One Spokane family got a very big Christmas surprise in a very small package: a new puppy.
Dawn Gust and her teenage sons, Andrew Hopkins, 19, and Alec Hopkins, 15, lost everything they owned in a fire that gutted the north Spokane apartment complex where they lived on Oct. 31.
The family’s dog, Chica, perished in the fire.
The Salvation Army of Spokane teamed up with Old Navy and Northwest Seed and Pet to grant the family’s Christmas wish for a new four-legged friend.
The family met the new puppy, a 9-week-old Shih Tzu-Pomeranian mix, at the Salvation Army on Thursday. Their faces lit up when they saw the small, fluffy, brown and gray dog.
“It is the cutest thing,” Gust said. “It’s adorable.”
They took turns getting acquainted with the puppy, which clung to them and nuzzled his small head under their chins. The family’s newest addition left Andrew speechless.
“I don’t even know what to say,” he said. “It’s awesome that we got a dog again.”
The family agreed they should wait a few days to name the puppy so they can pick the one that fits him best.
Old Navy, which adopted the family through The Salvation Army’s Adopt a Family Christmas Giving Program, also gave them other items they lost in the fire, including pants, shirts, slippers, hats, gloves, jewelry and bath towels.
Bridget Brooks, the store manager at the Spokane Valley Old Navy, said the items were worth about $300, not including the puppy. The store employees purchased and donated the items.
The store’s assistant manager, Mandy Burrows, said she heard the family’s story and wanted to reach out.
“It just kind of touched us,” Burrows said.
Burrows contacted Northwest Seed and Pet to see if they could donate a puppy. Luckily, they had just received a litter of the Shih Tzu-Pomeranian mixes.
“I’m very grateful, appreciative,” Gust said. “And I’m really excited.”
The fire displaced 85 people from the 29-unit Houston House Apartments on Houston Avenue. It was the second time Gust and her children lost their home to a fire in three years.
“It was just the most devastating feeling to go through it all again,” Gust said.
Chica was in Gust’s bedroom, where the fire started. No one else was home.
“All I can think about is how she must have been so scared, waiting for one of us to come get her,” Gust said. “It just makes me so sick.”
She said the death of Chica was the most devastating part of the fire and all she wanted for Christmas was a new puppy.
“We were all OK, it was just unfortunate about the dog because she was our best friend,” she said. “She was the sweetest thing.”
“The other stuff is just stuff,” she added. “Most of it can be replaced.”
Though Chica cannot be replaced, Gust said they can at least begin to rebuild their lives.
Since the fire, Gust and the boys have been staying with Gust’s 21-year-old daughter and Gust’s mother. She will get a home after Jan. 1 through the American Red Cross Inland Northwest Chapter’s housing program.
Gust said that despite the family’s hardships, they would have pulled together to have the best Christmas they could, but the Adopt a Family program made it extra special.
“We’re not going to forget this,” she said. “It keeps you reminded of what the season is all about.”