By Barbara L. Black
Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.
It was Christmas Eve in the Kootenays, British Columbia, in a place called Nipika. The sky was white, and it was snowing, the fluffy flakes descending lazily like battalions of miniature parachutists. Inside, I was curled up on the couch by the fire, reading about that poor orphan, Oliver Twist, who starts life slaving in a workhouse and gets tossed from good fate to bad, the bad being particularly nasty and the good being marvellous. Before I could see what fate befalls Oliver, I was distracted by the sound of barking and sat up to look out the window.
There outside was an urchin of a dog, with crooked ears and a bushy tail like an electrified squirrel, charging about in the snow — a furrified firecracker.
He was a jolly dog, and since he seemed so hard up for company, I went outside to throw him sticks. He loved to be petted and talked to and was distraught at the many little ice balls clinging to his paws. As I helped him to remove them, I found friendship in his intelligent bark-brown eyes. My husband joined us, and an afternoon of doggie romping went by, until suddenly our new friend galloped off, probably to curl up beside his owner's wood stove.
We ate a quiet Christmas Eve dinner and afterwards headed to the Nipika lodge to share a glass of cheer with the owner, Lyle, and the other guests. The moment we stepped outside, our furry friend materialized and galumphed with us all the way to the lodge. Inside, as the fire blazed, we asked everyone, "Who owns that long-haired reddish-brown dog with the fluffy tail?" Silence. "We thought it was your dog," said the couple from New York. Nobody knew to whom he belonged, but he seemed to have a firm sense of belonging here. When we returned to our cabin, the dog had disappeared in the snowy night.
Next morning, Christmas Day, I glanced out the kitchen window to see the dog huddled under the only dry spot — a dirt patch underneath a tiny pine. He looked marooned on his winter desert island. When I opened the door and called to him he careered down the hill, ears flapping, paws flailing up and down, a steamroller of fur and enthusiasm. But when he reached the door, he came in politely, as if someone had taught him good manners, then plunked down on the mat like a sack of potatoes.
Since he belonged to nobody at the camp, we figured he hadn't eaten since at least the day before. So he got a Christmas supper fit for an orphan: ham, Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, and gravy, which he promptly inhaled to my intonations of "You lucky dog!" That was when we started calling him Lucky. He was lucky to get lost in a place whose owners were dog lovers, and lucky to find the two big softies in the furthest cabin.
Yes, we were smitten by that pair of doleful eyes. We even thought — scandalously — about adopting him into our one-cat family. Lucky must have understood he had found his angel benefactors.
That night, Lucky slept near our bedroom door. Whenever we stirred, he stirred, his nails clicking on the wood floor. He heaved sleepy, contented sighs that kept me ever so slightly awake, like a mother with her new babe.
On Boxing Day morning, Lucky ate sour cream and chive noodles with... Brussels sprouts and ham. All day, he was our constant companion, accompanying us on a hike, waiting outside the sauna, or lying inside with his head on my feet as I followed the exploits of that other orphan, Oliver, whose brush with good fortune, alas, proved to be all too brief.
On the 27th, a pick-up truck pulled into camp. It was the security man from the mine twenty-five kilometers down the road. He was looking for a dog named Nuke, he said — our dog. Nuke was supposed to be at the mine, tied up, alone, doing his guard dog duties, but a few days ago he had escaped. Our Lucky was a fugitive. That explained the ice balls on his feet. I turned to look for Lucky but our orphan runaway was hiding. Clearly, this lonely mining job was not an apprenticeship that suited him at all. My heart broke for my poor brown-eyed friend.
With a special whistle, the security man located Lucky, lured him into his pick-up and drove away. Suddenly our beloved dog's name seemed utterly inappropriate.
I said to my partner, "If this was Dickens, Lucky would run away again from his evil captors, appear barking at our door, and I would embrace him saying, 'Oh, Lucky! You came back!'" But we knew that wouldn't happen. Some gifts are not for keeping. Lucky was gone.
Gloom settled over the household. When I went to bed I even cried. What kind of spell had Lucky — a dog — cast over us in so short a time? I lay in bed and spoke to him in my head. I told him if he wanted to come back, we were here waiting. Even if he didn't come, we would always love him.
All night I slept fitfully, missing his doggie sighs and clicking toenails. Then, at 2 a.m., I heard a thump, as if someone had stepped — or jumped — onto the porch. "Could it be?" I asked myself. "Don't be ridiculous! The mine is twenty-five kilometers away!" Still, I couldn't resist going downstairs to check.
At the side door I squinted out — that's where Lucky usually waited. Nothing but gaping blackness. With a dwindling sense of hope, I went to the front door, cupped my hands over the cold glass and peered into the night. A pair of soulful eyes stared back at me. Lucky! He had come back! The dog with the squirrelicious tail had run twenty-five kilometers in the middle of the night to be with us! I let him in and he burst into the cabin, exploding with doggie joy.
Now, this story has two endings. When we left Nipika two days later, Lucky, with his one ear up and his one ear down, was still there. Lyle, the resort owner, had also grown very fond of him but agreed that the mine — his rightful owners — had the last say. We said we would adopt Lucky, although our city house hardly seemed the place for him. Besides, what would the cat think? We left not knowing his fate.
A week passed, and our fondness for Lucky never faded. Then we received an e-mail from Lyle. He told us that through a marvellous stroke of luck, our Christmas orphan had been freed from the mine. Lucky now lives with his new family in doggie freedom in the wide-open spaces of Nipika Mountain Resort. It was truly a Christmas gift for all of us.