The Christmas Pardon
By Troy Kechely
Caitlyn 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 months. 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 treats. 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 celebration. Caitlyn walked over to the old Rottweiler.
“You doing okay, Outie?” She sat down next to his head. 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.When she first heard about Outlaw it was in an email from one of the members of the dog rescue group she volunteered with. The 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 state.
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 grandkids, please.”
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 gifts.
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 red bow.
“Chelsea, what do you have there? Is that a gift for Outlaw?” Caitlyn asked.
“No, it is a gift for Outie,” Her smile beaming brighter than it had all day.
“Honey, his name is Outlaw, you know that.”
“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 showed it.
Pardoned of all Crimes and Sins
From this day on you are a new dog
You 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 Caitlyn’s sobs.
|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.Everyone who met Outlaw, was affected by him in a way that is impossible to describe. Being the one who was first contacted by the shelter, I started the ball rolling on getting him out of there. I didn’t care how, all I knew is that this dog should not to die in a shelter. That was the mission. What was 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 him.
I would 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. I know 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.