"Did you hear that?" the old dog shouted. They all ran to the front of
their kennel doors to see if someone was coming to "pick them." "Sorry," he
said to the other dogs as his ears fell down from their perked position.
"I could have sworn I heard voices saying, 'Isn't he cute?
It's Christmas, can't we take him home with us?'"
"You must have been dreaming again old man,"
said the dog in thecage next to him. "Anyway, what's the big deal about
getting picked up as a Christmas gift. We've all been through that routine
and look where it got us."

The word "home" meant little to these shelter dogs. "Just once, I'd like
to feel the warmth of a hand stroking my head," said the old dog. "I'd like
to be the one who kisses the tears off a sad face. I'd like to curl up next
to a fire instead of this cold concrete. It hurts my bones." He curled up
and sighed as the others said, "The only place you're going to find that is
in your dreams old man."

Hank's wife had only been gone a year but the pain was as fresh as if time
had stood still. He was an old man now, alone and longed for the comfort
that he knew no other person would ever be able to give to him again. What
would his life become without her by his side?

Hank's cupboards were close to bare now and, although he didn't want to go
out, he knew he should at least pick up the basics. He drove slowly down the
side streets, for freeway driving had become too challenging. Suddenly, the
car started chugging and sputtering until finally the engine quit
altogether. One of the basic needs he forgot was fuel for the car! So he
coasted over next to the curb, spotting a building within walking distance.
Hopefully, they'd let him use their phone...

He walked into an office area and rang the bell for service but no one
came. He spotted another door going outside, failing to notice the sign
posted "Employees Only." As Hank walked out, he was overwhelmed by yaps,
barks and insane jumping from dogs all sizes and shapes. He then realized he
had unintentionally gone to the dog shelter. Slowly he walked down the
concrete aisle looking for an attendant.

Three kennels down on the right, the old dog calmly sat there. Why should
the old dog get excited? No one would want him. But, he sensed a need and
couldn't resist offering a kind look and a gentle wag of the tail. As Hank
neared the old dog's cage, he laced his fingers through the chain link to
steady his gait and the first feeling of comfort he'd remembered in over a
year came from a wet nose and lick across his arthritic fingers.

Just then a voice of authority sounded, and Hank jumped. "I'm sorry sir,
you aren't supposed to be in this area!" she said. Luckily Hank didn't know
he had walked into the "final area" where unclaimed dogs were scheduled to
be put down. There went the nudge and lick thing again. Hank looked down to
the most pleading eyes he'd ever seen. Ignoring the attendant's order to
leave, Hank asked if could he see the dog closer? Her demeanor changed
completely and her sternness melted away. She had forced herself to be this
way so she could do the part of her job she despised.

She brought the old dog out and instantly the two souls -- once so lost --
found reason to hope. Hank's cupboards were now filled, a warm fire crackled
and the old dog smiled inside as he remembered "only in your dreams."
Closing his eyes he felt Hank's hand stroking his head whispering "sleep in
heavenly peace." It was Christmas after all.

-- Shelly Guidotti