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The Dog That Talked To God

The Dog That Talked To God, March 2012
by Jim Kraus

Abingdon Press
Featuring: Mary Fassler; Rufus
352 pages
ISBN: 1426742568
EAN: 9781426742569
Kindle: B00711WFVS
Paperback / e-Book
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"An inspiring story of a dog's eye view of God and what humans need!"

Fresh Fiction Review

The Dog That Talked To God
Jim Kraus

Reviewed by Audrey Lawrence
Posted February 19, 2012


The house was just too big and empty. Well, maybe it wasn't so empty of things. There were lovely chairs to curl up in and enjoy cups of coffee and lots of books as Mary Fassler enjoys her work and made a reasonable living as a novelist and an editor, but her life and her home still feel empty. The biggest emptiness, however, is in Mary's heart. Now almost 44 and four years after the tragic death of her husband and young son, Mary finally decides that she would get that special dog her family had wanted. She was thrilled with her new Miniature Schnauzer puppy and decided to call him Rufus. He was the runt in his litter, but when he first fell asleep in her hands, she opened her heart to him and just knew he would have a special place there.

Little did she know how special he would be when she found out he could talk, not only to her, but to God as well. Not that he checked in everyday, of course, but they did have conversations every week or so. With the well-intended, if not always well expressed support of her polar opposite friends, Ava and Beth, and especially with the help and advice from Rufus, Mary is slowly nudged out of her narrow grief-stricken world and start to see new possibilities. But, with the return of joy and a new relationship, also comes pain. What will Mary do? Can the advice for a dog on a freezing cold winter night really help her move further on her healing journey? Since she wasn't talking to God, maybe it wouldn't be so bad.

Long-time humor and inspirational writer Jim Kraus has created an inspiring and loving novel in THE DOG THAT TALKED TO GOD about a dog who not only is very special and real, but also has a faith in God as loyal as any dog to its master. Having his own schnauzer, also named Rufus, probably served Kraus well in making this delightful little puppy so real and appealing as Rufus strives to make sense not only of Mary's life as well as the tasty tidbits of information he picks up from watching TV. Loving the humour and wanting to find about what happens to Mary kept me just wanting to read on and not put the book down. So, grab a coffee, relax and lap up this tasty treat! Maybe, like Mary, you may find out that the trick of talking to God may not be so hard after all.

Learn more about The Dog That Talked To God


A wonderfully quirky, heart-breaking, heart-warming and thought-provoking story of a woman's dog who not only talks to her, he talks to God. Recently widowed Mary Fassler has no choice except to believe Rufus, the miniature schnauzer, who claims to speak to the Divine. The question is: Will Mary follow the dog's advice, and leave everything she knows and loves? Is this at the urging of God? Or is it something else? Will Mary risk it all or ignore the urgings of her own heart?


Born in the wealthy enclave of Barrington, Illinois, in late autumn, Rufus was the smallest pup in a litter of four—black with white highlights, white eyebrows and chest. The breeder, a precise woman with a lazy eye, said that as an adult, he would most likely remain on the smallish side. That's a good trait for a miniature schnauzer. He had the look, even as a seven-week-old, of a polished, professional dog, holding a practiced dog show stance—legs back, chest forward, eyes alert—all inherited traits, genetics at its best.

But she said nothing about Rufus talking. Not just talking, but talking with God. In dog prayers, I imagine.

Though, in her defense, I would guess that she was unaware of this unusual talent.

And, also in her defense, if she knew of his abilities and had mentioned . . . "Oh yes, Mrs. Fassler, and the runt of the litter . . . the dog you want . . . well, he talks, and he claims he talks with God." I mean, honestly, if she had said that, or anything remotely like that, then odds are that the good dog Rufus would not be sitting in the chair opposite me, right now, watching me type.

Perhaps if Rufus had been adopted into another home, a home with an owner who wasn't lost and confused, and didn't need to be returned to the awareness of the existence of God, he would not have bothered speaking at all, except to bark at the door to be let out. Even Rufus is not sure of that possibility.

"I don't ask foolish questions, Mary," Rufus answered when I asked him of the odds of him spending his life with me, rather than some other more spiritually healthy person.

But I digress.

I did not mean to cavalierly hurry past the most compelling element of this story: the fact that Rufus talks to God. And he talks with me—Rufus, that is, not God. Sometimes.

