Our family had some rules about Christmas morning. Since the children were so eager to unwrap gifts we had a confused mess on Christmas morning. So we made a simple rule. When you came in to see what Santa has done, you may grab your stocking off the mantle and open every gift in it as fast as possible. After that, order was required. Someone was appointed to take over Santa's role to deliver the gifts one by one to the recipients. (Santa was usually the youngest person present when the children were old enough). Then everyone watched while the gift was opened and thank yous delivered.

The years passed and the family separated. This particular year only three members of our family would be present on Christmas morning. To make even this number present we had to go to York to pick up Hannah (Talitha's mother) on Christmas Eve. This was fun because we got to meet Hannah's friends. We arrived home late and did not get to the Christmas celebration the next morning until almost ten o'clock.

We trickled in and took our stockings off the mantle still somewhat asleep. Excitement took over quickly, however, and soon we were tearing wrappings off our stocking toys. Suddenly our two dogs came over to me, barking furiously. I looked at them in great bewilderment. What could be wrong with the dogs?

The barking continued while I sat trying to analyze the situation. Finally the light dawned. They wanted their Christmas stockings! In recent years it had become our custom for Talitha and me to go to the drug store on Christmas Eve and pick up a bunch of stocking toys. We tried not to worry about cost, but we did insist that everything we bought would be of use to the recipient. Lotions, socks, puzzles, slips - most anything that would fit in stocking would do as long as it was useful. Then back home we would go, secreting ourselves in the study while we carefully wrapped all the selected gifts.

This year I had obtained the stocking gifts and even wrapped them ahead of time because we would not be home to perform the ritual. I had forgotten the toys for the dogs stockings.

Fortunately I had a number of doggie toys stored in the broom closet. I went in and got them and gave them to the dogs back in the living room where the Christmas celebration was taking place. The dogs were as pleased with them as they would have been had they chewed them out of their special doggie stockings.

I was amazed at this episode. How could the dogs possibly remember a whole year away that they had stockings on Christmas morning? This certainly enhanced my understanding of dogs. They have such a limited language (tail-wagging, nippy barks, jumping around, slinking back when they have done wrong). They do not, however, have the privilege of spoken language.

Scientists claim that our intelligence comes from our ability to use language. In an experiment where a psychologist raised a monkey with his infant he found that the monkey excelled the infant in understanding and performance until the child began to use language. At that point the child began to excel.

From that Christmas on I have learned to respect the reasoning power of our pets. Unquestioningly they understand much more of what was going on than I had realized before. The most important factor, however, is how much they are a part of our family. We gave the dogs stockings at Christmas because we love them and want them to be a part of what we are. Now I realize, as never before, that they appreciate this relationship and will not let it go by without a protest.

I had the privilege of always having pets when I was growing up. Therefore it was natural for me to have pets for my children. This is not so easy in this modern world where people live in stacks. I guess everyone could have goldfish. But how can you wrap around them on Christmas morning?

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