gave it away, it was hardly recognizable as a pig any more, though it still looked like a favorite dog toy.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. You must be wondering why Maya would give away her favorite toy.

It happened like this. Maya wanted to give Berry something very special for a Christmas present. This is Berry’s first Christmas without his friend Sappho, who died last Fall. Maya knew that Berry would be missing Sappho a lot this Christmas, and she wanted to give him a thoughtful gift that would show Berry that Maya really loved him and was paying attention to him.

She thought and thought about it. You know how hard it is to give some people presents, right? They seem to have everything they need or want already. Berry doesn’t play with dog toys any more; he’s too old and dignified to do that. And he has all the clothes he needs — his matching blue collar and leash.

But wait! That leash of his was starting to look really dirty, and it was coming apart near the bottom, where Maya had accidentally chewed on it for a long time one boring afternoon. Maybe he would like a new leash to go with his collar!

Yes, that was the perfect idea for a Christmas gift! A nice new blue leash that would match his collar. But where to get one? Maya doesn’t drive yet, and she doesn’t have Internet access to buy one on line. Where could she get a leash for Berry for Christmas?

We take the dogs to the park every morning for a nice romp, and some days, if we’re lucky, we find other dogs and their owners there. Naturally, the owners talk among themselves while they are keeping an eye on the dogs. And don’t you think that the dogs talk among themselves as well? Of course they do!

One morning in early December, Maya noticed a new dog at the park. He was beautiful, with a shiny light brown coat, white feet, and pointy, stand-up ears. While Duane and his owner were getting acquainted, Maya struck up a conversation with the dog.

“Hi there,” she said to him. “My name is Maya and I’m one and a half. I’m from Labrador. What’s your name?”

“My name is Ralph,” he answered. “I’m four, and I’m a boxer.”

“Oh, I’ve never met a boxer before,” Maya said. “How interesting! Do you box?”

“No,” Ralph said. “Boxing is for people. Me, I just run around and play with toys. Especially squeaky toys.”

“Nice leash,” she said. “Where did you get it? I need to get a leash pretty soon.”

“Really?” asked the dog. “Do you like this leash? I hate it! I think it’s a terrible color. Blue doesn’t go with my coat at all, and my eyes are brown, too. I even have a red collar, so I really should have a red leash, don’t you?”

Maya was starting to put the pieces together. “Oh, yes,” she said. “A red leash would look great on you! You should ask for one for Christmas!”

“Funny you should say that,” Ralph replied. “I think I’m getting a red leash for Christmas. I heard my Mom and Dad talking about it just last night when they thought that I was sleeping.”

Now Maya was really getting excited! But she didn’t want Ralph to know how excited she was, so she tried to play it cool.

“So… what will you do with your ugly old blue leash when you get the red one?”

“I guess we’ll keep it as a spare,” Ralph said. “I’d rather not ever wear it again, but you never know when you might need a spare.”

“Ummm, Ralph? Would you consider getting rid of it? I mean, like, giving it away? To me?”

“What’s in it for me?” he asked. He wasn’t about to give away something for nothing.

“Well,” said Maya, “you said you like squeaky toys. Do you like them even after the squeaker is gone?”

“Yeah, I like them okay. Once the squeaker is gone, I like to chew them up and rip them to shreds. That’s fun!”

Maya gulped. She didn’t like the idea of Ralph ripping Miss Piggy to shreds. But it was worth it if it meant she could get Berry a beautiful new leash — well, almost new. And now that Miss Piggy’s squeaker was gone, she really wasn’t all that much fun to play with anyway. Maya could get along without her, she decided.

“Listen Ralph,” she said. “I’ll trade you my favorite squeaky toy for your blue leash, okay? The toy doesn’t have a squeaker any more, but you can tear it up if you want to. Its name is Miss Piggy.”

“’Miss Piggy,’ eh? So, it’s a pig?”

“Yes, of course it’s a pig! A pink pig, with pointy ears and a cute little curly tail.”

“Sounds good to me,” Ralph said. “I like pigs.”

So the two dogs made a plan to meet at the park that night and make the switch. Maya can get out of the house if she needs to, and Berry would never tattle on her. And sure enough, Ralph kept his promise, and that very night the blue leash was hers, and Miss Piggy was gone.

She could hardly wait to give her present to Berry! Their plan was to exchange gifts when Duane and I were out at a party shortly before Christmas, and Maya was counting the days! She loves Berry very much, and she wants him to know that. When she gave him the leash, he would be sure to understand how much he means to her.

Finally the day arrived. We went off to the party in a snowstorm, leaving Maya in her crate with a Kong full of peanut butter. Berry stays loose in the house when we go out, because he’s such a good dog that he would never get into trouble. But we’re not so sure about Maya, even when she means well. Accidents seem to happen all around her. So we put her in her crate where she — and the rest of the house — will be safe while we’re gone.

When he heard the car drive away from the curb, Berry unlocked Maya’s crate and let her out. “Are you ready for your present?” he asked.

“Oh boy! Yes, I’m ready! What did you get for me, Berry?” Maya loves presents!

“You’re really going to like this,” Berry told her. “I looked all over the Internet for it, and finally I found just the right one on eBow-wow.” He held out a small package.

As she ripped it open, she kept saying “What is it, what is it? What ever could it be?”

And then there it was, the perfect gift: a new squeaker for Miss Piggy.

Maya burst into tears. “What’s the matter?” asked Berry. “Don’t you like it? I thought it would be just the thing! You love Miss Piggy so much, and she needs a new squeaker. I thought it would make you happy, and here you are crying.”

“Oh, Berry, I do love it. It’s the nicest present you ever could have given me. It’s just… well… Miss Piggy is gone. I don’t have her any more. I traded her for your present.

“And my goodness, I need to give you your present right away! You’ll love it!”

She went to the place where she had hidden the blue leash and held it out to him. Solemnly Berry accepted it, with a strange smile on his face.

“It’s perfect, don’t you think?” Maya said to him. “I think it will match your collar just right. Put it on, Berry, and let’s see how it matches.”

Only then did Maya take a closer look at his neck, and she realized that he wasn’t wearing his collar.

“Where’s your collar, Berry? What happened to it?”

Berry continued to smile that strange smile at her, and then he leaned over and gave her a slobbery dog kiss. “Let’s put our presents away, Maya. We won’t be needing them for a while, but we have the whole evening to spend together just enjoying each other’s company, and that’s the best gift of all, don’t you think? I love you, Maya, and there’s nothing I want more than just to spend this lovely evening with you at home, looking out the window at the snow.”

“But Berry, I don’t understand. What happened to your collar?”

“I sold it on eBow-wow so I'd have some money to buy the squeaker, Maya,” he said. “Now settle down here beside me and let’s enjoy the snowstorm.”

And do you know what? It was the best Christmas that Maya and Berry ever had!