With not a dry eye in sight yesterday, Mitchell and Eliss a McMurry threw their arms around Ragamuffin, a little "shaggy put-together" of a dog just meant for the two youngsters.
"Someone spared this dog for. those children," said Claudia McAmis.
Doing double duty as president of the Tuolumne County Humane Society and a Santa's helper for The Junction shopping center, McAmis was at the center of a Christmas story she said she will remember for the rest of her life. Over the period of a couple of weeks, which included the December miracle storm series, Al Novelli, owner of Sonora Feed off Tuolumne Rodd watched a little "mop dog" near his business, but couldn't snag it.
"We just couldn't catch her. She took off every time. Finally, we threw some food out and she ate it. Then we threw some in a fenced area and finally got her in," Novelli said.
The dog was near starvation and covered with fleas and ticks. "She was a mess," Novelli said.
He called McAmis. "I got her in a blanket warmed in the dryer and took her to a vet to get her shots. She was just skin over bones," said McAmis.
Wes Wittman at Sonora Veterinary Group also spayed the dog before McAmis took it home to nurse it back to health.
Enter the Jim and Betty McMurry family. The couple moved from Hawaii to Tuolumne County about four years ago.
A couple of years ago, said Jim, they were living in a trailer with no room for a dog, and gave theirs to a family in Mi-Wuk Village.
Now living in a home more conducive to raising a pet, Betty went on the hunt about three weeks ago. She mentioned her search to the veterinarian's office, who hooked her up with McAmis.
Betty and Jim both fell for the floppy little Ragamuffin, and worked out a plan for "Santa" to give the dog to the children.
As if rehearsed, the excited siblings greeted "Santa" and promptly said they wanted a puppy for Christmas. The person playing "Santa" excused himself and returned a moment later with the ribbon-adorned Muffin. The kids responded with huge smiles, a few squeals and then took turns hugging the dog and "Santa."
"I had fluffed the dog all morning," said McAmis, "and put a brand new red collar on her."
Their mother and several others watching got teary eyed and everyone applauded as the family left with their new dog.
"I wish you could have seen the look on Mitchell's face," said McAmis. "It was utter non-belief —thrill and joy."
McAmis, who portrayed "Santa" at The Junction for the second year, said she would never forget the experience. "That little dog should have been dead, if not from the elements, then from being hit by a car on Tuolumne Road. Twice I went running down the road after it."
Dog, aged about one and kids, aged five and three, are a match made in heaven, according to everyone involved.
"The kids are just thrilled," said Betty. "They were watching TV last night, and the dog just turned over tummy up across both their laps and went to sleep. The dog really listens and is so responsive."
Jim McMurry said the proof was in the sleeping. When he awoke this morning, kids, dog and all were in bed with him and his wife—"all five of us."