Hard to be nonchalant, or blasé, about such an ability, I know. But I cannot leap into this tale without returning to the beginning. You need to know how all this came about. You need to know the origins of the story. After all, what would the Bible be without Genesis and the Garden of Eden? Confusing, to say the least, and most likely incomprehensible. Imagine the Bible as a movie you walk into during the middle. You can make up your own backstory, but it would all be just a guess. Admit it: without that opening scene, not much of the rest would contain any internal logic.

As a child, I used to do that—walk into a movie theater whenever, and watch the film, sit through the ending, and wait for the opening reel to start again until I would say to myself, "This is where I came in." It was easier years ago, before the age of googolplexes and corporate theater chains. Back in the day, each theater had one screen and would play the same movie over and over, with only a cartoon and previews to separate one screening from another. Once I got to that point of having seen a particular scene before, I would leave, satisfied that I saw the entire story. I remember doing that to The Time Machine with Rod Taylor—a movie star without much reason to be a star. Seems ludicrous to me now. I had constructed my own narrative as to how Rod got to whatever point in the future he started at , which then altered my imagined story as the true narrative unfolded. With that movie, I was close to the guessing the actual story and plot. Close, but, as they say, no cigar.

As a child, reconstructing a complicated narrative was child's play.

It is not so easy today.

Throughout my youth, my family owned pets. Owned, I suspect, is now a pejorative term. I mean, do we really own a dog? Or do we merely cohabit in the same spaces? The latter, I am now certain. My father, an impetuous man with a generous heart once bought a squirrel monkey from Gimbel's Department Store in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania—when department stores, I surmise, could sell squirrel monkeys.

A monkey proved to be a pretty interesting pet, but if you fed it something it did not like, it would simply heave it out of the cage. Neatness is not any monkey's most endearing trait.

I remember growing up with a mutt, the family dog, a loyal animal who became as much a member of the family as I . As a teenager, I stood beside her in the vet's office when he administered the oh-so-humane and oh-so-lethal injection to a lame, sick, dying dog. I remember her eyes, just as they went dark. I remember weeping all night over that loss.

In my forties, (midway, if I am feeling honest) I found myself alone again. I was pretty certain I needed a dog. Christmas was coming and I did not want to be alone.

Before—well, before my current losses and tragedies—the parameters of a dog purchase became the topic of long conversations between Jacob, John, and me. It had been decided that hypo-allergenic was a necessity; preferably a non-shedding, small, with minimal genetic health concerns, loyal, good with children, non-nippy, benevolent, artistic, and kind. Just kidding about the last three, but we did have a pretty substantial list of preferences. The miniature schnauzer breed met all of our qualifications.

But we, as a family, never had a chance to fulfill that dream. Alone, now, I decided to take action—and taking action was something I did not do lightly. Unlike me, the schnauzer, according to the breed books, had decisiveness bred into its genes. A good watchdog, the books insisted. A barker, but not a biter. Since I live in a relatively safe suburb, a barker would be sufficient.

I made a few calls; I looked on the Internet.

A friend advised against getting any dog. "They're all the same—stupid, hairy, and only interested in food. Trust me," she had said. "You will get companionship, but it will be stupid companionship. Like a blind date who you find out later cheated to get his GED, and who is five inches shorter than he claimed."

She owned an Irish setter, a truly small-brained animal. I say she owned it since she did all the dog upkeep in her family—feeding, walking, feeding, letting out, letting in, feeding, washing the muck off of it. The rest of the household liked the dog, but as is often usual for families, the mother remained stuck with all the dog duties. And to complicate things, her dog could not be described as smart—not even close to smart.

It ran into the same glass sliding door every morning of its life. Like a chicken, it appeared to wake up to a new world every dawn. A pleasant dog, for certain, but, as noted, not very smart. And it often smelled wet. Most of us know that musty, yeasty, heady, nearly unpleasant aroma of a wet dog. Like wet newspaper. What they have in common is beyond me.

"But I'm looking at a smaller dog. Something that I can pick up if I have to," I told her.

It took two people to lift my friend's Irish setter, or a single person using a Hoyer hospital lift—and where was one of those when needed?

"Jacob always wanted a schnauzer. Sort of like fulfilling a promise, you know?" I added.

