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               ...a dog is the friend who licks your face when you have forgotten how to smile...

 

...and a heart filled with love is the most precious thing. It can accomplish more than you know...

                                                                                       

black lab               The glossy oak finish of the roll-top clattered shut on her antique desk. Winifred Taylor Margolis----Winnie to those who knew her well----held a check for $35,000. made out to the local county animal shelter.

               She carefully folded the letter in with the check, slipped them into a large envelope, and sealed it shut. It would soon be on its way, and she knew it would be the source of much happiness.

               Winnie helped everyone. It was her goal in life. And in return, she was loved by all.

               It was ten days before Christmas, and this monetary contribution would cover the adoption fees of all the dogs and cats currently housed at the facility.

               Winnie had done her homework well. She always did. It was just her way.

               She had multiplied the number of kennels and the number of dogs in them--usually two--by the adoption fee to come up with the total cost.

               Again, by counting the number of cages, she had included cats and had allowed an additional sum for any last-minute arrivals.

               If there was any leftover money, she was sure the shelter could put it to good use for food, supplies, and future adoptions.

               To guarantee her success, she had even contacted the former animal shelter director. They had been good friends in their younger days. This way she knew her calculations were much better than ballpark. She didn't want any animals left out of the equation.

               To many, it was an obscene amount of money, but not to Winnie. She knew not to let the almighty dollar rule her life. She also believed that she needed to spread her wealth and use it for good or it would turn on her as it had so many others. Sharing was one of her ways of helping anyone she could, anytime she could.

               Sitting beside her was her own dog, Henrietta, an eight-year-old black Labrador retriever, a gift from her mailman, Frank Calhoun. She would need to remember to give him the envelope on this morning's mail run. No need for a delay in making this thought a reality.

               Frank had given her the dog just after her husband, Henry, had passed away. She didn't really want a dog. She just wanted to be left alone with her grief.

               Every morning, like clockwork, the dog would wake the 82-year-old widow, and together they would walk around the block for their daily constitutional. The dog made her life worth living by energizing every minute of the day.

               Her husband had been her entire existence; without him, she was at a loss. Over the years she had kept his memory alive by perpetuating his benevolent deeds. Money was no object. Henry had provided her with enough to be safe and secure for the rest of her days and then some.

               When Henrietta came into her life, everything changed. Just a little affection from a dog can change a whole situation. And it changed hers. It was love without limits. She didn't replace her husband, but she made her world and her life whole again.

               Returning the dog's gaze, Winnie gently grabbed the dog's snout and said to her, "When I look into your eyes, I see a holiday. It's like Christmas, and it's that way every single day. And this year we are going to make it a fine Christmas for all of the animals at the shelter."

               Winnie enjoyed doing good for the community, which in many ways, had enriched her life. Now it was her privilege to repay it, and she looked forward to completing the project.

               When she did something for someone, or when she brought joy into their life----a song went off in her heart that made her happy. That song let her know that what she was doing was right---right for everyone concerned.

               Helping animals had always been one of her guiding principles. With this gesture, she was able to do it on a grand scale.

               Her phone, which was located in the hall study, began to ring. Henrietta barked repeatedly to alert Winnie.

               As she rose from her chair, she looked back at her dog and spoke, "Regardless of what people tell you, Henrietta, older is definitely better:  fine wine, hand crafted antiques, and the good life. Too many people don't make it and don't get to enjoy it."

               Henrietta knew that Winnie had the ability to make the ringing stop, something she always appreciated. The dog hated the phone and the incessant sounds it made. Barking was her way of retaliating, her self-defence against the enemy sitting on the end table.

               Winnie grabbed for the receiver on its sixth ring.

               "Hello," she said.

               "Mom, Mom, it's Mary Louise. I was holding her hand at the mall and all of a sudden, she slipped away. I can't find her anywhere."

               On the phone was Winnie's daughter, Tina, just shy of hysterical. Mary Louise was Winnie's five-year-old granddaughter. They had gone to the mall Christmas shopping and were supposed to come over for dinner later that same evening.

               Winnie said to her daughter, "I'll be right there. I'll meet you at the food court."

               In an instant, Winnie hung up and dialled the taxi company. She didn't like to drive anymore. She just didn't feel safe with so many distracted drivers crowding the roadways.

               When she got off the phone with the cab company, she turned looking at her dog and said, "Okay, Henrietta, you need to take care of the house while I'm gone. I'm going to the mall to look for our little girl, Mary Louise. And you know you can't go with me as much as I would like to have you. Only assistance dogs are allowed. But I'll be back; don't you worry."

               The dog jumped up and gave Winnie a lick on the face. She smiled down at her dog who was looking up at her and said, "Henrietta----a dog is the friend who licks your face when you have forgotten how to smile----right?" And Winnie knew she was.

               It had been true for her, and she knew it would be true for others who gave a dog a chance. The repayment was magical.

               The cabbie, Mike Carol, who was on a first name basis with Winnie, got her to the mall in record time. He was a retired marine she had helped when he was between careers. Through her generosity, he was able to get his cabbie license faster than most.

               Winnie's daughter, Tina, was waiting for her at the food court. The smells from the area wafted over their meeting place temporarily distracting Winnie; but only for a moment. Immediately thoughts of all the places they should look came to mind.

