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Christmas truly is time for love, family

This time of year is special for me.

Friday, December 17, 1999

This time of year is special for me. Not only do I love Christmas, but one of my puppies came to me around this time, almost seven years ago.

You would never know it now, but Holly was a pretty scraggly dog when I saw her in the back of her kennel at the Lawrence County dog pound.

The Humane Society had planned a holiday open house and adoption for the weekend, and I was in early scouting the runs for new friends to recommend to any families who might walk in.

I had my hands full of Milkbones – I wasn’t going to take any chances that the dogs wouldn’t like me.

As I walked up and down the kennels, a little black dog came up to the cage door, wagging her tail. She seemed happy, gratefully taking the bone from my hand. After accepting a couple of "thank-you" licks, I moved on to the next cage, making a note to remember that little dog the next day.

When the day of the open house dawned, I got busy. Santa was there and more than 16 dogs went out the door with new families.

I hadn’t thought too much about my friend until I peeked in on her about mid-afternoon. She was like a different dog, shivering over in the corner looking sad and alone.

When she saw me, she wagged her tail, weakly. She ignored the bone I offered her.

The volunteer vet was coming later that day, so I waited. When he examined the little dog, he said she was very sick and needed to be moved somewhere warmer as soon as possible. He thought if she stayed in the shelter, she would probably die.

Well, needless to say, the newly christened "Holly" went home with me.

That first night was a tough one. Holly curled up on the couch and slept in front of the Christmas tree, shivering, even under her blanket.

Casey, my lab-border collie mix, checked on her often, looking from my husband to me. It was almost like she knew Holly was special.

I never intended to keep Holly. She was going to stay with us "just until she gets well."

An emergency vet visit and two-week hospital stay later, Casey had a new sister and we had another furry face to love. We were a family – even if not by the traditional definition.

In the almost decade since Holly came home, she and Casey have stayed sisters. They fight sometimes, but when they think no one is looking, they might share a bed or a cuddle.

I consider Holly my Christmas angel – a present I never knew I wanted, but one that has given me more love and joy than I could ever have expected.

She has taught me that the best Christmas presents are not the ones that have pricetags with lots of dollar signs. When I look at her, I remember that Christmas is about families of all shapes and sizes, sharing, compassion and love.

Her love reminds me, also, of a baby whose mother and father could find nowhere but a stable full of animals in which to escape the night air. Mary and Joseph were simple people whose gift to the world – their newborn son – brought peace, faith and love to the world. When the town turned them away, the animals welcomed the new family among them.

Holly’s achievements are not as grand, but I imagine, that if she had been there that night, she would have offered the Christ child her paw, a tail wag and a lick on the cheek – her version of frankincense, gold and myrrh.

Caring for those who have nothing and offering simple gifts is the true meaning of Christmas. Holly understands that.

That once-little black dog from the pound looks a lot different today. Finding food is not so difficult now, although finding a reason to get off the couch is.

But when I look into her eyes, I see that same smile that caught my attention all those years ago. I am glad I did not turn away.

I hope during this season of giving that our family’s story reminds you of joyful memories from Christmases past with those you love – human, canine or feline.

And Holly, Casey, Sassy, Prissy, Jan and I hope, too, that your holiday season is filled with love, laughter and lots of dog bones and sugar cookies.

Have a Merry Christmas.

Renee Carey is the managing editor of The Ironton Tribune.