My friend shrugged, apparently resigned to my choice, to my fate.

After all, how do you argue with one of the last wishes of a dead man?

There were a few AKA breeders near where I live that specialized in miniature schnauzers.

And when I was ready, only one breeder—the precise lady in Barrington with the lazy eye—had a litter with an unspoken-for puppy.

"I have a litter of four. The two females are spoken for. The larger male is going to another breeder in Florida. That leaves one male puppy. He's the runt of the litter. But he's healthy."

I attempted to make arrangements to complete the purchase.

"It's not that simple," she said, a slight note of caution in her voice. "Before you come, I have some questions. Save you a trip. I don't sell my dogs to just anyone."

"Of course not," I said, thinking it was a poor method of marketing puppies, but I played along. "I completely understand."

"Do you live in a house or apartment?"

"A house. It's too big for me," I said, telling this stranger more than she needed to know. "I plan on selling in a year or two, and moving to a smaller house. More manageable. But a house. A house, yes, not an apartment or a condo. I don't think I would do well in an apartment anymore. Odd noises and someone is always cooking with too much curry. So, yes, I have a house. I will have a house. Now. And in the future."

"Does the house have a yard? Will the new house have a yard?"

Don't all houses have yards?

"It does. And the back is fenced. It's pretty big. The landscapers bill me $40 a week to cut it . . . so there's a lot of room for a dog to run. And if I do move, that house will have a fenced yard. Keeps out the riffraff dogs, if you know what I mean."

Her silence probably meant that she didn't

"Do you work?"

No . . . I thought I might pay for the puppy with food stamps.

Sorry. That's just me being snarky. Sorry. "Yes."

"Are you gone all day? Will the dog be alone all day?" Oh . . . now I see why you're asking.

"No. I work from home. I write books. And I edit some. And I publish a newsletter for writers. But I'm home 95 percent of most weekdays. I do go out to Starbucks sometimes to write. There's something about having to block out other people's conversations that makes me concentrate more effectively. But that's only once a week. Maybe twice, if I'm stumped by something."

The precise lady waited, then spoke carefully.

"I wouldn't sell this dog to a single person who worked outside the home all day. These puppies need companionship.

They'll get neurotic without a person—or people around. Nothing worse than a neurotic dog."

She said nothing about dogs that had delusions of grandeur. Would I describe Rufus as . . . delusional . . . or would that just be me?

"Any small children in the home?"

I waited a heartbeat, like I have done now for these last few years, waited until that small scud of darkness passed.

"No. No one else. It's just me."

The precise lady must have been thinking: divorced, or widowed, or never married. I did not volunteer further information. She did not ask. Often, when even thinking about the past, even to myself—still—I would get teary. Buying a dog is no time to get teary.

"Well, why don't you come up this Saturday? The puppy won't be ready to leave for at least another three weeks. You can see how you'll get on with him. We can talk."

I hung up the phone thinking that I need to make a good impression on this woman, or else I'll have to find another breeder and the next closest—with puppies available—was in Ohio. I did not want to drive to Ohio. Not just yet. Maybe not ever.

I arrived at the breeder's home early—a lifelong trait. To me, being on time is fifteen minutes early. The setting was not exactly rural, but I estimated that I was a good ten minutes from the nearest Starbucks—or a Texaco station selling chilled bottles of Starbucks Iced Coffee. So I sat in the drive and waited. I would have really liked a coffee. Caffeine settles my nerves.

I rattled in the car, more than a little nervous.

The breeder, exactly as I had pictured: precise, wore her hair short, trim, with practical glasses clipped to a gold chain around her neck; with that one eye slightly off-kilter to the other. She may have been wearing Earth Shoes. I was unaware if they had made a comeback; hers looked sensible and organic with a leather strap. I admit that I am far from being style-conscious. I buy good clothes, good outfits, designed to last. I haven't purchased a new outfit in years . . . well . . . since before the accident I guess.

She extended a firm handshake, and escorted me to the basement. I could hear scuffling and yipping as we descended. In a large, airy room, with French doors leading to the outside, now closed, two adult schnauzers were in a large pen with what appeared to be a large, single mass of wiggling puppy. The room smelled of dog—but that inviting new dog smell.

"Sit down," she said, and for that second I was not sure if the breeder meant me or the dogs. I realized that I should sit.

