I love Christmas. I feel like this is at odds with my identity as both a black-hearted cynic and a dirty liberal, but I really love it. Christmas lights are my favorite lights. I’m a big fan of giving gifts. I’m split on the music; I’ll listen to any arrangement of “Carol of the Bells” 300 times in a row, but not a huge fan of “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” etc. The mountains of cookies are an obvious plus. In general, it’s a pretty happy holiday for me.
We had four dogs for Christmas, and they all got presents. Nelson was not great at sharing, but they all had a great time tearing stuffed animals and wrapping paper and boxes to shreds and scattering them all over the living room. I didn’t take photos because there’s a line between “cute dog-made mess” and “by all appearances, the people who live here are inherently filthy” and our house crossed far into the latter. Nonetheless, it was a fun and relaxing morning.
Christmas Eve was a different story.
To preface this story, Brooklyn discovered about two weeks ago that our 6-foot wooden stockade fence contains a gate. None of our dogs have ever bothered the gate and it looks solid enough, so I’d never really noticed that it only latched at the top. Well, dear Brooklyn noticed, threw all of her weight against the bottom half, and took a turn around the neighbor’s unfenced yard one morning.
I was right there when it happened, so I dashed out in my ripped-to-hell yoga pants, one of Matt’s hoodies, and completely bare face to retrieve her while our neighbor tried to act like this was totally fine and not annoying at all. Since then, the dogs have all been constantly supervised while they’re outside; before, I might throw in a load of laundry or vacuum a room, but not now. Well, not until Christmas Eve.
We were just about to leave for a family gathering and I let everybody out to potty one more time before we left. We were all rushing around, getting dressed, loading up presents, you know the drill. When I came downstairs from finishing up my hair, Liam handed me my phone and, in a manner that reminded me exactly of my dad when he’s stressed out, said, “You need to get in the car right now, all the dogs are loose.”
Matt tells me later that he was in the basement when Brooklyn decided to lead the Escape Brigade to freedom and looked up just in time to see a pair of hind legs sailing through the gate. He also tells me he yelled for me as he went after them, but I didn’t hear anything. I had no idea what was happening.
We jump in the car. I scream very un-Christmasy words at people who have the audacity to be driving in front of me. We turn a corner, see Celeste in the arms of a teenage boy who is staring into the distance toward where Matt, who is chasing the others, has gone. We screech to a stop, Liam jumps out to grab Celeste, we yell something like “THIS ONE’S OURS OH MY GOD THANK YOU SO MUCH.”
We drive a few hundred yards down the street and spot Matt. Matt is wearing flip flops and practically skiing down Warsaw’s ice-covered sidewalks with Brooklyn and Niles in hand. I jump out to grab one, shriek “WHERE IS NELSON?” like Matt isn’t six inches away from me.
“He was still in the yard when I ran out!” he says.
More panic. Was the gate closed or open when we left? Is Nelson still in the yard or wandering around? We don’t know. We blaze home (keep in mind, we are about a block away from home the entire time).
Nelson is still in the yard. He wonders if this means he gets all the presents. The three teenagers are unharmed and seem pleased with themselves. Matt has a small asthma attack. We all want a drink but now we have to drive. It’s fine.
When the dogs are safely crated with stuffed bones, I go tottering back to the house where the teenage boy is vainly attempting to shovel 3-inch-thick ice out of his parents’ driveway. “Hi,” I half-wail, because I’m almost crying with relief at this point. “Thank you for helping us.”
I try to give him money, which he adamantly refuses. He’s very nice. I say “thank you” and “Merry Christmas” way too many more times before I slip-slide back to our house and we, at last, leave. It’s fine.
Takeaways: Sometimes, even when you have a pretty safe setup and are pretty attentive, shit still happens. Fostering is definitely more than just giving a dog a couch to crash on. Even white teenage boys in the second reddest county in New York can be nice people. It’s hard to ruin Christmas but three of your four dogs getting loose will come pretty close.
It’s fine. It’s worth it.