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Saint: The Best Hanukkah Gift

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THE GREATEST GIFT “Dogs are great,” John Grogan wrote in Marley and Me. “Bad dogs, if you can really call them that, are perhaps the greatest of them all.” (Illustration:

Saint was the dog I did not want. Here’s how he became mine: My husband (now former) took my daughters (then 7 and 10) into his closet 13 years ago and shut the door. “Let’s get Mommy a dog for Hanukkah,” he said. And that is how I became a mom to a shaggy black goldendoodle from Alabama.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want this dog. I actually spent hours researching and choosing him, a fuzzy baby boy with a blue bow around his neck. It’s that I didn’t want any dog. I didn’t need anyone else to bathe or feed or potty train, thank you very much. But once the idea of that Hanukkah present was spoken into my children’s universe, there was no turning back. 

It was July when my gift arrived at Intercontinental Airport. My mother, my girls, and I were waiting for him with treats and an orange collar that had streetcars and oysters printed on it. We named him Saint for the New Orleans Saints, who had won the Super Bowl earlier that year.

For two days or so, our sweet puppy slept in everyone’s arms. Then he woke up. Our new life had begun.

Two weeks in, Saint jumped in the pool and inhaled water or something – I can’t remember. Whatever it was, that’s when our veterinarian became our special friend. 

Overnight, our tiny puppy morphed into a 70-pound Snuffleupagus lookalike who loved my younger daughter, smaller than he, a little too much (meaning he mounted her every chance he got). What had I agreed to? I had a giant toddler who didn’t understand English and didn’t wear a diaper.

Our family joined a puppy training class, the kind where everyone gathers in a big circle holding their dogs on leashes and smiling at how sweet they all are. Saint escaped our hold, ran the perimeter of the circle three times with his tongue hanging out, bolted into the center of the circle, and pooped. We were escorted out and invited not to come back.

Four months into this new world, my husband and I separated. I was now a single mom of two precious girls and one very cute terror who I hadn’t wanted and had no idea how to control. In the midst of trying to hold everyone together and rebuild our lives, Saint regularly escaped in the early morning carpool hours, bearing down the street full force while neighbors came out of their houses and stopped their cars to help run him down. 

Chew toys were no match for scissors. Saint ate those, shoes, eyeglasses, an antique table (still has the scars), a play date’s dress, a stapler – plus more chocolate than he should have survived (with only two-ish stomach pumps). Sticks of butter on the counter wouldn’t last 10 minutes. I’d make cookies and come home confused – where had they gone? At his first birthday party (one daughter made invitations and delivered them to all the neighbors and their dogs), the birthday boy helped himself to an entire box of red velvet (i.e., chocolate) cupcakes. 

Saint was the giant galloping into the veterinary waiting room as the front desk attendants smiled and said There comes Saint, just before he whipped his leash – and me – around in a tornado trying to say hi to everyone as they watched and laughed, or gave me the look like Why aren’t you controlling your dog…and keep him away from mine.

He was the dog who broke one daughter’s arm chasing a squirrel and who thought he was a 70-pound lap dog in my 60-pound daughter’s lap. Contrary to goldendoodle promise, he shed like crazy. He was a lot of dog. If ever I intimated he was too much dog, my daughter was quick to remind me: He was her best friend. 

Saint was everyone’s friend – he wouldn’t take no for an answer. Just last year, we happened to go to a new vet in San Antonio. Saint ran into the office to meet everyone, and nobody could believe he wasn’t a puppy.

With all of that, what he most wanted was to have his head in someone’s lap and a permanent seat on top of my feet. 

In Saint fashion, he died on October 4 – the day of Saint Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals. Our un-saintly Saint, the guy who terrorized me, loved us all, and saw us through so much life, turned out to be the real deal for my girls and me.

Wishing you the Happiest Hanukkah and Merriest Christmas, and memories – or maybe future memories – of your own best present ever.

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