Story and Picture Submissions

A Beautiful Christmas Morning

On this beautiful Christmas morning, I woke up excited to see what Santa had left for me under my tree. I was excited to see all the presents wrapped so beautifully eagerly awaiting my arrival. But instead as I neared my living room I simply saw the remnants of wrapping paper and cardboard boxes scattered everywhere. The Christmas tree was missing its lower decorations and there were branches and pine needles everywhere. I then turned around to see a very guilty face staring at me from the couch, it was Buster’s, my two year old beagle. So after 45 minutes of sifting through the paper, branches and cardboard looking for the missing gifts, we noticed they were all accounted for, except one. A small silver tennis charm bracelet I had been wanting all year. The box was found, minus the bracelet. So now I am waiting for the most important present of all to be re-gifted in which it will be wrapped, just not in pretty paper.

Sasha Turner

A Christmas Pet Tradition

Hi, my Name is Tanja and I am crazy about my pets or any animal in general. My extended animal family consists of one German Shepherd, three Cats, and three Chinchillas. Each Christmas, on the 24th of December, we wrap gifts for our pets and share special treats with them. I try and put little Santa hats on the cats and a festive collar with bells on the dog. Afterwards, we take pictures and open their gifts that consist of new toys. My son recently told me that in his next life, he wants to be an animal that is adopted by me. I took his comment as a compliment.

The holidays are about family and my pets are thought of as members of our family. Each year, around the holidays, I support the local Western Pennsylvania Human Society by volunteering for gift wrapping events and walking Dogs and cuddle Cats at the shelter. Additionally, I make blankets and purchase toys for the shelter animals. The gift wrapping events give me an opportunity to discuss pet adoption and to help raise money for the shelter. It is my hope that people will realize the benefits of pet ownership and will consider adopting a pet from a local shelter. Recycled pets are the best.

Tanja Berkhouse
Pittsburgh, Penn.

Every Day is Christmas!

Ten years ago on Christmas Eve, I had an epiphany. Spending a divine evening at a “Blessing of the Animals” New York City church service, the atmosphere was magically infused with wonder and serenity. This gathering of pets, their menagerie of humans plus pet-less pet-loving spectators (as I was) are treated to songs and sermons about the manger and the bond between humans and animals. The festivities conclude with the human guardians shepherding their pets up the center aisle to be blessed.

That night, when I saw and held an adorable Yorkshire Terrier pup, I asked for his breeder’s contact information. The next day, when I telephoned the breeder, karma was already in motion. She had newborn Yorkie pups that would be ready for adoption in two months. I got busy researching dog care, puppy-proofing every possible danger and purchased pet insurance.

No ordinary looking Yorkie, my JaJa, now 11 years old, has metamorphosed from total puppy noir to her current shade of silver body with namesake Zsa Zsa Gabor-esqe platinum blonde head.

Yes, this blonde does have lots of fun. JaJa is my neighborhood’s “ambassador of happiness” as she shares her love with everyone she meets. Every moment with JaJa has been a joy that’s almost indescribable. My life now seems more in balance, more in the present—I just look at JaJa and little else seems quite so important.

While I wouldn’t change a moment of our life together, JaJa has been diagnosed with lymphangiectasia, a disease where the intestines leak protein instead of absorbing them. Because Mom and Ja’s wise veterinarian work in tandem as a close, caring team, JaJa is doing great. She stoically endures blood tests every month, enjoys four daily meals of special food and is taking the smallest dose of prednisone that keeps her stable.

For most of my life, when asked what I wanted for Christmas, I’d instantly answer, “a puppy”. Each Christmas I get my wish. Every day feels like Christmas. I treasure my album filled with every annual “Certificate of Blessing” and the accompanying photos another dog parent so kindly offers to take.

I can hardly wait for the “Blessing of the Animals” Christmas Eve 2011 – our eleventh Christmas blessing to mutually celebrate.But, JaJa and I are already blessed…we have each other.

Karen L. Miller
New York, N.Y.

The Absolute Heart of his Family

Me and my dog Spike have been close pals for years now. Ever since I received him for my birthday we have been always by each others’ side. We are constantly playing together in the yard and the snow. His favorite is riding a snow tube with me during the Christmas season! Although he hates the cold, he usually enjoys coming outside for a little while to take some rides on the tube! During the Christmas season my family spends a lot of quality time together, and that includes Spike. Whenever we are done playing or get too tired to continue we always head back inside for some hot cocoa and a doggie treat. Of course for him this is basically Christmas! He absolutely loves being spoiled and played with. Spike is the absolute heart of this family and we would be nowhere without him! He is the absolute best pet in the world! I should probably go though, I think he is looking to go outside in this crazy snow that the East Coast has been getting! Hope everyone there has a great new year and Happy 10th Anniversary!!!!!!

Michael Hickey
Fishkill, N.Y.

