The story takes place in 1933 at the height of the depression. A widowed and out of work father reluctantly puts his 12-year old daughter on the train from Pittsburgh to Doverville, Maine where he tells her that he's arranged for her to stay with her Aunt Delores until he can afford to come for her. He promises that he'll get her by Christmas.
Emma O'Connor is very sad to leave her home and her dad but things get much worse when she arrives in Doverville and finds that Delores isn't her aunt but rather an ex girlfriend of her fathers who thinks he's a rat. Delores is a hairdresser whose salon is her living room. She reluctantly takes Emma in but tells her that she'll have to go to school and also get a job to pay for her room and food.
The town of Doverville has become famous for two reasons. It has a law that bans dogs and a mean dogcatcher, who is also the Mayor's brother. At the same time a woman named Cathy Stevens has turned her farm into a dog orphanage situated just outside of the city limits. She's made the cover of "LIKE" magazine and this has brought her more dogs than she can feed and take care of.
On her way to the first day of school Emma comes upon the dogcatcher as he captures one of two stray dogs.
She rescues the other one (a puppy) and suddenly has a new friend (and responsibility).
The dogcatcher and his henchman Melvin chase Emma and the puppy through the woods on their scary vehicle and she is rescued by a stranger on a dog sled who doesn't say a word but deposits her at the school house...
Read the complete 12 Dogs of Christmas Story