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By Troy Kechely Copyright 2003

It was only after the fifth try that I managed to find a station that wasn’t playing Christmas music as I traveled south on Interstate 25. It’s not as though I am against Christmas music or Christmas itself, just that I wasn’t in the mood. It was bad enough to have to travel to Casper only three days before Christmas, but worse in that it was for work. One of our firm’s construction projects was going fine until just the other day when the contractor freaked out over a design issue. After a flurry of conference calls it was decided that the client, the firm I worked for and the contractor should meet. So being the only one without family I was volunteered, much to the amusement of my coworkers. The meeting was planned for the day before Christmas Eve. So now I found myself traveling at 75 miles per hour through northern Wyoming. Thankfully the roads were good, though the country western songs filling my speakers were only slightly more tolerable than the endless Christmas music that every other station had on. I had just passed through Buffalo when my cell phone rang. “Hello...Oh hi Mom. No I am still traveling…No I won’t be back until late Christmas Eve…No sorry, I just don’t see me making it there. Sorry, but by the time I get back I am going to need a day to just unwind…No Mom I am not just going to spend time with Dad. I don’t plan on going there at least not until the weekend. Listen I will try and stop by on the weekend, ok. Tell everyone hi for me…Yeah, love you too.” Pushing the end key on my phone, I felt guilty for lying to my mom. I knew I was going to get back in time to head over to her place on Christmas Day and still be able to make it over to Dad’s. They only live an hour apart. The reality of the situation is that I just didn’t want to. They had been divorced for years and my sisters are a real pain in the ways they pick and choose to visit one parent or the other. It seems like a selfish game, playing one parent against the other, saying that one home was more fun than the other or that it was just nicer at one place. So I decided to say the heck with it this year. Let them figure it out and I would wander in after the fuss had died down. I love my folks and sisters, but sometimes they were just too much. The sun was peaking through the clouds as the snow-covered ground glowed in the light. I adjusted my sunglasses and settled into my seat knowing I had a few hours left in my drive. My cell rang again and I wondered if it would be my mom or one of my sisters getting on my case about not coming over for Christmas. “Hello…Yeah this is John...Oh Trish, yeah I remember you. What’s up?” I hadn’t communicated with Trish for months and only then by email. Talking with her now caused me to wonder what was going on as she started recounting how I had offered to help her with rescuing Rottweilers. I didn’t own any myself, not since my Rottie, Jake, died two years ago. Between my job and grief, I never steeled myself to get another one. When I heard about Rottweiler Rescue I figured I could at least offer to help. I had written Trish about doing so and then never heard anything else; at least not until now. “Today? You are kidding, right?…How did you know I was heading down here?…Oh Kate huh. I will have to remember to talk with her about this.” Kate was our office administrator and overall caretaker of all the staff. If something was going on she knew about it.

“Just kidding. So what exactly do you need me to do?” Trish began to tell the situation. A Rottie in a small town shelter was on its last day. She had foster space in Billings but needed someone to evaluate the dog before she could arrange transport. My office assistant Kate was kind enough to tell her that I was heading down to Casper anyway and gave her my cell number. “So where is this dog again?” I reached for my map and managed to stay in my lane as I struggled to look at it. “My Gosh Trish, is this place even on the map? Wait I got it. Talk about small town. Trish, that is at least two hours out of my way. Isn’t there anyone else who can do this? I know I offered, but wow, this is rather short notice.” My ear was filled with the sad story of this dog and how the shelter had kept her alive as long as they had because she was so nice but they were full and she was going to be put down. Her guilt trip worked. “Ok, you convinced me. Who do I contact?” Trish gave me the name of the person who operates the shelter and his number. She explained that he was only there three hours a day to clean and feed the dogs. I struggled to write the number on the edge of the map without careening off the road. “Yes, you will owe me, but don’t worry about it. I will see what I can do. Can I call you if I have any questions? I haven’t exactly done this before…Ok, I will talk to you when I get there. Bye.” I was shaking my head in disbelief that I had allowed myself to be conned into doing this, but I had told them I would help. I guess I need to quite my complaining. I called the shelter operator and after three tries managed to get a hold of him. Bill sounded nice enough and was even