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No returns Kate Davies | Sat, Dec 11 2010 12:00 PM

Christmas can be an amazing season. It's a time when families and friends get together to revel in their love and appreciation for each other. It highlights the most beautiful parts of humanity... but if you are associated with animal rescue, it also has a tendency to highlight aspects of some humans you wish you didn't have to see.

The animal shelters in San Diego County experience an influx of dogs around Christmas that is unparalleled by any other holiday, and the reason for it is as simple as it is heartbreaking: older dogs are relinquished, make way for the "Christmas puppy."

Those of you who consider your pets to be a part of your family can't even begin to wrap your minds around this concept, but believe me when I tell you that it is a terrible fact.

Four years ago this coming January, I visited a shelter to evaluate dogs for the rescue I ran at the time.

I had been going to shelters for years and, while it always upset me to see the sheer volume of homeless dogs, I was doing what I could to help them.

After half an hour in the shelter, that particular year found me on my knees in the middle of a kennel ro, sobbing. I was surrounded by senior dogs - dogs that should have been on a couch, or a bed, or in front of a fire - not spending their last months on a cold kennel floor.

After 10 minutes of crying, I looked up into a pair of big brown beagle eyes.

Her muzzle was turning white and there was no fur on the lower half of her back, and she just gazed at me silently.

I went up to the front desk and asked about her. She had been dumped in a riverbed in North County three days before, and from what they could gather she had been used as a "breeding machine" until she was too old to breed and then dumped.

She had mammary tumors, dental issues, mange and chronic ear infections. I was told that if she wasn't adopted within the next 24 hours that she would be put to sleep ... so I put her in the car.

Her name is Darcy. She is going to be 15 next month. She has the most gentle, patient and loving personality of any dog that I have ever met, and I have met more than a few. She has a cancerous tumor on her right elbow that is inoperable and will eventually end her sweet life.

She has taught me more about patience, endurance, unconditional love and enjoying life than any human ever could have done.

Someone considered her expendable. To me, she is invaluable. She was my late Christmas gift to myself - I just didn't realize it at the time. Pets are for life - theirs and ours.

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