Christmas Dog

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No, I didn’t eat one for Christmas dinner.

But this year, it was a dog sitting on my lap who gave me my first real sense of Christmas. It was a quiet moment when a simple living being just looked up at me, and all seemed right with the season.

Of course, I have friends whom I’ve hugged genuinely over the last few days. But the setting is generally loud and boisterous. Good cheer. Generally, how good depends on what we do for each other. The feeling is more or less mutual.

With family, it’s slightly more intimate, but even here, it’s funny how when you’re married to an anti-vivisectionist, the topic comes up at the strangest times. How many times does the forced auto-ejaculation of a primate come up in intimate conversation in your house?

We’re overworked. We’re too busy. When the holidays roll around, non-holiday things lurk and linger and the magic of Christmas becomes just another day on the calendar.

Already many of us are looking at January, as if the new president might have some bit of messianic power. But most of us look to January because December isn’t so hot, and schedules force us forward. People have schedules, calendars, Blackberries.

My dogs know when they prefer to poop, but they don’t have schedules per se. They don’t have Blackberries either. They’ll chew on them. But they have no use for the calendar function.

So it was quite surprising when I found myself on the sofa, quiet, alone. And there was my dog, a Jack Russell mutt who wandered in the room and knew exactly what to do.  She hopped on my lap, looked into my eyes and instantly de-stressed Christmas for me.

Dogs know how to do this. All that matters to them is constant love and attention. And in mere seconds, after a deep look in my eyes and a brush of my hand against her head, she was supine on my lap, asking for a belly rub, which I did dutifully as if on cue.

When life gets complicated, dogs know how to get you to the basics, like unconditional belly rubbing.

This special dog is Josie, named after my mother. My wife gives me naming privileges to placate me because I don’t like dogs. This, as PacBell, ATT, Monster, Oracle and all others who pay mucho bucks for naming rights know, is pretty special.

So I named Josie after my mom because another one of my dogs, the black Scotty terrier mutt we saved from a Watsonville salad patch, is named after my dad, Willie.

Mom and Dad? Better than naming your dogs after ex-lovers. Don’t do it. Actually my  roster of dogs’ names include Ginger, Heather and Jenny, which now sounds like either cheerleaders, hookers or Spice Girls. But thank goodness, they’re dogs.

We broke the pattern when we rescued a collie named May. Then there’s a randy guy in the mix, a smallish black and white rat terrier, whose neutering has not diminished his libido. We called him Flip because it was time to go ethnic.

You’ll think I’m a dog lover if you’ve read this far. But I’m not, really. I grew up in San Francisco in a number of those railroad flats with the long alley hall way and a dozen doors, all of it built on a 100-foot-long lot, which never seemed long enough for a dog. At least, that’s what the landlord told us.

So I grew up thinking stuffed animals were real. That’s what my parents told us. Stuffed dogs didn’t do the pedestrian thing, which meant they didn’t need to be walked, which after all is just a euphemism for peeing and pooping. They didn’t need food, either. They were constantly stuffed. They were perfect.

Except for the love part. A stuffed animal is better than an inflatable doll you’ll find online. But that’s no substitute for a real dog.

Doggone Love

My wife and I don’t go out and buy dogs. They find us. They get dumped on us, or they walk into our lives. And then we rescue/adopt/are suckered into taking them. Along the way, we pay tons of vet bills for the sick ones and wait for the others to pass on.

You think you are ready for that, but then when they do die, you’re surprised at just how much love was involved in the whole “human plus dog” equation.

It hit me when Ginger, a dog we inherited from my wife’s father, died around the time of an important California election a few years ago. I was brought in by a particular broadcast entity to analyze the election, but couldn’t get over the fact that my dog had died.

Someone must have thought I was crying for the loser of the election.

You think you’re tough and wouldn’t be so sappy. But then it happens and you’re so exposed. You bawl like a baby. That damn dog and all the carpets and wooden floors she wrecked. I would give anything to see her alive again, just so she could pee on our new flooring. That’s how deeply I loved her.

That was Ginger. Jenny’s passing this year was equally hard. She was the $6 million dog because of her vet bills. She saw specialists! Dogs just don’t have the shelf life of Tuffy, the stuffed gray, curly-haired mop who, last I looked at him, seemed in dire need of polyester fiberfill.

We still have Flip and May, Willie and Josie, to constantly surprise us with how much more they are than pets. They are members of the family and always willing to be there to let us know their special place.

But Josie’s role is now definitely elevated. In my mind, the Jack Russell that looks like Spuds McKenzie shall forever be my Christmas dog because she jumped on my lap at just the right moment.

It was a reminder that we have more than we realize and still much more to give of that one thing that costs us nothing – love.


Check the blog for updates on all the stuff we try not to think about during the holidays at amok.asianweek.com. E-mail: emil@amok.com
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About the Author

For almost 15 years, Emil Guillermo wrote his "Amok" column for AsianWeek, which was the largest English language Asian American newsweekly in the nation. "Amok" was considered the most widely-read column on Asian American issues in the U.S. His thoughtful and provocative social commentaries have appeared in print in the San Francisco Chronicle, SFGate.com, San Francisco Examiner, USA Today, Honolulu Star Bulletin, Honolulu Advertiser, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and in syndication throughout the country. His early columns are compiled in a book "Amok: Essays from an Asian American Perspective," which won an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation in 2000. Guillermo's journalistic career began in television and radio broadcasting. At National Public Radio, he was the first Asian American male to anchor a regularly scheduled national news broadcast when he hosted "All Things Considered" from 1989-1991. During his watch, major news broke, including the violence in Tiananmen Square, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the end of dictatorships in Romania and Panama. From Washington, Guillermo hosted the shows that broke the news. As a television journalist, his award-winning reports and commentaries have appeared on NBC, CNN, and PBS. He was a reporter in San Francisco, Dallas, and Washington, D.C. After NPR, Guillermo became a press secretary and speechwriter for then Congressman Norman Mineta, the former cabinet member in the Bush and Clinton Administrations. After his Hill experience, Guillermo returned to the media, hosting his own talk show in Washington, D.C. on WRC Radio. He returned to California where he hosted talk shows in San Francisco at KSFO/KGO, and in Sacramento at KSTE/KFBK. Guillermo's columns in the ethnic press inspired a roundtable discussion program that he created, hosted, executive produced, resulting in more than 100 original half-hour programs. "NCM-TV: New California Media" was seen on PBS stations in San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles, and throughout the state on cable. Guillermo also spent time as a newspaper reporter covering the poor and the minority communities of California's Central Valley. His writing and reporting on California's sterilization program on the poor and minorities won him statewide and national journalism awards. Guillermo, a native San Franciscan, went to Lowell High School, and graduated from Harvard College, where he was an Ivy Orator and class humorist, a distinction shared by fellow Lampoon members like James Downey (Saturday Night Live) and Conan O'Brien. Find out what he's up to at www.amok.com.