BOOKS: The puppy that came for Christmas by Megan Rix
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2012:
The puppy that came for Christmas
by Megan Rix
Plume Books (c/o Penguin USA, 375 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014),
2011. 246 pages, paperback. $14.95.
The title of The puppy that came for Christmas is both
misleading and ungrammatical, implying that the puppy is an
inanimate object. The book is not a Christmas story, though the
puppy arrives at Christmas, and is not a knockoff, either, of Fund
for Animals founder Cleveland Amory’s 1987 best seller The Cat Who
Came for Christmas.
But the titular echo is probably no accident. Plume Books,
the publisher of The puppy that came for Christmas, is an imprint of
Penguin USA, Amory’s publisher, for whom The Cat Who Came for
Christmas remains a highly profitable franchise. The first of a
series centered on Amory’s Christmas Eve adoption of a stray kitten
he named Polar Bear, The Cat Who Came for Christmas has returned to
the best seller lists five times in various reprints and new formats,
selling more than a million copies.
A sequel, The Cat and the Curmudgeon (1990), is also still
in print and has also remained a steady seller for more than 20 years.
The puppy that came for Christmas author Megan Rix never
wanted a dog until she visited Japan. Intrigued that Japanese people
often line up to rent dogs by the hour, she rented a dog too, and
became sold on canine companionship.
Back in her native England, Rix read a newspaper article
about Helper Dogs, an organization that trains dogs for disabled
people. Like many other service dog training societies, Helper Dogs
starts their training regimen by placing puppies in homes for
acclimation to living among humans. Later the pups are reclaimed to
receive extensive training as service companions, learning to
perform tasks on command such as picking up keys, opening doors,
grabbing a book off a shelf, and turning off light switches. Rix
and husband Ian volunteered to raise puppies for Helper Dogs.
Their first pup was Emma, a yellow Lab. Helper Dogs
provided Rix with food and supplies, as well as hints about puppy
behavior, but Rix nonetheless found that life with a puppy was “like
none I’d experienced before.”
Emma woke early for food and to frolic, as most puppies do.
Rix wanted to huddle under the covers. But in no time Rix found
herself surprised at her increasing attachment to Emma. The garden
area where Emma plays and relieved herself was secure, but one day
Rix became frantic because she could not find the pup. In a panic,
she called Ian, only to later find Emma snuggled up asleep.
Helper Dogs introduced the couple to people whose
independence relies on trained dogs like Emma, including a
wheelchair-bound young woman who was hit by a car while bicycling. A
Helper Dog opened up her world.
Surrendering Emma after having her for a year poked a hole in
the couple’s hearts. Other puppies followed, including Traffy, who
became their own dog, but Emma is remembered with special fondness.
–Debra J. White