Everywhere you turn during the months approaching Christmas, you see signs saying things like, “Christmas is a time for giving.” Because this giving is regulated to happen every 12 months, it can easily become automatic, lacking profound thought.
For me, the holidays had even begun to feel like a chore – too much to do, not enough money, too little time. I always looked forward to our family holiday parties, where video game bowling tournaments have become a tradition alongside the eggnog and spiced rum, but other than that the holidays often seemed more like a time for stress than a time for cheer.
Several years ago we became a foster family for MidAmerica Boston Terrier Rescue. We didn’t know anything about puppy mills at the time, but we got a crash course via our first few foster dogs. Each one was unique, but none was quite like Zoye, our 20th foster dog who came to us just before last Christmas. She had been a breeding dog at a mill, stuck in a chicken wire cage 24/7, perpetually making puppies for SEVEN years. Her splayed paws and droopy nipples said it all. Our rescue had adopted her out to a “good” home, but after being there for six months, I was asked if I would pick her up and take her in as a foster. “Odd,” I thought, “And just before the holidays?”
I met Zoye’s “mom” in a hotel parking lot, where she handed me a dog in a too-small crate. She said Zoye “had bitten both dogs and children, could not be potty-trained, and must be deaf and blind because she keeps walking into things.” She had locked Zoye in her kitchen for six months where Zoye’s urine couldn’t damage the floor. I’m glad she didn’t invite me over to eat!
On the drive home, I worried. Caring for an incontinent, blind biter over the holidays in addition to my two cats and Bill, a quirky puppy mill survivor we had adopted, was not going to be easy. I imagined Zoye’s first introduction to my house: a trail of pee following her like breadcrumbs and a vicious battle with Bill, leaving him ear-less. It seemed my Christmas was going to be spent scrubbing floors and breaking up fights.
What occurred, in reality, was…merry! Zoye made friends with Bill immediately and then claimed a squeaky toy for her own, proudly parading it around the house. She did have accidents, but it was clear she could be trained. Where was the deaf, blind devil dog? Why wasn’t she walking into walls?
That Christmas our holiday party had a new star – Zoye! She marched around my parents’ house – the whole house, not just the kitchen – as if everyone had come just to greet her. She sported a little diaper like a fashion accessory and snuggled on the couch with Bill to watch our highly-competitive (only to my dad, mind you) bowling tournament. The pair was the picture of contentment in each other’s warmth.
You may not have known it, but I accepted it for us all, and on behalf of all the dogs adopted out of mills who leave their pasts behind. It’s the gift that Zoye gave me, and you, and the miller, and the woman who locked her in the kitchen. She gave us all the gift of forgiveness by licking and loving and living without a shadow of resentment or regret. The gift was a lesson, one for which I remain grateful and steadfast in my service as a foster home and advocate for Zoye and dogs like her.
Maybe those signs you see during the holidays should say, “Christmas is a time ‘forgiving,’ ” instead.
A year later, the holidays seem right – a time for cheer. If Zoye could leave her stress behind her, so can I. She is in a truly loving home now, and we’ll be spending this year’s holiday with our new mill momma foster dog, Olive. No diaper needed… as of last week.
**Written for the Trupanion Insurance Pawliday Blog Contest