Greg Kincaid

A Dog Named Christmas

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A Dog Named Christmas Summary

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Greg Kincaid’s 2008 novel A Dog Named Christmas is the first in the series centered on the eponymous pet. Made into a Hallmark movie in 2009, this book is a heartwarming, simple, and unchallenging way to mark the holiday – so much so, some readers wonder whether this a novel was written for a very young audience. Taking place over several weeks, the plot traces the way a wonderful dog transforms for the better the lives of the family that adopts him – and the way an intellectually disabled young man demonstrates the depths of his affinity for animals.

The prologue introduces us to Jake, a dog whose previous owners, the Conner family, describe him as a headstrong animal that does whatever he wants. Not only that, but in their eyes, Jake almost has a magical quality – kind of like Mary Poppins – of choosing the family that most needs him in it at any given time. We then learn that the Conners no longer have Jake, who ran away.

George McCray introduces his close-knit family. A fourth-generation farmer, he enjoys his hardworking life, disliking disruption or change ever since coming back from serving in the Vietnam War. His wife, Mary Ann, a high school English teacher, is the family’s glue. Together, they have five adult children: the oldest is Jonathan, a carpenter happily married to his high school sweetheart with whom he has three sons; quiet and reserved Ryan; funny and mischievous Thomas; recently divorced Hannah; and twenty-year-old Todd, the youngest by ten years, who has an intellectual disability and still lives at home. Although he has some deficits, Todd is high functioning. What’s more, he has a gift for handling and caring for animals – something that comes in very handy for a farmer.

One Christmas, Todd learns on the news that a local animal shelter has an interesting promotion: they are asking people to temporarily adopt its dogs for the holidays. The hope is that after growing attached, the families will want to keep the dogs. The novel doesn’t consider the idea that it might be traumatic for a dog to be moved to a strange house for a few days only to be brought back to the shelter, instead, presenting this as a wholly excellent concept. George is skeptical and hostile to the idea, arguing that the farm is already busy enough without a dog. Nevertheless, through patient persistence, Todd wins his father over. When they go to the shelter, Todd and a black Labrador cross gravitate to each other. This is Jake, and the McCray’s end up taking him home. Todd renames Jake – he calls the dog Christmas.

Christmas turns out to be the world’s greatest dog, and the family immediately falls in love with this new pet. However, George is resistant to Christmas’s charms. Eventually, we learn that this is because of his experiences during the war. When he was shipped overseas, he had to leave behind his dog, Tucker, who died while George was away. Then, during the war, George befriended a dog named Good Charlie, who saved George’s life, sacrificing herself in the process. Now, unwilling to subject himself to the same heartbreak again, George simply refuses to become attached to Christmas. In a moment he later comes to see as selfish, George interrupts the family’s happy Christmas dinner to tell everyone that when the holiday is over, the dog will be returned to the shelter.

Soon, George’s heart begins to melt, as he sees how much Todd is getting out of the experience of taking care of a dog. For a father who has worried about how his disabled son will make his way in the world, seeing Todd learn a valuable life lesson about the importance of keeping his word and display a maturity that George didn’t think he possessed makes George realize what the dog has contributed to his household.

Todd has a great idea: he wants to make sure that as many dogs as possible get to spend the holidays somewhere outside the shelter. Supported by his father and by his new friend, Hayley Donaldson, the head of the Cherokee County Animal Shelter, he launches a campaign to convince the townspeople to take in dogs. As George sees his son displaying the special qualities and talents that make him a joy to be around, he realizes that although the dog experiment was meant as a lesson to Todd, it has also healed George’s long-standing wounds and showed him the importance of letting go of the past in order to make way for the future.