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Mount Creative Writers

A Howling Good Christmas

Chelsea Baranoski

(12/2010) Howls and meows bounced off the beige, stained concrete walls of Purrís Pound. Basset Hounds, Labradors, Chihuahuas, mutts, Siamese cats, tabbies, and Persians paced in their cages. It was Christmas Eve and the pound was open late in the hopes of giving as many animals as possible a chance to be adopted. All of the animals in the pound were starting to worry. Would anyone ever adopt them? Would they be able to spend Christmas by the fireside in a house that smelled like freshly baked sugar cookies and peppermint sticks? Would they be able to cuddle against the feet of proud owners while yuletide carols played in the background? The animals were crossing their paws and praying for a miracle.

Two of the animals at the pound, Toby the Basset Hound and Tabitha the tabby cat, had been locked in the poundís cages for as long as they could remember. They were both brought there when they were young. Their owners did not have room in their houses for Toby and Tabitha, so they placed ads in the Pennysaver and let all of their friends, family, and co-workers know that they were looking for a caring home for their pets. Unfortunately, no one answered their ads. They brought Toby and Tabitha to the pound in the hopes that they would find owners with big hearts and warm, comfortable homes. One year later, Toby and Tabitha were still at the pound, waiting for someone to care for them. They were afraid of what awaited them if they were not adopted before Christmas.

Toby rubbed his wet brown nose against his wire cage. His sad big brown eyes stared at a frosted window in the corner of the room. He saw large, glittering white snowflakes falling from the midnight blue sky. Toby wished he could go outside and play in the snow, even though he knew he would probably freeze his tail off. He dreamt of chasing after sleighs and sleeping in snow forts. He longed to breathe in the fresh December air and the smell of Christmas firs.

Toby glanced over at Tabitha. She was curled up in a ball in the cage next to him. Her pale blue eyes met Tobyís. She let out a faint meow. Toby knew Tabitha was also dreaming of a Christmas far away from the pound. After spending one year together, Toby could read Tabithaís every thought by a twitch of a whisker or a flick of her tail.

Indeed, Tabitha was praying that she would get a new home for her Christmas present. She had heard stories about St. Nick from the Yorkshire Terrier twins, but the twins told her that he never visited the pound. She prayed that he would stop this year and bring some folks to adopt her and her pound-mates. She believed in miracles and told herself that she would never stop believing in a home for Christmas.

Tabithaís stomach grumbled under her striped amber fur. She never seemed to be full during her time at the pound. She longed for Fancy Feast meals, fresh milk, and albacore tuna. She licked her lips at the thought of such a tantalizing meal. The only food Tabitha had eaten lately seemed like it tasted like sour smelling milk and fishy smelling leftovers. Tabitha did not care if her new owners were not master chefs like Curtis Stone, but she figured that anything would be better than the unappetizing pound food.

****

Tabitha and Toby paced back and forth in their cages. They had been pacing for two hours and if they continued much longer, they felt sure that they would be the faces of a new animal weight loss commercial. They looked at each other, cocked their furry little heads, and peered up at the clock. The clock struck 8:00 P.M. Toby and Tabitha were starting to give up hope. It looked as though Christmas morning would be spent laying on the cold floor of their cages instead of the plush carpet of a country cottage. Toby closed his large brown eyes. It was no use. He might as well get a good nightís rest. Tabitha, on the other hand, started pacing around her cage again. She was in the middle of devising a masterful plan to escape the cramped confines of the pound when she heard a noise that sounded like a creaking door.

Sure enough, the door to the pound swung open and an elderly couple walked inside. Snow fell off of their wool pea coats and onto the floor. The elderly man and woman each shook the hand of the owner of the pound, Mr. Monroe. Tabitha felt the fur on her back stand on end. She purred loudly to wake up Toby. Toby yawned and pawed at his eyes. He couldnít believe it. Why was this couple spending their Christmas Eve at the pound? Toby watched the couple glance at the many wire cages. Most of the other animals were asleep. If they knew that the elderly man and woman were at the pound, there surely would have been a noisy ruckus that could have been heard two towns over.

Toby and Tabitha pressed their noses to their cages and listened to the elderly couple talk to Mr. Monroe.

"My name is Nick and this is my wife, Natalie," the elderly man told Mr. Monroe. We were on our way back from Christmas Eve services and we figured we would stop by and take a look around. You see, we just lost our beloved cat, Calico three months ago and we have been lonely ever since." A single tear slid down Nickís flushed cheeks. He took out a crisp white handkerchief from his back pants pocket and blew his nose.