Christmas Day in the Snow

The picture you see is of my dog Lilly and I on Christmas day in the snow. It just so happens that it only snows once every five years down south in Dallas, Texas. Since Lilly is only one, it was her first Christmas and first snow! She was so excited but confused at the same time, she would run in the snow and get lost and then she would shoot out of the snow with balls of snow stuck in her hair that took hours of melting to get out. Lilly loved the snow on her first Christmas and loved opening her stocking full of squeaky toys and bones!

Haley Harris
Irving, Texas

A Christmas Pair

It was late evening, only a week before Christmas, when I received the call: Two tiny puppies were in need of foster care. At only a few days old, the brothers needed round-the-clock care " including bottle feeding, antibiotics to treat the pneumonia they had acquired after being abandoned, and lots of love.

It would have been easy to say, “No " I don’t have time with the holidays approaching.” Or, “We have too many animals already and I don’t want to get stuck with two more mouths to feed.”

But, to be honest, the thought hadn’t even crossed our mind. When we arrived home, it was immediate isolation for the two brothers. They were starving, wheezing from pneumonia and fading fast. So after a thorough checkup at the veterinarian and a list of instructions, we were in it deep.

After a week, signs of improvement. The pups began crawling, they cried out to us when hungry, and the whining was music to our ears. Whining meant survival and these two were definite survivors.

Christmas Day was their first day out of isolation and the many other animals were happy to welcome out new guests. The cat took it upon herself to guard them, the dogs taught them to play and together they learned new skills " such as escaping from pens, barking their disapproval, potty training and playing. By the time they reached 8 wks, they were ready to find a new home and within a day, they did.

It was the best holiday gift we’ve ever given to one another, my husband and I, and has since become a new tradition. The first week of December, we check out the most needy animals and provide them a place to stay until we can find them a home. Fostering pets has been an amazing holiday gift " one that my entire family feels great about. It is, after all, the season of giving.

Stacy Mantle
Queen Creek, Ariz.

Boomer Keeps Me and My Family on our Toes

Boomer, my 2 1/2 yr old Shih-tzu has a mind of his own!! He keeps me and my family on our toes, not knowing when his mood might “swing” on us. I bought boomer this Santa outfit this Christmas in order to take pictures with him (because I do consider him my “son”). Therefore he gets what he wants, however, I’m not sure that the outfit is something that he wanted. For some reason or another, Boomer strongly dislikes my brother with a passion. So, in order for my brother to get near Boomer, the Santa outfit comes into play. As soon as I put the outfit on Boomer, he seems to be afraid to move. If there there is any movement, it’s either to his stocking because he knows there are goodies in it or to the kitchen to beg for food! I am under the impression that he is not quite sure what is on him, or he is highly embarrassed to have this on him which limits his mobility! Everyone thinks it is hilarious, but with the look Boomer has on his face, it seems to me that he does not like it at all. Boomer/Santa dog is now off to enjoy his goodies that he got in his stocking!

Lindsey Harris
Irving, Texas

Sandy Made Our House a Home

Eight years ago, two of my daughters and I went to our local animal shelter and came home with Sandy, a one year old that had been abused. She was all that we could ask for in a dog; cute, loyal, protective, and a family dog. That next year, while going through a divorce from my then husband, Sandy carried me through some very rough and lonely times, including the first weekend that my four daughters spent with their father. Sandy became something different to each person in my family; a playmate, a friend, and to me, a loyal guardian. She formed a special bond with my daughter, Jessica, who loved to play in the backyard with her, where Sandy would swim in the lake and chase away the ducks.

When I first heard about this contest, I immediately thought that it would be perfect for family, so I began filming little snippets of Sandy which I planned to use in the video. But on Tuesday, December 21, 2010, Sandy developed a worrisome cough and gradually stopped eating her food over the next two days. So on Thursday the 23rd, we dropped her off at our vet’s office, expecting to find out that she’s been spending too much time in the lake or something of that nature. However, that night, that veterinarian called with devastating news that changed our lives forever. Sandy was diagnosed with terminal cancer that had been, unknowingly to us, growing inside of her rib cage and had begun to crush her lungs. We were advised to euthanize her as soon as possible. We took our faithful friend home that night and the next morning, the entire family cried as she slowly went to sleep for the final time on Christmas Eve. Sandy was the best and most amazing friend that I could ever have asked for and she will never be forgotten.

The most memorable Christmas moment that my family spent with Sandy was the very first Christmas after my divorce. Sandy made our house a home and truly was an angel….. I would just like to thank the creators of this contest, because without them, I would never have shot those video clips that my family can now look back at and remember Sandy.

Joelle Bergau
Fort Meyers, Fla.