willing to meet me at the shelter, as I wouldn’t make it there during his normal hours. After getting directions I hung up and checked the map once again to see how far to the exit I needed to take. I guess it wasn’t that big of a deal really. The meeting wasn’t until tomorrow morning and the hotel reservation would hold till late tonight so a few hours detour wouldn’t kill me. The clouds cleared off revealing a stunning blue sky, the kind of blue that only happens in the cold crisp air of winter. As the road passed beneath me I ran through my head how I would evaluate the dog, trying to remember what Trish had told me about how to look for certain responses. The more I thought about it, the more concerned I became. I reached the exit and soon I was on a quiet two-lane road that meandered through the snow-covered hills. After 70 minutes I came to the signs that Bill had told me to look for. The small town was like any other. It perhaps had a few hundred people residing in it, but had at least five bars, one of which doubled as the local grocery store. I turned left before the railroad tracks, just like he had said to. The small green sign with white letters saying ANIMAL SHELTER was barely visible as I made my turn. I wondered how anyone could find the place without specific directions. The dirt road, which I assumed was some form of alley, went behind the small high school and then crossed over the railroad tracks. Before me was a cinder block building measuring about 25 feet by 15 feet. I saw no kennels or fences around it and it was only by seeing the Animal Shelter sign on the door that I knew I was at the right place. Getting out of my small rental car I closed my coat to the cold wind that whipped around me. Opening the front door I was greeted by a man whose grin was made up of mostly gums with a few

teeth thrown in for looks. Bill was a large man, but he greeted me in the warm way you would expect in a small Wyoming town. “Glad you could make it down.” Bill moved from behind the small desk that was crowded into the front corner of the building. I could hear dogs barking in the back but could not see them. “No problem. I appreciate you coming in to meet me. So this dog is pretty nice huh?” Bill nodded as he started walking down the short hallway to a large metal door. “Yeah she came in as a stray. Can’t believe no one came in to claim her. When I clean her cage she just leans against me and wants petting. Doesn’t show a lick of aggression towards the other dogs.” I followed Bill back and my ears were greeted with the deafening noise of dozens of barking dogs. Each sound amplified as it bounced off the cold concrete walls. Stepping into the room I was struck by a sight that will forever haunt my memory. In front of me were cages; each only three feet square and about two feet high, stacked one on top of another. In each cage was at least one dog and many of them held multiple dogs. Most of them were small to medium size dogs. To my left was a row of larger kennels, about four feet by five feet with a concrete trough about six inches deep along the back of it. All of them were full. The first one held a beautiful German Shepherd who looked at me with deep sorrowful brown eyes. His tail wagged softly as he tried to move around in his pen. The floor of his pen was covered in dog food and I saw quickly why. The dogs were being fed and watered out of used coffee cans and the Shepherd’s head was too large to fit in and eat so he tipped it over to get at the food. Bill grabbed a leash off the wall and handed to me and then kept walking back to the last pen along the wall. As the shock of initial entry washed over me, I followed him trying not to make eye contact with any other dog. He stopped and motioned to the pen. Inside was a large but fit Rottweiler. Her head was beautiful and her nub of a tail wiggled at seeing Bill. “Do you have an exercise yard or someplace I can evaluate her?” Bill shook his head no and stood back. Perhaps out of stupidity or just a feeling of trust of the dog I opened the pen and struggled to get loop around her head. She was exuberant beyond reason, but finally I managed to get a leash on her. Once outside of the pen she acted scared as if it was all new to her. I headed towards the door with the dog half pulling, half hesitating as we went. Once into the hallway, I stopped to adjust her leash and to look her over. Bill stood behind me. “So Bill, how do you exercise the dogs? Do you have volunteers that come down or do you walk them?” “We don’t. The county considers us the bastard children when it comes to budget. They pay for me to come down three hours a day to clean and feed them and that is it.” “So where are the dogs when you clean?” “In the pens of course.” My heart sunk as the realization of the place hit me. The dogs were kept in their small pens 24 hours a day never being let out. That is why the Rottie was so scared as it was new to her to be out of the pen. Bill shared that she had been there for three weeks and that they usually euthenized after three or four days but she was so nice he kept her hoping someone would come and get her. But now they were overflowing and her time was up.