I sat on a plastic chair—one of two in the enclosure.

The two adult dogs sniffed the air, not in fear, but in exploration, in greeting. The larger one trotted over to me, and placed its front paws on my knees, and stared hard into my eyes.

Schnauzer eyes are dark, or mostly dark, so the iris in their eyes is all but hidden. They are like cartoon eyes—all one color—so it is difficult to see emotion in them. And schnauzers are not smilers. Some dogs—like labs, for example—can pull their lips back and offer a grin, with a lolling tongue. (I have since discovered that labs aren't that happy. They are simply manipulative.)

The larger dog, apparently satisfied with what it was looking for, hopped down.

The smaller dog walked towards me, with what I took to be deliberate steps. It too placed its paws on my knees and stared.

"That's the mom," the breeder said, not using the word mom, but the breeder word for a female dog—a word, incidentally, that I have never liked using, either in anger, or in scientific dog-calling. She was Rufus' mother after all, though the name Rufus would not be decided for a few weeks.

She stared deeply, as deeply as a dog can stare, without being distracted by the yelping of a puppy, or the whine of another. She stared, just stared, for the longest of moments. Longer than most dogs stare at anything, with the possible exception of an empty food bowl. (This I have learned recently as well.)

I didn't know what to do, so I gently covered her paws with my hands—like offering a manner of assurance that I was a good person and who would treat her offspring well.

After what seemed to be a long time, she sort of gave a nod, like she approved, or found me acceptable, or knew her one special offspring was exactly the puppy I needed, then dropped back to the ground, sniffed my leg and shoe for a moment, then walked back to the big ball of puppies in the corners. This was not her first litter, so she obviously knew the routine. Puppies grow up and move on in the wild, and they do the same if they reside in urban domesticity.

The breeder walked over, reached in, and extracted a small furry lump of wiggle, mostly black, with some white. She handed it to me.

"This one will be yours if you want."

I held the small wriggling bud of puppy cupped in my two hands with plenty of room to spare.

"The pup can't see real well yet, so all it sees is your hands." I stroked the little face with a finger, gentle, but not overly gentle. It was a boy puppy, after all. The puppy seemed to like that, and promptly fell asleep in my hands.

"That's a good sign. Some dogs just stay all riled up—being picked up, carried, strange scents—they'll struggle to get away. Apparently, he thinks you're a safe place."

He was the most beautiful puppy I had ever seen.

And he fell asleep. My heart began to sing, just a little. After such a long silence, it startled me at its ability to do so.

This was indeed the puppy that I needed to have in my life.

More surprises came later.

The breeder gave me a list of things to do, and to have them all accomplished in the three weeks between the initial meeting and the final hand-off—Rufus' adoption, as it was. The list was not extensive, but twice as long as I had anticipated.

"I can't visit your house, so you have to give me your word that all of it gets done. Okay?"

It was a command that I could not say no to. "Of course."

I could see why she was good at training dogs. I really wanted to please her.

A dog crate, dog carrier for the car ride home, puppy chow— one of two preferred brands—a water dish, collar, two leashes; one retractable, one a strong tether, the name of the dog's veterinarian, a picture of the fenced yard, an appointment set for a puppy class. The list ran on for nearly a full page.

Obtaining all the necessary documentation and supplies was not that difficult. The cage—sorry—the crate fit into the alcove of a desk built into the kitchen layout. (I had been told that cage was pejorative, crate was preferred by most breeders.) I never used the kitchen desk, except as a temporary storehouse for receipts, mail, and magazines waiting to be evaluated before becoming recyclables. The top drawer held in the neighborhood of a thousand pens and pencils, all halfway to being thrown away because none of them worked, forcing me to take telephone notes with a huge felt-tipped sign marker on legal pads, the ink soaking through four sheets at a time.

I have to get better organized. I mean it this time.

The cage—rather, the crate—fit snugly in the kneehole of the desk. I added two sleeping pads, the top one a leopard print, to insure a soft rest. I took a picture of it. I would show the breeder all my preparations.

No one prints pictures anymore. All they do is show others the back of their camera or cell phones. I miss passing actual snapshots around, but I didn't think I needed a permanent record of a dog crate and food bowls and the like, so I carried my camera with me.

I'll probably never delete them from the memory stick, though.

