The Greatest Gift by Joyce Simpson

 

            With the snow finally disappearing and spring at last in the air it is unusual that my thoughts turn to Christmas – not just any Christmas, but the Christmas of 1984, when I received my most unusual gift. It was not a gift I had asked for, nor was it a gift that I particularly wanted. I did not know how I was going to fit this gift into my life. What was this wonderful gift, you ask? It was a puppy, a six month old white ball of fluff.

Bailey Rose
Bailey Rose

            A week before Christmas, my neighbour arrived for a visit. For several years, we had exchanged small gifts and that year was no exception. I believe I had purchased a coffee mug with a funny saying on it for him. Of course, I had no idea what he would give me, but I had no doubt it would be funny.

            On that particular evening, he arrived with a paper bag he placed on the floor. In his arms he carried a small, terrified dog, which instantly leaped into my arms. Although I thought she was adorable, I thought she was his. Wrong! Some joke! It took about 15 minutes for me to get the message. I didn’t want a dog, no matter how cute she was. How was I to tell my dear friend that I couldn’t accept his gift without hurting his feelings? He was ecstatic. He kept saying, “She’s yours! She’s yours.” The message would not sink in. When he picked up the bag from the floor and showed me a leash, a toy, and dog food, it finally registered. The dog was mine.

            My friend also shared the history of this small dog and it was not a happy one. She was a Maltese-Poodle mix with the unusual name of Bailey Rose. Supposedly, she had been rescued from an animal shelter by a lady who owned a boarding house for men. Unfortunately, one particular man hated dogs and would kick her out of his way. No wonder she acted terrified, especially around men. She was with us for about seven months before she became comfortable with my husband, and she never did become friends with the neighbour who gave her to me.

            Later that first evening, as we climbed the stairs to bed, I noticed the dog wasn’t following us. She was sitting crying at the bottom of the stairs. I thought the problem might be her fear of our open stairway, so I asked my husband to pick her up and carry her. Well, her fear of the stairs wasn’t nearly as great as her fear of my husband. She took off like a shot through the dining room and living room, which both happened to have white carpets. In her wake, she left a trail of small, brown, hard lumps on the floor. Does the expression ‘scared shitless’ come to mind? Well, she was. Literally. It seems I was to be her saviour once again. She came running to me and clung so tightly I could feel her claws digging into my skin. Believe me, neither of these two acts impressed me nor endeared her to me.

            Two days later, she was still loving to me and I tolerated her. Okay, I was warming up to her, to be more exact. In the early afternoon, I put her outside to do her business. During those two days, I had tied her collar to a rope as I was afraid that she would run away. Both my husband and my neighbour thought I was crazy. They insisted she wouldn’t leave. Since it was snowing outside, I decided to take their advice and just let her out. Every couple of minutes, I looked out the window to make sure she was still in the yard. She was. However, the third time I looked, I could not see her anywhere. I went to the door and called but got no response.

            With a rising sense of panic I grabbed my jacket and boots and went outside to search the yard. Nothing. No sign of her. I called and called. Still nothing. I ran back in and called my neighbour’s wife and another friend for help. They responded immediately and we began a search of the neighbourhood with no luck. By then, I was frantic. She was a small white dog and it was snowing heavily and very cold outside. I was afraid no one would see her before she froze to death.

            Tears streamed down my face as I got in the car so I could search more than the immediate neighbourhood. My neighbour stayed at my house in case the dog returned and my friend continued the search our area. I drove once around the block and came back to check with them. Still no sign of her. I felt so guilty for not tying her up and so angry with my husband for telling me it wasn’t necessary. I could hardly see the streets through my tears and the falling snow. I set out again and as I drove, I prayed, “Please, please God, don’t let anything happen to her. She doesn’t deserve this. Her short life has been hard enough. Please help me to find her.”

            It was just about that time when, three blocks from home, I saw movement to my left. There, in a snow bank on the side of the street, was a very wet, frightened dog. She tried to keep her balance while walking on top of the snow that had been piled high by the plow. I could see her shivering.

            A quick glance in my rear view mirror showed a car directly behind me and another coming toward me. I was afraid to roll down the window and call to the dog because I thought she might run out onto the path of the oncoming vehicle. I stopped my car and, getting the attention of the driver behind me, I pointed to the dog. The driver nodded to show she understood. When the oncoming lane was clear, I opened my door and called, “Bailey! Here Bailey! Come on girl!”

