Twelve Tails of Christmas: Remembering our barking reindeer

Bozo, a Great Pyrenees mix, was considered Santa's other helper by his owners.

By Erik Siemers
Tribune Reporter
December 22, 2005

Day 10: It was Christmas morning and the little ones were worried.

We were all worried.

Ken and Tara, two of my three older siblings, searched everywhere. The frozen lake, in ditches, along every stretch of highway within a night's walking distance.

He was nowhere to be found.

Disappearing wasn't unusual. But usually only for two hours, maybe three. Not much longer.

And not on Christmas.

The little ones, my niece and nephew, asked about him. Is he OK? Is he coming back? Where is he?

We feared the worst, though nobody expressed it.

Dead on a highway? Stranded in the frozen Minnesota winter? Hungry and lost? Dognapped?

It was the Christmas we worried Bozo would never come back.

He had arrived in a pickup, not the most ceremonious of chariots, but Bozo loved the back of pick-ups.

A Great Pyrenees mix, Bozo belonged to two men from the Twin Cities who spent weekends in a cabin near our home on central Minnesota's Mille Lacs Lake.

While the men were off fishing, hunting, or whatever they did, Bozo would trot down the dirt road between the cabin and our house to a big bowl of food my dad set out for him.

Dad said he was just a puppy.

And I'm sure he was, though it was hard to convince me. I was nearing my teen years, and my limited exposure to almost everything told me puppies shouldn't be big enough to wear saddles.

It wasn't long before the two men decided they could no longer take care of Bozo - they named him, not us - and let him join our family.

Bozo no longer had to trot down that dirt road. He had a new home, with lots of land to explore.

I was no different from most children on Christmas Eve. I'd pretend to fall asleep in hopes of catching Santa in action.

It was magical to wake up and wonder how all the presents got there.

We didn't even have a chimney.

But this year, the magic was missing.

It was about 1988, though the exact year escapes me. I was nearly a teenager, old enough to know that Dad and my oldest brother delivered the presents, but young enough to wish I didn't know.

I'd never experienced real loss. And the prospect of losing Bozo that morning made the value of any unwrapped present depreciate to nothing.

He was, in all seriousness, like a brother. Granted, one who shed a lot of hair and stayed outside most of the time.

Bozo was a dog like no other.

He was, for one, a cautious explorer. We lived on a hill next to a busy, two-lane highway. Ambling down the driveway, he'd approach the road and look both ways, often twice, before crossing.

And he was thoughtful. One afternoon, we noticed him crossing the highway while carrying something in his mouth.

Bozo had brought us a gift: a half-gallon of vanilla ice cream that he carried by the flap.

Undoubtedly, some neighbors had run out of room in their freezer and used a snowbank as their back-up.

"As long as he carried that ice cream home, I was going to put it in a dish for him," my mom, Jerry Siemers, said recently. "After that, he deserved to eat the ice cream."

But now Bozo was gone, and so was the thrill of Christmas.

After all that searching and fretting, we opened gifts and ate breakfast. We felt empty and joyless knowing that this beloved family member could be lost forever.

And then, suddenly, like a Christmas miracle, he was there, sitting in the snow as if nothing had happened.

Nobody saw him arrive. Nobody knew where he'd been. So we told the kids he must have finished helping Santa with his last deliveries - and that's what I'd still like to believe.

For the first time, I realized that the holiday means more than presents. Sure, Bozo was just a dog. But he was a good dog.

He was like a brother with fur.

Bozo died nearly a decade ago, leaving our lives much like he entered - riding in the back of a pick-up, though on his way to a veterinarian.

Even though he's gone, I still think of him every Christmas.

And someday, when I have children of my own, they'll hear about Santa's other helper.

You might see him Christmas Eve.

He'll be the reindeer that barks.

Erik Siemers is the Tribune's city government reporter. His new dog, Dexie, has pledged to help Santa only if he plays fetch.

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