I wasn't sure about the crate situation. I never had a crated dog before. The family dog had the run of the house. Looking back, I don't remember where the dog slept. Did we have a dog bed somewhere? My mother, the sole surviving parent, resided in a nursing home, and while she had only begun to wade into the shallow, yet troubled waters of dementia, for now, she would resent being asked inconsequential questions like, "Where did the dog sleep?"

She would become agitated, a little, and wave the question off as if it were a pesky mosquito. "How I am expected to remember foolish things like that?" she would snap, prickly as she had ever been. Some things do not change over the decades.

I wanted to say that I did not expect her to recall the details, but that we were simply making conversation. Instead of asking a follow-up question about how the family had decided on a dog name, I instead sat back, and watched Wheel of Fortune with my mother. She could not hear worth beans, had no use for gadgets like hearing aids, so the volume was turned up to a painful level. Virtually every television in the Ligonier Valley Nursing Unit remained turned to the same level. I don't understand how the nurses and aides tolerated it. It would be like working in a tavern that featured heavy metal music. Or working in a steel mill. Here, all televisions, except the one in the main visiting lounge, had to be turned off by eight in the evening. Then silence rolled down the halls like a tsunami.

The breeder said that the prehistoric dogs lived in dens, so a crate, which she was careful to call a crate, fulfills their ancestral urges, covered, protected, easily defended. I draped a thin blanket over the top and sides. I planned to swap the thin one out for a heavier one in colder weather. The door latched easily. The crate provided plenty of turnaround area. The padding looked, and felt, pretty comfortable as well.

I had not purchased the Kuranda Dog Bed—patented, orthopedic, and chew proof. It certainly looked comfortable in the pet store, nearly as expensive as the new mattress I had purchased for myself 18 months earlier. That was a necessary purchase; a deluxe dog bed could not be considered in the same category.

I had an assortment of puppy chows, puppy chews, puppy toys, and assorted puppy diversions.

Even before I handed the breeder a check, this dog purchase had become expensive.

Do friends ever give puppy showers? My initial reaction was a strong no, with a wishful yes right behind.

I was ready. I was prepared.

Yet nothing could prepare me, really and truly, for what was to happen in a few short months.

The breeder actually looked at every picture I took of my purchases, my preparations, my supplies, my complete photo essay of my backyard. She even checked the Xerox copy of the medical license of my intended veterinarian.

"I've never heard of him," she said, "but he went to Cornell. Best vet school in the country."

"She. She went. The B.T. stands for Barbara something or other," I answered.

The breeder brightened.

"Good. I've always found female vets to be more compassionate—and intuitive. Good choice."

I felt proud of what I had accomplished. It was a feeling I had missed as of recent months.

She presented me with the puppy's papers and AKC registration—a thick packet of documents that displayed his lineage back to the Mayflower, apparently. I had assured her that I had no interest in showing the puppy, or dog, as it grew. I promised to have him neutered; perhaps breeders do not want more competition from unskilled amateurs like me. "Neutered makes for better pets," she declared. I knew, for certain, that his papers would be filed in my office at home, and then lost in less than six months.

I'm not going to sell the dog for a profit, like flipping a foreclosed house. He's not going to procreate. Why would I need to know his great-great-great grandfather?

I handed her the check. The dog was now mine.

"What are you going to name him?" the breeder asked. I shrugged, apologetically.

"I'm not good with names . . . or book titles. I let my publisher pick titles. But with the dog, I thought I might see what sort of name fits him after a day or two."

"Don't wait too long. Puppies get imprinted with whatever you call it—especially if you use it a lot when they're young."

He lay down in the middle of the pet carrier, not franticly trying to escape, nor cowering in the corner. But in the middle, like that is where he was supposed to be. It did make it easier to carry, since the weight was evenly distributed.

I had been nervous concerning the ride home, worried about a whining, yelping puppy carrying on so much that I would have to stop. I'd imagined him chewing wildly at the door, scrabbling to escape his new, and probably evil owner. But there were no histrionics, no puppy on the edge of puppy craziness. Just a very calm puppy, supine, staring out through the wire mesh door.

I pulled into the garage, stopped the car, and carefully took the carrier from the car.

"Show him his bed, his food, and the door you'll use to take him outside. Take him out on a leash right away and start his bathroom training," the breeder instructed, touching on the three most important elements in a puppy's small world.

