Well hello, Holly

OUR family is enlarged by one this Christmas. Holly is here. Holly is an eight-week-old puppy, the latest in a string of much-loved yellow Labradors.

First there was Candy. She was born in Johannesburg and bred by a former British Army officer. He did not simply sell his puppies. He grilled you until he was satisfied you were worthy enough to receive one. Later we learned that when we first visited his home and his pups, he had been staked out in the bushes, observing the way we behaved in the presence of his dogs.

We passed the test and Candy became ours. She had her own litter of pups, distributed across South Africa, some of them going to Labrador lovers just as eccentric. One owner bought a second refrigerator exclusively to store meat for his dog.

During my time as a foreign correspondent, Candy traveled the length of Africa with me, mainly in the back of a Volkswagen, testing and legally defying the myriad rules that said a dog couldn't cross all those borders.

Unusual for a Labrador (most of whom are so friendly they invite burglars in for milk and cookies), she was a good watchdog. She returned to the United States and eventually relocated to Hong Kong, when I was assigned there.

In the process, she created a legendary little incident. A penny-pinching manager queried why the newspaper should pay the cost of shipping Candy to Hong Kong. Candy and I dug our paws in. Either the dog went or I did not, I said. The manager capitulated, but he never could understand my vehemence. ``Why,'' he asked, ``is John so stubborn about this? Why doesn't he sell the dog here and buy another one there?'' It is a line that has been repeated with ribaldry over the years.

Next came Fury. Born in Britain, shipped to Hong Kong by an airline pilot, Fury was a lionheart, a magnificent, commanding dog with unlimited courage and strength. But alas, though immensely lovable, Fury was a quivering mass of obtuseness. It took him a year to find out he could bark, but when he discovered his deep basso profundo he was so enchanted by it that he never stopped using it. You also had to beware throwing anything into the sea for him that might not float. On many occasions, Fury spent an hour swimming around beyond the surf in the South China Sea looking for something that had long since sunk.

Then came Honey, no international traveler, like her successors, but a survivor who gave 16 years of bliss to her owner. Honey featured in this column from time to time when, in moments of self-indulgence, I would write about her gracefulness, her wet affectionate nose, and her unstinting loyalty, rather than some international or national crisis. When she departed last year, readers sent more mail than I had received on any other column.

Now comes Holly, who in less than two weeks with us has learned how to bark, how to unwrap my wife's Christmas parcels, how to get smeared with household glue, how to drag a charred log out of a cold fireplace across the living room carpet. Already she has visited the middle school, gone shopping, helped cut down a Christmas tree, and charmed hundreds. There are occasional somber messages from the front, as when my wife intoned over the phone: ``She's drowned the rat.'' The rat, actually more of a mouse, is a woolen plaything of one of the cats. Holly dunked it in her drinking bowl. But the cats aren't about to mix with that puppy half their size. They know that this dog is going to get bigger, and bigger, and bigger.

Just like Candy, Fury, and Honey.

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