Sunday, November 16, 2008

 I did not know that it was Christmas Eve until Stormy told me she saw Randy in the big house, decorating a Christmas tree. Wow, I thought, we will run to the orphanage tomorrow. Mike will play Santa and give present to all of our little buddies there.

By the way, I just remembered that I have not heard Mike in the kennel lately. Randy has been feeding us and doing the yard chores. When Stryker came out of the house and into our yard, I asked him if Mike was in the house. Maybe Mike had to leave on a business trip and did not get a chance to gives us his “so long, back soon” ear rubs.

Stryker told me that Mike was in the house. He was very sick. Stryker overheard Mary tell Randy and Caitlyn that if Mike does not get well soon, she will take him to the hospital. I heard the other dogs come over to where we were talking. Brownie said, “Mike sick? No way he would get sick on Christmas.” 

Stryker replied, “I really do not think humans have a choice as to when they get sick, Brownie. Mike is very sick. Mary said he has something called the flu and he has a very bad case of it.” We never knew Mike to get sick. Hurt, yes, but never sick. We were stunned barkless.

Well, not all of the dogs heard this bad news. Ugly told me that Nitro was telling Christmas and her girls, Sky, Stormy, and Tundra, the story of the talking dogs.

You  never heard the story of the talking dogs? Well, let me tell the story to you. On Christmas Eve, at exactly midnight, dogs can talk to theirs beloved humans if two things occur. First, the human must truly believe, with no doubt at all, that his dogs can talk to him on Christmas Eve. Second, it has to be exactly as the clock strikes midnight.

Very few humans have heard their dogs talk to them on Christmas Eve since, well I guess they truly do not believe that this can happen. I bet those humans that have heard are afraid to tell others because the people they tell would think they are crazy. 

But what about Mike? If he is sick, who will run our sled to the orphanage and give the presents to the children? Who will be Santa?

I heard Nitro, Christmas and her girls join our group. Story telling time was overs. Brownie told them about Mike.

“Mike has always been there for us when we were sick or hurt,” Nitro said. “ We need to go to him.”

“But he is in the house, Nitro,” I replied. “We have never been in the house.”

“We can sneak into the house tonight,” Christmas said. “Maybe we can cheer him up and like in Uncle Nitro's story, talk to him.”

“Do you think he would hear us talk to him, Uncle Nitro?” Tunny asked.

“I bet he would,” Nitro replied.

“Then it is settled,” Christmas said. “We will visit Mike tonight.”

Ugly asked this question. “How will we get into the house after we figure out how to get out of the kennel?”

Nitro answered, “Getting out of the kennel is not a problem. The loose boards in the back wall of the warming shed have never been repaired.” Nitro continued, “we can go through them to get out of the kennel and into the yard by the back door of the house.”

“But what about getting into the house?” Sky asked. “How do we open the door?”

“No problem.” Stryker replied. “The back door has a 'dogie door' for Geezer and me to use when we have to go to the bathroom while everyone is asleep.” Stryker continued, “Once you get into the yard, I can lead you through the door and into Mike's bedroom.”

It always feels great when a plan comes together, I thought.

Later that night, Stormy told me that all of the lights in the house went out, one by one. I told her that meant everyone inside the house went to bed.

Soon, Stryker came out of the house and told us that every one in the house was asleep. It was time for us to make our way to Mike's bedroom.

Sky and Stormy were on each side of me as we made our way through the warming shed, passed the pile of straw we play in, and to the back wall where the loose boards were. Christmas told me Nitro pushed the loose boards aside and made his way through the opening. When it was my turn to pass through the opening, Stormy got in front of me to lead me, while Sky was behind me to guide me. We all met outside of the warming shed. We were behind the kennel. Nitro lead us around the warming shed to the back yard where we met Stryker.

“OK,” Stryker said. “Follow-me” I heard the dogs head out.

“Uncle Rivers,” Stormy said. “We are approaching the stairs leading up the porch to the rear door. Be careful.” Climbing stairs can be interesting for a blind dog. However, with Stormy on one side of me and Sky on the other, I had little difficulty climbing the porch stairs. Once I got to the top of the stairs and on the porch, Sky took the lead while Stormy stayed by my side. 

“Uncle Rivers,” Sky said. “We are about ready to go through the 'dogie door'. Since it swings both ways, let me go through it first and then I will hold it open for you.”

“OK”, I replied. I heard Sky go through the door. As she did, I felt the warm house air on my face.

“Uncle Rivers,” Stormy said, “Sky has the door open for you. Just walk straight ahead and you go through the door. Tunny is on the other side waiting to lead you to the other dogs.”

I walked towards the warm air. Sky told me I was through the door and I was standing behind Tunny. I walked behind her as we met the other dogs. Tunny told me they were standing outside of a room. I heard Mike's snoring so I knew it was the right room. We entered the room. Tunny told me all the dogs sat down around the bed and I was standing just next to where Mike's was laying on the bed. She said I was almost next to his face.

