Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Dog Who Loved Christmas

Shaeffer/Graham Bezant
True, all dogs love Christmas.

These next few days are the officially-sanctioned Dog Disobedience Days.

Nothing dogs do this week is worth the time or trouble to yell at them.

And finally, there is enough going on to interest dogs.

Many of the best holiday events are conveniently staged below knee level, where dogs get the best view.

But one large dog--in his middle years and wise beyond time or space--actually shivers in delight at the first flakes of snow. He quivers on the day he can see his breath. He knows the happiest hours are just ahead. This particular dog sings as The Great Day of Winter approaches: his is a sweet soprano whimper, as clear and determined as a kindergarten kid at a pageant, trying to soar to the tricky "sleep in heavenly piece" moment of Silent Night.

"Gosh," people would tell the mutt, bending down to rub his ears whenever he sang: "You are certainly one dog who loves Christmas."

And he was.
Weeks before the big day, The Dog Who Loved Christmas would track each present as it came in the house, watch coyly as it was wrapped, then memorize its hiding place and wait to be alone. He would unwrap it so it could easily be re-wrapped, two or three times if possible. When the presents were finally moved to high shelves or locked closets, The Dog Who Loved Christmas would take to opening whatever he could reach: eight-packs of toilet paper from the bathroom cupboard, boxes of corn flakes and raisin bran--often in the living room. When everything was finally moved out of his reach, he knew Christmas must be very, very near.

During those delicious last days, if the door opened and The Dog Who Loved Christmas was indoors, he would seize the opportunity to go out. If the door re-opened and he was outdoors, he would come in. Sometimes he would travel in the direction of the door-opener. Other times he would race from the opposite direction, always timing his speed and momentum to squeak cleanly past his doorman's knees.

If anybody tried to direct the animal's activities, a kinder soul was sure to warn: "Hey, leave him alone! You know how much that dog loves Christmas!"

The Dog Who Loved Christmas most loved his tree. It was always set up in the coolest room of the house, the very space the dog himself favoured for sleeping. It was clear the people in the house brought the tree inside as a special present for the dog. He would watch as it was decorated, sniff the unfamiliar indoor odor of pine, sprawl for hours on the floor, using the family as cushions. He liked it when they turned on the lights. Or turned them off. The Dog Who Loved Christmas would sleep under the tree and night and pretend he was camping. He made sure to sleep on the opposite side from where he marked the tree when no one was around. It was, after all, his tree and there was a certain pride of ownership. Sometimes people would stick their finger in the tree's pot. "Yep, it's still wet," they'd say. He was happy to help.

On the day the family decorated the biggest window in the house, The Dog Who Loved Christmas would hurry upstairs. Standing on his hind legs, he would press sweet, heart-shaped dog noses on the undecorated windows of the bedrooms and kitchen. Then he would slip outside to admire his work, with a sidetrip under the porch--the better to coat his paws with clay to decorate the rugs.
"Look!" he imagined visitors might cry in glee. "This house belongs to A Dog Who Loves Christmas!"

The Dog Who Loved Christmas could count on a fine buffet of appealing snacks on the holiday, always placed on coffee tables and low snack trays where he could see them. There were cheeses and round little crackers, sometimes smeared with stinky fish. The dog would feign disinterest and pray for a phone or doorbell to ring, the better to snatch a few. At Christmas, no one kept count. When he was by himself at night, The Dog Who Loved Christmas would help himself to hard candies in a low bowl, suck each piece for a few seconds, then stick it back to try a new flavour. They always wondered why the candy stuck together.

The Dog Who Loved Christmas enjoyed an occasional lick of chip dip and sometimes, to amuse himself, would carry a few potato chips in his mouth to his water dish. There, he'd float them like boats. Then he would whimper pathetically til someone came.

"What's wrong?" they were sure to ask. "Oh poor dog! There are in chips in your water dish. Let me get you a new one." They'd fetch a fresh dish of lovely, cool water, give him a pat and sometimes a treat. Minutes later, there'd be a familiar whimpering, new chips in the water dish and a new victim to say, "Poor dog."

The Dog Who Loved Christmas rolled happily in the wrapping paper on Christmas Eve and--since he growled menacingly at anybody who tried to retrieve wrappings--got to guard the paper overnight. It was collected the next morning, no piece bigger than a torn movie ticket, while the dog took his morning walk. It reappeared Christmas Eve as confetti.

On Christmas Day, The Dog Who Loved Christmas would sit politely under the dining room table. He was so quiet visitors had to peek underneath to convince themselves he was even in the house.

"I can't believe it!" they would cry. "My dog would be begging, barking and carrying on! Why I'd never know your dog was even in the room! What a Good Dog!" Dozens of times, hands would appear under the table offering turkey and tidbits.
The Dog Who Loved Christmas learned at a very young age that dogs who never beg get more turkey than those who do. Every guilty person at the table eventually offered something, a carefully-chosen pay-off. Indeed, some years, so much food was gingerly collected below the laughter and conversation above that The Dog Who Loved Christmas would have to slip away to the basement two or three times during the meal and ralph everything he'd eaten thus far into a cool corner. He'd always upchuck against an outside wall, so no incriminating evidence would be found til Easter. Sometime he re-ate it for snacks. Then it was back upstairs for another pound or two of dinner.

After the meal, The Dog Who Loved Christmas would race outside with the kids. It was his duty to destroy forts and snowmen as quickly as tots could build them. Bundled in snowsuits, the kids could barely feel his nips. The smaller ones had difficulty walking. The Dog Who Loved Christmas would grab them by their parka hoods and drag them backwards through snowdrifts, playing crack the whip. He did this only with wee ones who couldn't really talk, so they could not report him to the authorities. And of course, bigger kids all thought it was funny.

On Christmas night, The Dog Who Loved Christmas would sprawl on his back under the tree, fat and happy, his legs splayed like a broken toy, his mouth open, and snore like a horse.

Every year at about midnight, they would take his photo for the family album.

There were eight years' worth of pictures of the animal, paws to the sky and snoring. So cute, so content, under his tree.

"That Dog Sure Does Love Christmas," somebody would always whisper, as the camera shutter clicked. Sometimes his eyes would flutter and he even heard them say it. It made him very glad to please them so.

dunford/pagesix 1986

Swim with the sharks

So a few feet underwater, six miles off the north coast of Oahu, I feel a tap on my shoulder. A torpedo-shaped Galapagos shark coasts by. I come up for air.

"Your knee was outside the shark cage," sez my responsible pal.

This is good to know.

"Shut up," I tell him, just as you would.

In the bobbing cage, sucking a snorkel tube, circling sharks ripple in sunlight, all IMAX, Discovery Channel and light show. It is an irresistible swim of beautiful greys and blues.

Fools try to touch the sharks, a hypnotic arm's length away. This is why God gave us liability waivers.

Never give them a knee.