A Christmas Tail

034 Our Bichon Frise, Avalanche, had not been well for months. Her incessantly wagging tail now lay motionless on the floor. I took our eleven-year-old dog to a compassionate veterinarian who diagnosed her with malignant tumors.

“You’ll know when it’s time,” he said. I fought back tears while feeling an enormous lump grow in my throat.

Our daughter Courtney was a junior in high school and had witnessed the sudden decline. However, our son Kelly had recently broken his back and pelvis snowboarding while being filmed on Loveland Pass. He was still adjusting to his freshman year in college where he lived in the dorms. Final exams would begin the first week of December and I worried about his reaction. I prayed Avalanche would make it through the holidays.

On the drive back home I stopped at the market for some premium dog food to entice Avalanche to eat. At first she gobbled down the canned treat, but by the second week, she showed very little interest in eating.NY and Roxy Christmas 2008 094

During the first week of December, we scheduled Two Men and a Truck to deliver the most amazing antique furniture I had ever seen. The massive dining room set, probably from the late 1800’s was carved with gargoyle faces and beautiful ladies. The furniture had been refinished and would arrive just in time for hosting my book club Christmas brunch the following morning.

Avalanche heard the doorbell ring, but stood in the middle of the hall and stared at the front door. She usually went nuts when anyone came into the house. I discovered her in the same position after the delivery men had placed the last side board in the living room. “Maybe she’ll bounce back,” I thought.

As I slowly made my way through my list of things to do before entertaining, finishing the book, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, loomed over my head. I looked forward to reading the last chapters of this coming of age bestseller by David Wroblewski. The tale chronicled the special relationship of a mute boy and his dog while growing up with his mom and dad who are dog breeders in the Chequamegon Forest of Northern Wisconsin.

That evening after my husband Danny had cleaned up the dinner dishes, I looked over at Avalanche who seemed to have trouble breathing. With tears running down my cheeks I said, “I think it’s time.” Courtney gave her one last hug and Danny drove her to the emergency veterinary clinic.sawtelle

While Avalanche was being euthanized, I finished the story. Have you ever read that book? I would have been sobbing without the ironic death of our own dog!

When Danny arrived back home, he handed me an ornament with Avalanche’s paw print and I hung it on the tree. Being a complete mess, I did what any mother who was distraught the night before she entertained; I went right on the computer and looked for puppies.

Around midnight, I found an advertisement selling a litter in Fort Lupton. “Perfect!” I would give them a call.

The next morning I raced around the house getting ready for my guests while noticing how painfully quiet it was. An hour before their arrival, I went back to the computer, but the ad had been taken down. My already broken heart crashed down into the pit of my stomach. I scanned tons of sites to no avail. Then I Googled Fort Lupton Bichon Frise puppies. There it was! I called and made an appointment for that evening.

The ringing doorbell interrupted my conversation. I glanced at the kitchen clock and thought, “Oh please God no!” I took a quick look in the mirror and some unrecognizable woman with puffy red eyes and crack head hair stared back at me. I opened the front door and there were my friends standing in the snow.

“Are we early?” Yes they were. By thirty minutes! I ran upstairs and whipped out the spackle and paint, put my hair in an up-do, and slipped on a Christmas outfit. As I ran back down the steps, I threw myself into hosting mode. It was a great distraction and party.

After they left, I made the dreaded call to my son. “I am so sorry,” I said to the deafening silence, “but I have a surprise.” I gave him the address and he met Courtney and me at 5:00 in Fort Lupton. That’s when I did the unthinkable. I lied.

We met outside the family home while I premised our visit. “I talked to dad and he’s not that excited about getting another dog. We can look, but I can’t make any promises.”

They were so cute at 9 weeks old! The kids held each one and then chose the little darling with the apricot ears like Avalanche. I gave the breeder a nod and she smiled back.NY and Roxy Christmas 2008 198

A couple of weeks later, my parents arrived from Wisconsin and my sister joined us for Christmas Eve. We carpooled to Saint John’s for a lovely Christmas Mass. Afterward with a wink to Danny I said, “I’ll meet all of you at home. I’m going to pick up some Old Fashioned mix.”

