My Christmas guest is my good friend, author Keith Bettinger. Keith was the first to read the manuscript for my non-fiction book WE ARE DIFFERENT NOW. Since he is not only a retired Suffolk County, New York police officer, he is also a long-time grief counselor and there couldn’t have been a more perfect person to review my journey through grief from the death of my 21-year-old grandson. He writes from the heart, so be prepared.
WHO RECEIVED THE GIFT OF CHRISTMAS?
It all started years ago, one summer day at a gas station on a busy street on Long Island, New York. A mongrel dog living out of garbage pails, delivered a litter of puppies behind the station’s dumpster. People felt sorry and left food for the mother dog and her puppies and somehow they managed to survive.
Eventually, the weather changed to autumn and people realized the future for the mother dog and her puppies would become bleak as winter approached. Someone called animal control and the mother dog and all but one of her puppies were captured and taken to the shelter to hopefully find new homes. One puppy remained free and was left to survive on his own in the only world he knew – his world behind the dumpster at the gas station.
In the meantime, in another part of the county, lived a husband and wife, both of them were police officers. The female officer was a counselor in the department’s employee assistance unit and the husband was assigned to the mounted unit. They didn’t have any children, but they did have two Labrador Retrievers. The older Lab came as part of the marriage; he was with the husband before there was a wife. The second Lab eventually joined the family after the wedding ceremony.
The older Lab was fourteen years old and having all the difficulties that come with advanced canine aging. The husband and wife were going away on vacation and boarded both dogs with their veterinarian. While away, they received a phone call from the veterinarian; their old Lab had quietly passed away. The doctor told them he believed the old Lab simply waited for them to go away so he could pass on without them being present.
The couple returned home with empty spaces in their home and hearts.
Eventually, Christmas Eve arrived and the puppy was still living on his own having avoided attempts to capture him. An immigrant family had their eye on the puppy for quite a while, and they thought the puppy would make a great Christmas present for their children.
On Christmas Eve evening, they lured the puppy their way with hamburgers from a fast food emporium and finally managed to capture him while he was distracted and eating. They placed him in their car and were driving to their home with the feral puppy, a puppy that had spent his entire short life dodging cars, not riding in them.
Suddenly the puppy panicked within the car and was acting wild and causing additional panic amongst the couple. The family pulled into a large parking lot and opened the doors to get out of the car and quiet down. The puppy immediately jumped out of the vehicle and was running around the large parking lot nestled between two busy highways.
Witnessing this event was a police lieutenant who was making a call from the police call box in the corner of the parking lot. She went over to investigate, thinking the family was abandoning the dog. When everything was explained, translated and sorted out, the family, left and the lieutenant put the puppy in the patrol car where it now rode quietly and peacefully back to the mounted unit’s office.
Sitting in the office, manning the desk was the officer who had lost his Lab not so long before. Without any words of introduction, the puppy calmly walked in with the lieutenant and went right over to the officer; put his chin on the officer’s knee, waiting to be petted. No crying, no growling, just with a look that said I need love and affection and so do you.
When the four pm to midnight shift ended, the officer took the puppy home with him. He wondered what his wife would say when they arrived. At the house, the puppy quietly walked through the doorway, greeted the wife, and then walked into the living room. He sat down on the floor and looked at the bookshelf. On the bookshelf was the urn containing the cremains of the old Labrador Retriever. It was as if the puppy was telling the old timer he would now watch over the husband and wife, the old timer’s former owners.
The husband and wife knew they had a new member of the family who came into their lives on a very special night in a very special way.
About Keith Bettinger:
Keith Bettinger is a retired Suffolk County (N.Y.) Police Officer. He’s been writing for law enforcement publications for more than 45 years and has received 22 awards for his articles, stories, poems, and books. He has a Master’s Degree in Human Relations with a major in Clinical Counseling. During his career he received the department’s Bravery Medal, Silver Shield Award, Meritorious Police Service Award, Special Service Award, Professionalization Award, Department Recognition Award, five Headquarters commendations and six Precinct commendations. He also was a field training officer and an instructor on Post Shooting Trauma and Critical Incidents. Keith has written three books, FIGHTING CRIME WITH “SOME “DAY AND LENNY, END OF WATCH AND MURDER IN McHENRY. He has also contributed stories to the following anthologies: I Pledge Allegiance, Cop Tales 2000, Charity, True Blue, To Protect and Serve, and Dad’s Bow Tie. He also shares with Jack Miller, the screenplay Master Cheat. Keith lives in Las Vegas with his wife Lynn.
NOTE: In addition to the things mentioned in his bio, Keith was also at the 9/11 Ground Zero and debriefed the numerous other officers who also were there.
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