I took the dog outside and walked around with her. I then put her through the tests that Trish had told me about and the dog passed with flying colors. Her only fault was that she was too affectionate, making the evaluation hard to do in between her licking me. She was large but not overweight. I guessed her to be about 90 pounds and young, perhaps two years old. Her coat was a dull grey and thick with dust. Still her beauty could not be hidden. It had been a while since I held and petted a Rottweiler and I had forgotten how much I enjoyed the breed. After about twenty minutes of walking with her and evaluating her I went back to the warmth of the shelter. Bill let me back in and I put her into her pen where she tried to get a drink from the coffee can. Her head could not fit so I leaned down and tilted the can so she could lap up some of the water. I closed the pen and even with the loudness of the barks, I could hear its cold metallic clank with striking clarity. I made my way out, but my heart was crushed by the look in not only her eyes, but also the eyes of the other dogs. Especially the German Shepherd. I put up the necessary emotional walls and left the room. The door closing did not mute the barks behind me. Nothing could. “So what did you think about her?” Bill asked sitting behind the desk. “I think she is great. If you don’t mind, let me call Trish and see about foster space for her.” Bill nodded and went back to playing solitaire on the computer while I dialed Trish’s number on my cell. “Trish, it’s me. The dog is great. She is beautiful, needing a bath, but still beautiful. So now what?” She spoke to me about having space but not having transport until the 29th. “Hold on a sec Trish. Bill how long can you hold her?” Bill looked up from his game. “She is being put down the day after Christmas. I can’t wait any longer.” “Trish, no go. She is being put down the 26th.” I could hear Trish fret over how to save the dog. The emotional walls that I had put up in order to leave the kennel room with any composure began to crumble. “Trish, I have an idea. Hold on a second. Bill would you be willing to meet me early the morning of Christmas Eve?” Bill looked put out by my request “Well I guess so. What time? I am not much of a morning person.” “I can be here anytime you want me to be.” I said realizing that I might be getting up much earlier than Bill to get here on time. “Well how about 8:30 then.” I nodded. “Trish, don’t worry about transport. I will pick her up on my way back from my meetings. Just make sure you have a place for her since I can’t keep her, ok?” Trish was elated and thanked me promising that she would have space for her. We agreed on a time to meet and then I hung up. “Ok Bill, I will be here at 8:30 to pick her up.” “Will do, I will be here. I don’t suppose you have room for more of them?” I looked at my small rental car and wondered how I was going to fit one dog in let alone several. “Sorry, I can only take one. Why?” “Yeah, I can’t take any more home myself or my wife would kill me. I have to put them all down after Christmas as they are all over the four-day hold time. Gonna make for a crappy holiday.”

