Authors: Ellen Miles
By Friday morning, Lizzie was a little tired of hearing Dad talk about how smart Muttley was. She had started to put her hands over Buddy’s ears so he wouldn’t hear and get his feelings hurt. So what if (as Dad sometimes said) Buddy wasn’t exactly the smartest cookie in the box? He was no dummy. Lizzie had taught Buddy how to do at least seven tricks, including shake hands, give a high five, and roll over.
Lizzie was also tired of a few other things. For one, chili. Dad’s chili was good, but did he have to make such a huge pot of it? The leftovers seemed never to end. They had eaten chili for dinner on Tuesday night, Wednesday night, and Thursday night. Three nights in a row, and there
was still some in the pot. Even with ice cream for dessert, that was a little too much chili. Lizzie thought longingly of Mom’s cheesy lasagna, and delicious baked pork chops, and spicy Mexican casserole. Even pizza would be a good change. Even
Speaking of Mom, Lizzie was tired of her being away. She missed her mother — and not only because of lasagna. Even though Mom had called twice the day before and listened while Lizzie told her all about Muttley, it wasn’t the same as having her there. Lizzie wished Mom were coming home that weekend instead of on Monday.
Lizzie was tired of worrying about how to get volunteers to come to Caring Paws. It had not been easy to tell Ms. Dobbins that Charles’s friends wouldn’t be coming after all. To make up for that, Lizzie had spent an extra two hours helping out at the shelter on Thursday afternoon, and had promised to keep coming every day after school and extra on Saturday.
And she was very,
tired of Daphne. At school, when Lizzie spoke about Muttley at morning meeting, Daphne kept whispering to Brianna.
“Daphne, please show respect for Lizzie when she’s talking,” Mrs. Abeson had to say about three times.
“But Lizzie has talked about Muttley every day this week,” Daphne said. “It’s getting boring.”
Lizzie rolled her eyes. She might be bossy, but at least she wasn’t rude.
Now morning meeting was over. It was free-reading time and Lizzie could not find her book,
She loved that book so much that she was reading it for the second time. It was a cozy, old-fashioned story about a girl who went to stay with her relatives in Vermont.
Lizzie pawed through her desk. She looked underneath her spelling workbook and checked inside her math folder. Where was that book? All the other kids were already settled into their favorite spots, reading.
Then Lizzie remembered that she had taken her book home the day before. Maybe it was still in her backpack, which was in her cubby. Lizzie sighed, got up, and went behind the big bookcase in the back of the classroom to look.
Aha! There it was. Lizzie pulled the book out of her backpack. If she was lucky, she’d still have a few minutes to read. Then she heard a sniff. She turned and saw a small figure sitting very, very still, tucked inside a cubby in the farthest corner. “Jimmy?” she asked. “Is that you?” Jimmy
sat that still. But she recognized his blue plaid shirt and the floppy brown hair that hid his eyes. She took a step closer, unsure.
Jimmy. He sat quietly with his arms wrapped around his knees.
“What’s the matter?” Lizzie went to sit beside the cubby.
He sniffed again and wiped his nose with his shirtsleeve. “I just — I just want a dog so bad,” he said.
That was a surprise.
“A dog?” Lizzie asked.
He nodded. “You’re so lucky. You have your own puppy and you get to foster puppies, too.”
Lizzie knew that Jimmy was right. She
lucky. She remembered wanting a dog so bad — so bad she could have cried.
“Muttley sounds like such a cool dog,” Jimmy said. “Smart, too.”
Lizzie nodded. Now she understood. Hearing her talk about Muttley had made Jimmy sad. “He is,” she said. Then she had a great idea. “Maybe your family could adopt him.”
Jimmy shook his head. “I keep asking and asking if I can get a dog. I would take care of it, and walk it, and feed it, and everything. My parents are divorced, and Mom just says no way. She’s not a dog person. Dad says he’d love to have a dog but he works funny hours sometimes and he’d hate to leave the dog home alone.”
Lizzie knew exactly how Jimmy felt — because
it was exactly how
had felt for a very long time. She had wanted a dog for years and years before she finally got Buddy. Poor Jimmy. Then she sat up straight and smiled. She’d just had another great idea. “Hey, Jimmy,” she said. “Remember how you said you wanted to join the Caring Club, and help out at the shelter?”