When Winter Comes Around

When winter comes around, my cat, Mr. Cotterson, and I start doing more indoor activities. It gets too cold outside for him to be chasing birds and playing with chipmunks. Although, he has succeeded in bringing both indoors. =/ We spend most nights laying by the fire or all cuddled up on the couch as I read to him the boring, yet required books for my cognitive psychology class. He also enjoys sitting on my lap and attacking my computer as the cursor moves back and forth. He’s only in this chill mode at night because during the day he spends most of his time fighting to get his cute Christmas collar off and hiding it in a spot where it will not be found ever again. We struggle to keep a tree in the house during the holidays because Mr. Cotterson loves the attention he gets when we walk in the room and he’s clinging to the top, trying to reach his favorite hand-made ornament. We love the holidays!!!! =)

Courtney Armistead

Driving Home with Dutch

Halloween of 2008 I broke up with a girlfriend. Being lonely, an ad for an older golden retriever caught my eye. He was 100 miles away; I drove the 100 miles. When I got to the house, the lady was a foster house for dogs. She said that he had “hot spots” on his lower and upper neck. Dutch and I drove 100 miles back to his new home. After his checkup at the vet we learned that his lower neck was cut open by a shock collar and his upper neck was cut by a choke chain. He now wears a harness when he goes for walks or car rides. All of this taking place not long before Christmas. My parents got him a four-foot long bone that got stuck in every doorway, which is now a tradition for Dutch. He enjoys having a dog door that leads to a fenced yard, a couch to watch t.v, and a bed to sleep on.

Johnathan Hutchins
Ypsilanti, Mich.

Belle the Wiley Little Thing

We are a cat family to begin with… there is no doubt whatever about that. That makes conjuring up a holiday memory with the furriest members of the family (not counting uncle Bill) an easy task, but choosing one above all the others is a little tougher. The most appropriate, I’d reckon, took place 15 years ago. It’s the first year our tabby, Grizzabella (Belle) got a taste of a family Christmas. She was just months old " a gift we as a family got ourselves a few months after losing General. He was a hard-nosed street cat that ended up the victim to some other specimen of southern wildlife. Losing him was the first feeling of real loss I can remember. But I digress.

In ’95 Belle was a nimble, wiley little thing. As a cat person " those early months are exciting, entertaining, sometimes scary but always memorable. I thought she’d be terrified of a 50 year old Lionel toy locomotive… turned out she loved it. I thought she’d never get into that empty Pringles can… she did " and seemed quite cozy. Good times " but the moment my family recalls the most, Is when Belle shimmied up the Christmas tree.

It was Christmas eve… and as is family tradition, we turned out the lights to sit around the tree. Amy Grant’s Christmas album was on. Belle, having trouble maneuvering her tiny frame around the gifts, dug her little claws into the tree and headed up. A few feet off the ground, she ventured onto a limb. My mom, ready with the camera, caught the moment as our kitten looked out at a family geeking out, sharing in her new discovery. Since that moment, every year, we mention that first adventure. Belle made an indellible mark on Christmas at the house. She’s as much connected to the family holiday as is the smell of the tree, the schmaltzy warmth of Amy Grant, and the feeling of having everyone at home to visit. In 2 weeks, at some point, we’ll tell the story again. Belle, now too old to go climbing Christmas trees, will sit as she usually does on the ottoman. Her gift, as it is every year, will be a sea of wrapping paper to explore and conceal herself in as we eat breakfast. Her gift to us though, is a memory and a connection we’ll never forget.

Taylor Kearns
Columbia, S.C.

Kai’s Christmas Acting Debut

“This will be my first holiday with my dog Kai. She was the runt ofthe litter, and although she’s super comfortable with me, she can bevery skittish around other people. One of my dreams since I was a kidwas to have a dog that was just one of my best friends, and theanimal-human barrier was nonexistent.

I do a web series and was working on a Christmas episode and wantedKai to be a part of it more than anything. I was worried about herbeing timid and scared, especially since there are multiple peoplepresent during the shoots.

We started shooting the scene, and she was beyond perfect. Kai wasthe best actresses I’ve ever had to direct, she nailed her parts andyou could just sense she was having fun. In between takes, she’d playwith people she had just be acquainted with a few moments ago.

It was a mix of the two things I love most: Kai and film. It was whatI needed after a long week of finals and getting over illness.

I could not imagine not having Kai, especially this time of the year.I’ve visited the local shelter here multiple times, and it’s crushingevery time and would love for any type of money to be donated.”

Dan Bakst
Tampa, Fla.

Craft Days Helps Greyhounds

I volunteer with GREAT, a Tampa greyhound rescue group. Every year, starting the day after Thanksgiving, Barnes and Noble Bookstore allows us to gift wrap for their patrons. The gift wrapping is free, donations accepted. We have many repeat ‘customers’ and raise a lot of much-needed funds for our group. Not only do customers donate for the gift wrap, many leave extra for the dogs. Throughout the year we have ‘craft days’ at which we create items to attach to the gifts to make them even more special. It is amazing what our group can do with donated wine corks, old Christmas cards, popsicle sticks, acorns, walnuts, felt, glitter, ink, and glue! Each year at this time I look forward to volunteering at the B&N and raising money for our group.

Dice (greyhound) and Elsie (Chihuahua) are best friends. They are both rescued animals and love hanging out together. We have many greyhounds in foster homes and many more still at the farm (retired or otherwise no longer needed). As you know, fostering is the first step to placing these loving and gentle couch-potatoes in their forever home.

Shelley Perfect, Dice, and Elsie
Tampa, Fla.

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