“Yeah I bet. Well thanks Bill, I will see you Christmas Eve morning.” We shook hands and after getting into my car I let some of my emotions out. I was saving one but what about the others? As I pulled out back onto the highway the eyes of the German Shepherd filled my mind and the haunting echo of the barking drowned out the sound of the radio. Never before had I felt this way. My chest was tight as I thought about all those dogs destined to be killed the day after Christmas. The trip to Casper was almost a blur. Nothing but the dogs seemed to matter and I drove automatically while my mind wrestled with the situation. Arriving at my hotel I tried to change my focus and looked over the construction plans of the project. Soon my mind was on work and kept me occupied until I went to bed, but then the images came back to me. The deep eyes of the Shepherd, its light tan coat with the black highlights, the gentle motion of its tail as it looked at me. Then the image of the Chocolate Lab next to it and then the dozens of smaller dogs stacked on top of each other, sharing the small cages. I began to wonder how the dogs would be put down. Surely, a local vet would come with a needle and put them to sleep. Yet I remembered the door in the hallway and wondered what was behind it. Hoping, I told myself that it wasn’t a gas chamber, but in my heart I knew full well that it might be. I tossed and turned all night trying desperately to sleep, only to find the alarm going off and not feeling a bit rested. After breakfast I headed to the meeting. I knew it would be a long one, but I didn’t imagine that it would be all-day and then some. It was after 6 pm that all parties agreed on a solution and after a wish of Merry Christmas we all went our separate ways. I stopped at a local Wal-Mart and bought a new leash and collar for the Rottie I was to pick up. Once back at the hotel I called Trish. “Trish, hey I just wanted to check in. Do you know of anyone down here who could take a couple of dogs?” I listened for a moment. “Well I know I am pulling the Rottie but there is a German Shepherd there that is really nice along with a Chocolate Lab. Heck Trish, there are about 25 dogs there and they are all going to be put down after Christmas. Basically I can’t sleep thinking about it.” I listened as she tried to offer comfort but the reality was that there was none. Everyone was full or gone for the holiday. It was as simple as that. I could save the Rottie and that was it. Her last words of advice were the most painful. “Can’t save them all huh? Well why the hell not? Sorry Trish, just frustrated. These looked like great dogs and they are being kept in these terrible conditions and now are going to be killed, just not making for a very merry Christmas.” Trish and I talked a while longer and finally said goodbye. I was starting to regret ever getting involved. My life was simple. I didn’t know about this sort of thing and I didn’t want to. Now it was too late. Not only was I involved, but up to my neck in it. I wondered how anyone could do what Trish and the others did. Sleep came grudgingly and the alarm going off at 4 am was not welcome. I quickly got ready and hit the road. A light snow had fallen during the night so I had to go slower than I wanted to. The interstate was clear, but I still tried to be careful. After turning off onto the narrow two-lane, I realized that the snow had fallen much deeper in this area. A layer of ice and hard packed snow on the road made the trip even more stressful. While rounding a curve the front wheels slipped caused me to spin. I was already going slowly, but it was not slow enough. The car slid off the side of the road getting its wheels buried in the thick snow piled up by the county snowplows. I tried

futilely to get the car out by revving the engine and rocking it, but realized it wasn’t going to work. I looked at my watch. It was 8 am already and I still had a ways to go. I tried my cell only to see that I had no coverage. I got out and not caring about the dress shoes I had on, waded into the foot deep snow and started digging with my hands. Soon I was cold, wet and frustrated. I looked at my watch again. It was almost 8:30. My heart sunk. I knew that Bill would not wait long. “Ok God, I don’t talk to you much but a little help would be real handy right about now.” I went back to digging speaking more out of frustration than of real prayer. The sound of a diesel engine idling caused me to look up from my task. A large Ford pickup was pulling up behind my stuck car. A thin man stepped out gripping the tip of his cowboy hat to keep the wind from blowing it off of his head. As he approached I could see he was older, his face worn from years of working in the elements. “Need a hand?” My smile must have answered his question. He looked things over and then went back to his truck. Pulling around front he stopped and after hooking up a towrope, managed to pull my car free from the grip of the snow. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this.” I began to explain what I was doing and why I was so frantic to reach the shelter. “Well, I don’t think you need to worry. I know Bill. One, he won’t be there on time and two, he just lives a block away so you take your time and be safe, ok. Good luck with the dog.” I thanked the man again and soon was on my way. Suddenly I realized that I never got his name, but I sure wished that I had.. An hour later I arrived at the shelter and thankfully saw that the lights were on inside. I opened the door but didn’t see anyone. I could hear barking in the back and opening the door to the kennel area I saw Bill standing in front of a sink of soapy water scrubbing coffee cans. He smiled his five-tooth grin. “I take it the roads were bad?” “Yeah a little bit. So is she ready?” “Help yourself. I won’t have you do any of the paper work. Just get her out of here.” I saw that several of the smaller dogs that had been there the other day were now gone. “Bill, did those dogs get reclaimed?” Bill shook his head sadly and kept scrubbing the dishes. “I didn’t want to have to do all of them in one day.” I just nodded not sure what to say. I saw that the German Shepherd was still there along with the Lab but many of the smaller dogs were gone, their high pitched barks no longer adding to the sad lament of the other dogs. I saw the Rottie in her pen. Her eyes and ears were riveted on me as I walked up to her. All of the cages had fecal matter on the ground. Hers was no different and it was mixed in with food she had spilled the night before. There was no room for any of them to lay down with the urine and such all over the floor. I wondered how long it had been since any of them had slept. I opened her pen and saw that thankfully she didn’t have any of the feces on her. Attaching the new collar and leash I stood up only to make eye contact with the Shepherd at the end. It was something I desperately wanted to avoid, but now it was too late. I looked down at the ground and walked past him. The Rottie was pulling more this time than the first time I walked her. Perhaps she sensed that this was her chance to escape.

