Read Baxter Online

Authors: Ellen Miles

Baxter

For Matt (aka Mr. Popper), with gratitude for his support and guidance.

Special thanks to Steve and Chris for introducing me to their incredible dogs.

CHAPTER ONE

“Doesn’t Buddy look adorable sitting there? He’s so good.” Lizzie clasped her hands and smiled at her puppy. “Good boy, Buddy!”

Buddy cocked his head and thumped his tail. Then he jumped up and took a step toward Lizzie.

Lizzie held up her hand. “No, Buddy. Stay. Wait until the photographer takes the picture!”

Buddy started to sit again, but then he couldn’t seem to help himself. He bounded over to Lizzie, put his paws on her lap, and stretched up to lick her face. Lizzie couldn’t help herself, either. She giggled and hugged him tightly. “Buddy! You’re supposed to be getting your picture taken. That means you have to sit still.”

Buddy squirmed and kept licking, and Lizzie laughed some more. Who could be mad at a puppy as cute as Buddy, with his soft brown fur and the white spot in the shape of a heart, right in the middle of his chest? How was he supposed to know that this portrait session was a very special treat? If Buddy would only let the photographer take his picture, Lizzie and the rest of her family would have a fantastic photo to keep forever. The Petersons all loved Buddy so much.

Lizzie’s family fostered puppies, which meant that they took care of puppies who needed homes, just until they could find each one the perfect forever family. Buddy had started out as a foster puppy, but he had ended up becoming part of the Peterson family. Lizzie could not have been happier about that. Her younger brothers Charles and the Bean both loved Buddy, too.

Now Lizzie had managed to get Buddy to sit still again. “Sorry,” she said as soon as she
stopped laughing long enough to catch her breath.

“It’s okay,” said the photographer, a pretty Japanese-American woman named Katana. She shook back her long black hair and smiled. “I’m used to it. I’m still setting up, anyway. I’ll let you know when I’m really ready.”

Lizzie was at Bowser’s Backyard, her aunt Amanda’s doggy day-care center. Aunt Amanda was even crazier about dogs than Lizzie (if that was even possible), so the business was perfect for her. She took care of people’s dogs while their owners were at work or on vacation. Some days she had as many as thirty dogs! Thirty
lucky
dogs. Instead of lying around alone at home, these dogs got to spend each day playing, napping, eating homemade dog treats, and enjoying activities like doggy crafts, doggy games, and even doggy massages. The luckiest dogs of all got to spend weekends with Aunt Amanda and Uncle
James up at their country place, Camp Bowser. There the dogs could swim, romp in the woods, play doggy Frisbee, or just nap on the porch.

Lizzie loved to help out at Bowser’s Backyard, although lately she had not had the chance. Aunt Amanda had not needed any extra help for a few weeks — but she sure did today. Today was Picture Day. A professional photographer — Katana — had come to take pictures of Aunt Amanda’s regular customers. Most of the owners had been happy to sign up, even though these special portraits would cost extra.

Katana had set up a plain white backdrop for the dogs to pose in front of. She had fancy lights and a big camera on a tripod and lots of dog treats and squeaky toys for getting the dogs’ attention. That was Lizzie’s job. When Katana raised her finger to show that she was all ready to snap a picture, Lizzie was supposed to squeeze a squeaky toy so that the dog would look up at the camera, hopefully with a cute, alert expression.

Aunt Amanda’s job — not an easy one — was to get the dogs to sit still in the first place. If anybody could do it, Aunt Amanda could. She really had an almost magical way with animals. She could train any dog to do just about anything. Lizzie knew that if Aunt Amanda had been in the room, Buddy would have sat still for her. But Aunt Amanda was in the playroom, getting the other dogs ready for their pictures. Buddy was just a practice dog for Katana to experiment with before the real photo session started. Lizzie’s mom had brought him along when she dropped Lizzie off, and now she was waiting patiently to take Buddy home.

“Okay,” said Katana, straightening up from her camera. “I think I’m all set. Can you get Buddy to sit and stay, right there where I’ve taped a big X to the floor?”

Lizzie brought Buddy over to the spot and told him to sit. Buddy sat, gazing up at her hopefully.

Am I going to get a cookie for this?

“Good boy.” Lizzie wished she had remembered to tuck a few of his favorite biscuits into her pocket. She smiled at Buddy and petted his head. He thumped his tail.

Pats are almost as good as cookies!

“Buddy, stay!” said Lizzie. She held up her hand, palm toward Buddy. With Aunt Amanda’s help, Lizzie was just starting to teach her puppy some hand signals. Still holding up her palm, she took a few steps backward. “Good boy,” she said encouragingly. “Good stay.” A few more steps, and Lizzie found herself standing next to Katana. Buddy sat very, very still, but Lizzie could see that it wasn’t easy for him. He was trembling a little, and his tail made tiny
thump-thump-thumps
on the floor.