The room started to glow with a greenish gold light. I knew in an instant that Sandy was in the room. I saw Lakota with her. He was wearing his golden harness with the diamonds and green threads woven into it. Sandy was wearing her golden collar, also with diamonds in it also had green threads woven into it. Lakota's harness and their collars lite up the room. As you know, when Sandy, who is our Guardian Angle dog, visits us, she gives me the gift of sight during her visit. The entire team was here, in Mike's bedroom on Christmas Eve.

I heard a distant church bell ring out that it was midnight. “It is time to wake Mike up,” Lakota said. “Rivers, since you are nearest to him, touch him with your paw and call out his name.”

I touched Mike's arm with my paw and said, “Mike, wake up.” I saw his eyes open as he looked directly into my face. He sat up so fast that I almost did not have time to get my paw off his arm.

He looked all around the room. Seeing us, Mike called out our names. 

The church bell rang again.

“Sandy, Lakota are here also! This must be a dream.” Mike said.

“It is no dream, Mike,” Christmas said. “You know the story of the talking dogs, don't you?”

“Why yes, I do, but I thought it was only a story.”

The church bell rang for the third time.

“It is a true story, Mike,” Nitro said. “We decided to come and visit you since you are sick. We wanted to talk to you. We know you have an open mind to these things.”

The church bells rang the fourth time.

“Mike,” I said, “we only have a few more seconds that we can talk to you. We all want you to know that we love you and wish you to get well.”

The church bells rang the fifth time.

“I wish you to get well so that we can play Fetch again.” Tunny cried.

The church bells rang a sixth time.

“We wish you to get well so you can run the tails with us.” Nitro, Brownie, Doc and Ugly joined together to say.

The church bells rang the seventh time.

“I wish you to get well so that we can go to the orphanage and play with the children there.” Sky said.

 The church bells rang the eighth time.

“I wish you to get well so that I can lick you nose.” Stormy said.

The church bells rang the ninth time.

“I wish you to get well so that I can sit by your side and listen to you tell stories.” Christmas said.

The church bells rang the tenth time.

“We wish you the knowledge that while we wait for you to join us, our love for you remains unconditional.” Both Sandy and Lakota told Mike.

The church bells rang the eleventh time.

It was my turn to speak. What would say. “I wish you to get well, Mike, so that every day I can thank you for being my human buddy and taking such great care of me and my teammates.”

The church bells rang the twelfth and final time. We could speak no more. Mike went back to sleep. Our mission, as Stryker would put it, was over. We talked to Mike. Did he hear us?

I heard Lakota and Sandy say so long to the team. I felt Lakota near me and he told me that Sandy was nuzzling Christmas and her babes. Then I knew they were gone.

“So what do we do now?” Ugly asked.

“Why not stay here for the night,” I replied. 

“That is a great idea, Rivers,” Doc said. “What a surprise that will be when Mike and Mary wake up.”

So that is what we did. We camped out in the bedroom. Soon peaceful dreams flooded my head and I was running the trails on nice snow. When all of a sudden I heard, “Mike, what are the dogs doing in our bedroom?” Mary was asking Mike.

Sleepy Mike replied. “They came in here last night to talk to me as the church bells rang at midnight.”

“You must be sicker than I thought,” Mary said. “These dogs cannot talk.”

Lakota and Sandy were here as well. Lakota wore a beautiful golden harness with diamonds, and green threads woven into it . Sandy had a golden collar with diamonds and green threads woven into it as well .” Mike said softly.

Mary replied, “The medicine gave you those dreams Mike.”

“If so, then how did the dogs get out of the kennel and into the house?” Mike asked. “How come they decided to do that on Christmas eve?” 

“I don't know.” Mary replied.

“Me neither, but I do know I feel great and we are making a run to the orphanage as we always do on Christmas.”

And so, we did.

Merry Christmas!!


Saturday, February 2, 2008

The 2007 Christmas Story - Gino

It was Christmas Eve, and we were racing down the trail to the orphanage. Stormy told me the sled was loaded with gifts for the children at the orphanage. Caitlin, dressed up in her "Santa Helper” outfit, was sitting in the sled basket with all of the gifts. Stormy told me how “Santa like” Mike looked in his Santa suit. I heard him humming Christmas tunes as he drove the sled down the trail.

Since the weather was mild, we would stay in the orphanage's front yard, and play with the children after "Santa Mike" gave them their gifts. Playing with the children was always fun. Since many of the children lived at the orphanage for many years, they considered us “their" dogs. While we missed the children who left the orphanage, we were very happy for those who finally found their “forever” homes. Unfortunately, there were always a new child, and we always made a big fuss over the new children. One of the new children, an older boy named Gino, was not too receptive to our efforts to be his friend.

Christmas told me she tried very hard to be friends with Gino, but he was mean to her. Christmas is a very gentle dog, and told me she just walked away from the mean boy after he hurt her feelings.

After Mike gave out the gifts, Stormy and I were sitting with a little girl named Melinda. Melinda was telling us how happy she was with the doll "Santa Mike" gave her. Stormy told me that Melinda was sitting next to her, and I was sitting in front of Melinda. Stormy told me that Melinda was giving Stormy a big hug when all of a sudden I heard Melinda scream.