“Bill, thanks again for helping this girl out. I don’t know if it is possible but if there is any way to give that Shepherd another week or so I will try and find him a home.” I kept my back to the Shepherd but could feel its stare on the back of my neck. Bill had a sad look on his face as he pulled his hand out of the rubber gloves and wiped his head. “I know what you mean, but not sure I can. He has been here too long already and the ACO is getting on my case about keeping them as long as I have. How about this, I will see how it goes day after tomorrow, and you can call me or have Trish call me if you got space. Then I will try and hold him and tell the ACO to sit tight, ok?” “It’s all I can ask Bill. Thanks.” I shook his hand then headed out the door and down the long hall towards the front entrance. As we moved down the hall I could see inside the door that had been closed before. I had never seen one until now, but I knew instantly that it was a gas chamber that I was looking at. I paused momentarily and stared at it. The knowledge that it awaited those dogs still behind me and had already greeted those I had seen just the other day was sickening to me. The tug on the leash got my attention as the Rottie pulled towards the front door and freedom. I smiled at her and wondered if she knew how close she was to going into that room instead of down the hallway. Giving into her pulls I followed her. Getting out to the car I pulled off my coat and laid it on the back seat to try and minimize the dog hair as I was sure the rental company would not be happy knowing I was hauling a dog. I stood back from the door and the Rottie walked slowly up to the back seat and sniffed it. “Come on girl, get in.” She looked back at me in hesitation. I wasn’t sure what to do but I needed to get going if I was going to make it to Trish’s before dark. Reaching down I put my arm around her stomach and the other arm on her neck and gently lifted her into the seat. Before she could turn around I closed the door and then got into the front seat. Having used my coat for her bed, I shivered as I started the car, thankful when the warm rush of air from the heater hit me. I looked in the mirror and watched as the Rottie sniffed her new environment and then finally lay down. I pulled out of the shelter and dialed Trish. “Hey, it’s me. I got her…Yeah, she is just laying down now. Trish I want you to do me a favor. I talked Bill into giving the German Shepherd a chance and to hold him but I don’t think he can hold him long, maybe another day or two past the 26th. If you know of anyone that can take him, please get a hold of them. It is killing me just thinking about those dogs, but that GSD is the worst. I am really wondering how you do this every day.” I listened as Trish talked and hearing her promise that she would do her best. The reception got bad shortly after getting out of town and we agreed to meet at a revised time since I was running so late. Hanging up, I looked into the mirror and realized that the Rottie was out cold. “Go ahead and sleep girl, you’re safe now.” I kept the radio off in order to let her rest and just drove. My mind and heart tormented by the last eye contact I had with the Shepherd. At one point I was even angry with myself for allowing my emotions to be so powerful over a dog I didn’t even know. I found that the further I drove the stronger the emotions got. I wanted to vent, to scream and to lash out at the world but couldn’t. Instead all I could do was drive. Feeling the gleaming drops of a tear forming on my cheek, I wiped it away only to feel the warmth of a tongue brush across my neck. I

turned my head to look into the Rottweilers brown eyes. She was still sleepy but looked around inquisitively at the snow-covered ground that rushed past us. I kept my focus on the road but reached back and scratched her head softly. She laid her head on the center console and was content with my fingertips rubbing her ear. With every mile I felt my stress reduce as the warmth of the dog next to me flowed through my hands. It was almost dark when I met Trish at the exit and then followed her through the back roads of Billings to her home. Her husband Phil was waiting for us and dressed for the cold that seemed to hang thick in the air. Once everyone got introduced I opened the car door and grabbed the leash as the Rottie jumped out. She sniffed around and then after marking a bush walked up to Trish and Phil. Trish knelt down and took the Rottie's head in her hands and smiled. She was given a dose of affectionate licks and looked up to her husband and