Authors: Ellen Miles
For Barley, of course
“This way, everybody!” Lizzie Peterson waved a hand, feeling like a real tour guide. She enjoyed showing people around the animal shelter where she volunteered. Lizzie had been helping out at Caring Paws, a place for dogs and cats who needed homes, for over a year. She loved the work, because she loved animals — especially dogs. Her usual day was Saturday, when she would spend all afternoon walking dogs, cleaning kitty-litter boxes, and doing whatever else Ms. Dobbins, the shelter’s director, asked her to do.
Lizzie worked hard, but there was always more work to do at the shelter. That was why Lizzie had started the Caring Club, for people who wanted to help animals.
Lizzie’s best friend, Maria, had joined the club right away, and she had recently become a shelter volunteer, too. Now Daphne and Brianna, who were both in Lizzie’s class at school, wanted to join the club. That was why Lizzie was showing them around the shelter.
Daphne and Brianna had a lot to learn if they were going to become shelter volunteers. Ms. Dobbins would be their official trainer, but she had asked Lizzie to give them a tour on their first visit. Lizzie had spent so much time at Caring Paws that she knew every inch of the place by heart. It was fun to give a tour, especially because Maria had come along, too.
“And this is the cat room,” Lizzie said now, as she stopped in front of a big picture window.
“Duh,” said Daphne. She nudged Brianna. Brianna giggled. “Like I couldn’t have figured that out for myself,” Daphne added in a whisper.
Lizzie glared at Daphne. Okay, so maybe it was kind of obvious. They were standing in a hallway
of an animal shelter, looking through a window at a roomful of cats: black cats and orange cats, long-haired cats and skinny cats, fat cats and six-toed cats, scampering kittens and calm mama cats, and one big old gray tomcat named Tommy, who always claimed the top lounging shelf. So yes, the room was crawling with cats. Anyone could see that it must be the cat room. But Lizzie was just trying to give a tour, the way Ms. Dobbins had asked. Daphne was not exactly Lizzie’s favorite person, but Lizzie knew that the shelter needed all the help it could get.
Lizzie was happy to have more Caring Club members, since the club was pretty small so far. Lizzie’s younger brother Charles was a member, and so was their mom. Their dad was too busy as a firefighter, and the Bean, Lizzie’s other brother (whose real name was Adam), was too little.
All the Petersons loved animals. They loved them so much that they had become a foster family for puppies. That meant they took care of
puppies who needed homes, just until they found each one the perfect forever family.
The Petersons had lots of experience with all kinds of puppies. But the puppy they loved best was Buddy, a little brown-and-white dog. Buddy had started out as a foster puppy but he ended up becoming part of the Peterson family. Lizzie had first met Buddy when he arrived at Caring Paws along with his mother and two other puppies.
Now, at the shelter, Lizzie smiled. Just the thought of Buddy made her heart melt. Had there ever been a cuter, sweeter puppy? She loved to stroke the heart-shaped white patch on his chest and whisper secrets into his silky ears.
“Lizzie.” Maria stuck an elbow into Lizzie’s side. “Weren’t you showing Daphne and Brianna the cat room?”
She was in the middle of showing her classmates around. “Yes,” she said. “So, the cat room. Lots to do in there, like cleaning out litter boxes, making sure the
water dishes are full of clean water, and helping out at feeding time. And sometimes I help hold the cats when the vet is giving them shots.”
“My cat Jenny scratches when she’s at the vet,” said Daphne, “but —”
“If you wrap them up in a towel, that usually helps,” Lizzie said. “They can’t scratch you then.” She led her group down the hall, toward the dog room. “Ready to meet the dogs?”
Behind her, she heard Daphne whisper to Brianna, “That’s just what I was about to say. We always wrap Jenny in a towel.”
Lizzie knew she should probably be glad that Daphne knew a few things about caring for animals. But she was the one giving the tour, wasn’t she? Maybe Daphne should do more listening and less talking.
“Do I hear Greta barking?” Maria asked. “She must be ready for her walk.”
“Yeah, that’s Greta, all right,” said Lizzie. “She knows it’s time to go out.”
“I’ll walk her,” said Daphne. “Where’s her leash?”
“Well, Greta can be a handful,” Lizzie began. “She’s —”
“I can handle a handful,” Daphne said. “Just show me to her cage.”
“We call them kennels,” Lizzie said as she pushed open the door to the dog room. “And Greta’s in number one.” She had to shout to be heard over the barking that had started the second they’d entered the dog room. All the dogs loved to greet new visitors. Lizzie pointed to the hand-painted
sign on the very first kennel they came to. A special heavy-weight leash hung from the clip on the door.
