16: The Birthday Miracle

16: The Birthday Miracle

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Dog

The Birthday Miracle

Fun fact: A study by the ASPCA found that pet owners become just as attached to pets they’ve received as gifts as to pets they’ve chosen themselves.

His pleading blue eyes always got to me, and Devon knew it. I sat in my favorite tattered armchair watching TV, a blanket tucked around me against February’s winter chill. Devon stood next to the chair in his stocking feet.

Devon had played the man of the house since his father left the year before, but tonight I was not looking into the eyes of a man. Tonight, he was a twelve-year-old boy who wanted a puppy for his birthday, and his birthday was tomorrow.

“They say every boy should have a dog of his own, don’t you agree?” His brow wrinkled into such a serious expression that I wanted to giggle. He had obviously put a lot of thought into how to talk me into getting him a puppy for his birthday.

The old chair groaned in protest as I leaned forward to match his gaze. “I kind of figured you were going to say that.”

“So? What do you think?” He bounced up and down in anticipation.

I sighed, knowing what my answer would have to be. It seemed to be the answer to every wish since his father left us. “I would love to get you a puppy, but puppies are expensive. They need food and shots and a license. We just can’t afford all that right now, honey.” I lowered my head so he wouldn’t see my tears.

He stood there for a moment. Then he knelt down and placed his small hand on my knee. “That’s okay, Mom. I understand,” he whispered. “But some day, when things get better, can we get a puppy?”

“Absolutely, Dev. I promise.” I forced myself to smile. I hated disappointing my sweet son on his birthday.

“Well then,” he announced with a brave grin, “when we get a puppy, I am going to name him Rusty.”

“Rusty? That’s a fine name.” I breathed a sigh of relief as he crawled onto my lap for a hug.

The next morning, I awoke to the grim reality that I could not afford a birthday gift for Devon, let alone a party. The house was quiet as I slipped into my shoes and gathered our recyclable bottles and cans. In Oregon, they were worth five cents each. I thought of the video-game system Devon would be receiving from his father and the look on his face when he saw nothing from me.

Standing at the foot of Devon’s bed, I cried “Happy Birthday!” as soon as he opened his eyes. “Come on, we have some recycling to turn in. Let’s get you a birthday donut.”

We drove to the nearby convenience store, and I crossed my fingers while the cashier counted our bottles and cans. There was just enough. Devon and I took our time choosing the two most scrumptious-looking donuts, one covered in sprinkles and one dripping with chocolate.

Devon grabbed the bag and fished out his treat. He took a huge bite before pushing his way through the glass front door. On the front sidewalk, he froze in his tracks so fast that I almost ran into him.

A puppy caught his eye. A young woman was parked just outside the door. The morning air was barely above freezing, but she sat with her car window down and bundled in a big jacket. Her face was wet with tears. A fluffy puppy was curled up in her lap with his nose resting on the driver’s door. He had a copper coat and warm brown eyes.

Devon rushed over to the car and stood stroking the puppy’s fur and laughing as the puppy licked his face. Then I turned to the woman: “What’s wrong?”

The woman sniffled and wiped her face before answering. “I got this puppy from a lady giving them away in front of Ray’s Market a couple weeks ago. My husband is a truck driver, and he is gone from home a lot. I thought maybe the puppy would be fun company for the kids and me, and my husband would get a kick out of him.”

She stopped to blow her nose and then continued. “Instead, he was furious! He demanded that I load him into the car right now and take him to the animal shelter.” She paused as tears started to form again. “But I just can’t.”

Devon giggled as he fed the rest of his donut to the puppy and was thanked with a wet puppy lick across the face. The woman ran her fingers through the puppy’s thick fur.

“He sure likes you,” she told Devon. “Any chance you guys could take him?”

“Really?” Devon gasped and turned to me. I stepped back from the car. Could we?

“Listen,” she begged. “I know it’s a lot to ask, but he already has his license and shots. He is even potty-trained. He eats cheap, generic dog food, and he loves kids.” I reached forward and touched the soft fur.

“He sure is cute,” I mumbled.

“Please take him,” she begged. “He is such a friendly and well-behaved dog. He stays outside during the day and is content while I am at work. The kids named him, but you can change it if you like. They call him Rusty.”

“Rusty?” Devon whispered.

Moments later, Devon buried his face in the soft fur while the puppy dozed on his shoulder during the short ride home. Devon’s birthday wish was granted, as well as my prayer to give him the perfect gift. His name was Rusty. How could I say no to that?

~Tea R. Peronto

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