Read Buddy Online

Authors: Ellen Miles


BOOK: Buddy
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For Barley, Ursa, Jack, Allie, Chico,
and all the other mutts I’ve known and loved.


Lizzie Peterson pushed open the door of Caring Paws, the animal shelter where she volunteered.

“Lizzie! Is it already three o’clock?” The director, Ms. Dobbins, looked tired and distracted. “We have been so busy here today!”

“Actually, it’s only two-thirty,” Lizzie said. “I’m a little early.” She wrote her name on the volunteer sign-in sheet and checked the wipe-off board for new names. “Who’s Skipper?” she asked when she saw the name written in red, the color for dogs. “And what does that mean, Skipper and Company?”

It was always exciting when a new animal arrived at the shelter. Maybe one of the new dogs would be her family’s next foster puppy! Lizzie
had been volunteering at Caring Paws for two months. She came every Saturday afternoon. She loved being around all the dogs and cats and the people who cared for them.

Caring Paws was a place for animals that needed homes. Some were strays who had been found on country roads or in parking lots. The shelter staff tried hard to find their owners. Other cats or dogs had been abandoned, left near a farm or on someone’s porch. And some were beloved pets that the owners had to give up.

Ms. Dobbins did her best to help find the perfect home for every animal that came to Caring Paws. But while they waited to find their forever families, the animals needed exercise, love, and care. That was where the volunteers came in. There was always work to do: answering the phone, cleaning cages, feeding animals, giving them baths. Because Lizzie was only in fourth grade, she didn’t do any of those jobs. She got to do the best job of all: exercising the dogs!

Lizzie was crazy about dogs. She loved to play with them, read about them, make up stories about them, and learn everything she could about them. She and her younger brother Charles wanted their own dog more than anything, and they had been bugging their parents about it for years. Lizzie’s dad loved dogs, too — but Mom was more of a cat person. So far, both parents agreed that the family was not ready for a fulltime dog.

That was partly because of Lizzie’s other brother, the Bean. (His real name was Adam, but nobody ever called him that.) He was just a toddler, and keeping him out of trouble took up a lot of everyone’s energy. The funny thing was that the Bean loved dogs, too. He loved them so much that he liked to pretend he
one. He crawled around during mealtimes, barked at visitors, and played with dog toys more than kid toys.

“The Bean is enough dog for now,” Mom always
said. She liked to point out that the Bean did not shed fur all over the place, make messes, or chew up their shoes, the way a real dog would.

For now, Lizzie and Charles had to be happy with part-time puppies. The Petersons had become a foster family, taking care of puppies until the perfect home could be found for each one. So far, they had fostered four different puppies.

Goldie, the first puppy, was a happy golden retriever who had belonged to a family whose house had burned down. Mr. Peterson was a fireman, and he brought her home after putting out the fire. Goldie ended up living next door with Sammy, Charles’s best friend. She was the perfect pal for Sammy’s older dog, Rufus.

The next pup was Snowball, a fluffy little West Highland white terrier. He had a lot of energy and a big, big personality. The Petersons found Snowball an excellent home with a nice lady named Mrs. Peabody.

Shadow, the serious black Lab puppy, came
next. With help from Maria, her new best friend, Lizzie found him a home with a family that would train him to be a guide dog for a blind person.

Then there was Rascal, the wild child. He was an energetic Jack Russell terrier who could
learn to behave well enough to live with a regular family in a regular house. Rascal had ended up living at a riding stable, where he didn’t need to have “indoor manners.” It was the perfect home for a rascally dog.

Lizzie, Charles, and the Bean had loved every one of those puppies. They had hoped and wished that they would be able to keep each one themselves. But they knew that the puppies had found just the right homes, and that was the most important thing.

It had been quite a while since the Petersons had fostered a puppy. That was why Lizzie had started volunteering at Caring Paws in the first place. She missed being around dogs!

Now, at the shelter, Lizzie could hardly wait to
meet the newest dog, Skipper. “Is Skipper a boy or a girl?” she asked Ms. Dobbins.