"Stormy, what happen?" I asked.

"Gino pulled Melinda’s hair and is trying to take her doll.” Stormy replied. When Melinda screamed, she dropped her doll by me. I stood up and was between the doll and Gino. When I stood up, I felt a sharp pain in my side.

"Get out of my way, dog. I want that doll!” Gino demanded. He kicked me. I heard Stormy start to bark as she went into her protective mode. I knew Stormy would do whatever was necessary to protect Melinda and me from Gino. I also know that the other dogs would respond to Stormy barking, as well as Mike.

"Easy Stormy. Do not go after Gino,” I said. “Let Mike handle this”.

"Are you okay Uncle Rivers?" Stormy asked.

"Yes." I answered as I heard the paw steps of the other dogs and Mike’s footsteps stop by us.

“Team, Sit!" Mike commanded, "What happened?"

Gino told Mike that we attacked him.

"No, that is a lie." Melinda said. "Gino pulled my hair and try to take my dolly. He kicked Rivers. Stormy only barked at Gino and never went after him. Stormy protected Rivers and me from Gino. Rivers made sure Gino did not get my dolly.”

I heard another set of footsteps stop by us. It was Mrs. Astor, the owner of the orphanage. She asked, “Gino what have you done?"

"They are all picking on me and the dogs attacked me." Gino lied.

I felt Mike kneel down next to me and rub his hands over my sides, checking to see if I was hurt. I was not.

Melinda told Mrs. Astor what happened. "Is Rivers okay, Mike?" Mrs. Astor asked.

"He appears to be fine. There is no tenderness and he is not showing any pain." Mike said. "Hmm, there is a snow print on his side. It looks like it was made by a shoe or boot.”

"Gino," Mrs. Astor said, "these dogs have been coming to this orphanage for many years. They never so much as stepped on a child. I have seen the little children pull the dogs’ ears and then cuddle with them. Stormy lets children take the biscuits from her mouth, without fussing at them. Therefore, I find it very hard to believe your story.” Mrs. Astor said, "The snow print on Rivers looks like it was made with your shoe. I also know that Melinda does not lie.” Mrs. Astor continued, “I think you need to go inside and wait for me there. We will talk about your bad behavior. It is totally unacceptable."

I heard Gino leave as Mrs. Astor said to Mike "I am so sorry Mike. I never would have expected this to happen. Maybe I should have warned you about Gino. He is a problem. The authorities removed him from several foster homes due to his bad behavior. We are his last chance. If his behavior does not improve, he will go to state juvenile detention center.”

Mike replied. "I'm very sorry to hear that. You do such a great job with these kids. Unfortunately, you cannot save them all. Some just do not want the gentle nudge you give them towards the right path for a happy life."

The rest of the visit was very uneventful, but a lot of fun. We were not going to allow the bad behavior of one child spoil Christmas for the rest of the children.

All good things must end, and soon it was time for us to head home. After Mike put us in our team positions, I heard the children cuddle with each one of us. They told us good-bye, and thanked us for the great Christmas they had. I know some of the children have favorite dogs, and they made a big fuss over “their” dogs.

Stormy and I were teammates on the gang line. Melinda gave each of us a big hug and thanked us for protecting her from Gino. Melinda said Gino was a bully and picked on all the children. He had no friends at the orphanage because he treated all of them so badly. I thought he has a lot to learn about life and teamwork. I hope he sees the light and turns his life around.

We left the orphanage headed down the trail to our home. When we got there, Mike gave us some treats after taking our harnesses off us. Soon, we settled in for a good night’s rest. Playing with the children made us tired dogs. The fresh straw in my doghouse felt very good. I dozed off immediately and went into a very deep sleep.

"Get up Rivers, we got work to do," Mike said, waking me up. As I left my doghouse, Stormy told me Mike had the kick sled ready to go. I felt Mike put my harness on me and clipped me onto the gang line. I did not hear or smell any other dogs except Stormy.

Stormy told me we were the only two dogs hooked up to the kick sled. The kick sled is a wooden chair on short runners. Mike uses it for short runs with two dogs. Sometimes he will take a child for ride.

I heard Mike give us the command to take off and we started racing down the trail. I wonder where we were going. Soon Stormy said we were at the orphanage. To my amazement, we did not stop in the yard as we normally do. Instead, Stormy told me the front door was open and Mike drove us right through it, into the orphanage, up the stairs to Gino's room.

Stormy said that the only person in the room was Gino. She told me Mike walked over to the bed shook Gino's shoulder and said in a very stern and commanding voice "Get up and get dressed. We are going for a ride." I heard Gino cringing in the bed as he said, “I am not going with you, and you cannot make me.”

“Telling an adult what he cannot do is the second mistake you made today, my young friend. The first one was kicking Rivers. You have a choice. Get yourself dressed or you will travel in your pajamas." Mike said in his no nonsense voice.

Silence and hesitation, but only for a few seconds. I did not hear Gino move, but Mike did. Stormy said Mike picked Gino up, wrapped him in a blanket, and put on the chair on the kick sled. Mike told him not to move out of the chair. I could tell from Mike’s tone he were serious. I bet Gino got the hint because I did not hear him move off the chair.

