Authors: Ellen Miles
For Ellie, Emily, and J.D.
Hi, how are you? My name is Lizzie Peterson. I’m in fourth grade at Littleton Elementary School. My teacher, Mrs. Abeson, is the one who came up with this pen-pal project. She is super-nice and never, ever yells. My best friend, Maria, is in my class. She and I have a dog-walking business. I have two brothers, both younger. Their names are Charles and the Bean (well, his real name is Adam). They are both okay, I guess, though sometimes annoying. My dad is a firefighter and my mom is a newspaper reporter. We have a puppy named Buddy — he is the BEST …
Lizzie dropped her pencil and reached down to scratch Buddy between the ears. He loved that. When she stopped, he pushed against her hand for more. Buddy really was the best. He was a mutt, small and brown with a heart-shaped white spot on his chest, and Lizzie could not possibly love him any more than she did. He was the sweetest, cutest puppy ever — and Lizzie had known a lot of sweet, cute puppies. That was because her family fostered puppies: they took care of puppies who needed homes, just until they found the perfect forever family for each one.
Fostering puppies was exciting and fun and also hard work. Sometimes it was really sad, like when they had to give up a puppy they’d fallen in love with. But Lizzie loved it. She loved how each puppy had his or her own personality. She loved playing with the puppies and helping train them. And she loved finding them homes.
She looked down at the letter she had started. She would have to tell Allyson, her new pen pal, all about fostering puppies. But first, couldn’t she make her letter a little more interesting? She wanted to be the kind of pen pal someone would want to write to for years and years, like Mrs. Abeson’s pen pal.
Her teacher had told the class all about Marisol, the pen pal she had started writing to when they were both ten years old. Marisol lived in Spain, and her father was a bullfighter! Thirty years later, Marisol and Mrs. Abeson still wrote to each other, and they had visited each other many times. That was why Mrs. Abeson had decided that their class should have a pen-pal project.
Earlier that week, during Language Arts, Mrs. Abeson had picked pen-pal names out of a hat. She read out the name of a boy or girl for each boy or girl in Lizzie’s class. Lizzie had squeezed her eyes shut hard and wished for a girl her age who lived in an exotic place, like New Zealand or Ecuador. Her wish had come true — at least, sort of, when Mrs. Abeson had told her that her new pen pal would be Allyson, a girl in fourth grade who lived on a sheep ranch in Montana.
Maria, Lizzie’s best friend, had also gotten a girl pen pal. Her name was Becky, and she lived in Kansas. BOR-ing!
Lizzie looked at her letter again. What if Allyson, her new pen pal, thought
was boring? She needed to jazz things up a little. She would probably never meet Allyson, and even if she did it would be
from now. Why not make herself, and her life, sound a little more interesting? She started her letter again.
My name is Lizzie, but my friends call me Sarabeth. I have two younger brothers, named Sebastian and Wolfgang, and an older sister named Delicata. She is very beautiful. My father is the fire chief in our city, and my mother is editor of the newspaper. We have five dogs: a puppy named Buddy and four older dogs named Henry, Beezus, Ramona, and Ralph. We also have three cats, two turtles, a guinea pig, and several hamsters. For my next birthday I might get a llama …
Lizzie smiled. That was more like it! Allyson was going to be thrilled to have such an interesting, exciting pen pal. “What do you think, Buddy?” Lizzie asked. She sat down on the kitchen floor and pulled him into her lap. Then she read her letter to him. It sounded even better when she read it out loud.
The letter wasn’t done yet, though. Mrs. Abeson had said they should tell their pen pals about themselves and their families, but also about their daily lives. “Look at the newspaper,” she’d suggested. “Tell your pen pal about a current event, so he or she can get a picture of what life is like here in Littleton.”
Lizzie got up and went into the living room to find the paper. Buddy followed her, trotting along with his ears perked and his tail held high. He was always happy to see what happened next — that was one of the things Lizzie loved best about him.
Buddy went straight for his toy basket and pulled out Mr. Duck. He chewed on the stuffed bird’s belly to make it squeak, then tossed it up in the air and raced to pounce on it when it fell. He made it squeak some more, then trotted over to Lizzie to show off his prize.
“Very nice,” Lizzie said. “Good dog, Buddy.” But she wasn’t really paying attention. She was reading through the paper, trying to find something —
— interesting to tell Allyson about. There wasn’t much. Littleton was not a very exciting town, and Saturday’s paper was always especially boring. The main headline was about a school board meeting, and Lizzie’s mom had written an article on the second page about a ground-breaking ceremony for the new soccer field at the recreation center. Lizzie looked through every single page of the
without finding one single interesting thing to tell Allyson. Maybe she would have to make something up. She thought about that as she glanced over the classified ads in the back.
What could she say? Maybe she could tell Allyson that a sports or movie star was coming to live in Littleton. Or what about writing that a meteorite had crashed to Earth in the middle of town, or that a bear had attacked someone in the park?