Ms. Dobbins paused. “She’s a girl,” she answered after a moment. “And here’s the thing. We are so full right now that I just don’t know where I’m going to put her! I’ve already got two dogs doubled up in kennel five. We have more than a dozen dogs looking for homes! There is just no room here — and Skipper really, really needs more space to be comfortable. We need a foster family for her.”

“Maybe my family can take her,” Lizzie suggested. “Is Skipper a puppy?”

“Well . . . no,” said Ms. Dobbins. “But —”

“It doesn’t matter,” Lizzie interrupted. “If she needs a home, and there’s no room here, I’m sure we can take care of her for a while. I’ll just have to convince my mom. She’s used to fostering puppies, so talking her into a dog should be a breeze.”

As they were talking, Ms. Dobbins was leading the way down the hall to the dog room. She and Lizzie walked past the exam room, where a visiting vet checked out every animal that came into the shelter. They passed the tub room, the scene of many soapy, hairy messes. And then there were the two cat rooms. Lizzie peeked in. She could see all kinds of cats and kittens. They were napping and climbing and cleaning themselves.

As they approached the dog room, Lizzie could hear dogs barking. It was funny. Sometimes only one dog was barking in the dog room. But other times, all the dogs started barking at once, as if they were kids in a classroom yelling, “Call on me! Call on me!”

Ms. Dobbins pushed open the door to the dog room. Inside, there were ten kennels made of metal fencing that stretched from the floor to the ceiling. Each kennel had a comfy bed, a sign on
the outside with the dog’s name, and directions about feeding and walking. Each kennel also had a doggie door that could open to a fenced area outdoors, so the dogs could get outside on their own when there wasn’t a volunteer to walk them. The room was warm and bright, and there were hand-painted number signs for each kennel. Lizzie knew that animal shelters could be sad places, and she was glad that Caring Paws always seemed cheerful and homey.

Ms. Dobbins pointed at kennel number one, the cage nearest the door. “That’s Skipper,” she said. “And now you know what ‘and company’ means.”

There, in the kennel, was a brown-and-tan dog with a silky-soft coat. Her big cocoa-brown eyes were shiny, and she had ears that stood straight up. Right now they were pointed toward the door, as if Skipper had radar. But Skipper didn’t jump to her feet, the way most dogs did when you came into the kennels. She just stayed where she was, looking up at Ms. Dobbins.

Skipper wondered who the new person was. Could she trust her? Should she stand up and show off her treasure? She decided it was safe.

When Skipper moved, Lizzie gasped. “Oh, my!” she said when she saw what was curled up in the curve of Skipper’s belly.

Three puppies.

Three tiny, adorable, brown-and-tan puppies, and they were just beginning to squirm themselves awake.


For a minute, Lizzie couldn’t say anything. She just stared. “Ohh,” she finally sighed. “They are so, so cute!”

The puppies had fluffy, soft-looking coats. Two of them were mostly brown with tan markings. One of those puppies was a darker brown, and one was lighter. They were both larger than the third puppy, who was mostly tan with brown markings. All three looked sleepy and cozy, curled up near their mother. One of them yawned as Lizzie was watching, and she could see its curly pink tongue. Another one got up and tottered away from its mother on unsteady legs. Its tiny tail stuck straight up in the air. Lizzie knew her brother Charles would
these puppies.

“The two bigger ones are girls,” said Ms. Dobbins. “And the little tan one is a boy. See the heart on his chest?”

Just then, the tan pup climbed over one of his sisters, and Lizzie spotted the white marking Ms. Dobbins was talking about. “They look like they might be part German shepherd,” she said. “Or maybe chow?”

Lizzie had a “Dog Breeds of the World” poster in her room at home. She loved to study it and learn about every kind of dog. Usually she could tell right away what breed of dog she was looking at, but Skipper and her puppies looked like they were a mix of breeds. “All-American dogs,” her poster called them. “Mutts,” her dad always said. He said mixed-breed dogs were the best.

Ms. Dobbins agreed. She had told Lizzie that mutts often combined the best things about each breed, creating a new kind of dog that was good-looking, healthy, and strong. For example, if a dog’s father was a Labrador retriever and its
mother was a collie, you might get a puppy that was great with kids and liked to fetch balls (like a Lab) and was also loyal and had a soft, silky coat (like a collie).