Mike gave us the commands to take off. We left the room, raced down the stairway, out the front door and down the trail in no time at all. Even with Mike on the runners and Gino in the chair, the kick sled was extremely light and easy to pull. To be honest we were running very fast, almost at racing speed.

We raced down the trail away from the orphanage, and, away from our home. I heard sounds in the night like people crying. It got very cold and Stormy said we race directly into a wall of wind driven snow. The wind howled in my ears and the snow hit my face very hard. I had never raced in a storm this bad before. I felt the blowing snow whirl all around me. I could not feel the trail under my paws. I had no idea where I was going or if we were even on the trail. The cold was intense, bitter, and numbing. All Stormy and I could do was run as fast as we could through the storm. I was scared. Stormy told me she was scared too.

I expect Mike to slow us down. I knew Stormy could not see where we were going. Instead, Mike gave us the “Banshee” command, which makes us run faster. We had to trust Mike to know what he was doing and where we were going. Suddenly the storm stopped, the temperature warmed up, the wind and snow stopped. Stormy told me we came upon an open meadow. It became very quite except for the crying sounds. Stormy said there was a fallen tree that created a bench to sit on. Mike commanded us to stop in front of the tree.

"Where are we?" Gino asked with a very weak and scared voice.

"We are on the trail of your life, Gino. We are in the 'Valley of Decisions'." Mike said. “We stopped because there is a fork in the trail. You have to make a decision which way to go. I am going to give you a preview of the trails and then you can decide which trail to take. The sounds you are hearing are the anguish sounds of the people who made the wrong decision and took the wrong path in life. Their spirits come here to suffer over their wrong decision.”

Mike picked up Gino and put him on the tree. Stormy and I moved closer to them so that we were sitting in front Gino. Stormy said Mike opened up his backpack and took out a snow globe. Stormy said Mike handed the snow globe to Gino. When Gino would not touch it, Mike commanded, “Hold the globe, Gino."

Stormy told me that Gino slowly reached out and when he touched the globe, Mike put his hands over Gino’s hands. The globe started to glow very brightly.

"Look into the globe Gino, and you will see you. You are still young kid, a mean and nasty kid, still living at the orphanage. You see Mrs. Astor standing in the kitchen and you are fighting with her. She tells you to do something and you do not do it. You get very angry with Mrs. Astor. You push her and she falls down. She hits her head on the counter and she dies. You run away, but they find you. You will go to prison for a very, very long time. You used up all of your chances. Are you seeing all of this Gino?”

"You will be a very lonely and unhappy person. You will have no friends. Even the worst prisoners in jail will have nothing to do with you. You will die a miserable old man. You made that decision and you did with your life as you wanted.”

Mike continued. “However, what about the other kids at the orphanage? Your actions affected their lives. After Mrs. Astor died, the kids had a rough time. The orphanage was closed and the children were sent all over Alaska. Brothers and sisters were separated, never to see each other again. Mrs. Astor was not there to care for them, to help them. She was not there to protect them and teach them. Look into the globe, Gino.” Mike commanded. “Do you see Melinda, the girl whose hair you pulled today? She would have been a teacher, helping other kids to have better lives. That is what teachers do, you know. Since Mrs. Astor was not there to prepare Melinda and help her, Melinda was send to very bad place. People were mean to her, treated cruelly, and hurt her. She ran away. She lived on the streets, doing odd jobs to earn enough money so she could eat. Melinda was homeless and slept in a cardboard box in a back alley. A street thug killed Melinda for the few dollars she had in the pocket. You caused that, Gino when you decided to be mean and nasty to everyone, including Mrs. Astor.”

Mike paused a few moments and then said. “Gino, look into the glob and see some of the other children. Some were going to be doctors and scientists who would find cures for disease and making life better for many people. People suffered because those kids did not become what they should have been. Because Mrs. Astor was not there to help and guide them, they never achieved their destiny. Like Melinda, their destiny was to make life better for others.”

“Gino, do you see that your actions, not only created a bad life for you, but also for those around you? Your actions affected the lives of people, many of whom you would never know. What you do really does affect others."

Stormy told me that she thought there were tears in Gino’s eyes. I had to wonder if Mike was getting through to him.

Softly, Gino whispered, "You, you, said there was another trail."

"Yes.” Mike said. “I did. Look into the globe, Gino. Do you see yourself as a nice kid? You helped Melinda. You played nicely with the other children in the orphanage. You tried to learn everything you could and be good at everything you did. You were helpful to Mrs. Astor. When the young kids were sick, you helped to take care of them, and even did chores for them. You became a team player and a leader, so much so that the young kids looked up to you. You left the orphanage and went to a nice foster home. They took good care of you and gave you a great education. You went off to college, became a veterinarian, and did wonderful things to save the creatures that meant so much to the people who asked you to care for their beloved pets.”

Mike softly said. "Look into the globe Gino, and see yourself living in a nice home. Do you see that nice lady? She is your wife. Do see the beautiful children? They are yours. You achieved all that because you were good, you were honest, you worked hard, you were responsible, and you were a decent person."

