Birch, the new dog, has fared well for his first Christmas. He ate only one present (at press time). Since he belongs to some omnivorous breed that would start chewing on the Sphinx if we took him to Egypt, we put all the tiny ornaments high up on the tree. You might not notice if the little figurine of Yukon Cornelius is missing, and you would be confused to find him waving from a lawn deposit, pick upraised in greeting.
What a Jonah-and-the-Whale tale he’d have.
The dog didn’t eat the entire present; he removed the bow and tore off the paper to get at the box, which he gnawed into uselessness. He did not get to the scarf inside, or he would have eaten that, as well, resulting in a brightly mummified Yukon, I suppose.
He tried to get the holiday cookies, and I almost wished he’d succeeded. Otherwise there’s nothing you can do but eat them yourself. You can’t just throw away these Frisbee-sized sugar-based confections heaped with a half-inch of sugar frosting, decorated to look like a penguin because nothing says Christmas like eating the faces of flightless birds.
You break off a piece, then another — as long as you only eat 49 percent, you’re safe. It’s when you eat the whole thing that the self-loathing sets in, and you wish you could be like the dog: “Yes! I ate all of that. I am happy. Oh, hold on, here it comes up again. Yeah! I remember you, cookie. Second verse, same as the first!”
But I kept the dog from the cookie trays and the chocolate, because the latter is quite bad for dogs. It’s poison for some breeds, although I’ve heard tales of dogs who ate entire sacks of dark chocolate and suffered nothing worse than a day or two of being jet-propelled, shall we say.
It’s not a risk you can take, though. You can’t warn a dog: ”Hey, pal, see these chocolate bars? They’re deadly. If dogs were spies, they would keep a fun-sized Snickers bar in their pocket in case they were captured, like a cyanide capsule in a hollow tooth.” Even if the dog understood, he’d scoff: That’s what you say, sport. I’ll be the judge of that.
Christmas morn may be confusing to the pup, since everyone will tear open all the packages he was forbidden to chew. Since he likes to eat paper — he literally ate Daughter’s homework a few weeks ago, having rejected a pile of crumpled dollar bills and a college application as morsels for a later date — he probably will spend some time making confetti, and I’ll have to open his mouth and pull out wet pieces of paper that say HAPPY and MERRY.
At least we don’t have to worry about plastic twist-ties. As any parent of recent vintage knows, the toys for kids 3 to 10 are held in place by plastic twist-ties that cinch to plastic shields, and everything was tightened by Chinese assembly-line robots indifferent to your aggravation. One year I had to separate the parts for a My Little Pony Wonderland Balloon Castle of Happy Friendship Sparkle Love-Time or something, and I worried that Daughter would grow out of My Little Ponys by the time I put the thing together.
Birch would eat those twist-ties and deposit lawn offerings cinched like sausages.
In Daughter’s younger days we had Jasper Dog, who had a plan. “What’s this nonorganic thing? It hurts. Ow. Well, maybe if I chew it, meat will happen.”
I miss that dog. There’s an ornament of a dog with a halo on the tree, reminding us of bygone friends. I miss the Christmas morning challenges of assembling pink-plastic things, unshaven, muttering quiet oaths. I miss toys, to be honest. This is the last Christmas that Daughter will be around the house in the weeks before the celebration. Next time, she comes home from elsewhere.
But Birch will be there to greet her when she gets out of the Uber. Oh, we would have liked to have picked her up from the airport, but Birch ate the car-key fob. Every time he runs down the stairs the door locks go up and down.
Don’t hug him too tightly, we’ll warn her, or the horn sounds.
I imagine she’ll hug him tight anyway, because it’s Christmas.