Daphne looked into Greta’s kennel. Then she looked at Lizzie.
Lizzie smiled. “Still want to take her for a walk?” she asked.
Greta was the biggest dog ever to stay at
Caring Paws. She was a bullmastiff, with a tawny golden brown coat and black markings on her huge, sweet, drooly face. Greta was gigantic. If Greta stood on her hind legs, she would be taller than Lizzie. She would probably be taller than Lizzie’s dad.
Lizzie saw Daphne gulp.
Then Daphne shrugged. “Sure,” she said. “Why not?”
Lizzie shrugged, too. “Okay, then,” she said. Daphne could find out for herself how hard it could be to handle Greta. Lizzie checked that the main door to the dog room was closed. “Open her kennel door just enough to get the leash clipped on. Then take her down the aisle and out that way.” She pointed to the door that opened into the outside pen.
Daphne squared her shoulders and took a deep breath. Then she unhooked the leash and flipped up the latch on Greta’s kennel. Slipping a hand
inside, she clipped the leash onto Greta’s collar. Then she looked up at Lizzie and grinned. “No problem,” she said.
“Open the door slowly!” Lizzie warned. Then she watched as Greta shoved her way out of the kennel and dragged Daphne down the aisle, barreling along like an airplane speeding down a runway.
“Aaaaah!” yelled Daphne as she dashed along after Greta, hanging on for dear life.
Lizzie held back a laugh and looked at Maria. Maria shook her head at Lizzie. Lizzie knew what Maria was thinking. Lizzie probably should have told Daphne that Greta did not know how to walk on a leash without pulling with the strength of an ox.
Ten minutes later, as Lizzie was showing Brianna how to wash out the dogs’ water bowls, Greta towed Daphne back inside. The knees of Daphne’s jeans were covered in mud, her jacket
sleeve was torn, and her hair was tousled and tangled.
“Isn’t Greta terrific?” Lizzie asked as she opened the big dog’s kennel door for Daphne.
“Terrific,” said Daphne. “Just terrific.” She brushed the mud from her knees. “Who’s next?”
Lizzie realized that Daphne was not going to admit that Greta had been too much for her. Well, she had another challenge for her, then. It was important to make sure that the new volunteers could handle anything. “A much quieter dog,” she said. “A puppy, actually. His name is Muttley.”
While Maria helped Brianna get another dog ready for a walk, Lizzie led Daphne down to kennel number four.
“This is Muttley,” she said. Inside the kennel, a tan-and-brown puppy lay curled up on his green bed. He had floppy ears, a black nose, and cute, brown eyebrow-shaped markings above his eyes.
“He’s cute,” said Daphne. “Hi, Muttley.”
Muttley opened one brown eye to look at Daphne. Then he sighed, stretched out his legs, and went back to sleep.
“What breed is he?” asked Daphne.
“He’s a mix,” said Lizzie. “He’s part German shepherd and part Walker hound. I knew it the
second I saw him.” Lizzie had practically memorized the “Dog Breeds of the World” poster on her bedroom wall. “He’s only about six months old. He’ll be a medium-sized dog when he grows up.”
“Hey, cutie,” said Daphne.
Muttley’s eyebrows twitched, but he did not wake up.
Muttley loved to sleep. Every single time Lizzie came to the shelter, Muttley was asleep. He did not jump up like the other dogs. He did not put his paws on the wire door of his kennel and beg for treats. He did not play with any of the toys in his kennel. He just lay on his green bed, snoozing. He wasn’t a sad dog; his tail would thump on the floor when anybody came by, and he was always happy to see Lizzie. He just liked to sleep. Sometimes he snored a little. Once in a great while, he would sit up, look around, and let out a deep, hoarse bark that trailed off into the low, mournful
of a hound howl. Then he would circle his bed three or four times and settle back in for a nap.
“He’s not very lively, is he?” Daphne stared into Muttley’s kennel.
Lizzie shook her head.
“Is something wrong with him?” Daphne asked. “I mean, is he sick?”
Lizzie shook her head again. “The vet checked him out when he first came. And she looked him over again last week, because we all wondered why he’s so sleepy. But she says he’s completely healthy.”
“How long has he been here?” Daphne bent down and stuck a finger through the wire mesh to scratch Muttley’s head. Muttley shifted in his sleep but he did not open his eyes.
“About three weeks,” Lizzie said. She felt bad for Muttley. When people came to look for a dog to adopt, they liked to see one who sat up and looked back at them. Nobody liked the dogs who
jumped and barked their heads off, but nobody seemed to like this quiet puppy, either. Lizzie could sort of understand that. What was the point of adopting a puppy who was going to do nothing but sleep, sleep, sleep? “Anyway, want to walk him? He definitely needs to get outside.”
