By Troy Kechely
heard a soft cough coming from the living room.
She stopped drying the dishes and went to investigate.
She saw Outlaw lying on his dog bed in front
of the fireplace, a scene she had become accustomed to over the last three
Her three other dogs were each
in their regular places on the two couches.
Their heads popped up wanting to see if Caitlyn had brought in any
Determining she hadn’t, they
laid down again and tried to fall back asleep.
All were still recovering from the past two days of Christmas
Caitlyn walked over to the
She sat down next to his
The dog’s soft brown eyes looked
up at her, though she knew he could barely see.
Even in the dim light of the smoldering fire and the lights of the
Christmas tree, she could still see how Outlaw’s right eye was a lighter color
than the other – the result of an untreated injury.
The vet had said that it was probably very
painful for him, and Caitlyn started treating it the moment she took the dog
in, but she wondered how many years he had suffered.
She gently caressed his head as he
laid it on her leg. She could feel the
scar on his ear and see the other one across the bridge of his nose. Down his
neck, she felt yet more scars. Each one
was a story of hardship, each one a tale of neglect and abuse.
first heard about Outlaw it was in an email from one of the members of the dog
rescue group she volunteered with.
shelter in Missoula was asking if there was any way for the group to take an
old Rottweiler who didn’t have long to live.
It was not uncommon for the group to take in such cases, trying to give
the dogs a few final good months of life.
What was uncommon was for a shelter
to make such a request. Usually they
would just euthanize the dog, but there was something special about this
one. As the communications rolled back
and forth, Outlaw’s story unfolded. His
name was fitting, as he had become a regular inmate of the shelter over a
ten-year period. Never for anything bad
- mostly misdemeanors such as dog-at-large or chasing cats. Each time, the family would come and bail him
out, but the staff wondered what kind of home he was going back to. Over the
years, they noticed evident untreated injuries and ailments, yet they had to turn
him back to his owners after giving them warnings about his care.
When he came in for the last time,
the owners never showed. The shelter
called and found out that they had moved, leaving Outlaw to his fate at the
shelter. The staff knew that a dog this
old would not be adopted, and his health had diminished to the extent that he
had a hard time walking. Mostly, he just
liked to sit and be petted or hang out with one of the other dogs at the
shelter that he had befriended.
Once Caitlyn read the emails, she
knew she wanted to take him. She had a
soft spot for the geriatric dogs, and something about Outlaw struck her heart
in a way that she hadn’t felt in a long time.
She was not the only one who would be touched by him. In only one week’s time from the first
inquiry by the shelter, Outlaw was in a vehicle beginning the 500-mile journey
to Caitlyn’s home in Wyoming.
She received updates as he traveled
along the route, starting with the goodbye at the shelter and how all the
animal control officers and staff came out to bid farewell to the old
Rottweiler, many of them in tears. In
all, half a dozen people were involved with his transport. Caitlyn was always amazed at the efforts that
her group put into saving a dog, even an old one that no one wanted.
When Outlaw finally arrived, he
immediately had her heart. The dog,
though large, had a gentleness about him that could not be described; it could
only be experienced. Caitlyn took him to
her vet the day after he arrived and confirmed that his health was failing, a
combination of old age and hard living. Focusing more on quality of life versus
longevity, they started him on treatment for his eye and his hips, simply to ease
some of his pain.
With each passing day, Caitlyn
found herself becoming more and more drawn to this dog and him to her. More amazing, she saw everyone in her family
being affected by him, including her own dogs.
Usually rambunctious and full of energy, her three other Rottweilers
kept a wide berth of respect for Outlaw.
They did the usual sniff and greet, but after that, they let him be;
when he walked by, they stepped out of his way.
Outlaw carried the air of superiority even in his degenerated
Now, in the post-holiday quiet, she
sat with him, feeling him breathe. Caitlyn wondered how Outlaw might have been
as a younger dog. Strong, vibrant, full
of life and confidence. With each pass of her hand, she felt the bones of his
back and the scars of countless injuries.
She noticed that her female Rottie, Gertie, was watching her with
ever-vigilant eyes. Caitlyn smiled at
her, but Gertie did not acknowledge it.
Outlaw let out another soft cough pulling Caitlyn’s attention back to
him. She moved her hand down to his
chest and felt the soft steady beat of his heart.
“Thank you, God,” Caitlyn spoke out
loud, thinking back to the last vet visit only a week ago. The prognosis wasn’t good. After two hours of
tests and discussion Dr. Sites told her the dog had only days, perhaps a week
before he would pass. Caitlyn had heard
that before with a dozen different dogs, almost all due to cancer. Outlaw was
different. He came to her from a life of
pain and wandering, and she made it her mission to give him as good a life as
she could. She had held back tears as
she left the vet’s office.
Driving home, she had prayed, “God,
just get him through Christmas. I know you have to take him, but please get him
through Christmas. For me and the
She realized now that each heartbeat,
each breath, each moment was a blessing.