“Welcome, Jimmy,” said Ms. Dobbins that afternoon, when Lizzie and Jimmy arrived at Caring Paws. “We are full to overflowing here these days, with lots of dogs and cats who need homes. We can use all the help we can get.” She barely stopped to smile at Jimmy and Lizzie as she unloaded giant bags of dog food from a truck. “For today, just do whatever Lizzie tells you to do. She knows the routine.”
Jimmy turned to Lizzie and gave her a salute. “At your service!” he said.
It was funny: now that she pretty much had permission to act bossy, Lizzie didn’t feel as if she needed to. After she’d given Jimmy a quick tour of the shelter, she suggested, “How about if we
start by cleaning out the kitty-litter boxes? That’s the worst job of all, so I like to get it over with first.”
“Okay,” said Jimmy. “I’ve helped change my baby cousin’s diapers. That’s probably even worse. P.U.!” He held his nose and smiled at Lizzie.
Lizzie smiled back. Jimmy was definitely in a better mood now that he was at the shelter. And he wasn’t being too annoying. Actually, he wasn’t being annoying at all. Maybe he was only that way when he had to sit still, like in school. She led him into the cat room and showed him what to do. Jimmy didn’t make faces or say, “Ew,” the way Daphne probably would have. He just got to work.
When they were done, Lizzie and Jimmy took a moment to pay attention to the cats. Ms. Dobbins always said it was important to get them used to being around people. The kittens seemed to love Jimmy, and climbed all over his shoulders to lick
his ears. The mama cats sat nearby to keep a watchful eye on their kittens as Jimmy petted each one, holding them as gently as if they were fine china. Even Tommy, the old gray tomcat, slunk down from his high perch and wrapped himself around Jimmy’s legs, purring loudly.
Lizzie stared. She had never seen Tommy do
Next it was time to walk dogs. “I love taking the dogs out. It’s my absolute favorite chore here,” Lizzie told Jimmy as she opened the door to the dog room.
Jimmy’s eyes brightened when he heard the dogs start to bark. He laughed. “They’re happy to see us.” He had to yell to be heard over the racket. He began to walk up and down the aisles between the kennels, stopping at each kennel door to look at the dog inside.
Lizzie noticed something. All the dogs went on barking — except for whichever one Jimmy
happened to be looking at. That dog — at the moment it was Fluffy, a little Pekingese — sat quietly and looked back at Jimmy with big, curious eyes. It was as if the dogs were waiting with interest to hear what Jimmy had to say.
And Jimmy was saying things to them. Things that Lizzie couldn’t quite hear. He spoke very quietly and gave each dog his full attention. He held his hands up to the kennel doors so that the dogs could sniff him.
Jimmy stood very still at each kennel. He was almost as still, Lizzie thought, as he had been when she had found him sitting inside his cubby.
“You’re really good with animals,” she said to him.
He nodded. “That’s what I was trying to tell you the other day. My gramps calls me the Dog Whisperer. He says I’m the only one his old basset hound, Sadie, ever listens to. She’s very stubborn, but I can get her to do anything.”
“Cool,” said Lizzie. Jimmy really did deserve a dog of his own. But if he couldn’t have that, at least he could be around these dogs, here at Caring Paws. “Ready to walk some dogs?” she asked.
Jimmy nodded eagerly.
Lizzie started him off with the easiest dog: an old, slow black Lab named Casey, who liked to mosey around and sniff every single weed in the exercise yard. Jimmy clipped on his leash and said, “Come on, Casey.”
Lizzie followed them out into the yard with another Lab, a yellow one named Molly. She watched as Casey trotted along, looking much livelier than usual. After Casey, she had Jimmy walk Ramon, a peppy little Chihuahua, and Popeye, a drooly bulldog. Then she decided he was ready for Greta.
“Careful,” she said as she handed over Greta’s extra-heavy leash. “Greta is really strong, and
she likes to pull. Open the door slowly, and —” Lizzie stopped herself. She was being bossy again, and a know-it-all. Jimmy had been great with all the other dogs. Maybe she should just wait to see how he handled Greta. Maybe she could learn to be a know-a-lot, instead of a know-it-all.
Sure enough, Greta didn’t pull one bit when Jimmy walked her. She sailed out of her kennel with majestic dignity and strolled down the aisle, gazing up at Jimmy with a look of total adoration on her big, jowly face.