“Sure.” Daphne unhooked the blue leash from Muttley’s kennel door, flipped up the latch, and stepped inside to clip the leash onto his collar. Muttley didn’t get up. He rolled over with a groan. “Come on, Muttley,” said Daphne. “Don’t you want to go for a walk?” She tugged on the leash, and Muttley groaned again and put a paw over his head.
Leave me alone, I
Lizzie giggled. She could just imagine what Muttley was thinking.
Daphne frowned. “How can I get him going? Maybe if —”
Lizzie interrupted. “Sometimes if you have a treat, he gets interested.” She reached into her pocket for one of the mini-biscuits she always carried when she was at the shelter, and handed it to Daphne.
“That’s what I was about to say.” Daphne tossed her head. “How about a cookie, Muttley?” Daphne said in an encouraging way. “Want a biscuit?” She held it to his nose. Muttley took the biscuit very gently from her hand, crunched it up, and swallowed. Then he sighed, tucked his legs in more comfortably, and settled back in for more napping. Daphne blew a breath up toward her bangs.
“Just pick him up,” Lizzie said.
Daphne frowned at Lizzie. “I was going to.” She knelt down and pulled the lazy little puppy into her arms.
“Not like that!” Lizzie said. “Hold him underneath his tummy.”
Daphne glared. “My cousin is a vet, and she showed me how to hold a puppy. She said this way is fine.” But she shifted the puppy in her arms. “Okay, Muttley. I guess I’m going to have to carry you out.” Muttley barely opened his eyes as she carried him down the aisle and out the door.
Brianna and Maria were done walking dogs, so while Daphne walked Muttley, Lizzie showed Brianna how to hose down an empty kennel to clean it out and get it ready for the next dog. There was always a “next dog” at the shelter — that was the sad thing. There were so many unwanted pets in the world.
When Daphne came back in, Muttley walked next to her on the leash. He yawned as she let him into his kennel, and he headed straight for his bed.
Phew. Glad that
s over. I
m ready for a nap.
All four girls gathered at his kennel to look in on the sleepy pup. “He’s really adorable,” said Brianna. “I can’t believe nobody has adopted him yet.”
Ms. Dobbins had just come into the dog room. She joined the girls at Muttley’s kennel. “People like to see a puppy with some pep,” she said. “I think he’s just a little too mellow for most folks. I’m beginning to worry about him. He needs to get into a home soon, while he’s young, so he can learn about living with people.”
“Why doesn’t your family take him?” Daphne asked Lizzie. “Don’t you foster puppies all the time?”
Lizzie nodded. “We had another puppy with us when Muttley first got here,” she said. “And then — I don’t know. I guess I just didn’t think of it.” She looked at Muttley. He really was cute, but he had not exactly captured her heart. Maybe she was like the people Ms. Dobbins talked about — the people who liked puppies with energy
and personality. Muttley was so quiet that it was almost easy to forget he was there.
“That’s a great idea,” said Ms. Dobbins. “I’d hate to see Muttley stay here too much longer. Maybe being in a home — especially a home with a lively puppy like Buddy — would help get him energized enough that someone will want to adopt him permanently.”
“Maybe,” said Lizzie. “But I’d have to ask my parents. It might not be a good time. My mom’s away. She drove down to North Carolina to visit her sister.” She felt a pang as she spoke. She had been so busy at the shelter that she had nearly forgotten that Mom would not be there when she got home. Mom had left the day before, Monday, and she wouldn’t be back until the
Monday. A week was a long time. But Mom’s sister, Lizzie’s aunt Julie, had just had a big operation. She needed Mom’s help.
Lizzie nearly forgot about Muttley until it was time to go. There was so much to show the others
and to explain about dogs and their behavior. But when Dad came to pick Lizzie and Maria up, Ms. Dobbins told him about Muttley. Dad came back to the dog room to check him out.
“Hey there, pal.” Dad looked into the kennel.
Muttley opened one eye and looked up at Dad. He thumped his tail.
“He doesn’t look like much of a troublemaker. I think we can handle him, even with Mom away. I bet we can find this boy a home before she even gets back. We’d be happy to take him. Right, Lizzie?”
Lizzie looked at Muttley. He wasn’t the most exciting puppy in the world, but he sure was adorable. Plus Lizzie reminded herself about Bear, a husky her family had fostered. He had seemed sleepy and lazy at first, too. But Lizzie had fallen in love with him, just as she fell in love with every puppy her family fostered. Why should Muttley be the exception? “Right,” she said.