Katana waved a finger. Quickly, Lizzie reached
into the toy basket and grabbed a red plastic fire hydrant. She held it up right next to the camera and gave it a big squeeze. When the toy let out a loud squeak, Buddy cocked his head and stared at the camera.
Snap.

“Got it!” said Katana just as Buddy bolted toward Lizzie, wagging his tail wildly and giving her that special doggy grin of his. Lizzie laughed and gave him the fire hydrant to chew on.
Squeak! Squeak! Squeak-squeak-squeak!
Buddy danced around the room, tossing the toy into the air and pouncing on it over and over again.

“Perfect,” said Katana. “He looked adorable. That’s just how we’ll do it with all of the other dogs.”

Lizzie called Buddy over. “Good boy,” she told him one more time, when he brought her the fire hydrant.

“I can’t wait to see how the picture turns out,” said Lizzie’s mom as she clipped on Buddy’s leash.

“Here’s a peek right now,” said Katana. She showed Lizzie and Mrs. Peterson the screen on her camera. There was Buddy looking his absolute cutest, with his head tilted to one side and his ears perked to perfection.

“Aww,” said Mrs. Peterson.

“You’re really good,” Lizzie told Katana.

Katana smiled modestly. “I’ve taken pictures of a
lot
of dogs,” she said. “It’s my main business.”

After her mom left to take Buddy home, Lizzie’s job started for real. Aunt Amanda brought the dogs in one at a time: Hoss, a dignified Great Dane; Crackers, a cocker spaniel; Pugsley, the wild and wacky little pug Lizzie’s family had fostered; and of course Bowser, Aunt Amanda’s golden retriever.

Aunt Amanda got the dogs to sit. Katana adjusted her lights, focused her camera, and gave Lizzie the signal. Lizzie squeezed the squeaky toy.

Some dogs stayed put and posed for the camera.

One dog — namely, Pugsley — got up and zoomed around the room, dodging everyone who tried to catch him and nearly knocking over Katana’s fancy lights.

And a few dogs lay down and went to sleep while Katana pointed her camera at them.

Lizzie laughed through it all. “This is so much fun,” she told Katana. “If you ever need an assistant on your jobs, let me know.”

Finally, Aunt Amanda brought in the very last dog. “This is Baxter,” she said as she led an energetic brown puppy into the room. “After we take his picture, we’ll try for a group shot. That should be interesting.”

Lizzie had never met Baxter. He was a beautiful puppy, with a curly chestnut coat, a white chest and paws, floppy ears, and a friendly face. His shiny brown eyes peeked through a curtain of wavy hair, making him look like a funny little
man with extra-bushy eyebrows. He bounded happily over to greet Lizzie, pulling Aunt Amanda along behind him. “Hello there, Baxter!” Lizzie squatted down to rub his floppy ears and kiss his sweet black nose. His soft curls reminded her of Noodle, a golden doodle puppy (half poodle, half golden retriever) her family had fostered. Lizzie had fallen hard for Noodle and he had not been easy to give up. Was Baxter part poodle, also?

“What breed are you, cutie?” Lizzie pictured the “Dog Breeds of the World” poster hanging in her room at home. Which dog looked most like Baxter?

Aunt Amanda started to say something, but Lizzie stopped her. “Wait,” she said. She held up her hand. “Don’t tell me. I bet I can guess.”

CHAPTER TWO

“Is he a Portuguese water dog?” Lizzie asked.

Aunt Amanda burst out laughing. “Amazing! You have really studied up on your dog breeds. You’re never wrong.” She bent down to pet Baxter. “Yes, Baxter here is a Portie, or a PWD, as some people call them.”

“I’ve heard of them,” said Katana, “but I’ve never met one before.”

“They’re incredible dogs,” said Lizzie. Now she remembered everything she had read about the breed. “Did you know they were originally bred to help Portuguese fishermen herd fish — the way a border collie herds sheep? They would swim into the ocean and chase fish right into the
fishermen’s nets. These dogs
love
water and they are amazing swimmers.”

“Baxter is only six months old,” said Aunt Amanda. “He hasn’t had the chance to try swimming yet, but he does love water. According to Elaina, his owner, he’s fascinated by it. He’s always staring at his water dish, and patting at the water with his paw.”

Gently, Lizzie took one of Baxter’s white paws and spread the toes apart. “He’ll be a great swimmer when he does get the chance. Look, he has webbed feet, like a duck. Labrador retrievers have that, too. It helps them swim.”

“Fascinating,” said Katana. “All very fascinating. But — ahem —” She checked her watch. “Maybe we should finish up?”

“Of course,” said Aunt Amanda. “Come on, Baxter.” She tugged on Baxter’s leash, and the curly-haired puppy trotted willingly along with her over to the X on the floor. Aunt Amanda got him to sit and told him to stay — but as soon as
she took two steps away, Baxter jumped up and followed her, whining softly.

Wait! Don’t leave me.