“Wow,” Lizzie said to herself.
She wondered how Muttley would act around Jimmy. Dogs seemed to be their best when they were with him. Maybe Jimmy could work some special magic with the sleepy puppy. “Hey, Jimmy,” she asked when he and Greta came back in, “do you like chili?”
Jimmy did like chili, and when Lizzie called to ask Dad if she could invite a friend to dinner,
he said it was fine. Lizzie had hoped that there wouldn’t be quite enough chili to go around, and that she’d be forced to have a cheese sandwich for dinner, but unfortunately there was plenty. Lizzie made a face at the big pot that sat warming on the back of the stove when she and Jimmy got home.
Lizzie could tell that Jimmy fell in love with Muttley the moment he saw him. “Look at those floppy ears,” he said as he sat down on the floor near Muttley’s bed.
Muttley opened one eye.
Then he opened the other one.
He thumped his tail.
Hey! Do I know you? I think I want to
He got up, shook himself until his long ears went
and climbed right up onto Jimmy’s lap to lick Jimmy’s chin and nibble on
his shirt collar. Just like Jimmy, Muttley seemed to have fallen in love at first sight. From that moment on, Muttley didn’t leave Jimmy alone for a second. He followed him everywhere, sat next to his chair while they ate dinner, and brought him toy after toy to throw and play tug with. If Jimmy stopped paying attention for one second, Muttley would sit back and bark that hoarse bark at him, ending with the long, sad
By then, Lizzie wasn’t surprised. But Charles, the Bean, and Dad couldn’t believe their eyes. “What became of our sleepy pup?” asked Dad as he watched Muttley charge through the living room, racing Buddy to see who would be first to fetch a toy Jimmy had thrown.
When Jimmy’s mom came to pick him up, Muttley walked him to the door. Jimmy knelt down to give the puppy a big hug, then stood up and turned quickly to go. Only Lizzie saw how sad Jimmy looked as he followed his mom out the
door. Muttley’s ears drooped as he plodded back to his bed. He was sad, too.
That was when she knew: Muttley and Jimmy belonged together. All she had to do was figure out how to convince his mom of that. And Lizzie knew that if anybody could do it, she could. After all,
mom had not been a dog person, either — until they started fostering puppies.
After Jimmy left, Muttley curled up into a tight little ball on his bed, tucked his nose beneath one paw, and went to sleep. He barely even moved when Lizzie gave him a good-night pat. “What’s up, Sir Snores-a-Lot?” she asked. “You’re not sick, are you?”
Lizzie felt Muttley’s nose. It was moist, just like a healthy dog’s nose should be. “Muttley?” she asked. He opened his eyes for a second, and she saw that they were clear and bright. When she leaned down to kiss his little black nose, Muttley’s breath smelled sweet. All those signs told Lizzie that Muttley was probably fine.
He was just back to his old ways. Muttley, the World’s Laziest Dog. She petted him for a while, then gave him one last kiss on the nose. “Guess I don’t have to tell
to sleep tight, do I?” She shook her head and smiled at the sleepy pup. Then she went off to bed.
Lizzie was having one of her favorite dreams, the one where she was in the land of dogs. Dogs, dogs, dogs. She was like a little boat bobbing in a vast sea of dogs. She could see dogs of every breed milling around, even the rare breeds, like the komondor. Not too many people would have known what a komondor was, but Lizzie recognized it immediately. The big sheepdog had long white hair, a curtain of ropy cords that hung to the ground from his black nose to his droopy tail. He pranced around with the other dogs, his coat swaying back and forth with every move.
All the dogs ran around happily, barking in their wonderful, different voices. Lizzie heard
of a Chihuahua and the deep, booming bark of a big old chocolate Lab. Only the basenji and the malamutes, breeds that don’t bark, sat quietly and waited for Lizzie to come pat them. Lizzie even heard Muttley’s hoarse bark, with that special hound song at the tail end:
She laughed and held out her arms for hugs and pats. Five dogs charged over and began to climb on her, licking her face and ears. They licked and slobbered and drooled and —
“Ugh.” Lizzie woke up with a start to find that it wasn’t all a dream. She really
being licked. “Muttley, what are you doing?” Lizzie sat straight up in bed and wiped off her face with her pajama sleeve. “Are you crazy? Cut it out.” What was going on? Muttley, the laziest dog in the history of the world, suddenly wanted to play — in the middle of the night?
