Each year around Christmastime, I think back to the stray dog that appeared at the family farm in Cottonwood, Minnesota. His visit became a gift of comfort that my family still talks about.
It was 1999. Minnesota’s weather was mild that autumn and stayed mild all the way into December. A few days after Christmas, a black dog with a little white around his mouth wandered onto the front porch and settled in as if he’d lived here all his life.
He quickly decided that his job was to guard the house against squirrels. Every time he saw one, he’d bound off past the garden to the cottonwood trees, baying at the top of his lungs. Then he’d saunter back to his position on the porch, ever vigilant.
Inside, the house was full of sadness and quiet conversation. My 91-year-old father-in-law, Jim Cravens, was gravely ill. The family had gathered to see to his care, to cook and to welcome visitors. Jim and his wife, Dorothy, were beloved pillars of the community.
Whenever anyone left the house to do chores or walk next door to my brother-in-law’s house, the black dog followed. He’d patiently wait until we were done, follow us home and lie down on the porch.
This curious visitor gave us something new to talk about, a wonderful distraction. Whose dog was he? Did someone drop him off along the road? Did he intend to stay? Either way, it would be dark soon, and he would be cold. Jim sat in the rocking chair by the front window where he could watch the happy black dog’s comings and goings.
We called the radio station, animal shelter, newspaper, sheriff and several neighboring farms about a lost dog. Meanwhile, we made him comfortable on the porch with food, water and a blanket. The days leading up to New Year brought no news, and we were all just content that our companion had stayed around.
My father-in-law said he wanted to live long enough to see the new millennium, and he did. He passed away Jan. 2.
That was the day the black dog left.
Then the weather turned cold, and snow fell every day for the rest of the winter, it seemed.
Some time later we heard that the black dog was a rescued dog living with a family about a mile and a half from the farm. They named him Bogart. The following summer Bogart returned to see us again. When his owners came to pick him up, we told them about his angelic Christmas visit, how he had comforted our family with his cheerful companionship. We wanted them to know how much that meant.