Monthly Archives: November 2015

Tales of Tales: How a dog made Thanksgiving memorable

By Hersh Wilson

My family’s Thanksgivings were massive undertakings, usually including four very Irish Catholic families, which meant 20 children, all under the age of 13, eight parents and grandparents.

The particular holiday in question was at our home, which introduced the star character of this story, our 3-year-old German shepherd, Shawnee.

The activity level in the house and outside before dinner was like a school recess. The kids were running, playing, yelling, fighting and crying. The adults were trying desperately to make sure no kids were missing or seriously injured. Shawnee, after attempting to herd kids, just jumped in and played: lots of chasing, finding hiding kids and barking in delight.

Finally, my dad had enough and he pointed at me and at Shawnee. That was my cue to take Shawnee to my room. I grabbed my cousin Johnny, who was my age, and we high-tailed it upstairs. As we ran up, I heard my mom yell at my almost teenage sister and the girl cousins, “You can’t wear black eye shadow to Thanksgiving dinner! Your grandmother will have a stroke!”

In my room, with a couple of other hanger-on cousins, Shawnee jumped on my bed, curled up and watched us. Johnny and I continued the serious conversation that we’d been engaged in all day. We’d both been promoted to senior altar boys at our churches and we had discovered girls at the same time. We were weighing the pros and cons. This was an intense conversation, so I never noticed Shawnee slip out of the room.

But apparently Shawnee had plans. With all the dads either drinking, changing diapers or chasing children, Shawnee saw opportunity.

But let me set the stage. In the eye of the family hurricane was our kitchen. There, with the planning and execution that would make a general weep with jealousy, the moms were preparing, cooking and setting the tables.

I wouldn’t say they were militant, but no one was allowed in the kitchen, not weepy 3-year-olds, sullen pre-teens, husbands or a loveable pet. This was the place of perfection, where the moms wanted only to lay out, once a year, the perfect family meal. Once a year, they strove to gather us all under one roof. Once a year, the wish was to have us each hold our breaths at the bounty and perfection of a Thanksgiving Day meal. There was a lot of “artistic” tension in that kitchen.

But perfection exists on the edge of chaos. There is always an agent of change ready to knock down the first domino.

None of us noted that Shawnee had somehow gone missing.

At about 4 p.m., we were called to dinner. The Minnesota sun was a pale ball setting in the west over a prairie of snow. The little ones were being seated at the kids table and the teenagers were wondering would this be the year that we sat with the grownups. The turkey was cooling on the kitchen counter. The grandparents were led to sit at the head of the table. It seemed to be coming to pass; that moment of a perfect Thanksgiving.

I recall still being assigned to the kids’ table. I recall that we had cracked open the door to the backyard because it was warm and a little smoky.

The next thing I remember is my Aunt Betty yelling, “The dog has the turkey!”

We all looked, and sure enough, Shawnee had come out of nowhere. She had leaped up on the counter and grabbed the 20-pound roasted turkey in her jaws and sprinted out the door.

Of course, all the kids jumped up to chase, knocking over glasses, yanking table clothes in excitement, but Shawnee was gone, past the tree line into the dark.

There was shock in the dining room.

The kids came back, out of breath from the chase. We all gathered around the “grown-up” table waiting for cues. How should we react? Anger? Frustration?

We waited. And then, my mom just laughed. Then my grandfather, Dinty, joined in. Soon, even the “cool” girl cousins were laughing out loud.

Perfection had again been bested by reality.

I’m sure that Shawnee had not planned any of this, but after we stopped laughing, the entire family visibly relaxed. There was nothing we could do. We ate mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie and sweet potatoes. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a great Thanksgiving. And a very full dog was let back in the house around midnight.

For more writings by Hersch Wilson on dogs, firefighters and life go to Contact him at

Help light their way home

Imagine a line of farolitos coming from the darkness to a warm place of refuge – the Santa Fe Animal Shelter. Now imagine that each of those brightly lit paper lanterns represents the life of a homeless animal saved thanks to a LightHomecommunity’s generosity.

It’s a striking visual and something that Evelyn Viechec, the shelter’s director of growth, believes will grow into an annual holiday tradition. But the 2,000 farolitos the shelter hopes to collect through $100 donations during its monthlong campaign this winter represent much more than a beautiful event: It’s a symbol of hope and love for animals everywhere, especially in Northern New Mexico.

“Santa Fe is such an animal-loving community,” Evelyn said. “The community expects – and deserves – a lot from its hometown shelter. We hope everyone will come out and feel a sense of pride that he or she has helped saved the life of a homeless animal.”

The Light Their Way Home campaign, which starts Nov. 18, culminates with the farolito lighting at 6 p.m. Dec. 18 at the shelter, 100 Caja del Rio Road. Scores of volunteers and staff have agreed to help light the farolitos and will join in the celebration that evening, which includes refreshments, the lighting of the shelter Christmas tree and singing around a courtyard luminaria.

Farolitas and luminarias are a unique Northern New Mexico tradition, one that the shelter will honor in its own special way. The lights have their roots in the 1800s, when small bonfires were used to guide people to the celebration of Christmas Mass.

Now, the lights will help with saving the lives of homeless animals. For every $100 gift the shelter receives during its campaign, the shelter will add the donor’s name — or the name of an animal or a person someone wishes to honor – to a farolito and line the shelter’s entrance. The goal is to raise $200,000 and light they way home for 2,000 shelter animals.

“A homeless animal’s life is often filled with darkness, without a loving home to brighten his or her life,” said Mary Martin, the shelter’s executive director. “With your help, we can light their way home this holiday season and beyond.”

To donate, click Light Their Way Home. To watch a video of our work and our holiday campaign, please click here.

All our animals are special, but sometimes we have people who want to help give homeless animals a paw up – so businesses and individuals sponsor the animals through their daily upkeep or their adoption fee. Meet November’s Williowsponsored animal, whose adoption fees are waived through the month thanks to our friends at Back Road Pizza​:

We are told that Willow, a medium-sized, black Labrador retriever mix, is 9 years old. We can’t believe that and neither will you once you meet her. She is soft, gentle, wiggly, playful, spunky … need we go on? She enjoys going for a walk and crawling into your lap. Our behavior department notes that she is still trying to find her playmates as she has been getting overwhelmed in our playgroups, so at this point we think she would do best in a single dog home. We know that will make it harder to find a home, but we think there is a home for her here in Santa Fe.

If you’re interested in learning about sponsoring an animal, call our Adoption Desk at 983-4309 ext. 610. For more information, click here.