me. “Gosh, she is a sweetie isn’t she? You made a good call on your eval, John, she should fit in nicely. We will put her in the larger kennel as it has a heater and everything to make a girl feel at home, right sweetie?” Trish stood up and handed the leash to Phil and he walked to the kennels. The Rottie kept in step with him, excited about her new home, even if only a temporary one. “So do you think you will find her a good home?” I asked. “Oh yeah, we should be able to find a decent one, assuming she passes the eval.” “Eval, I thought I did that already.” “No John your eval was just to see if she was worth getting out of the shelter. If she had tried to eat your face I wouldn’t have taken her.” Trish’s smiled at me. “Gee thanks Trish. So now what?” Trish started walking towards the house and I followed. “Well Phil will put her through a longer eval, you know, test her with kids, cats and such. If she passes that then we will start the process of finding her a home.” “What if she fails?” “Don’t worry, I doubt she will but if she has issues we will try and train them out of her. If that doesn’t work then she will be put down.” “What?! Why did I go through all of this if she might end up getting put down?” Trish held the door open for me as we entered the warmth of her home. “John, listen. Rescue is about giving a dog a second chance. That is all we can do. Phil and I have been doing this for ten years so trust us. It is better for her to be given this chance and evaluated by someone who knows rotties than to just be gassed in order to make room. Besides, I have a good feel for reading dogs and this one is a good one. I think she will do fine. How about you? How are you holding up?” I sat at the table as Phil came back into the house. “To be honest Trish I regret you ever calling me. I can’t get the image of those other dogs out of my head. How do you two do this?” Phil sat down with two cups of coffee, sliding one over to me. “I understand John. Trish kind of conned me into doing this and I only went along because it was important to her. Now I am hooked. Not out of guilt but love. Knowing that I can give a dog one more chance in cases where it might not have had a chance at all. That is what it is all about, giving the dog a chance. Sometimes they fail that chance but most of the time, with good training, love and time they turn into great dogs. I know what it is like to go into a shelter and walk out with one dog and leave all

the rest to die. I am sure you have heard this, but you can’t save them all. You just can’t. In rescue the negatives far outnumber the positives, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. As bad as things have been, I thank God that I have been given the chance to do this. Believe it or not, it has been a blessing.” I gazed at the dark liquid that steamed in my mug. Taking a sip I looked back at Phil. “Blessing or not, I am not sure I am cut out for this. I know I offered to help and I am glad I could help save her, but I am not sure I need this kind of baggage.” Trish nodded. “I understand John, but don’t jump ship yet. Do me a favor. Think about it until after New Years. Until then I will pull your name off the list so no one else calls. You call me after the New Year and give me your decision ok?” “Fair enough. Don’t hold your breath though. What I saw down there I hope I never see again. Do you think you can find a home for the Shepherd that was there?” Phil shrugged his broad shoulders and looked at Trish. “I am gonna try John, but I can’t promise anything. I have emailed and left messages to everyone I know who might be able and willing to take him. I just don’t know if we have enough time. I will call Bill on the 26th and see about holding him to the New Year. I will let you know what I find out.” I thanked them for the hope and the coffee and left, wanting to get on the road as soon as I could. Traffic was light, being Christmas Eve and all. Still there were a few cars on the freeway, families driving the last few miles to spend time together. My chest tightened as thoughts of the past few days washed over me. I turned on the radio and heard the sound of a children’s choir singing a Christmas carol. I took my hand off of the dial and just listened, taking in the soft voices and the words of praise that slipped from their lips. With a sigh I took out my cell phone and dialed. “Hi Mom…Yeah, everything is fine. I just… well, I just wanted to let you know I will be over in the morning to open presents…Yeah, I know I didn’t think I was going to make it either, but… Well, things just worked out differently…Ok, well I will see you in the morning and then head over to Dad’s in the afternoon.