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Olivia finds puppy love at shelter

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part eight of a continuing, fictional holiday tale that is running daily through Christmas. Parents are encouraged to read along with their children.

Olivia and Gia were having a great time with the animals. They had already spent an hour feeding and cleaning the enclosures where the sweet furry friends resided.

The shelter had a few permanent residents that roamed freely throughout the facility, and one of them was Chewbacca, an adorable shaggy mixed breed with big soulful eyes.

Chewbacca was an older dog, and Elaine explained that most people didn’t want to adopt older dogs, so sweethearts like Chewy often went forever without their forever home.

Chewy seemed very happy, though. He strutted around proudly at Olivia’s side as she changed out the bedding in some of the puppy pens. She now understood love at first sight because she already loved him so much it hurt to think of leaving him.

She scratched behind his ears for the hundredth time and stared into his dark brown eyes. “I wish I could take you home,” she whispered to him. He wagged his tail and tilted his head to the side, looking up at her as if he understood.

Gia walked into the puppy room with a woman and young girl who looked to be about 7 or 8. The girl was clutching her mom’s hand tightly and staring straight ahead. Elaine followed behind with a clipboard and a blanket.

“Olivia, this is Mrs. Marcus and her daughter Shanna. They’re here for Shanna to meet her new puppy — we need to see how they match in personality. Olivia and Gia are volunteers here today,” she said to Mrs. Marcus, who grinned at them.

“It’s so sweet of you to be volunteering at such a young age. You both are very selfless, special girls.”

Olivia and Gia shared a glance, both thinking the same thought. They weren’t very selfless at all — that was the real reason they were here to begin with.

“Well, let’s get you two introduced!” Elaine said, clapping her hands. She set down the blanket and Mrs. Marcus led Shanna over and helped her sit down.

“Gia, Olivia, can you girls please bring out the yellow male golden retriever puppy?” Elaine asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” Olivia answered and headed to the puppy pens.

“Don’t you think there’s something off about that girl?” Gia whispered.

“Shh,” Olivia hissed, narrowing her eyes. “Don’t be rude. Maybe she’s just shy.”

Gia shrugged, losing interest. “Maybe. Is your mom coming today?”

“Yes! I can’t wait.”

“What’s she like?”

“Like a mom,” Olivia laughed. “Pretty. Kind. Selfless. Always tired. Always worried. I’m not gonna add to that anymore. I need to help her more, you know?”

Gia turned thoughtful and nodded slightly. “Yeah.”

“What’s your mom like?” Olivia asked as Gia scooped up the wiggly puppy.

Gia snuggled the puppy’s face close to hers, avoiding Olivia’s eyes when she quietly used Olivia’s answer. “Like a mom. Pretty. Kind. Selfless.”

Her tone made it obvious she was holding something back, but Olivia didn’t press.

They delivered the puppy to Elaine, who set him down carefully in Shanna’s lap. Her face lit up with pure joy as the puppy squirmed and wagged his tail, eager to sniff Shanna’s face and lick her cheek.

Her mom sat next to her and spoke quietly, placing Shanna’s hands on different parts of the puppy and running her fingers down each part.

“He’s perfect, Mommy,” Shanna said happily.

Mrs. Marcus smiled. “I think so, too. He’s going to have a very important job,” she added, looking at Olivia and Gia. “Shanna is blind, and this little guy is going to be her eyes. He’ll be trained as her service dog. He’ll grow up with her and protect her and guide her wherever she goes. Isn’t that wonderful?”

Olivia’s eyes widened as she wondered what it would be like to grow up without being able to see anything at all. It made her very sad for Shanna and very thankful for her own vision.

“I’m sorry,” she said softly. “I hope you have a wonderful friendship with him. He’s a sweet little puppy.”

Mrs. Marcus looked over to Olivia and smiled. “No ‘sorries,’ sweetheart. My Shanna is very blessed. She has everything she needs for a happy life, I promise you.”

“Mama, look,” Shanna giggled. The puppy was climbing her, wagging his tail so hard he fell over a few times.

“It’s really cool that you’re rescuing him,” Gia said. “What are you going to name him?”

Shanna smiled an adorable toothless grin and spoke with a maturity beyond her years. “We’re rescuing him, but he’s also rescuing me. I’m gonna call him Hero.”

“He looks like a Hero,” Olivia said.

As Elaine led them to the office to fill out paperwork, Shanna looked back to Olivia and Gia.

“Do you want to know something I can see even in the dark and feel even though I can’t touch it?” Shanna asked.

Olivia furrowed her brow at the riddle. “What’s that?”

Shanna smiled. “Hope.”

Marveling at how such a little girl could have such wisdom, Olivia couldn’t help smiling back, hoping Shanna could hear it in her voice even if she couldn’t see it on her face. “Merry Christmas, Shanna.”

“Merry Christmas,” she replied, hugging Hero to her chest.

As Olivia watched her walk away, she realized she wasn’t sad for Shanna after all. Instead, she felt thankful for having met her.

Read chapter nine in tomorrow’s newspaper.

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