The story of an expectant couple and a wise man (but not the ones you’re thinking of)
It was in the bleak midwinter, and the wayfaring couple trudged through the frigid night, seeking shelter. The father-to-be scanned the roadside for some home, some inn, some stable where his struggling companion might rest safely for the night. He looked over at her frequently. She labored along without complaint, her way made heavier by the new life growing inside her. They needed a warm, dry place safe from the bitter wind. When her time came, it must not be out here along the roadway.
Their names were not Mary and Joseph, but Pepper and Cooper. Nor were they man and wife, but rather a pair of beagles. And the place was not Bethlehem but Bethel, Ohio, on a rural highway outside of town.
But, like the biblical couple, they were to be blessed by an act of compassion this night, eight days before Christmas.
Gus Kiebel, a county wildlife officer, was driving home from work when he spotted the pair in the flash of his headlights. It was snowing so hard it was difficult to see, but he could tell the dogs were wearing collars and tags. What were they doing out here on this stretch of wooded road, when it was too cold for dogs to go outside? Gus parked his truck and approached the animals. He squatted and stretched out his hands to the beagles, which made no effort to escape. He read their tags by his truck’s headlights: The female was named Pepper, and the male was Cooper. He pulled out his phone to call the number listed, but it was snowing so hard that his screen blurred.
“Let’s put them in my truck, and I’ll call from there.”
He placed the dogs in his truck, on the floorboards on the passenger side. By the time he came around to the driver’s side, they had climbed onto the passenger seat and were snuggled together there. Gus dried his phone, snapped a picture of the pair and sent it to his wife, Katie Kiebel.
Then he dialed the number from the dogs’ tags. A man answered and immediately grew defensive when Gus told him why he was calling. “I gave those dogs away,” the man said. “They’re not mine anymore.”
“Well, who did you give them to?” Gus asked.
“I don’t know the people’s names.”
“Well, do you want them back?”
“No. I can’t take care of them.” The man hung up.
These beagles were abandoned, then. No home at all in this world. Beagles are a smart dog breed. Gus looked over at them, their large hound eyes pleading. Gus called the county dog warden’s office, but it was after hours, so he left a message. Then he called Katie. “You cannot put them back out in the snowstorm,” she said. “Bring them home.”
The Kiebels prepared a bed for the dogs in a crate on their warm enclosed porch, also setting out food and water. The exhausted animals lay together, Cooper periodically lifting his head to fuss over Pepper.
As a boy, Gus had dreamed of owning beagles, but keeping this pair was out of the question—the Kiebels already had a family dog. But he knew someone at a no-kill shelter, the League for Animal Welfare in nearby Batavia. The next day, he called, and Katie took the dogs to the shelter to drop them off—on one condition. “I’m not signing the dogs over to you if you’re going to separate them,” she said. The shelter workers promised her they’d keep the couple together.
In the days following, Katie phoned the shelter repeatedly to check up on Pepper and Cooper. Soon after Christmas, the beagles were adopted, as a pair, to a loving family. It’s a simple story—people who practice kindness give shelter from a storm to a vagabond couple—but it speaks to the best of our nature. And when kindness and love triumph over cruelty and the elements, it can feel like the greatest miracle of all.
If you want to help support shelters during the holiday season, these are things animal shelters need right now.