We haven’t had a lot of dogs over the years. Never more than two at a time.

Our last Christmas dog was Rinaldo.

It is our wont to go Christmas week to the shelter to give our donation. But there’s no such thing as “just a trip” to the shelter. Every visit can be heart-wrenching.

We weren’t prepared at the time to take in Rinaldo. We knew we couldn’t get a big dog that would intimidate our old, crippled Lhasa Apso Basil, who was most likely over-bred and as a result has a curved front leg that makes veterinarians take snapshots for their files. We knew we couldn’t get a dog that would scare off our two cats. But we hadn’t expected this sad-eyed old man.

The shelter had placed him in the cat area because he was so small, an older Chihuahua, shivering even in his light blue wrap in the cold of New York winter. He looked up hopefully with dark eyes, knowing that his second chances were perhaps coming to an end. We heard his story: he had been rescued from a “kill” shelter in Brooklyn, N.Y., the meanest of the mean streets. Who turns in a 6-pound Chihuahua to be euthanized? He was about five or six pounds, almost toothless, about 8, though some vets thought he was already a bit older.

We asked to see him out of the crate. We walked around the shelter property, the sound of other dogs barking and pleading. He quickly peed on the ground and then looked up at us hopefully.

He curled up in our arms as we held him that cold post-Christmas day. There was no way we were going to walk out of there without him.

In the weeks and months to come we speculated how he could have ended up with this fate. Like any Chihuahua, he was fearful and didn’t like to be poked or disturbed. He growled while wagging his tail and licking your hand.

Rinaldo and Basil settled in together, two “Odd Couple” rescues, neither quite the romping dog on the beach or the puppy you envision in the pet food commercials. But when we came West last spring, they rode shotgun across I-90, Rinaldo in his wool doggy sweatshirts and Basil, his long coat of hair keeping him warm on a perch on a pile of duffel bags on the back seat.

Since coming to the North Coast, we’ve fallen in love with the Clatsop County Animal Shelter. Volunteers from throughout the county spend countless hours supporting the care and feeding of these pets, including Clatsop Animal Assistance, Susie’s Senior Dogs and the thrift shop, beneficiary of the Seaside Rotary Club’s largesse this fall.

We’ve scanned their ads and vowed we would take in another older dog. After all they do make the best pets: they are well-trained and loving, smart and oh so appreciative of all that we can give them. Our plan was to nurture Basil and Rinaldo in their senior years, and then to pay a visit to the shelter. At adoption day in Cannon Beach earlier this year we fell in love La-La, an adult Chihuahua who had both the right amount of sympathy and spunk to fit into our house. Three dogs, though? How could we?

So there we were out for a Sunday drive, back from a stroll in Cannon Beach and an Americano at Sleepy Monk, pulling out of Seven Dees trying to find the perfect holiday tree. As we drove north on Highway 101 back to Gearhart, we saw the tiny small hand-lettered sign along the road side: Min pin puppies. We drove past and Eve gulped. “A Chihuahua on steroids,” is how one miniature pinscher owner had once described his dog to us.

As former New Yorkers, that fit our personalities to a “T.”

We passed the entrance and then doubled back around. “Let’s stop. Let’s just take a look.”

The pups were frolicking in an outbuilding behind the main house. They were handsome, healthy dogs. The owner has been breeding for decades.

We got down to the floor and began to play. Of course the strongest were busy wrestling with their brothers and sisters.

A larger 4-month old min pin was herding the group and playing, greeting guests and visitors. But the littlest one was holding back, sitting to the side. The runt of the litter. Sweet, sad eyes, with wrinkly ruffled skin. So tiny you could hold her in your hand, practically a bird.

You guessed it. We brought her home and she is now a proud resident of Gearhart. We spent 24 hours just thinking of a name: Greta, Gretl, Gerte, Athena, Aphrodite, Lola, Lila … Lucy.

Today Lucy hops around our upstairs with energy and gusto, scrambling to great heights onto a pillow and sometimes missing. She pokes around cabinets and into closets. Right now she is nibbling at my feet.

Basil is kind but shy with her.

As for Rinaldo, it’s an amazing transition. This little feisty, toothless street-dog still snarls a bit when Lucy pokes and nibbles at him. He shrugs her off when she skips at his heels. But for an old dog so blind he stands in front of the wrong door to get in the house, he has got a lot of spunk. He is paternal with her. He shows her where to go for the food. And the water. She wants to eat out of Rinaldo’s bowl and he is willing to share. At night he wraps his legs around her in the bed. They sleep side by side, spooning. He tells her when to worry, and when everything is all right. He shows her the wee-wee pads and how to use them. She is a brilliant student. She follows him everywhere. The old dog and the new.

An old dog will teach you what you need to know. A puppy will keep you young forever.

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