I’m working on “The Christmas List,” and I can see Lucy, my wife’s dog, watching me.
Now, Lucy’s a pretty smart pooch. She knows that when I put her on the leash, it’s time to go to the vet. Usually, on Lucy’s morning walks, my wife does the honors. But when it’s just me, Lucy dutifully plods straight to the car rather than barreling down the driveway. She knows what’s up.
So it’s entirely possible that she sees “The List” and grasps its significance in just the same way that she understands the sound of food rattling into her bowl or the sight of my wife pulling on running shoes before a walk.
I ponder, and Lucy comes over. Big brown eyes look deeply into mine, and she puts her Anatolian-Shepherd head on my knee. Maybe she’s been reading my mind. It’s been a tough year, and I’m wondering just how generous I can afford to be. Most of the kids are out of the house, so the fussing volume has subsided. I can stop and reflect on the economics of gift-giving. Maybe I can dial it back a bit, but then there’s this dog and its sustained stare.
I try to remember what the dogs got last Christmas. They have their own stockings, of course, and I seem to recall that they had a better year, stocking-wise, than I did. Not that I’m jealous or anything. I don’t know that I really wanted jerky, a leather chew bone, or the studded collar. Well, not the chew bone anyway….
But the budget? Maybe I could kill a tradition, and hide the animals’ stockings in the ornament box, buried under that hideous blue-and-green wreath. The wreath is another tradition, an heirloom given to us by a fashion-impaired relative. We never use it. I dare not give it away, and so it sits in the bottom of the box, year after year. This is, I think, the perfect hiding place. But, then, I’d have to explain to the wife why I neglected the critters. Nope. Not a pretty picture.
In my defense, I was in the pet store the other day. I got stuffer shock. Even the cheap stuff seemed to be at least $5 a throw, or more. Then I did the math. You have to get each animal at least two–I think that’s in the US Constitution somewhere. And it’s not just the dogs, even the naughtiest cats get them. It all adds up.
Up and more up, that’s the way things tend to happen around here. With four kids, pets for each of them, and a wife who never met a dog she didn’t like, we’re pushing double digits. The funny thing is that when the kids moved away, the animals remained. I’m not just talking about the ones buried in the backyard, I’m talking about the ones that are still walking around here, chewing up the upholstery and eating the houseplants.
A small voice in my head says, “Can’t we start being practical?” Would the furry ones really miss being crossed off “The List?” I can definitely cut the cats. What would they care? Every day must seem like Christmas. Turn your back, and they’re up on the counter feasting away. And doesn’t it set a bad example to have them all jacked up on cat nip while we gather around the tree?
This is beginning to sound almost convincing, and then Lucy leans against me and sighs. She sounds, well, disappointed, and my inner Scrooge misses a step. I absently stroke her fur, coarse and fuzzy at the same time, and I wonder…. What DO we owe our pets? I look at Lucy, and I reflect on what she means to my wife, and, well, to all of us. It has been a tough year, and more than once, hugging that silly dog was the high point of someone’s day, even mine.
This explains why Lucy will stay on “The List.” After all, she is almost-well-behaved, better than me, really. Besides, I don’t think I could face those eyes on Christmas day and have Lucy wonder why Santa forgot her. I pencil in her name. Just then, she licks me, wags her tail, and saunters away. I hear her toenails clicking down the hallway, and the room is still.
So much for the budget. Maybe she’ll share the jerky.
Robb Lightfoot began teaching communications classes at Shasta College before there was such a thing as the Internet, and was selected as teacher of the year for 2010. He’s done stand-up comedy at The Knitting Factory in Reno and was recently published in The Funny Times. Robb lives in Shasta County with his wife, Karin, and her many irrepressible pets. Visit him at www.robblightfoot.com.