               "Oh, Mom, Mom," she began, "I don't know how this happened. I had her hand, and then the next thing I knew I wasn't holding onto anything. She was gone in just a matter of seconds."

               Tina had met with mall security, and announcements regarding the lost child were being made over the PA system every 15 minutes. They described Mary Louise to a T, and there was no mistaking her powder-blue dress with the white lace collar and her curly blonde hair. In her left hand Tina was clutching her daughter's white coat with the fake-fur trim.

               Winnie said to Tina, "You take this level, and be sure to check the pet store. I'll go down to the first level where the toy store is and we'll meet back here in the court in 30 minutes. Now go."

               She watched her daughter walk off thinking to herself, "Time is everything with people and, of course, the dogs you love. You can never get enough." Again, she knew it was the magic.

               Winnie walked as fast as she could to the down escalator. The thirty minutes of fruitless searching passed in a blur. Winnie was back----empty-handed----waiting for her daughter. She was surveying the occupants of the food court when she spotted an old friend and his companion.

 seeing eye dog              Seated in front of the Oriental Garden Restaurant was Angus MacIntyre, Winnie's former garbage collector, and his seeing-eye dog, Mr. Jingles, a white Labrador retriever.

               Angus had collected garbage on Winnie's street for over twenty-two years.   A degenerative eye disease had caused his blindness, and now he was on Social Security disability.

               Through her compassionate ways, she had made sure that Angus was provided with the first seeing-eye dog that became available in their area. In fact, if she remembered correctly, Angus had received a very special dog.

               Since Tina had not yet returned, Winnie walked over to where the man and his dog were sitting.

               "Hello, Angus. Hello, Mr. Jingles."

               Angus, of course, recognized Winnie's voice.

               "Good day, Ms. Margolis. So good to see you again. How have you been?"

               "Fine, Angus, just fine. Angus, did you not tell me when you got Mr. Jingles that he had originally started his training as a search and rescue dog?"

               "Yes, Ma'am, he was the top dog in his class, but they switched him to seeing-eye training so that he would be available to me in a shorter period of time. Ms. Winnie I want to thank you ever so much for helping me get Mr. Jingles. You'll never know how much he has helped me.

              " Jingles sees love every time he sees me. His love is magic. And a heart filled with love is the most precious thing. It can accomplish more than you know."

               "Look, Angus, I really need your help in return. My granddaughter, Mary Louise, is

lost somewhere in this mall. Do you think Mr. Jingles could find her?  Would he do that for me? I mean I'm sure he never leaves your side. But just this once, do you think it's possible?"

               "I'd be willing to give it a try," Angus replied. "Mr. Jingles loves me, and he listens to me real good."

               Tina had returned----also empty-handed----and was listening to the conversation.

               "Tina," Winnie said, "let me have Mary Louise's coat. It has her scent, and just maybe Mr. Jingles can help us."

               Winnie placed the coat in Angus's hands.

               "This is hers. Hopefully it will be enough for the dog to find her."

               "Mr. Jingles," Angus said to the Lab as he removed the dog's walking harness, but not his identifying assistance vest.

               He held the dog's full attention and then, while holding the girl's coat under his snout, Angus said, "Seek, seek Mr. Jingles, seek."

               With that the dog left Angus's side, and took off across the food court.

               Together, Winnie and Tina followed the dog as well as they could, never letting him out of their sight.

               "Looks like he's headed to the pet store. You did check there?" Winnie asked her daughter quizzically.

               "I did, I did, I checked the entire store----front to back. I don't see how I could have missed her."

          The dog rushed in through the open door of the pet store, knowing where his nose was leading him--his quarry nearby.

               Towards the back of the store was a conglomeration of all sizes of pet beds—stacks and stacks--side by side--and fairly high.

               In the back corner of one of the stacks, a powder-blue dress could be seen sticking out.

               Mr. Jingles immediately sat with his snout pointing at the bedding and the sleeping little girl.

               That night, they gathered around Winnie's Christmas tree to sing carols:  Winnie, Tina, Mary Louise, Angus, and the two dogs, Mr. Jingles and Henrietta.

               Mary Louise stood between the two dogs, holding onto their collars for support, and singing at the top of her lungs.

               They had had dinner and had drunk steaming hot chocolate. The empty mugs scattered about the room still permeated the air with the cocoa's richness.

               All were thankful for the outcome of the day's harrowing events.

               "Mary Louise, who's your new friend?" Winnie asked her granddaughter.

               "Mr. Jingles, just like the song says, 'Jingle all the way'," Mary Louise replied. "Except Mr. Jingles saved the day."

               "You're so right, and everyone deserves a friend," Winnie agreed. "Isn't that right, Henrietta?"    

               The always attentive dog's response was an enthusiastic bark.

James Colasanti Jr

 

About the author:  James has been nominated seven times by the Dog Writers Association of America, and has been awarded four Maxwell Medallions for excellence in storytelling.  The past president of the Greensboro Animal Rescue & Foster Program shares his home with his housemate, Sam, and six rescue dogs.  He is recently retired from Barnes & Noble Bookstore at Friendly Center.

His stories have appeared in Cesar's Way, New York Dog, O.Henry Magazine, Triad Happy Tails, Greensboro News & Record, Simply Pets, and many others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Cats Prayer

Lead me down all the right paths,
Keep me from fleas, bees, and baths.
Let me in should it storm,
Keep me safe, fed, and warm.

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