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Joseph Sabino Mistick

Joseph Sabino Mistick: Burt the Christmas dog has been a gift

| Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018, 7:03 p.m.
Joseph Mistick's dogs
Joseph Mistick's dogs

This is Burt’s first Christmas with our family. And, he got here just in time.

When our daughter Tori found him at the Action for Animals shelter in Latrobe three months ago, he had been there for over a year. Luckily, this is a no-kill shelter, and he was waiting for Tori.

Burt had been adopted at least once before, but he was returned to the shelter. You wonder how that could happen, but good people sometimes take on more than they can handle.

Burt is an older chocolate Lab, and there are some problems that come naturally with his gray whiskers, but he still has that puppy goofiness that is a Lab’s charm. He is the Houdini of dogs, because there is no door that he cannot open, including the freezer. And, Burt is prone to seizures, probably the final deal-breaker that made it easy to pass him over or give him up.

So, there he was — old, sick and homeless — when Tori stumbled across him while researching an article on rescue shelters. He was irresistible. He had her at “woof.”

Once home in Pittsburgh, Burt joined Lucy, Tori’s 6-year-old Lab, who has had the run of the place. Lucy could have been cranky, but they greeted each other with love, like they had always been together. That was our first lesson.

Burt has taught us other things, too. He is someone new to care for, slowing us down. We stay in touch just to keep up with his antics or to help with his 7 p.m. medication.

Burt knows the sheer joy of life. “Burt now lives in the moment with Lucy. When we walk out the door they have no clue what’s in store, but they’re excited to just be along for the ride,” Tori says.

“And, they help us through tough times, too,” she adds. “Even when you feel like avoiding the world, you still have to walk the dogs and greet the day.”

Both of our other daughters have rescue dogs, too, and they will all be around for Christmas. Addy has Porter, a kind and steady boxer. Sloane has Piper, probably a hound mix, who loves to run and jump. Along with his pal Lucy, Burt will now be a big part of the sweet chaos of our holiday.

It has been a year of challenges and it would have been easy to lose our way. The girls lost both of their grandfathers and a favorite uncle, and our neighborhood was rocked by unimaginable hatred and violence at the Tree of Life synagogue.

Those wounds never fully heal, but as my late friend Bob Brown always said, “If you don’t have a dog, you miss 13 smiles a day.”

Burt has brought us those smiles. He is a gift to our family. He is part distraction and part cause for reflection, and we have needed some of each.

And, for Burt, this Christmas is more than just another day. Finally home for the remainder of his days, this is the start of a new life. That is the message of Christmas.

Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer. Reach him at misticklaw@gmail.com.

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