I followed her instructions to the letter.

He dutifully sniffed at his crate, stepped inside, sniffing, looking at the cushion, then up at the top of the crate—like people do on all the HGTV shows when they enter a new room. I have noted that potential homebuyers invariably look at the ceiling, as if to make sure the house has one. Why do people do that? It's a plain ceiling. Look to see how big the closets are first, and if you have good water pressure. No one checks the water pressure on those shows. I have yet to see a single buyer flush a toilet. There might be a lot fewer home sales if people flushed toilets or ran showers.

The puppy completed his examination of the crate. I led him to his food dish and water bowl—both filled with fresh supplies.

He sniffed at both.

I snapped a leash onto his collar and led him to the . . . Wait. What door am I going to use?

The back door led to a back deck, a second-story affair. A puppy this small would not yet be able to climb stairs.

I'll have to use the front door.

We stepped outside through the main door, and his sniffing became a bit more earnest. It took him fifteen minutes to sniff his way around the front yard. I was cold by the time he completed his inspection. There were other dogs in the neighborhood, so he took some time getting acquainted with their calling cards.

I am told that dogs can tell the size and sex and temperament of a dog by the scent they leave. Seems a crude way of doing it—but if you can't talk or write, I suspect it is the only way.

He actually relieved himself out there, by a bush towards the side of the house—a bush I didn't really like, so if his ministrations killed it, I would not be upset. It some sort of a weedy looking shrub that had been billed as the bearer of fragrant flowers. the flowers lasted all of three days; the rest of the time it simply looked weedy. I praised him, as I had been told to do.

We walked back into the house. I unclipped his leash.

"Keep him in the kitchen at first. He'll be overwhelmed if he has too much space to explore."

Two doorways led into the kitchen: one a pocket door to the dining room, easily closed off; the other archway could be cut off by opening the basement door, leaving a gap of only an inch or two. The bigger problem was the wide arch between the kitchen and the family room.

The puppy seemed to be a cautious type, so my initial solution employed two lengths of white clothesline rope, strung at two inches off the ground, and the other at six inches, and affixed to the molding with adhesive-backed Velcro. If the puppy ran into them at full force, which he gave no indication of doing, the ropes would give way. More importantly, if I ran into them, stumbling towards the sunroom with the first coffee of the day and with my typical morning slit-eyes, then I would dislodge them as easily, without tumbling down and scalding myself with hot coffee.

The puppy sniffed the ropes, and made no attempt to cross the barrier.

Effective. Maybe I could market this idea? The puppy stared up at me.

No. How hard would it be to duplicate this? Not very.

I sat on the floor, my back to the wall, and invited the puppy to play. It slithered over with a wiggle. I imagined that it looked happy. I couldn't tell. This was the start of a long process, learning how to read the moods of this small animal.

It crawled into my hands, and began a gentle nibbling on my fingers. His breath smelled healthy, like milk.

"Don't let him bite you," the breeder had scolded me. "Bad habit for a dog to have—biting."

But chewing is what a puppy does. As long as it did not bite in anger, I would tolerate a dog-to-owner chew every now and again.

After thirty minutes, the puppy crawled down from my leg and sat on its haunches, looking as tired as a . . . well, a puppy.

"Go into your crate," I directed and pointed at the open door to his den.

The puppy stared at my finger for a moment, as if my finger was the object he should focus on . "No," I said, as I pushed my finger forward into the air, gesturing towards the door. The puppy appeared to scowl, or furrow his brow as if in thought, then turned his head towards the crate. He lifted himself off the floor and walked with a surprising deliberateness , towards his den, his crate, climbed over the two-inch frame, walked in, circled three times, then laid down, his head on his paws, his eyes facing me.


He blinked, and let his head fall deeper into the furrow of his forelocks.

"Can I get some coffee? Will I keep you awake?"

He did not answer. I am not sure, in the retelling of this episode, if he understood me at that young age, and simply waited until the right time , or if he was in the process of trying to understand my speech. I think the latter, though I have not asked him. It doesn't seem to be that pertinent of a question, in retrospect.

I sat in the upholstered chair in the bay window in the kitchen, sat with my coffee, watching The Weather Channel with the sound muted, sipping as quietly as I could manage, watching the puppy fall into a deep, untroubled sleep.

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