Then Lizzie saw something that made her eyes open wide. Instantly, she forgot all about Allyson, meteorites, bears, and sports stars. It was right there, in the middle of the classifieds, under the heading
. A tiny ad, with a bold headline:
Lizzie caught her breath and took a closer look.
, the ad said.
. Then there was a phone number. That was all.
She frowned. Why didn’t it say “To a Good Home”? It sounded like they were just going to give the puppy to the first person who called. That wasn’t right. Ms. Dobbins, the director of the local animal shelter where Lizzie volunteered every week, would never do that. If someone wanted to adopt a pet from Caring Paws, they had to fill out a long application with lots of information about who they were, where they lived, and how they planned to take care of the animal that was about to become part of their family. Ms. Dobbins didn’t let just anyone walk in, pay the adoption fee, and walk back out with a cat or dog.
Lizzie’s aunt Amanda, who ran a doggy day-care center where Lizzie sometimes helped out, would have agreed. She had told Lizzie that responsible dog breeders never sold puppies without interviewing buyers first.
Lizzie thought for a second. Then she closed the notebook in which she’d been writing her pen-pal letter. She picked up the newspaper and pushed back her chair. “Mom!” she yelled.
Buddy scrabbled to his feet and followed her out of the kitchen and up the stairs.
“Mom,” Lizzie said again as she walked into her mother’s study.
Mom spun around on her office chair and rubbed her eyes. “What is it, honey?” she asked. She looked tired. Mom had been working hard lately on a series of articles called “Exceptional Elders,” about interesting older people in the community. So far she had interviewed a farmer, a husband-and-wife team who ran a flower shop, and a retired detective. She said she loved the project, but Lizzie had noticed that she often went back into her study late at night, instead of reading or watching a movie in the living room.
“Mom, look at this ad.” Lizzie plopped the paper down on her mother’s lap.
Mom picked it up and studied the classifieds. “Which one?” she asked. “The one where someone’s selling a saltwater aquarium? I don’t think we —”
“No, this one.” Lizzie pointed to the ad.
“Aha,” said Mom. “Well. I hope they find the puppy a good home.”
“Exactly,” said Lizzie. “That’s exactly my point. It doesn’t even look like they’re trying!” She picked up the paper. “It’s like they don’t care
takes the puppy.”
Mom nodded. “That’s too bad,” she said.
“Mom?” Lizzie went over to lean on her mom’s chair. Buddy joined her, leaning against Mom’s legs.
“Oh, no, Lizzie. You’re not thinking —” Mom started to shake her head.
“I am,” said Lizzie. “I think we should foster this puppy. We haven’t fostered a puppy since Cocoa.” True, Cocoa had been a bit of a challenge. The chocolate Lab had been so full of energy. Maybe it was better not to talk too much about Cocoa. Lizzie changed the subject. “Plus, I’ve always wanted to foster a bulldog. They’re so cute, with their grumpy, wrinkly faces and their short little legs.”
Mom let a smile slip. “They are cute,” she admitted. “My friend at work has a mug with a picture of a bulldog on it. It’s hilarious.”
“So? Can’t we at least call?” Lizzie was dying to meet the giveaway pup. “You know we would do a better job of finding this puppy the perfect home.” Lizzie snuggled up closer to her mom. “Please?” she asked, in her sweetest voice. “Charles and I will take care of the puppy.”
Mom sighed. “I have to admit that you have both been very responsible with all our foster puppies.”
Lizzie held her breath and crossed her fingers. Buddy put a paw on Mom’s lap. “Well, I suppose we could call and find out more,” said Mom.
Lizzie let out a whoop and threw her arms around her mother. “Yes!” she cried. “A bulldog puppy! I can’t wait.” Buddy jumped up and danced a crazy little happy-dance, squirming all over with joy.
“Lizzie,” Mom warned, “I didn’t promise —”
“I know, I know,” said Lizzie. She went over to grab the phone. “You just said we could call. So let’s call. Now. Can we? Please?”
Mom shook her head. “Elizabeth Maude Peterson. You are a champion wheedler, did you know that?” But she was smiling. She took the phone and began to dial. Then she hesitated. “I should at least
to Dad before I call,” she said.
“He’ll be okay with it,” Lizzie said. “You know he will. He always is. He loves all the puppies we foster.” This was true, although there were probably a few puppies he loved a tiny bit less than others, like Chewy and Chica, the troublesome Chihuahuas.
“You’re right,” said Mom. “Anyway, he and the boys are at the ice arena. He’d never be able to hear me over the noise of the hockey game.”
“Exactly.” Lizzie picked up the newspaper and pointed to the number in the ad. “Come on, let’s call.” She read out the number.
Mom dialed. “Yes, hello,” she said when someone answered. “Is this the person who advertised the free puppy?” Lizzie’s heart began to beat like a tom-tom drum.