Authors: Ellen Miles
For Eileen (With thanks for the inspiration), and Ava Rose.
Everywhere Lizzie Peterson looked, she saw dogs. Huge dogs and tiny dogs, curly-haired dogs and long-eared dogs, and dogs with big, fluffy tails. There were dogs that barked and dogs that whined and dogs that ran across the floor with their toenails clicking and their mouths wide open in huge doggy smiles.
Lizzie was in heaven. She didn’t know which dog to hug first, which one to pat, which one to tell, “Good dog!” So she tried to do it all. She leaned over to hug a big, gentle shepherd mix, held out a hand to pat the pushy nose of a white-and-brown
terrier, and said, “Happy Birthday, Max!” to the goofy black Lab who had brought over a stuffed clown to show her. It was Max’s birthday (he was turning two), and Lizzie had been helping to set up a doggy birthday party for him.
“You sure do love dogs,” said the woman standing next to Lizzie.
“I sure do,” Lizzie said, reaching out to pat another dog who had run over to visit.
Lizzie smiled up at her aunt Amanda, the owner of Bowser’s Backyard. Aunt Amanda was tall and thin with long, curly red hair. She didn’t look much at all like Lizzie’s dad, even though she was his little sister. Aunt Amanda and her husband, Uncle James, had lived in California for the last ten years, so Lizzie had hardly ever met them, except at one family reunion.
Of course, Lizzie had heard lots of stories about “dog-crazy Amanda,” but she’d never had a chance to get to know her aunt. That is, not until Aunt Amanda and Uncle James had moved to Littleton.
Aunt Amanda had just opened her dream business: a doggy day care. And it wasn’t far from Lizzie’s house!
“And dogs love
, too,” her aunt added now. “I can see that. You really have a way with animals.”
Lizzie felt like she might burst with happiness. Coming from Aunt Amanda, that meant a lot.
Lizzie had been stopping by Bowser’s Backyard at least once a week since it had opened. It was the first doggy day care business in Littleton. At first, Lizzie wasn’t even sure what doggy day care
Aunt Amanda had explained that it was a place where people could bring their dogs for the day. The dogs could play safely there all day and get to know other dogs. Then their owners didn’t have to leave them home alone while they (the people, that is!) went to work. With the help of her staff, Amanda cared for up to thirty dogs a day — including her own dogs.
She and Uncle James had two adorable pugs named Lionel and Jack, plus a sweet old golden retriever named Bowser. Lizzie had never known a pug before, but as soon as she met Lionel and Jack she understood why Aunt Amanda was “pug crazy,” as she called it. The two pugs were like little brown bundles of energy, with flat wrinkly faces and curly corkscrew tails. And they were cuddly, too. They were the funniest, cutest dogs Lizzie had ever met.
Lizzie liked to talk about dogs — any kind of dogs, not just pugs — with Aunt Amanda. Of course, her aunt already knew all about how Lizzie and her family took care of puppies that needed homes. They kept them only until they found the perfect forever home for each one. The Petersons loved being a foster family.
Lizzie also told Aunt Amanda about how she volunteered once a week at Caring Paws, the animal shelter. One day, Lizzie worked up the courage to ask Aunt Amanda for a job. “I have
lots of experience,” she’d said. “I know a lot about dogs, but there’s a lot more I want to learn.” Lizzie knew she was too young for a real job, but even a fourth grader like her could be a lot of help when it came to taking care of thirty dogs! “I’ll do anything!” she had said. “You don’t even have to pay me. I just want to be here.”
“And I love having you here,” Aunt Amanda had said. “You’re a big help. How about this? We’ll start with one afternoon a week. Once we see how things work out, maybe you can come more often.”
And now, on Lizzie’s very first day, Aunt Amanda was smiling at Lizzie and telling her what a good job she was already doing. “I can see you’ll be a good helper, Lizzie. I may even need you to come up to Camp Bowser with me one weekend, if we have a lot of campers.”
Camp Bowser! Lizzie couldn’t believe her ears. Ever since she had first heard about Camp Bowser, Lizzie had wanted to go there. What could be more fun than a sleepaway camp for
dogs? When Aunt Amanda and Uncle James had moved from California, they’d also bought a cabin in the country. Every weekend they took five or six dogs along when they went up to their country place. The dogs could run around in a big fenced area, swim in the brook, or even do arts and crafts, just like kids at a regular camp.
Going to Camp Bowser would be — well, it would be the best thing that ever happened to Lizzie!