I jumped into the car where I had hidden the small kennel and drove out to Fort Lupton. I picked up the Christmas surprise and raced back to our party. Sneaking through the garage, I opened the basement door and tip-toed downstairs. I found a decorated Christmas box and stuffed it with the blue paper on which our new puppy had been house broken and then placed her inside.

As I entered the downstairs bar I shouted, “Santa came early!” 

“What did you do?” said Courtney.

I walked over to my two children and they lifted the lid.

“Are you kidding me? It’s our puppy!” Kelly screamed.

A roar went up in the room since neither my parents nor my sister had any idea. Everyone took turns holding the precious little girl while her tail wagged back and forth.

It was the best Christmas ever!

They did eventually ask me if I bought any Old Fashioned mix. I don’t think there was any in the entire state that year.


Our 2008 Christmas Card

What is your favorite holiday memory?

For another Christmas story press HERE! 

All photos by S. Lindau – The Story of Edgar Sawtelle jacket cover linked to site


46 thoughts on “A Christmas Tail

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  1. I’m sitting here wiping tears from my eyes, Susie. what a beautiful story. We always had dogs – both when I was a child and as an adult. Their passing was always so difficult. But like you, there was always a moment when I knew it was time for our old dogs.

    But it hurts. Alot


  2. This is so sad and you made me cry, Susie. I was with my sister when her dog Minx was euthanized and it was so very hard for her. He was her family and although I don’t have pets of my own, I felt her pain as I can feel yours.

    Your new little puppy is so cute and your Christmas card a family memory to cherish. Thanks for sharing your story. 🙂


  3. I’m too much of a tough guy to say this choked me up a little (which it did!) We’ve lost two dogs like this, the second my parents were on holiday and I had to sign the paperwork which was the hardest thing that I’ve ever had to do.


  4. I lost my dog a little over a year ago to bone cancer, and she went downhill suddenly, so this really struck a cord with me. What a beautiful story, and an awesome surprise for your kids 🙂


  5. *wipes away tears* This was pretty much how it was with my yorkie of 15 yrs. He passed at Christmas time, too and I was too devestated to celebrate that year. I guess we’re lucky to have them in our lives for the time they’re here and the more pups we can love, the fulller our lives are. That’s my theory anyway 🙂 What did you name the new pup?


    1. Her name is Roxy. The kids also liked that her full name was French – Roxanne, although they didn’t like my Sting impression when I called for her from the deck! Hahaha!
      Thanks for stopping by to read!


  6. Beautifully written tribute about the loss a family member and how you supported each other in grief and renewal. My heart aches for pets lost, but I always reach a point where I feel those sage words:

    Don’t be sad that it ended, be happy it happened–that you had a chance to know and love and pamper that wonderful little gal or guy.


  7. Such a touching story, Susie. My dog is my heart so I really sympathize with your loss. I gave my dad EDGAR SAWTELLE for Christmas last year–wonderful book!

    Funny that you should mention “Santa came early!”… The same happened for me, although I was on the child-end. My older sister had a trip planned over the actual holiday so Santa surprised us all. I couldn’t believe how thoughtful and smart he was in doing so… 😉


  8. Oh my, this is such moving story, Susie. It’s one of the hardest things to deal with, saying good bye to a faithful family member. I’m glad you surprised everyone with the new puppy! I love a happy ending. And I love that ornament with Avalanche’s paw print.

    We had to put our dog down a year ago. My husband, two youngest daughters (both grown), daughter’s finance and I all took Shadow and were in the room with her, holding her in our arms as she took her last breath. It affected us tremendously. Now we have another female dog who reminds us so much of Shadow. A different breed, but so similar in her good nature. We have male dogs, too. I’m a dog lover. Love this post.

    Has your son’s back healed up? That’s pretty devastating.


    1. Thanks so much for coming by to read Lynn! Putting a dog down is the hardest part of owning one.
      I am glad that we got Roxy when we did.
      Kelly did heal up. Thanks for asking! They were pars fractures and it was a long year!


  9. This one made me tear up! What a Christmas, thanks for sharing. My dog turned 11 this year and I’m going to miss her terribly when its time but until then, we’ll soak up the moments. Great posting. And thanks for visiting my blog!


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