"Calico was a wonderful cat," Natalie piped in. "She was like the child we never had. I miss her curling up against my feet and meowing when she wanted another saucer of milk. When Nick was at work in the toy factory, Calico kept me company. When Nick went to Florida to visit his sick aunt Louisa, Calico kept me company. She was the friendliest cat and she was the best listener. When Nick didnít want to listen to my stories about Bingo and the Ladiesí Club at church, I told them to Calico. And you know what? I think she understood every word I said."

"As you see misterÖ" Nick trailed off.

"Mister Monroe," the owner said, flashing a toothy smile.

"Yes, Mr. Monroe," Nick echoed. "We are looking for a new pet to make our family whole again."

"I see. Well, feel free to look around and let me know if any of the animals catch your eye."

"Will do, Mr. Monroe," Nick said, with a friendly twinkle in his eye.

A surge of panic rushed through Tobyís furry body. Did he hear correctly? Was this couple only looking for one pet? What if the couple picked Tabitha and he was left without his best friend? He figured that Nick and Natalie must be cat lovers, since they obviously adored their cat, Calico. They would never find room in their hearts for a little Basset Hound with big brown eyes and droopy ears.

Nick and Natalie stopped at Tabithaís cage. Tabitha meowed softly. She thought Nick looked a lot like the Yorkshire twinsí description of St. Nick. He had a white beard, twinkling eyes, and rosy cheeks. He looked like he belonged on the front of a Christmas card. Natalie poked her skinny fingers through the cage to pet Tabitha. Tabitha closed her eyes and purred in contentment. Natalie smiled and looked at Nick. "Isnít she beautiful?" Natalie asked Nick. Tabitha smiled. St. Nick might give her the Christmas present she wished for!

"Sheís definitely a sweetheart," Nick said, putting his arm around Natalieís shoulder. "But why donít we keep looking around? There are so many pets here that need good homes."

Natalie let out a loud sigh. "Ok, hon. Letís keep looking."

Nick stopped in front of Tobyís cage. Toby wagged his tail wildly when he saw Nick and Natalie. Nickís eyes lit up. "You know what, Natalie? Iíve heard Basset Hounds are great ho-ho-ho-hunting companions and I could really use a good dog to help me out in the woods."

"You and your hunting," Natalie teased. Natalie grabbed Nickís hand and they continued walking through the pound. They saw the poodles, the retrievers, Himalayan cats, and American shorthair cats.

After what seemed like years of waiting, Nick and Natalie returned to Toby and Tabithaís cages. Toby heard a click. He looked up to see Mr. Monroe unlocking Tabithaís cage. Toby sunk down on the ground and covered his eyes with his floppy ears. He didnít want Tabitha to see him so upset. Then, Toby heard another click. He flopped his ears back. This lock was the lock to his cage! He and Tabitha were going to stay together after all! Toby skidded out of the cage and jumped up on Nick and Natalie, licking their hands in gratitude.

To Toby and Tabithaís surprise, they were not the only pets Nick and Natalie took home that day. They also adopted Chico the Chihuahua and Callie the Calico cat. Nick and Natalie knew that the old animals could teach the younger animals the ways of the world. Toby and Tabitha had heard stories about Chico and Callie. They were sent to the pound after their owner died. Chico and Callie had given up hope of spending Christmas in a warm, loving home. Their gray fur-lined eyes widened in disbelief when they saw Nick and Natalie coming near them. When Nick and Natalie petted Chico and Callieís old, matted-down fur, relief filtered through their bodies. They knew they were going to be ok. They would never need to set foot in the pound again.

****

When Toby, Tabitha, Chico, and Callie stepped into Nick and Natalieís house on 100 North Pole Lane, their eyes grew wide. The air smelled of Christmas firs mixed with sugar cookies and peppermint sticks. A bright green wreath hung above the red brick fireplace and a tall Douglas fir tree stood in front of the window, lit with tiny white lights. The soft sound of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" bounced from wall to wall.

Nick and Natalie sat beside each other on the mint green couch. Toby, Tabitha, Chico, and Callie cuddled against their feet.

"I guess you better get going, Nick," Natalie said, nudging Nickís pudgy arm. "All of the kids are waiting."

"Ok, dear," Nick said, getting up from the sofa and trying not to step on any tails. He pulled on a red coat and grabbed a velvety red bag.

Toby, Tabitha, Chico, and Callie looked at each other. All of their Christmas wishes came true.

Chelsea was the 2010 recipient of the
Mountís William Heath Creative Writing Award

Read other articles by Chelsea Baranoski