She looked up and saw the sheet of paper lying next to Outlaw’s
bed. She reached over and unrolled it to
reveal letters made in thick colored marker.
She smiled. Chelsea, her
eight-year old granddaughter had become especially fond of Outlaw and took it
upon herself to shower him with as much affection as he would tolerate.
When the whole family arrived on
Christmas morning, Chelsea was the most excited. Her beaming smile had a way of lighting up
the room, and it grew bigger as people opened the gifts that she gave them.
Caitlyn’s son and his wife actually had to encourage Chelsea to open her own
The entire morning, Outlaw rested
on his bed in front of the fireplace and watched with his normal placid
demeanor. Even when Caitlyn gave him his
stocking filled with doggie treats, he didn’t show a bit of excitement. Though,
when he thought no one was looking, Caitlyn saw him pull one of the treats out
and tenderly eat it.
At the end of the day, the room was
strewn with wrapping paper, and all the grandkids were playing with their new
toys. Chelsea suddenly ran to where she had hung her coat and then came running
back, her blond ponytail with the candy cane striped ribbon trailing behind
her. She slid to a stop on her knees
next to Outlaw. In her hands, she held a rolled up sheet of paper with a bright
“Chelsea, what do you have
there? Is that a gift for Outlaw?” Caitlyn
“No, it is a gift for Outie,” Her
smile beaming brighter than it had all day.
“Honey, his name is Outlaw, you
“Not anymore! See?”
Chelsea handed Caitlyn the rolled-up paper. As she unrolled it, the child’s scrawl became
visible. Having a grandpa who was a
lawyer, Chelsea knew more about legal-speak than most adults, and the document
of all Crimes and Sins
this day on you are a new dog
are no longer Outlaw but are now known as Outie.
“He is too nice too be an Outlaw,
so he is now just Outie,” The room was silent as the grown-ups watched Chelsea
put her arms around the old Rottweiler’s neck and give him a kiss. “You are not an outlaw anymore, Outie.”
Caitlyn took a deep breath and
wiped a tear from her eye.
For the rest of the day, Chelsea didn’t leave Outie’s side,
playing with her toys and showing her Barbies to him.
Occasionally, if she wasn’t petting him
enough, he would nudge her with his large head so she would stop what she was
doing to pet him softly and talk to him sweetly.
When everyone left, Chelsea was the last to
hug and kiss all of Caitlyn’s dogs, saving her final goodbye for Outie.
Now, as Caitlyn sat with Outie, the
silence was a far cry from the hustle and bustle of the day before, but it was
a nice change. Her husband, Don, had
gone to run a few errands, leaving Caitlyn with the dogs. Normally she would have gone along, but she
just didn’t want to be away from Outie. Petting him, she looked at the paper
pardon and smiled.
“I guess you got a full pardon
buddy; no more jail for you, huh?” She
looked down at his head as she stroked his fur.
“Right, Outie?” He didn’t
move. Caitlyn shifted her hand down to
his chest and realized she couldn’t find his heartbeat. Her chin trembled as she sat with him.
Gertie got off the couch sensing
something was wrong. She walked up
slowly and sniffed Outie’s paw and then laid down at Caitlyn’s feet. She rested her head on her paws, her deep
brown eyes looking first at Outie’s body and then up to Caitlyn’s face.
“You are free now, Outie. You can rest now.” Caitlyn began to cry as her other two Rotties
got off of their couch and moved near her, sensing her pain. Each laid down
next to her, the silence of the room only broken by the crackle of the fire and
|Outlaw and Kathy, the woman who opened her home to him.|
Like all of
my Christmas stories, this one is based on actual events.
Outlaw was, as described here, an old
Rottweiler who had lived a very hard life and had become a regular at the
Missoula Human Society.
Then, one day,
his family didn’t bother coming to get him.
The staff had grown to love Outlaw and many were, indeed, in tears as he
was loaded up for his transport to Wyoming.
Once there, Outlaw lived his few
remaining months being pampered and spoiled like he deserved. During a hot summer day, he went and lay
under his favorite shade tree and coughed.
Kathy, the amazing woman who took him in, went over to him and sat next
to him. He laid his head on her lap and
then passed away.
who met Outlaw, was affected by him in a way that is impossible to
Being the one who was first
contacted by the shelter, I started the ball rolling on getting him out of
I didn’t care how, all I knew is
that this dog should not to die in a shelter.
That was the mission.
amazing was how many people stepped up to help.
Many others, myself included, offered him a home.
Yet, it was Kathy who was best suited to take
like to thank Teresa, Denise, Pam, Karen, Rich, Bill and Kris and everyone else
who helped get Outlaw out of the shelter and into Kathy’s loving home.
The biggest thanks goes to Kathy.
It takes a very special person to take in a
dog that you know will die soon.
of only one other person like her and they both are amazing.
I hope this
shows the effort and purpose of rescue:
to give a dog a chance at a life that is filled with love and hope, even
if only for a few months.
I pray that
you all have a blessed Christmas and a joyous New Year.