If his dog hadn't been there, this little boy may have never been found in time.
- Posted on Jan 14, 2011
Every dog should have a loving home. So when my coworker said she had a Golden Retriever puppy that needed placement, I racked my brain trying to think of a suitable owner.
The very next day my friend Karen mentioned she was looking for a Golden Retriever for her four-year-old son, Michael, before they moved to Redstone, Colorado. “What luck!” Karen said. “We’ll take him!”
Angels certainly were looking out for Gilligan! As it turned out, the angels were just getting started. Months later Karen told me this story:
From the moment Gilligan and Michael met, they were inseparable. They played in the yard together for hours, and explored the “summer path” that led up the mountainside near their house in Redstone.
When Michael started kindergarten Gilligan rode to the bus stop with him in his mom’s van. And that’s where he stayed all day long. Karen tried to tempt him out with toys and treats, but nothing would incite him to budge. Michael’s “little buddy” refused to go home without him.
Winters come early in Colorado. By Thanksgiving Karen was periodically running the heat in the van for Gilligan while he waited for the school day to end. It was worth it when Michael climbed in for the ride home.
“We played Polar Express at recess!” Michael announced one Friday afternoon in December. “We went to the North Pole!”
Michael hadn’t stopped talking about the Santa movie since he saw it with some of his classmates. It’s practically like the North Pole around here, Karen thought as she turned the van down their snowy street. Redstone had recently gotten another three feet of snow on top of the three feet it already had.
The snow kept Michael from his friends that Saturday. His dad was out of town. Still he had his little buddy. After lunch Michael zipped on his snowsuit, and he and Gilligan went out in the yard. Karen watched them through the kitchen window as she did the dishes.
Michael’s red snowsuit was bright against the snow. “Keep your gloves on!” she called out when Michael pulled one off. “It’s freezing!”
“Okay, Mom!” Michael yelled and slipped it back on. Gilligan bounded around him, burying his nose in the snow. Karen finished up the dishes, then brought a laundry basket from upstairs.
Another glance out the window showed Michael tossing Gilligan a snowball by the swing set. Karen loaded the washing machine and started it up.
When she returned to the kitchen window, she didn’t see Michael anywhere. Not in the backyard. Not on the swing set. She opened the window. “Michael?” she called.
No answer. Karen went out the side door onto the porch. “Michael?” Again, no answer. Karen stepped into her boots and climbed down into the snowy yard.
“Michael! Gilligan! Here, boy!” Little boys have selective hearing, she thought as she ran around to the front of the house. No sign of them. Michael might not come when he’s called, she thought, but Gilligan always does!
Karen raced out to the dirt road. Empty in both directions. She ran to the summer path, calling frantically. Karen was shivering without her coat. It was after 3:00 p.m. In another hour it would be dark!
She couldn’t waste another minute searching by herself. She ran into the house to call Search and Rescue. Then she sat down to wait, praying for an angel to watch over her son. Where had Michael and Gilligan gone?
To the North Pole, of course.
While Karen was loading the washing machine, Michael had gazed up at the mountains around them and gotten an idea. “Let’s go see Santa!” he told Gilligan. “He’s on top of the mountain, just like in the movie!”
Michael didn’t have a magical express train to carry him to Santa’s workshop, but he was sure he could make it on foot.
The summer path was now covered with deep, crunchy snow. Lifting a booted foot high and plunging it down into the powder, Michael started up the mountain. Gilligan leapt alongside him. If Michael was going on an adventure, Gilligan was going to be right beside him.
Michael was sure they would find Santa on the nearest peak, but as they reached the top, panting, all they saw was a lot of pine trees heavy with snow. “Where’s Santa?” Michael cried, crushed with disappointment. Gilligan barked.
Michael was tired and the sky was getting dim, but they had come a long way already. What if Santa was just on the next peak? “When we get to the workshop he can give us a ride back home,” Michael assured Gilligan.
They trudged on. It got harder and harder for Michael to lift his boots out of the snow. “Maybe we should see Santa another day,” he told Gilligan. He turned around to head back, Gilligan at his heels. Going down the mountain was sure easier than going up.
“We’ll be home soon,” Michael said. “I’m cold.”
But when the boy and his dog finally reached the bottom, they weren’t in the backyard at all. They were on the side of a big road–a highway–with no cars in sight. Snow was piled so high along the sides Michael could barely see over it.
“We need to get to the other side, boy!” he said, his teeth chattering. Michael scrambled over the snow bank and ran across the empty highway, Gilligan at his heels. They clambered over the snow bank on this side. Michael looked around. “We’re lost!” he wailed.
The boy put his head down and cried. Gilligan settled his warm body beside him and licked the tears from his face.
Burt the truck driver wasn’t lost at all. He knew exactly where he was: driving on Route 44, just past Redstone. He brought his flatbed truck smoothly around a bend. He was behind schedule delivering a shipment of snowmobiles stacked neatly in back.
Just ahead, he saw something in the road, probably a deer. “Poor thing,” Burt muttered. He shifted his foot from the accelerator to the brake and turned the wheel to go around it. But as he got closer he gasped. “That’s no deer!”
Burt brought his truck to a stop beside the animal. A Golden Retriever lying right in the road. Burt put on his flashers. The dog must have been hit by a car. Maybe it wasn’t too late to save its life. “Don’t worry, boy,” Burt said as he hopped off the truck. “We’ll get you some help.”
Before Burt could reach him, the Golden Retriever jumped off the ground. He wasn’t hurt at all. In fact, he had more energy than any dog Burt had ever seen. While Burt tried to get a hold of him, the dog jumped up and down around him.
“Hold on, doggie!” Burt said. “You might be hurt. Let me take a look at you!”
The dog was having none of it. When Burt tried to get near, the strange dog ran to the side of the road and barked for all he was worth. “I feel like I’m in a Lassie movie,” Burt muttered. The dog honestly seemed to want him to follow.
So Burt followed the dog to the edge of the road and peered over the snow bank. A little boy in a red snowsuit was curled up in a ball, shivering.
Karen was just leaving the house to join the Search and Rescue team when the phone rang.
“Mrs. Kashnig?” a man asked.
“Yes. Who is this?”
“My name’s Burt,” the man said. “I just found a young boy and his friend on Route 44. The boy’s name is Michael and his buddy is Gilligan.”
Karen’s knees nearly buckled in relief. And she didn’t feel much steadier as Burt explained just how he’d found Michael on that snowy night. If it hadn’t been for Gilligan lying in wait in the road, Burt never would have stopped his truck.
That night, Karen sat Michael down for a serious talk about leaving the backyard. His adventure had taught Michael a lesson.
It taught his mother and me something too: Luck hadn’t brought Gilligan to Michael’s family; angels had. Angels who knew that one day Michael would need Gilligan just as much as Gilligan needed him.
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