Mike stopped talking and Stormy told me that Gino just stared into the globe. Mike took his hands off Gino’s hands and the globe went dark.

Mike said, “It is time to make your decision Gino. Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life. You must decide which path in your life you will take, the good or the bad. I will take you back to your room and you can make that decision by yourself." Mike paused for a few minutes and then said, "Get into the chair, Gino, we are going back to go to the orphanage."

Stormy told me that Gino walked very slowly and sat in the chair on the kick sled. Mike got on the runners and gave us the commands we needed to run the trail back to the orphanage. The snow was gently coming down and I felt a slight breeze whistling through my ears. The terrible storm we raced through to get to the Valley of Decisions was gone. I gave some thought to what Mike just did for Gino. Gino was very fortunate to have a preview of what his life would be, based upon his decision tonight. I wondered what decision Gino would make. The cries I heard in the wind faded as we made our way back to the orphanage.

We raced into the yard, through the open door, and back up to Gino’s room. Mike picked Gino up and put him back into his bed. Then Mike got on the runners, gave us the commands to turn around, and before we knew it, we were back to home. It felt like only a few seconds before I was back in my doghouse, nestled in that new straw.

"Uncle Rivers.” It was Stormy. "Please wake-up. It Christmas day and I need to talk to you.

"Merry Christmas, Stormy” I said, “What do you want to talk about?"

Stormy said, “I had this dream last night. You and I went to the orphanage with Mike, and took Gino for a sled ride.

"You did?” I said. “I had the same dream. Maybe it really did happen.” I replied, "Did you dream that we were pulling Mike and Gino on a kick sled and went thru a great storm? Did you hear the cries in the 'Valley of Decisions'?” I asked.

“Yes I did, Uncle Rivers.” Stormy said, “But, we do not have a kick sled.”

I answered, “You are right, Stormy, we don't. It is strange that we both would have the same, intense dream.”

I heard the front door of the big house open. I heard the food ladle banging against the food bucket as Mike sang, "Hey you sleepy heads, get your fannies out of bed. It is Christmas day and I got special chow for you."

I heard Mike walk over to my doghouse and plop some of that good smelling stuff into my bowl. While I ate, Mike fed the rest of the team. When we finished eating, Mike gave us our presents. Stormy told me that we all got new green and gold collars. Tundra got some new tennis balls and I heard her hide one in my doghouse for me. She shared her gift with me because she knows I like to play with them also. Sky and Stormy received some stuff toys. Mike gave Nitro and Brownie new pull ropes. Christmas, Lakota, Doc, Ugly, Finn, and I received some rawhide chews. In my mind’s eye, I could picture all of this. It was truly a beautiful Christmas morning.

After Mike finished feeding us and giving us our presents, Mary came out of house and said, "Hey Mike I was going through the bag you used to take the gifts to the orphanage yesterday. I found a present with Gino’s name on it. Is that the boy who kicked Rivers and tried to steal Melinda's doll?”

"Yes.” Mike said. “The young lad has some problems. I hope he resolves them soon.” Mike continued. "Well, I better run over to the orphanage and drop the gift off for him. I will take Christmas, Stormy, Lakota, Rivers, Sky, and Tundra with me. I am sure the kids would like to play with the dogs again. I will make it a short trip, Mary, so I can get back and help you get ready for our friends visiting later today.”

Soon afterwards, Mike hooked us up to the sled and we raced to the orphanage to give Gino his gift.

When we got there, the children were playing in the front yard and Stormy told me Gino was sitting by himself. After I heard Mike plant the snow hook, he took us off the gang line, and we started to play with the children. Mrs. Astor told Mike that there was something wrong with Gino. He was not talking to any of the kids and he had been crying.
"Gino crying? Mike said. "He would be the last kid I would think would cry. He comes across as such a tough kid.”

Mrs. Astor said. “I do not know Mike. Would you talk to him?”

Mike answered. "Sure, no problem. I will take Rivers and Stormy over with me. They really need to be friends. Besides, we forgot to give Gino one of his gifts yesterday.”

Stormy told me that Gino was sitting on a bench in the far corner of the front yard. He was all by himself. As we walked over to him, Stormy said he did look like he had been crying.

I heard Gino ask. "Mister Mike, are you taking me another for dog sled ride?” I notice he was very polite.

“I do not know what you mean, Gino. I never have taken you for a dog sled ride.” Mike answered.

"Yes you did. Last night. You, Rivers and Stormy charged into my room, put me on your kick sled, and raced down the trail and, and, and…"

Mike gently answered, "I am confused, Gino. We do not have a kick sled, and last night I stayed home with the dogs. I went to sleep very early because I was very tired.” Mike continued. “Maybe you were dreaming.”

Wait a minute. Could it be possible that Gino had the same dream Stormy and I had?

I heard Mike tell Gino that maybe he had a bad dream. “Sometimes,” Mike said. Dreams tell us which trail in life we should take. Maybe your dream told you to clean up your act. Maybe your dream was a warning that the trail you are traveling is not too cool. Anyway, I forgot to give you a gift and that is reason I came by this morning.”