…Sounds good mom…Yeah I love you too.” After that call I dialed my dad and let him know that I would be over to see him as well and then hung up the phone. I felt almost at peace as I drove, but still felt the pain of the trip. All of that effort for only one dog, to do all of that and leave those other dogs behind. My mind struggled to justify it all. Passing through a small town I saw a well-lit church along the interstate. In the front was a large sign with lights on it. The words were clear yet strangely piercing to me. GOD DID ALL FOR YOU, WHAT ARE YOU WILLING TO DO FOR HIM? I swallowed hard as the words sunk in to my soul. I knew enough about Christmas and the birth of Jesus. My folks had dragged me to church enough times for at least that to be retained. Yet now, I had to question everything. “God, I am not sure what I can do for you. Heck right now my mind is a bit confused. I am struggling to even understand what you have done for me. Especially after this trip. I don’t know if you care about a dog, or me for that matter, but I am going to go out on a limb. If you can save those dogs down there then I wish you would. I guess I would ask that you give them a second chance is all. And God, I…I wouldn’t

mind a second chance as well.” I was stunned as I whispered that prayer as I drove. Never being one for praying I struggled with the words, yet out they came. Wiping a tear away from my eye I turned up the radio hoping the music would drown out the emotions that swelled within me, yet they only made it worse. After what seemed an eternity, I was close to home and after a quick stop at a car wash to vacuum out the dog hair from the back seat, I returned the rental car. Driving my old truck from there to my house was serene. The clouds filling the night sky glowed from the streetlights below and the wisps of snowflakes that began to fall were captivating to watch as I turned down the roads towards home. Falling into my bed my eyes closed and my mind went blank, finally free, if only for moment, from the pain that I had been feeling. Christmas day was actually enjoyable and I found myself thankful that I was with my family. Perhaps the trip was worth it from that standpoint alone. The day after Christmas I waited anxiously to hear from Trish. I wanted to call but couldn’t. The next day, Saturday, I got the call. “Hey Trish, how is the girl I brought up?…Great, that is just great. Do you think they will be a good family for her?…That is just cool that she might already have a home. You be sure to tell them where she came from, ok? She deserves a better life than she had down there. I hate to ask, but did you hear anything about the other dogs down there?” I felt my heart grow heavy as her words sunk in. “I see, yeah, I am sorry too.…All of them?…I see. Well thanks Trish and keep me posted about the Rottie and her new home, ok? Thanks.” Hanging up the phone I felt as if the world had crashed down on my heart. Bill was true to his word. All of the dogs were put down but the German Shepherd but then the next day the animal control officer made it mandatory. They were all gone. I lay my head back on the couch and sobbed silently, struggling with the sense of loss that swept over me. My grief quickly turned into anger though. Anger at the shelter and at the animal control officer who wouldn’t give them the time needed. Anger at the people for letting their dogs run loose only to be picked up and meet the fate of a gas chamber. Finally, there was anger at God for not answering my prayer. The words of Trish and Phil rolled through my mind, but seemed little consolation. My anger then turned into guilt. Realizing that if I had really wanted to save that dog I could have. I could have driven down and gotten him out. Then reality hit me as I realized that I had no place to keep him. My small apartment did not allow dogs. The next several days I spent struggling with the decision I knew I would have to make. Trish was expecting a call in a few days and I wasn’t sure what I was going to tell her. The workweek came and New Years was on a Thursday, so for the three days leading up to it I plunged into my job, letting that console my grief. While on a drive out to a project I approached the small church where I had seen the sign on Christmas Eve. I could see the sign in the distance and wondered if the words that had struck me so strongly on Christmas Eve were still up. The sign had been changed, with new words to be read by those streaming by on Interstate 90. IN ORDER TO FIND YOUR LIFE YOU MUST FIRST LOSE IT, MATTHEW 10:39

