Every December 21, I pause in the midst of all the hectic preparations for Christmas to hold my little boy dachshund, Park, just a little closer and give thanks for the treasures he has brought since he joined our family on this fateful date in 2006.
How could I have known the day we met he would bring such companionship, love and countless gifts into my life? Maybe if I had known, I wouldn’t have been so hesitant to scoop him up the minute I laid eyes on him—a puppy in the pet store who had the uncanny ability to stand straight up on his hind legs, comfortably balancing himself for remarkably long periods of time.
It was September 2006 when my husband, Gregg, and our two dachshunds, Madison Weatherbee and Lexington, went for a walk in Port Jefferson and wound up at the local pet store.
The girl behind the counter looked at our brood and said, “You’re dachshund people. There’s a little boy here who needs some attention.” And with that, she reached into one of the cages behind the sales counter and produced a little longhaired black and tan dachshund.
As she rested him on the counter, he went into that adorable doxie clown mode and stood way up on hind legs. He kept that pose amidst oooohs and aaaahs from passersby. He certainly left a big impression, but owning three dogs was something I never entertained.
Once his little act ended, he was sent back to the cage behind the counter and we went home. That was just our first encounter with the boy.
Every time Gregg and I went to Port Jefferson, we’d stop at the pet store sure that the pup would be gone, but he remained in that cage, waiting.
As time went on, things got pathetic for this little doxie puppy. He was moved from the preferred placement at the front of the store to being that puppy in the window with a pal, a longhaired red dachshund.
On one visit, I asked to hold the red doxie and immediately realized he didn’t have the sweet, gentle nature of his black and tan counterpart.
The next time I visited, the red doxie was gone, but the black and tan boy was now in a cage at the front of a long line of cages. It puzzled me how anyone could prefer the red rambunctious doxie over the black and tan gentleman.
A few weeks later, he had been moved to one of the middle cages in the long line. Then, finally, he was relegated to the very last cage in the back of the store.
On December 20, 2006, Gregg and I went to Port Jefferson again, curious to see if the boy was still there. We fantasized that a loving young couple came to the store, recognized this was indeed a very special pup and he was gone.
When we got there, I couldn’t go inside. I told Gregg to go in and come back with happy news that he had found his forever home.
I went into a nearby boutique, trying to busy myself, half looking at items, and anxious for the update.
Gregg rushed back to me, alarm etched on his face. “Not only is he still there, but he looks despondent!” That was the word Gregg used: “despondent.”
I hurried out of the boutique and dashed down the block to the pet store. I ran to the far back part of the store and sure enough, there he was with his face turned toward the wall.
I called, “Park! Park!” I had the name, an unusual name but the perfect one if he was to join Madison and Lexington in our doxie pack.
Upon hearing my voice, he looked over his shoulder and stared into my eyes. His unspoken words screamed out, “If you don’t get me out of this hell hole, don’t bother to come back!”
Gregg leaned over my shoulder and asked, “What should we do?”
I looked from Gregg back to that sad little pup who had been stuck behind those bars for the past four months and then fled from the pet store.
Conflicting thoughts flooded in. It was December 20, four days before Christmas Eve when we would host our family dinner. We had plans to go to my sister’s house for Christmas Day. On top of the hectic Christmas schedule, I was opening in the comedy, How the Other Half Loves, a New Year’s show at Arena Repertory Theater, and I still had to memorize the last remaining scenes. On top of that was the gnawing hesitation that I’d never owned a male dog. Was I entering into a completely unknown world?
I was overwhelmed with worry.
We left Port Jefferson and the sad little pup behind.
The next day, on Monday, December 21, I had to teach, but Gregg started his Christmas break. When I got home, I headed for my study, complaining that I had to get those lines memorized.
But Gregg said, “You can’t do that right now.”
I halted and looked at him.
Gregg went on, “Well, I went back to Port Jefferson to the pet store and he was still there, and well, now he’s ours—Merry Christmas! He’s your Christmas present!”
I looked around expecting the pup to come bounding out from another room.
“He’s at the pet store being groomed right now. I wanted us to pick him up together like we did with Madison and Lexington. So, come on, let’s get your Christmas present. When we get home, you can go into your study to work and I’ll take care of the little guy,” Gregg said.
Conflicting feelings rushed in—excitement, anticipation, hesitation, worry and concern. Could I do everything I needed to get done?
We went to pick up the little pup. He was ushered out from the grooming room, long black fur gleaming and a proud blue bow bobbing around his neck.
Park was placed in my arms and from that day to this—he is now 12.5 years old—he has never been far from my hugs and kisses. He is my Velcro boy, always there for me. When I’m sad, he licks my tears away. When I’m up in the middle of the night, I hear those now familiar footsteps. He peeks at me from down the hall, then stays by my side watching over me until sleep returns. He is my constant companion, needing to always be within sight of me.
He is my traveling companion. Wherever we go, people flock to him and he does his sitting up trick, making children and adults giggle with delight. Several times while we walked together, cars have stopped and people called out, “That’s the most beautiful dog I’ve ever seen!”
I thank them and then shake my head and wonder how such a magnetic little man spent his early puppy life in a cage behind bars, completely passed over by all the people who came in and out of that well-trafficked store.
The Port Jefferson Community Center had an exhibition a few years back called Pets of Port, and I entered two photos of Park for consideration. Both were accepted. When I met with the gallery curator, he bubbled about how handsome Park looked in his Christmas photo, which had been chosen to anchor an entire section of the gallery.
Oh, and that Christmas Eve in 2006, everything that I had worried about worked out smoothly. I had dinner ready for our guests who gushed over Park, the hit of the evening—the Christmas puppy. And I didn’t miss one line on opening night of that New Year’s show.