Stormy told me that Mike handed Gino the gift. Stormy said that when Gino open the box his eyes open wide as if he saw a spirit. She told me that Gino removed a beautiful snow globe from the gift box. It looked exactly like the one in our dreams. Mike said a friend gave him the snow globe many years ago. “For some reason, Mary felt it will be a good gift for you.” Mike continued, “They say that sometimes when you look into a snow globe you can see your future. Maybe you will see yours.”

There was silence for a moment or two and then Gino asked. "May I pet your dogs, Mr. Mike?”

"Sure. You know dogs can sense if a person is good or bad.” Mike said.

Stormy told me that Gino was walking over to me. I heard him kneel down next to me, rub my ears, and put his arms around me. He said, “I am very sorry for kicking you, Rivers. I was very wrong.” Then I heard him walked over to Stormy. She told me that Gino, put his arms around her, gave her some ear rubs, and said, “I am sorry Stormy that I lied about you. That was not nice for me to do.” Stormy told me that she licked his nose, her way of saying she forgave Gino.

Mike said. “Well Gino, it looks my dogs sensed that you are a good person. Maybe you just had a bad start with your life. While you cannot start life over, you can change the direction you are going in.” With that, Stormy told me that Mike leaned over and gave Gino a big hug.

Mike told Mrs. Astor that we had to get going back to the house. As we were leaving, Stormy told me he saw Gino talking to Melinda and she gave him a hug. I bet she forgave him also.

As we racing back home, Doctor Jim's words came to mind. He said interesting things always seem to happen around our place during the Christmas season. I wondered if Gino’s change in attitude is another Christmas miracle.

Merry Christmas


The 2003 Christmas Story - Believing in the Season

Well it is Christmas time again. This will be special one since we have Christmas’ puppies with us for their first one. I know they were all excited after hearing the stories their uncles and mom told them about our past Christmas adventures.

Momma Christmas told them about the year we found her in the woods behind our kennel. We snuck out of our yard to bring her into our kennel and to safety.

Uncle Lakota told them about the first time we visited the orphanage on Christmas Eve and Mike played “Santa” for all of the kids there. Doing that has become an annual tradition for us. However, I could not tell the puppies that Mike received his Christmas wish that year; that I could see for a day. That Christmas was the one where I met the little blind girl Caitlyn.

Uncle Doc told them about last year. Caitlyn still lived at the orphanage and got lost in a blinding snowstorm and we found her. Doc told everyone that I found Caitlyn. However, it was a team effort. We all found Caitlyn. When we got Caitlyn back to our home, Mike and Mary asked Caitlyn if she would like to live with us. I can still taste the salty tears of joy she cried when she said yes.

Yes, the pups were pumped up with the excitement of their first Christmas. Through all of the excitement, Momma Christmas made sure that her pups remembered the true meaning of this wonderful season, the “Season of Giving.”

We had just returned from our visit to the orphanage and were settling down for the evening. It was very exciting to see the boys and girls’ faces as they opened up their gifts. Well, I could not see, but Stormy, who has become my shadow and eyes so to bark, told me all about it.

Mike was dressed up in his red Santa suit and Caitlyn was dressed up as his little elf helper. I thought that was super since last year Caitlyn was still at the orphanage. I heard her comment to Mike on the trail as we raced home that it felt so good to be able to give to those kids. She knew how they felt and she was so thankful she could share her happiness them.

After a while, Mike came out of the big house to spend some time with us. It was snowing very gently and the night was very still. Mike gave us our goodnight treat, and then told us it was bedtime. We all had fresh straw in our doghouses and the chow we had after we came home from the orphanage was just great. After Mike gave me my treat and his nightly body hug, plus an extra ear rub, I settled into my doghouse for a great night sleep.

The sound of thundering hooves woke me up. The sound of a man groaning got me out of my doghouse. The strange smells drew me to the kennel gate. When I got to the kennel gate, my teammates along with Christmas and her babies were already there.

As usually, Lakota and Stormy were next to me telling me what was going on. There was this big guy in a red suit with eight large animals hooked up to a big sled parked between our kennel and the big house. Okay, so why are we not barking?

Doc said that the guy in the red suit did not look well. He was clutching his tummy. Ugly told us that the eight large animals were reindeer and they looked sick too.

At this point, I heard Mike come out of the big house. Before Mike could say a word, the guy in the red suit said, “Mike, I need to use your bathroom, your outhouse will work. Please point me in the right direction.”

Stormy told me that Mike pointed to the small outbuilding next to the warming shed. The guy in the red suit trotted to it, saying, as he was racing to the outhouse, “My reindeer are sick also, I am so sorry for the mess.”

Yes, they sure were sick and so was the guy in the red suit.

Surprisingly, we still were not barking. Maybe because we did not believe this guy in the red suit and his team were a threat to Mike or us. Frankly, they were in need of some help, as sick as they were.

When the guy in the red suit returned from the outhouse, he started to talk to Mike.

“You know who I am, Mike?” the he asked.