Muttley whined, jumped off the bed, and ran to the door. Then he turned around, ran back, and
leapt up onto the bed to lick Lizzie’s face some more, whimpering and whining. Again he threw himself off the bed and scrambled across the floor to the door. He looked back at Lizzie. He whined and barked and howled.
By now, Lizzie was awake enough to realize that something must be wrong. She pushed off her covers and grabbed her robe. “What is it, Muttley?”
But as soon as she was out of bed, Muttley disappeared. She heard him running down the hall to the Bean’s room, where he started to bark and howl again.
Danger! Danger! Wake up! Wake up!
Lizzie followed Muttley into the hall — and stopped in her tracks when she smelled something strange. She sniffed, and sniffed again. Then, suddenly, she knew what it was. Smoke!
Her heart began to beat wildly. A few minutes earlier she’d been dreaming a happy dog-show dream. Now she was caught in a real-life nightmare. Was her house about to burn down?
“Dad!” she yelled. “Charles! Fire!” As Muttley skidded and scrambled his way down the hall to Charles’s room, Lizzie raced to the Bean’s room. She found him standing up in his crib, his eyes wide and his cheeks bright pink. “It’s okay. I’m here,” she told him. She reached in to help her frightened little brother out.
By the time she and the Bean were in the hall again, Dad and Charles were up, too. A sleepy-looking Buddy stood next to Charles.
Dad yelled to be heard over Muttley’s barking and howling. “Stairs are safe.” He had already run down and back up again to make sure. “Go on down and straight out the front door. I’ll be right behind you.” He punched numbers into the phone as he shouted and waved them along, and Lizzie could guess what those numbers were: 9-1-1.
Of course the Petersons had a family fire plan. Lizzie knew that no matter how they each got out of the house, the plan was always the same: they were supposed to meet near the old apple tree in the far corner of the front yard. That way, they would know right away if they had all gotten out safely.
Lizzie picked up the Bean. Usually he was almost too heavy for her to lift, but now he felt light as a feather. She grabbed Charles’s hand. She glanced back at her room, wishing she had time to save her model-dog collection — but she knew what Dad would have to say about that. “Come on,” she said as she started for the stairs. “Buddy, you, too. Muttley, come.”
But when she turned around, she could tell that Muttley was waiting until Dad got moving, too. Muttley barked at Dad. He ran around behind him and nipped at his ankles.
Get out! Get out! Get out!
He didn’t stop barking until he had herded all four of them out onto the lawn and followed them to their meeting spot under the apple tree. By that time, his bark was hoarser than ever.
Just a few seconds later, Lizzie heard a siren. Muttley lifted his muzzle to the sky and howled along as the siren drew closer.
he sang out. Buddy began to bark and howl, too. The sound sent a prickle of fear down Lizzie’s neck. Was her house really on fire? This definitely was not a dream anymore. This was real. She didn’t have to pinch herself to know that.
Then Lizzie saw flashing lights, and the big hook-and-ladder fire truck roared up their street, with the boxy white ambulance behind it. Three pickup trucks with more flashing lights pulled up and parked every which way in front of the house. Another ambulance roared in and screeched to a stop. In seconds, the yard was full of firefighters in full gear: hats, coats, oxygen tanks, and axes. They charged toward the house and ran through
the open front door while Chief Olson and two of the EMTs from the ambulances trotted over to check on the Petersons.
“Is everybody out? Everybody okay?” Chief Olson asked.
“Any idea where the fire started?”
Dad shook his head. “I smelled smoke, but that’s all I know. We got out as fast as we could.”
“The most important thing is that you’re all safe,” said the chief. He wiped his forehead and smiled at Dad. “When we saw your address on the 911 call, we called out everybody — even these guys from Springfield.” He waved at the EMTs from the second ambulance. Dad shook hands with them and thanked them for coming.
Then the front door opened and Meg Parker, one of the firefighters, came out onto the porch, holding something in her outstretched arms. Lizzie couldn’t quite make out what the rounded shape was.
“Nothing but some extra-well-done chili,” called Meg cheerfully. “Must have been left on the stove. Looks like it had just started to burn.”
Lizzie heard Dad let out a breath all in one big whoosh. “Chili!” he said. He slapped his forehead.