LONE STAR LAKE, Kan. - While most youngsters her age were making Christmas wish lists, sixth-grader Ashley Tucker was making serious decisions.
Ashley hoped Santa could help find new homes for her precious pups. Ashley, who hand raised five puppies this past summer, decided they are grown up enough to be safely placed in homes.
It has been difficult for her to let go of the young dogs she's cared for this past year, but she believes it is time to find homes for them.
Ashley's puppy dilemma started last spring when her older sister's dog delivered 12 puppies. The first-time-mother dog didn't care for her puppies very well and seven died. That's when Ashley stepped in. She hand raised the five puppies, no small task in the record-breaking heat and drought in the Kansas region.
She faithfully cared for the puppies, feeding them, cleaning up after them and socializing them. Ashley was adamant about keeping the puppies, fearing people would take them home because they were cute and cuddly, not looking realistically at what kind of dogs the puppies would grow into. She feared that as the pups began their adolescence, owners would decide that they didn't want them and desert them or take them to animal shelters.
Ashley stood her ground, vowing not to let the young dogs go to homes until they were grown up. When people came to adopt her pups, Ashley wanted to make sure they knew exactly what they were getting and that the new owners would be as committed to the puppies as she had been.
In November, Ashley decided it was time to find new homes. And, the little girl who so diligently cared for the puppies, is being just as diligent in placing them.
Ashley took a break following her appearance as Mrs. Santa Claus in her school's Christmas play, to give an update on her five four-footed friends.
"Well, we still have all five puppies. They've grown large now. We're trying to find them homes. They need to be not together and do more than just run around all the time."
Ashley added that she didn't believe the family's older dogs were a very good influence on the puppies.
"I don't think they should go to a home where they have chickens," Ashley said. She explained that the Tucker's chicken population had dwindled as the result of a few unfortunate raids by the pups on the chicken coop.
Her father Jim Tucker said he considers the puppies going to new homes to be his Christmas present this year. "I'll be glad to let them go, but she has been pretty good about taking care of them."
The local veterinarian, Dr. Tom Sanders can attest to that. "I went out and vaccinated every one of them for her," Sanders said.
Ashley reported that the puppies' mother has been spayed, so she is confident there will be no 'puppy boom' in the near future.
At Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, where Ashley's parents, Jim and Barb Tucker work, Ashley and her puppies have become a legend. Every week co-workers anxiously await the latest tales of the escapades of the puppies and their young owner.
"I think Ashley's decision and dedication to the puppies has been wonderful," one co-worker said. "I also believe that she couldn't have done this without the support of her parents. She is grown up enough to know that she can't keep all of those big dogs and now she is working just as hard to find good homes for them."
"Dad just kind of tolerates them," Ashley admitted. "We all do, because they do a lot of stuff they really shouldn't do."
Ashley has learned the real dollars and cents of keeping five dogs over the past few months. "They cost a lot to take care of. They eat a lot of food."
She said her time was running out, but she didn't regret the work she did with the puppies.
"I kept them because I wanted to make sure they got good homes and that they didn't end up at the animal shelter or dumped somewhere because they mean so much to me.
"Even though I love them as much as I did, they have to go somewhere. Dad said I could keep one."
Since all of the puppies have been special, which one will stay is up in the air.
Ashley said she also wanted to thank all of the Indian Country Today readers who wrote and emailed her.
"I want to say that if you wrote and tried to donate things, thank you very much. I really appreciate it. If any of you guys get puppies, then just take good care of them and love them all you can and make sure they're really special to you."