            The shivering dog looked up at the sound of her name, or perhaps it was the sound of my voice. She gave a little cry and started toward me. She hesitated and I said, “Come on girl.” At that, she jumped into the car and landed on my lap. Quickly closing my door and waving my thanks to the patient driver behind me, we headed home. Thank goodness it was only a few blocks, because I did not have the foresight to bring a towel, so I quickly became almost as wet as the dog. She would not leave my lap. She shivered and whined and tried to lick my face all the way home. I can only imagine her relief at being rescued by someone she knew and was beginning to trust. I, too, was relieved and thankful that my prayers for her had been heard and answered.

            My friends were happy to see us return. Both had tears in their eyes. Wrapping the dog in a large towel, I passed her to my neighbour while I ran off to change my clothes. Then we sat in the family room in front of the fireplace where I examined Bailey for any injuries. She appeared none the worse for her adventure, but her paws were encrusted with snow, ice, and dirt. I got a small pan of tepid water to melt the ice and warm her. That completed, with another towel warmed in the dryer, I held her until she stopped shivering. The look on her face was one of pure gratitude and I knew, from that moment on, we’d be a team.

            And, oh, how right I was. I became her mother, and she the daughter I never had. I believe she would quite literally sit on my lap twenty-four hours a day if she could. She rarely left my side and she needed to know where I was at all times. Whenever she came in the house she would search frantically until she found me. Then, and only then, could she relax. She was very protective of me and her only fault was her loud barking when anyone, especially a stranger, came to the door. I’m not convinced that was a fault.

            Bailey learned a lot of tricks over the years, but my favorite was the hug. Whenever I wanted a hug I would call her and say, “Give me a hug Bailey. Show me a hug.” She would jump up and put one paw on each side of my neck while we snuggled. I loved that and I think she did too. When she was bored, or if she thought I was ignoring her for too long, she brought her small stuffed toys and dropped them at my feet, one at a time. I, of course, was expected to take each toy and throw it. She would run after it and shake the living daylights out of it. Then she would dare me to take it from her and we would have to do this over and over.

            One of the things I have learned in life is that nothing lasts forever. Nothing. Almost three years ago, my beloved friend became blind. It took me a while to figure out why she could run up the stairs, but when she needed to come down, she would stand at the top and cry. Her veterinarian told me she had cataracts. We had a specialist who had arrived at the Vet College from Oklahoma examine her, but he didn’t think surgery would help. I took her home and it broke my heart as I watched her bump into things around the house.

            About that time, my marriage ended and I was moving. I wondered how Bailey would get along in new surroundings. They say that dogs have a keen sixth sense and I truly believe Bailey was as worried about that move as I was. Three weeks before we were to leave, she stopped eating. I could neither coax her nor entice her even with her favorite treats. The vet said that we could do tests, but somehow it didn’t seem right. At 15, how could I put her through possible surgery and then whisk her off blind to a new home where she couldn’t find her way around? I made one of the hardest decisions of my life but decided the kindest thing I could do for her was have her euthanized. A friend offered to take her, but I couldn’t do that. I could not leave her in the hands of strangers, even friendly strangers, in her last hour.

            And so, on that fateful day in September, one and a half years ago, we made our last journey together. I cried all the way to the clinic and when the doctor asked if I wanted to wait outside I said, “No. I’ll hold her till the end. It’s the least I can do.” I can tell you I didn’t expect it to be so sudden. I thought she would drift off to sleep in my arms. She never moved a muscle when the needle was inserted and as soon as the medication entered her veins she slumped in my arms. She was gone. They left me alone with her for about 15 minutes while I rocked her and cried and told her how much I’d miss her and what joy she had brought to my life.

            I had her cremated separately, not with all the other pets. Her ashes were returned to me in a beautiful black urn with butterflies on the front. The urn sits on a table near her picture.

            Many friends thought I should get a new dog right away but I couldn’t. I needed to grieve. I wasn’t even sure if I would ever get another pet. Then, last summer, almost a year after losing Bailey, I decided it was time. I couldn’t find a small dog at the pound so I watched the ads in the paper until, one day, I saw an ad for Shih Tzu pups. I bought a three-month-old and named her Heidi. Actually, I tell her her name is Heidi Rose, after her big sister. Heidi, of course, has never been abused and she’s a joyful, happy puppy whose greatest fault, if it can be called that, is all the wet, sloppy kisses she bestows on everyone she meets.

            Many Christmases have come and gone since Bailey arrived as the gift I did not ask for, the gift I did not want. And the memories of that gift will last a lifetime.

– END –

About the author

Joyce Simpson is a writer from PEI. Several years ago one of her short stories received Honourable Mention in a Nova Scotia competition. She also received Second Place and Honourable Mention for two other short fiction entries in the PEI Literary Awards. Besides writing, Joyce like to paint, but because of surgery on her right hand in 2013 and again in 2014, has not been able to write or paint much recently. The story of Bailey Rose is a true story.

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