Well, maybe the best thing next to getting Buddy. Lizzie smiled as she thought of the little brown puppy that had come to live with her family. The Petersons had fostered lots of puppies, and Lizzie and her brothers, Charles and the Bean (whose real name was Adam), had wanted to keep every single one. But Mom and Dad said that the Petersons weren’t ready for a full-time dog. The Bean was just a toddler, and he needed lots of attention. Plus, Mom was more of a cat person.
Then Buddy came along. The Petersons were caring for four dogs at that time. Lizzie had met a mother dog named Skipper plus her three puppies, Cinnamon, Cocoa, and Buddy, at the shelter. Cinnamon and Cocoa, the girl puppies, were very cute, and Lizzie was thrilled when they found forever homes.
But it was different with Buddy. Buddy was special. He was a small puppy, the runt of his litter. He needed lots of love and attention. Everyone fell in love with Buddy: Lizzie, Charles, the Bean, Dad, and even — especially! — Mom. And when the time came to find Buddy a forever home, the Petersons all agreed that he would stay right there with them. Now Buddy was a part of the family.
Buddy had gotten a little bigger, but he was still the cutest, sweetest pup Lizzie had ever met. She loved his soft puppy fur and his silky ears, and she loved to kiss the little white heart-shaped marking on his chest. Lizzie loved to take Buddy
for walks and to teach him new tricks — his latest was “roll over” — and she loved just lying with him on the couch, patting him while she read a favorite book. Lizzie loved
But could Lizzie say good-bye to Buddy for a weekend, while she went to Camp Bowser with Aunt Amanda and Uncle James? Well, as long as she knew he would be there waiting for her when she got back, yes, she could.
“Wow,” she said now to Aunt Amanda. “I would
to come to Camp Bowser.”
“Well, we’ll see,” her aunt said. “Right now, we have some doggy guests arriving for our party. Want to help me get them settled?”
Lizzie got to her feet and dusted off her hands. “Absolutely,” she said.
Just then, the door to the play area opened. “Amanda, they’re here!” called Josie, one of the other helpers.
Four dogs came through the door, into the
indoor play area where Lizzie and her aunt were waiting. A golden retriever that looked just like Bowser walked in slowly, sniffing the air. A black-and-tan mutt ambled along behind her, shaking his long droopy ears. A cocoa-brown poodle tiptoed along elegantly, looking this way and that. And then,
! Lizzie laughed as she watched a little brown-and-black dog blast by the others and scamper around the play area, zipping from the jungle gym to the slide to the seesaw and back around. It was a pug! He snuffled and snorted and wagged his curly tail. He made three circles before he even paused to sniff Lizzie’s outstretched hand.
“Awww!” she said, bending to pat the dog’s velvety black ears. He was just a puppy, really. His tan body shivered with joy as he licked her fingers. “Who’s this?” she asked Aunt Amanda.
Aunt Amanda rolled her eyes and shook her head — but she was smiling. “This,” she said, “is Pugsley. Otherwise known as Mr. Pest.”
“Pugsley!” Lizzie laughed out loud. “What a great name. And he’s such a cutie!” Lizzie could not get over how soft Pugsley’s ears were. She loved the sweet expression on his wrinkled face.
Aunt Amanda rolled her eyes. “Sure, he’s cute,” she said. “You know I’m pug crazy. But my Jack and Lionel are well-trained little gentlemen. Pugsley is . . .” Aunt Amanda paused. “Well, there’s a reason his nickname is Mr. Pest. Pugsley is a handful; let’s just leave it at that.”
“But Pugsley is only a puppy, right?” Lizzie asked. She was still petting his ears, but Pugsley was watching Josie put a party hat that said
on Max’s head. The pug’s strong little body started to quiver with excitement.
I like that hat. I want that hat. I’m going to get that hat. Just wait until I get a chance. Watch me! Watch me! Watch me
Aunt Amanda nodded. “He’s only about six months old,” she said. “And his owners love him. But they haven’t done much in the way of training, and it shows. He’s house-trained, but that’s about it. And he’s always misbehaving. The best thing to do is just ignore him when he’s acting out. He’s —”
Just then, Pugsley ducked away from Lizzie’s hand and took off like a little brown rocket, making a beeline for Max. He barely slowed down as he approached the bigger dog, leaped up to grab the birthday hat in his teeth, and kept moving, barreling along toward the door.
“Pugsley!” Amanda yelled. “Bring that back, you little —”
Josie ran to the door to make sure it was shut. “He can’t get out,” she called.
“Don’t count on that,” Amanda said. She turned to Lizzie. “Mr. Pest has escaped four times since he started coming here. You really have to keep an eye on him.”
“What about ‘three strikes and you’re out'?” Lizzie asked. She knew that Aunt Amanda had a strict policy about bad behavior. Just like in baseball, every dog was allowed three strikes: three chances to mess up. But if a dog got more than three strikes by being mean to another dog or to a person, by running away or stealing from other dogs, or breaking any of Aunt Amanda’s other rules, that dog would not be allowed anymore at Bowser’s.