I let the words sink in and wondered what they meant. I had never read the Bible and only knew of a few people who did. I had always felt that religion was a crutch, something for weaker people to fall upon. I was proud of who I was, my life and my job. I had done it by myself. Hadn’t I? I wondered for a moment if the words were from the Bible or just a reference. Grabbing my cell phone I struggled to remember the number of my friend Ed. He would be the only one I know who would actually know that sort of thing. I held the cell phone to my ear, waiting for his answer. “Yeah Ed, this is John…I know it has been a while, hey I need a favor…Yeah, yeah, imagine that. I was wondering if you had a Bible handy?…Yes, a Bible. Well I want you to look something up for me. A passage…Well I saw a sign by a church with a saying and was just wondering what it meant is all…You know, the one by the Belgrade exit…Yeah, that’s the one. Ok it is Matthew 10:39…Yeah, I will wait.” I tapped the steering wheel as I heard Ed thumbing through the pages of his Bible. He was a good friend even if he was a Bible thumper. I had never imagined I would be asking him about such a thing but so it was. Unlike a lot of Christians I had ran into over my years, he never once judged me and never pushed his beliefs on me, but was just a friend. That, to me, was a much more valuable commodity in this day and age than someone pounding on me about being saved. “Yeah I am still here, just trying not to fall asleep while driving.” I said jokingly. I listened to Ed read the passage. It was Jesus speaking to his disciples and preparing to send them out into the world to evangelize. “I got it. ‘ Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.’ Right?…Well, thanks a bunch Ed, that is what I wanted to know…No everything is fine just was curious is all. Hey we need to get together and catch a movie one of these days…This weekend? Well sure, let me check my schedule and I will give you a call…Cool, thanks again Ed.” I pushed end and set the phone on the dash of my truck. The last week had been perhaps the most draining experience of my life and all over some dogs. I realized that the life I once had, the life of a bachelor, selfish and unfocused was on the brink of extinction. Yet as I repeated those words I knew that it was on that brink not because of a dog or a group of dogs, but because I saw that there was more than just me. For the first time since I was a child, I actually enjoyed Christmas with my family. For the first time I saw things outside of my own needs. New Years Eve came and went and I actually managed to have a good time with my sisters at my dads place. They had saved some fire works from the 4th of July and made the stroke of midnight one to remember for the neighborhood. All the while my thoughts kept on the words, and I knew I needed to make a decision: to make a change or not. Sitting on my couch, channel surfing, I stopped at Animal Planet as I caught the images of a malnourished dog being pulled from a junkyard that was some person’s back yard. The animal control officer was visibly distraught as she carefully put the dog in a crate. It had no energy to fight or move. I wondered what kind of person could do that to an animal, or worse yet, I wondered how they treat their own kids. Picking up my phone I dialed a number I had been avoiding calling since Christmas. “Trish, hey its John. How are you doing?…Good. I just wanted to say count me in…Yeah I am sure about it. You tell me what you need and I will do it…Well, lets just say that I have been given a second chance and decided to take it.…Ok, well lets plan on

getting together so you and Phil can start teaching me about all of this. Send me an email about when you have time and we will go from there…Great, thanks Trish…Yeah, happy New Year to you too and say hi to Phil for me. Bye.” Hanging up the phone I stared at the TV knowing that my second chance was just beginning. I again picked up the phone and dialed. “Hey Ed, what movie were you thinking of going to?” Conclusion: Like most of my fictional stories there is some underlying truth in this one. I actually did save a dog from a small town shelter but it was not in Wyoming. The conditions and dogs described at that shelter are all true and sadly all the dogs that remained were euthenized shortly after the Rottweiler was saved. She is now in a loving home in Big Sky, Montana. The rest of the story is my creation and done so for your pleasure and edification.

All For one  
All For one  

Christmas Story 2003