I like dog stories because reading about dogs is easier and more fun than feeding, walking, and cleaning up after them. I like to read Christmas stories this time of year because they allow me to escape into another family’s holiday since mine hasn’t been the same since my mother’s death in 1999, and it will be different this year now that my husband Bill is gone. Last summer on this blog, I reviewed two books by T. Bruce Cameron about a dog who is reincarnated several times and makes a difference in his owners’ lives. The two books I just finished reading, by Greg Kincaid, are also about one dog, but this dog only has one life and one family.
Both books are set in the fictional town of Crossing Trails, Kansas, and the stories are told from varying points of view of the main characters: George McCray, a dairy farmer, his wife Mary Ann, and their developmentally disabled son Todd, who is the youngest of four children. In A Dog Named Christmas, Todd is in his mid-twenties and living with his parents on their farm. He becomes excited when he hears about the local animal shelter’s program to encourage people to adopt a dog for the holidays and wants to participate. George, who lost two dogs in the course of his life, isn’t sure he wants another but makes a deal with his son that they will adopt a dog on the 18th of December and return the dog to the shelter on the 26th. The dog Todd chooses is a yellow Labrador he names Christmas. George finds himself bonding with the dog right away and his torn between teaching his son the importance of following through on a deal and keeping the dog. Meanwhile, Todd decides to find homes for all the dogs in the shelter, and he manages to do this with the help of his family and a television reporter from a neighboring town and ends up getting a job at the animal shelter. In the end, the yellow Labrador named Christmas becomes a permanent member of the McCray family.
A Christmas Home takes place several years later. The animal shelter is due to close after the first of the year because of lack of county funding, and homes must be found for all the animals or they’ll be moved to other shelters that don’t have a no kill policy. This upsets Todd, and again, with Christmas at his side, he makes it his mission to find homes for all the animals. We also meet Gracie, a white Collie abandoned by her family when they moved away. Todd has trained Gracie to be a service dog for Laura, a nurse with arthritis that makes it hard for her to get up and around from time to time. Todd and Laura, who were classmates in high school, develop a relationship, and Laura helps Todd find another job at a school in another town that trains service dogs. In the end, all the dogs and cats in the shelter find homes. A local citizen donates money to open a new shelter. Although Todd has developed a special bond with Christmas over the years, he decides to leave the dog with his parents on their farm when he moves away to start his new job.
I liked this book in particular because it emphasizes the ways dogs help people with disabilities. Christmas and Gracie help Todd realize his potential as a dog trainer when he successfully trains Christmas to do tricks and Gracie to help Laura stand and fetch things for her. Of course Gracie makes Laura’s life and job a lot easier. I can’t help thinking that maybe I should have looked into the possibility of Bill using a service dog. Caring for Bill was a lot of work, and I didn’t want the added responsibilities a dog would have brought, but maybe a service dog would have made our lives easier by doing part of my job. Bill loved dogs, and maybe he would have lived longer if he had one. It’s hard to say, but I encourage anyone caring for a loved one to think about getting a service dog.
As a child, Greg Kincaid read a lot of books including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Hobbit. In 1982, he started working at a corporate law firm. He then began writing his own stories. When his children were born, he continued the family tradition of reading and storytelling. After returning to his family’s farm in Kansas, he made it his mission to supply books to troubled children in juvenile facilities and eventually extended his program to young men and women. His first book, Death Walk at Acoma, was published in 1993. Over ten years later, he published A Dog Named Christmas which was made into a CBS Hallmark Hall of Fame movie that was viewed by twelve million people and won a Genesis Award for raising awareness of public animal shelters. Today, he continues working at his law practice and advocating for child literacy and animal welfare.
I downloaded these books in recorded format from Audible, and the narrator does an excellent job distinguishing between characters’ voices and making them come alive. The author’s Website contains links to where these books can be ordered online in print formats. I encourage dog lovers who like good Christmas stories to read these books.
Not to be outdone by the Bible, Greg Kincaid provides a sub-plot in A Dog Named Christmas about a birth on the day in question. Besides the yellow Labrador named Christmas, the McCray family agrees to take in a second dog who is about to give birth. On Christmas morning, the puppies are born in the McCray barn among cows and other animals. Now, please click on the link below to hear me sing a song about the birth that symbolizes Christmas.
Away in a Manger
Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver