Anne Hailes: Don't let your sweet treats lead to family sadness this Christmas

Sally, a beloved pet and member of the family who died after eating chocolate

I HOPE your day is filled with excitement – no doubt hard work too! There will be parties and gatherings, presents delivered and turkeys to be stuffed. We're doing stuffed lamb tomorrow just for a change. The fire will be lit and hopefully it will be a relaxed day, taking our time and having a bit of craic.

One member of our family will be missing – Sally, my daughter's faithful old dog. She and her husband adored Sally, as did we all, and her death came suddenly and in a very sad way.

Urgent warning

Last month Sally was visiting us from her home in Donegal. With her were her two companions, Bella, aged five, and Molly, two months, all various degrees of border collie. Quite a household, and it was a joy to have our guests to stay even though the puppy was happy to leave her calling card around the place!

All well until the Thursday morning when I came downstairs to discover the remnants of a box of Belgian chocolate truffles all over the floor – papers, bags, sick and more sick. Sally had sniffed them out and devoured the lot. She was staggering and looking vague. Out into the garden, walked her round and round, she drank gallons of water and seemed to be regaining her self-control.

My daughter phoned the vet to be on the safe side, only to be told the dog might well die but it was a good sign that she had drunk so much water. But. Four days later she was really ill, the vet was called and dear Sally had to be put to sleep. You can imagine how awful we all felt and still feel. She was lovable and intelligent, a most calming dog to have around.

Don't let anyone say “just a dog” – to my daughter and her husband she was as much family as I am. Dogs especially offer their owners unconditional love and that is exceptional and precious.

Some people think this chocolate thing is a myth but it's not. Sally was almost 15 and couldn't tolerate the toxic shock to her organs. Any dog will react to chocolate so, PLEASE, don't leave any lying around over Christmas. Also poisonous is Christmas pudding and Christmas cake, mince pies and raisins, mushrooms and garlic, also alcohol. It's a traumatic thing to lose a much loved pet especially when it can be avoided.

Denying the Nativity

I THINK it's sad that a shopping centre in Scotland has banned a traditional Nativity scene in case it offends non-religious shoppers. Do you think non-religious shoppers would care and is this not discrimination against religious shoppers?

Stirling's Thistle Shopping Centre consider people come to them to experience a ‘leisure experience' and they pride themselves on being religiously and politically neutral. Funny that they have the places stuffed with Christmas trees and decorations...

Nativity scenes in homes, shopping centres, and churches all over these islands celebrate the birth of baby Jesus surrounded by Mary and Joseph, the Wise Men, the Shepherds with the animals looking on. It's loving, peaceful and gives hope to those who come to worship and give thanks.

However, one person is missing from the group: the man who had no room at the inn. Belfast man and Methodist minister the late Rev Richard H Taylor was obviously a compassionate man who put himself in the innkeeper's shoes when he wrote this poem:

The Innkeeper's Defence

Of course I saw them standing there

The anxious man with woman tired and wan.

I had no time for her and little for the man.

My inn was full with not a room to spare

How could I tell who they were standing there?

This stable's not the best but you can make it yours

At least you can rest until the light appears.

They gladly went, I turned and closed the door.

They made their way inside and rested on the floor.

How much I missed – each year the tale is told

How to the stable wise men brought them

Gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.

Of shepherds too – how from the hills

Penned flocks they did withdraw

To kneel with joy and reverence upon the straw.

For in that stable cold and dark and bare

The Son of God – the Eternal stooped to share

Our burdens and our woes to make us kin.

If only I had known, my best room I'd have given

And from my door they'd never have been driven.

How terrible to lack the gift to see

The Christ who still appears to you and me.

I didn't know – do you make this your plea?

Though Christ our Lord

A thousand times in Bethlehem be born

And not in thee

Thy soul remains forlorn.

Richard Taylor's book Poems on Several Occasions was launched last month at Belfast Central Mission and is available from BCM, telephone 028 9024 1917 and from Dundrum Methodist Church, Dublin.

All proceeds will go to Belfast Central Mission's Copelands development, a

dementia, nursing and residential care village being built between Donaghadee and Millisle.

Christmas Eve 2018

ANOTHER year has flown in, we stand on the edge of a new year filled with uncertainty. I hope for you and yours tomorrow will be a day of peace and happiness, not for everyone as there are many who are going through terrible times, many who have lost a precious friend or relative and face a table with an empty place.

Others have found happiness during the year. I'm thinking of a widow of 70 who has met a widower of 70-plus and they are like young lovers bathed in the pink glow of romance. They'll marry in January. Life has many twists and turns. See you on the other side of Christmas.

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