Aunt Amanda blushed. “Well,” she admitted, “I guess I have a soft spot for pugs. And there’s something about that Pugsley. He’s a rascal, but he’s so cute. I keep giving him extra chances.”
At the moment, Lizzie could see that Pugsley had dashed into the nap room, which was full of cozy corners for sleepy dogs. There were bunk
beds and soft round doggy beds, and three old couches with fleecy bedspreads on them. Some of the older dogs liked to spend most of their time in the nap room, snoozing the day away while the other dogs played and ran around.
The nap room was a quiet, calm place. Until Pugsley blasted in, that is. He bounced from bed to bed, waking up every sleeping dog with his sharp little barks. He jumped right onto the nose of Hoss, the Great Dane, who liked to spend his days napping on the couch.
Wake up! Wake up! Let’s go have some fun! Look at this hat I found
“It’s like he’s telling them it’s time for the party!” Lizzie said, giggling as she watched. Hoss did not seem to think it was quite so funny.
Aunt Amanda was trying to hide a smile. “Well, I guess he’s right!” she said. “It’s definitely party time. Let’s get everyone outside for games and
cake.” She caught Pugsley and pulled Max’s birthday hat out of his mouth. Lizzie noticed that her aunt also snuck in a little kiss on Pugsley’s nose.
Lizzie helped round up the dogs and move them toward the back door, which opened into a fenced-in play area. It wasn’t easy to get all the dogs to go to one place. Some dogs were eager to be outside and ran out with happy barks and wagging tails. But other dogs seemed confused about where to go, or just wanted to stay inside. Hoss, the Great Dane, kept circling back to the nap room.
Aunt Amanda laughed. “It’s like herding cats,” she said, shaking her head.
Lizzie wasn’t sure what that meant — until she tried to imagine dealing with a bunch of yowling, stubborn, minds-of-their-own kitties. Dogs were bad enough! How would you
get cats to do what you wanted? She laughed, too. “I’ll get Hoss,” she said. “It sounds like the party is starting with or without us!”
From outside came the sound of balloons popping and dogs yipping and howling. When Lizzie finally dragged Hoss out the door, she saw what was going on. Pugsley, the adorable little brat, was stealing balloons as fast as Josie could blow them up. Then he was bumping them away, using his head like a soccer player heading the ball — except that most soccer players don’t follow up by belly-flopping on top of the ball until it bursts.
Every time a balloon popped, Max the birthday boy would squirm farther under the cake table, knocking his bright blue
hat until it was sticking straight out sideways. Which looked very silly. Which made Josie and Amanda and Lizzie crack up. Which made Pugsley so happy and excited that he would steal another balloon and repeat the whole routine.
Wheee! What fun! Come on, everybody! What are you waiting for? This is the best game ever
“Oh, dear,” Amanda said, still giggling. “I don’t want to laugh, but I can’t help myself. Lizzie, can you pick up those broken balloons? We have to be very careful to make sure nobody thinks they’re today’s special snack.”
Amanda cooked something special every single day for the dogs at the Backyard. Sometimes she roasted a turkey or baked liver brownies. Lizzie knew that regular brownies could be bad for dogs, since chocolate can make dogs sick. But liver brownies were okay, and, although Lizzie couldn’t imagine eating one herself, the dogs
them. They also loved Amanda, and, for the most part, they listened to her and obeyed her.
All but Pugsley. Over the next three weeks, Lizzie got to know Pugsley very well. She could not believe how much trouble that little dog could get into. Lizzie worked at Bowser’s Backyard every Wednesday, and Pugsley was on his worst behavior every time she saw him. He was always cute,
always funny, always very entertaining — but also always very, very naughty.
One Friday afternoon, Lizzie had stopped by Bowser’s Backyard to see if she could help out. That’s how she happened to be cleaning up a doggy mess just outside Aunt Amanda’s office when one of Pugsley’s owners, a man named Ken, came to drop him off.
“You know,” Lizzie heard Amanda say to Ken, “I really can’t keep stretching the rules for Pugsley. If he doesn’t improve his behavior soon —”
Ken interrupted her. “I know, I know,” he said. “You’ve been so patient. But if you haven’t been able to get him on the right track, I don’t know who can. He’s such a handful, and we just don’t know what to do anymore.” He was quiet for a moment. Then he let out a big sigh. “In fact,” he said, “this will be the last day you have to stretch the rules. We’ve decided to give Pugsley up, and we’re taking him to the animal shelter tomorrow.”