“We haven’t quite figured out
mix these puppies are,” said Ms. Dobbins. “They may have some golden retriever in them, too. They’re so friendly and sweet!”

“What are their names?” asked Lizzie.

Ms. Dobbins shrugged. “It’s been so crazy around here, I haven’t had a chance to name the puppies,” she answered. “Julie named the mother Skipper, but we figured that whoever adopts the pups should get to name them.”

Lizzie liked Julie. She was a senior in high school who worked at the shelter. Lizzie thought Julie was the coolest. She seemed to know
about dogs and cats. Plus, she was always coming up with great ideas for making the shelter work better — like the color-coded wipe-off board.

Lizzie stared at Skipper’s family. The puppies were making soft whimpering and snuffling noises as they pushed toward their mother, getting ready to nurse. “How old are they?” she asked.

“We think they’re four or five weeks old,” said Ms. Dobbins. “They have their eyes open, and they can walk and even run around a bit. So they aren’t too young. But they still need their mother. They’re just about ready to start eating solid food, but they’re not quite ready to be on their own.”

“So that means —” Lizzie was just beginning to figure it out.

Ms. Dobbins nodded. “I think you get the picture,” she said. “Whoever fosters Skipper takes the puppies, too. The whole litter. It’s a package deal. And not one that everybody is ready for. It’s a lot of responsibility.”

“I know,” Lizzie said. “Charles and I have taken care of lots of puppies. One puppy at a time is plenty. Three puppies and a mom . . . wow.”

“Not only that,” said Ms. Dobbins, “but there’s a time commitment, too. If someone takes these puppies, they’re going to have to keep them until they’re old enough to go to their real homes.”

“Like, until they’re eight weeks old?” Lizzie asked. She had learned a lot about puppies.

“That’s right,” said Ms. Dobbins.

Lizzie nodded. It wouldn’t be easy to talk her mother into fostering Skipper and the puppies, especially for three or four whole weeks. But Lizzie was sure that the Petersons were the perfect family to take them in. She had already fallen completely in love with the puppies, and she knew she and her family could give them all the care they needed. “Where did they come from?” she asked.

Ms. Dobbins sighed. “A policeman found them living in back of the supermarket, near the Dumpsters. Skipper had made a nest out of old cardboard boxes, and she was getting by on
whatever food she could find in the garbage. She did her best, but it wasn’t easy taking care of her pups under those conditions.”

Lizzie felt tears spring into her eyes just thinking about it. “That’s so sad,” she said. She hated to imagine how a sweet dog like Skipper could have ended up living in a parking lot.

“Skipper’s puppies are pretty wonderful, too,” said Ms. Dobbins. “When the policemen found the puppies, Skipper was off finding food. The two girl puppies were huddled around the little boy puppy, keeping him warm. They are the best kind of big sisters.”

The whole time Lizzie and Ms. Dobbins had been talking, a dog had been barking like crazy. Now, suddenly, all the rest of the dogs decided they needed to bark, too. The noise filled the dog room, bouncing off the concrete floors and walls. The only dog who wasn’t barking was Skipper. She was nuzzling her puppies while they nursed.
She seemed calm and content, even in the midst of all that noise.

Ms. Dobbins smiled at Lizzie and shook her head. “What a racket!” she yelled. “Let’s go back to the office and talk where we can hear each other.”

Lizzie took one more look at Skipper and her puppies. She felt her throat close up as if she were about to cry. Skipper had done everything she could to take care of her family. She deserved a break. She deserved some help.

“Can I call my mom?” Lizzie asked as soon as she and Ms. Dobbins walked into the office. A dog and three puppies. This was a big deal! Skipper needed the Petersons’ help. Lizzie needed to talk to her family.

Ms. Dobbins nodded toward the phone. “Go right ahead,” she said.

Lizzie dialed her number and crossed her fingers while the phone rang. When her mother said hello, Lizzie said, “Mom? It’s me. Lizzie. You’ll
never believe it, but there’s a dog here I think we should foster.”

“A dog?” her mom asked. “Not a puppy?”

“Well . . .” said Lizzie. “Can you come down here — and bring Dad and Charles and the Bean, too? I think it’s time for a Peterson Powwow.”

BOOK: Buddy
7.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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