Puppy Love Brings Wade an Unexpected Yuletide Gift

Written by | Columnists and Letters

Wade Rouse

Wade is convinced Gary has gone too far with an unexpected holiday gift for his parents, but their reaction turns out to be the real surprise.

“No!” I said to Gary and the dog in his lap. I was standing in an animal shelter just before Christmas. Gary had surprised me by bringing me there, telling me he’d found the perfect gift for his parents. I’d been expecting a Yankee candle, not a black Lab mix. “I’m not going to be part of this scheme, Lucy,” I continued. “Your parents already have too much to deal with right now.”

Gary’s father had just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and the news hit him hard. Recently retired, his dreams of a perfect and peaceful sojourn into old age seemed quashed. Moreover, Gary’s mother seemed overwhelmed by the news, unable to focus or find peace.

Gary held the dog up, waved its arms and made it act as if it were talking to me — just like he did with our own rescue, Marge, whom we adopted from this same shelter.

“Save me,” Gary said in falsetto, his head hidden behind the dog’s. He lowered the lab into his lap, kissed it on top of its head and then looked at me. “Help me save my parents,” he said, his voice suddenly emotional, eyes brimming with tears.

I’d always been told pets made the worst presents. The cuteness of the gift tends to wear off quickly when the holiday season fades into the dead of winter. Also, acquiring a pet seems like too big a decision for someone else to make for you.

“Do your parents even want a dog?” I asked.

Wade Rouse, Gary

Wade Rouse and husband Gary.

“They need this dog,” Gary said, trying not to cry. “They need a little happiness. They need to focus on something full of life.” He nodded at her papers, which were sitting beside him on the floor. “And her name is Cookie. Could there be a better sign? Christmas Cookie!” We walked out with the dog.

I held Cookie in my lap the entire drive to his parents’ home. I also held my breath. When we arrived, Marge rushed into the house first. Then Cookie went charging in, running directly to Gary’s father as if she knew exactly who she needed to impress. “Did you adopt another dog?” Gary’s mom asked.

“No,” Gary said tentatively. “You did.”

No one said a word. I was about to run for the car, but Gary’s father lowered himself to the floor and began to play with Cookie. “Who’s a beautiful girl?” he called in sing-song voice. “You are.”

He looked up at us and smiled like a child who had gotten the present he’d always wished for. And then the man I’d never once seen cry had tears in his eyes.

“She looks just like Midnight,” he said, referring to another black Lab Gary’s family had when he was growing up. Cookie licked his face, wagged her tail and looked at him. The Christmas tree lights reflected in her eyes.

The two were inseparable after that — drawn together like magnets. Cookie was calm, sweet and seemed to understand Gary’s father’s limitations. She brought him back to life. Gary’s father began to walk Cookie — first around the yard, then the block, then the neighborhood. Cookie also gave Gary’s mom something to dote on — like a new grandchild for whom she could make special treats and talk to while baking or gardening. All 50 pounds of Cookie slept on Gary’s dad’s lap — in his beloved rocker — while sports played on the TV. And as Gary’s father’s Parkinson’s progressed, Cookie could always calm his trembling body.

When Cookie passed away this year — at nearly 16 years old — we mourned her passing with many stories and even more tears. For a decade and a half of holidays, Cookie was a part of their — and our — lives. She wore Santa hats. She opened gift bags, knowingly digging out the treats waiting inside. She was, in short, the best Christmas present we ever could have gotten his parents.

This year, Gary’s parents will get another dog for the holidays. There’s no replacing Cookie — just like we could never replace our Marge or our Mabel or our Doris. But there will be a furry friend that will bring them joy. This one may very well outlive Gary’s father. Even so, the relationship will add years of happiness to his parents’ lives. Sometimes the wrong gift is right. Sometimes taking a risk is worth it. Always, the love you share outweights the pain of saying goodbye. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles.

Wade’s latest novel, The Hope Chest, is now available under the pen name Viola Shipman. Learn more

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Last modified: July 10, 2018