“If this was not Christmas Eve, I would say you are a crazy old coot with 8 stolen reindeer, but my gut feeling is that you are the real Santa Clause and these are your reindeer, Dasher, Blitzen, Cupid…” Santa interrupted Mike before he could finish.

“Excuse me for cutting you short, Mike, but time is ticking away on me, and I really need your help.” Santa said. “As you can see, I am very sick and so are my reindeer. Something we ate I suspect. The problem is that neither the reindeer nor I can finish delivering gifts tonight. We finished about two thirds of the world. I am asking you and your dogs to finish the rest.”

Now Santa does get to the point, doesn’t he? How does he expect ten dogs and Mike to travel over 1/3 of this world pulling that huge sled filled with gifts?

“You must be kidding me.” Mike said. “Gee, I believed in you when I was a kid and that was 50 years ago. Besides believing in you, you want me to fill in for you, and use my ten dogs in place of your flying reindeer. Talk about asking for a miracle.”

“You have asked for miracles in the past and they happened, right?” Santa replied. “And you do a pretty good job of being me for the kids at the orphanage. Deep inside your heart, you do believe in me or rather, what I represent. That is why I stopped here for help. So what is your problem?” Santa asked.

“First of all I don’t fly, neither do my dogs. Second you are magical, I am not and…”

“Enough, we are wasting time.” Santa said. “Mike, you and your dogs can do it. It is within you and your dogs. It is as you told them, being a true champion comes from within you. You can do this. Trust me. This is for the kids. Please Mike, this is for the kids.”

This was getting interesting, yet confusing. Lakota told me that Mike stood there with Santa, not saying a word.

“We need to get your reindeer unhitched from your sled and let them graze in the kennel. I will get them some water and some medicine to help them. When I am done with that, I will change into my Santa suit, harness up my dogs, and hitch them to your sleigh. As you said, time is a wasting, let’s get this show on the road.” Mike said.

“It sounds like we are going on a late night trail run.” Nitro said.

“Do you think we can pull that sled?” Ugly asked.

“Piece of cake,” said Brownie.

“How far is one third of the world, Momma?” asked Sky.

“I do not know, Sky.” Christmas answered.

“I know,” said Tundra very excitedly. “It is one half as long as two thirds!” she laughed and we did too.

Soon, Mike had the reindeer in our kennel with us as Santa made another frantic trip to the outhouse. These reindeer were very big, but gently. Mike led them to one corner of the kennel where he laid out fresh straw for them to lay in. I heard him get some buckets of water for them also. I heard them drink deeply. Mike refilled the buckets before he left to get our gear.

While Mike was in the house getting his Santa suit on, I heard Santa come into the kennel to check on his reindeer. Stormy told me that after he was done checking his team, he came to each one of us and gave us a great ear rub and told us that he really appreciate this. He promised us that we would have a great run, racing all over the world delivering these gifts to the kids that they were made for. He said it would be the greatest race we ever ran.

When Santa came to me, he told me he had heard of me and knew that I would do my best to get these gifts delivered tonight. I am not sure what it was, but the way Santa talked to me made me believe we could do this. There is something special about Santa. Whatever it is, it makes you want to believe in him. You can really feel the good that is all around him. I wonder why humans stopped believing in him as they became older.

Lakota told me that Mike came out of the house in his Santa suit. While Mike harnessed us up and snapped us in to our positions, Santa made another dash to the outhouse. Tundra told me the reindeer were sleeping.

Mike was putting us into our team positions as Santa returned from the outhouse.

“Could Christmas be one of your lead dogs, Mike?” Santa said. “That would be appropriate for tonight. And. please let Rivers run lead with her. I know he can do that.”

“Mike answered,”You know Rivers is blind don’t you?”

“Sure I do, but on this trip he won’t need eyes. He sees with his heart and that is what this race is as all about. And didn’t you name Christmas because she was found on Christmas Day?” Santa asked.

“Okay,” Mike replied, "how do I know where to go? You have a map or list, Santa?”

“Nope, the sleigh knows.” Santa answered.

“What about this flying stuff?” Mike asked.

Santa replied, “Run your team down the trail as you normally do, and the flying will take care of itself. So will all of the other finer points of doing this. Just trust your instincts and you will not go wrong. Trust your dogs as they trust you. They will not let you down.”

Santa continued. “By the way, I did not visit the military personnel in the war zone. There is a special bag of goodies for them. Just be careful, most of the people who made my “Naughty List” are also in the war zone. They do not like the good that the holiday season is all about. They may try to shoot you down.”

“Hold on," Mike said. “What about the magic you are all about. Can’t you protect my dogs from hostile fire?”

Santa sighed, “Mike, only you can do that. So trust yourself to do just that.”

Santa continued, “Time to get going”

Mike came to where Christmas and I were in the team, gave us each an ear rub while checking our lines and harnesses. Tundra told me that he did that to every dog in the team. I heard him climb into the sleigh and say, “Okay team. Get set. Go”!

We leaned into our harnesses as Santa told us to have great trip. I was waiting for the strain of the gang line as we started to pull the sleigh, but it never came. The sleigh glided along the trail just as our own sled does. It felt very light.

