Column: Last Christmas was a ruff one


After two failed attempts at dog ownership, I firmly declared to my daughter Delaney: NO. MORE. DOGS.

Don’t get me wrong: I like dogs. Well, I like the idea of dogs, just not dog ownership. I like dogs in other people’s houses.

While Delaney didn’t share similar feelings on this matter, for two years she at least extended a common courtesy to not hound me about getting another dog. Secretly, though, she pined for a dachshund, the breed of our first dog.

Then came Max.

Max is not a dog’s name by the way. Max is a boy’s name. More specifically, Max is my daughter’s boyfriend’s name.

Max, so smitten with Delaney, so stupidly in love, decided to do the one possible thing that would secure for him my daughter’s heart, possibly through all eternity: He surprised Delaney with a puppy for Christmas. It was no coincidence that the puppy was a dachshund. It was like he had given her a furry Hope Diamond.

Since father and daughter live under the same roof, that meant Max, in essence, decided to surprise me with a puppy for Christmas too. Bad Max.

“Dad, I want you to see something,” was how Delaney delivered the dog news to me on the eve of Christmas Eve. The dachshund was six-weeks small, hamster size. Delaney held the pathetic pooch up to her face, trying to melt my heart with two sets of pleading eyes.

“No,” I said. “Our house is too small for a house dog.”

I saw hurt in her eyes. I read her mind: it was my heart, not my house, that was too small for a dog.

Declaring then that our house would continue being a dog-free zone did indeed make my heart feel like it had shrunk three sizes, but I was doggedly determined to not throw my daughter the proverbial bone. “The day after Christmas, Max will return the puppy to the original owner,” I barked.

The Three Wise Men delivered to Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh on Christmas. Max delivered to Delaney a dog. Max, knowing my feelings on the matter, deliberately going against my wishes, clearly was not a wise man, though he did demonstrate enough smarts to not be present for the puppy’s unveiling. My 17-year-old daughter eyed me like I was the bad guy in this scenario.

“Out of here in two days,” I shouted, getting madder by the minute.

As you can imagine, Christmas 2016 was not a happy time in the Saalman household. There was a lot of whining, growling and wetting oneself — the dog also did this. Christmas Eve was an uncomfortable time of silence between father and daughter. I don’t think this is what the lyricist for “Silent Night” had in mind. 

On Christmas day, I was alone. My parents, on their way to the casino, invited me to Denny’s for brunch. Over a Grand Slam, I fumed and frothed about the dog that destroyed Christmas.

A stranger interrupted my rant, pleading pathetically for gas money so he could get to his family. I snapped, shut him down, told him I was trying to enjoy the holiday with my own family without interruption. My dad reached for his wallet but I vehemently shook my head no, sending the vagrant on his way without so much as a penny for his empty pocket. My parents looked shocked. Typically, I’m not a heartless son. BUT. A. DOG. FOR. CHRISTMAS.

Leaving Denny’s, I actually felt bad for the beggar. I noticed him sitting at a stool, hunched over the counter. I dropped a twenty by his coffee cup. “God bless you,” he said to me. I actually felt my heart enlarge a notch. I realized I needed to give him the money as much as he needed me to give it to him. I envisioned him driving home in time for Christmas dinner with his daughter. I’ll Be Home For Christmas! Oh, hear it play, hear it play! Oh, the swell of my holiday heart!

A couple hours later, my dad texted a photo from the casino. He wrote, “Look familiar?” The man in the picture was the same man I had given $20 to at Denny’s. I kid you not.

Oh, the deflation I felt within realizing I was the sucker of a Christmas con job. I returned home to Christmas silence and sat on the floor in darkness.

Get this: Later, Delaney had the gall to interrupt my holiday brooding and ask me to hold the puppy while she showered. Defeated, I mustered a grunt. The dachshund fit in my right hand. It licked my face, trying to con me into thinking it cared. The tongue tickled my neck a bit, and I swear my stern face cracked a smile, a slight one, but a smile just the same.

“You can keep the dog,” I announced after her shower. Delaney’s smile was like a Christmas gift. My heart tripled in size. It wouldn’t have surprised me at that moment to hear the whole world simultaneously break into the chorus of “Joy To The World.”

No longer was I made to feel like the holiday bad guy, the Scrooge, the Grinch. Suddenly, I was the world’s greatest dad who had just given his daughter the ultimate Christmas gift: a puppy: a dachshund. Take that, Max.

Everyone is invited to the Will Read and Sing for Food Super Christmas Spectacular Spectacle Friday, Dec. 15, 7 p.m., at Klubhaus 61. The show will benefit the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Kentucky and Southern Indiana, which includes Dubois County. Admission is a $10 donation.

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