The trail felt very soft under my paws. Funny, I could not feel any snow at all.

“Uncle Rivers,” it was Christmas, we are flying!”

“No way I," said.

Then from the back of the team, I heard all of the dogs bark excitedly about flying and then Mike said, “Holy moly, we are flying, yippee! Okay team settled down we got a job to do tonight.”

And we did. We delivered those gifts to the kids. Soon, all we had left was the bag of goodies for the military men and woman in the war zone.

Mike told us that this was going to be tricky. Up to this point, we delivered the gifts to the buildings where the kids lived. However, these goodies had to go the tents, trenches and open fields where the military people were.

Christmas told me that Mike guided the sleigh very close to the ground. Were going very, very fast, but hardly made a sound. Lakota told me we were flying faster than we ever ran on a trail Even though it was pitch black, Christmas told me she notice that there were no trees, just sand. As the sleigh landed, a voice called out, “Who goes there?

Mike snapped back, “Mike Dillingham, Master Sergeant, United States Air Force, Retired.”

The voice demanded, “Identification.”

Mike replied, “I have my military ID. You can check it if you like.”

Christmas told me that a small flashlight went on and a hand reached out from the darkness towards Mike.

“What are you doing here, sir?” The voiced asked.

“I have a Christmas gift for you. Shine your light past me and you will see a sleigh full of gifts.”

“Man-O-Man, I don’t believe it. A sleigh full of gifts pulled by a dog team?” The voice said. “I don’t believe it.”

Mike replied as I heard him climb out of the sleigh, “Yep, Santa got a bit sidetracked tonight and called in Air Support. You know us old retired vets. We are never really retired. Enough said son, I have to hustle and get all of these gifts delivered tonight. Try to have a nice Christmas here in this place and remember that the folks back home are rooting for ya. We are all very proud of the great job you are doing.” Mike said as he handed the young man his gift. “By the way son, where are you from?”

“Chickloon Alaska, sir.” the voice answered.

“No kidding, we live just down the road from you in Palmer. Have a Merry Christmas son. Take care.”

Christmas told me that Mike climb back into the sleigh and yell, “Team go,” and we took off into the skies once more to deliver more goodies. I was amazed that we were sighted only once, and that was by the young soldier from Chickloon. I bet the magic of the season allowed us to deliver the gifts unnoticed. Overall, it was a very beautiful, yet uneventful night, except for the sound of gunfire and the distinctive sound of a bullet ricocheting off the sleigh. I bet Santa is not going to be happy about that.

Soon, Mike told us that the bag was empty. We had delivered all of the gifts and goodies that were in the sleigh. While it was fun, it was scary when we were shot at over the desert. Santa did warn us, but as you know, good always wins out over evil and we were doing a great deal of good tonight. Mike told us we could head home.

It felt like a matter of seconds before we were racing up the trail to our home. I heard Santa greet us.

“Looks like you guys did a good job; there is nothing left in the sleigh.” Santa said. “Hmm, I see you took some enemy fire by the looks of this dent in the sleight. Anyone get hurt”

“We are all okay. I think that was just a stray shot that nicked us. Are you feeling better, Santa?” Mike asked.

“You betcha and so are the reindeer, Mike. If you will help me get them hitched up to the sleigh, I will head back to the North Pole and start planning next year’s adventure.” Santa said.

Stormy told me that while Mike was taking us out of our harnesses, Santa was hitching up his team to the sleigh.

“Well Mike, thank you very much for helping met out. It could have been a major disaster if you and your dogs were not willing to take a chance and believe in the goodness and magic of this beautiful season.” Santa said.

“Thank you for letting us help you tonight.” Mike said. “I must admit at first I was skeptical, but once the sleigh became airborne, there was no doubt in my mind at all.

Santa said. “Well I better get going before it gets too light.”

Stormy told me that Santa climbed into the sleigh. I heard him call out each of the reindeers’ names. Stormy told me that the sled glided down the trail like it did when we were pulling it. Then shot straight sky ward, like a rocket and disappeared.

With all of the excitement of the night, I forgot how tired I had become. We all were getting tired and after telling my buddies good night, I headed to my doghouse. I heard the paw steps of the other dogs heading to theirs. Soon, the night was very still except for the snoring of several tired, but content dogs.

“Hey you sleepy heads get your fannies out of bed!” Mike’s wake up call for chow rang out in the morning quietness.

“Hi Rivers”. It was Lakota. “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas to you too, Lakota, some night we had last night.”

“Yes,” he said. “I slept like a log. I was a bit tired after going to the orphanage yesterday and playing with all of the kids.”

“But Lakota,” I said. “We met Santa and the reindeer, and he was sick, and we delivered gifts, and pulled his sleigh and…”

“Rivers, you must have had another one of your great dreams. You sure do get excited when you wake up from them. I sure do wish I could dream like that.” Lakota was chuckling as I heard him walk away.

A dream! I was dreaming. Or was I? Well it makes no difference. It is not the dreaming but the believing that counts. Believing in the goodness of this great season and its true meaning is all that is truly important.

Merry Christmas to all!