Lizzie noticed the way Baxter wagged his tail: down low, with little side-to-side movements. That was not a happy tail wag. Baxter was nervous about something.

Aunt Amanda tried again, and again, and once more. But every time, Baxter jumped up before she got more than a few steps away. Aunt Amanda sighed. “This doesn’t surprise me,” she said. “Baxter has a little problem called separation anxiety.”

“Oh, poor Baxter,” said Katana. “That can be so hard. It’s when dogs can’t stand to be alone, right? My friend’s Doberman was like that. He wanted to be with his owners, or with
somebody,
all the time.”

“Exactly,” said Aunt Amanda. “That’s why
Elaina has been bringing Baxter here to Bowser’s Backyard. Every time she tried to leave him home alone, he barked and whined and then chewed and destroyed everything in her apartment. The neighbors complained, and she knew he was miserable, so she ended up bringing him here. He’s so much happier around other dogs and people.”

“How do dogs
get
separation anx — whatever it is?” Lizzie asked. “And how can you fix it?”

“Anxiety. That just means nervousness, or fear,” said Aunt Amanda. “Nobody really knows why dogs get it. Maybe Baxter had some kind of bad experience when he was alone one time, like a noisy thunderstorm that scared him. As for whether it can be cured, do you remember my friend Eileen, the animal behaviorist?”

Lizzie nodded. Eileen was great. She had helped a lot when the Petersons had fostered a boxer puppy named Jack, who had loved to eat anything and everything.

“Well, she has been working with Baxter and Elaina, and she thinks there’s hope for him as long as he feels secure and loved,” said Aunt Amanda. “She says that some dogs never get over their separation anxiety, but with care and training, many do.” She bent down to pet Baxter. “Let’s try one more time, pal,” she said. She led the puppy over to the X and told him to sit. Then she took just a half step away. “Am I out of the picture?” she asked Katana.

“Perfect,” said Katana. “Stay right there.” She raised her finger and Lizzie squeaked the toy. Baxter glanced up quizzically through his furry fringe.
Snap!
“Done,” said Katana. “Good boy, Baxter.”

Baxter jumped up, shook himself off, and pranced happily around the room with his leash dragging behind him.

Yahoo! Yahoo! I’m a good boy!

“Do we still have time to try a group photo?” Aunt Amanda asked.

“Sure,” said Katana.

Aunt Amanda and Lizzie went into the playroom to gather all the dogs. They returned with fifteen dogs who milled around, panting and prancing and all excited about whatever was going to happen next. Aunt Amanda sat herself down on the X, opened her arms wide, and started calling. “Hoss! Pugsley! Come here. You, too, Ginger. Come on, Crackers. Join us, Peanut!”

All the dogs stampeded over to Aunt Amanda. Lizzie cracked up. Dogs
loved
Aunt Amanda. Three of them tried to get into her lap at once while the rest dashed around in a crazy doggy dance. “This won’t last long,” Aunt Amanda shouted. She was laughing, too. “Better take the picture!”

Katana gave the signal. Lizzie waited until Baxter was cuddled right up next to Aunt Amanda, along with the other dogs. Then she
gave the fire hydrant a giant squeeze. When it squeaked, every dog looked up, staring at Katana and her camera with interest.
Snap.

“Got it,” said Katana. She snapped a few more pictures before the dogs began to wander around again. Then Hoss decided that he didn’t like the way Pugsley was nipping at his ankles. The big Great Dane started to bark at the little pug. Pugsley yapped back. Baxter began to bark, too, in a surprisingly deep doggy voice. Then all the other dogs started to bark — and run, and jump, and twirl around in circles.

Aunt Amanda laughed so hard that she fell over onto the floor. Immediately, four dogs began to lick her ears and nose, which only made her laugh harder. “Help!” she cried.

Lizzie squeaked the hydrant again.
Squeak! Squeak! Squeak!
The dogs stopped their crazy behavior for one second to see what was making the noise. “That’s enough,” Lizzie said. “Quiet down, everybody.” She waded into the
mass of dogs and grabbed Hoss’s and Pugsley’s collars.

By the time the dogs finally calmed down, their owners had begun to arrive to pick them up. Everybody was excited about Picture Day. Katana and Aunt Amanda had to explain over and over that the pictures would not be ready for a week. “Bring your check for seventy-five dollars next Wednesday,” Aunt Amanda told Hoss’s owner, a nice man named Gary. “I think Hoss’s picture will be gorgeous.”

Lizzie knew that Elaina had arrived when she saw Baxter dash across the room and practically leap into the arms of a tall brown-haired girl. He panted with delight and licked the girl’s cheek. Elaina kissed the top of Baxter’s head. “Hey there, fur-face,” she said. But she did not smile. In fact, Lizzie saw tears spring into her eyes.

“The photo session was so much fun,” said Aunt Amanda, who had not noticed how upset Elaina seemed. “You’re going to love Baxter’s portrait.”

“I’m sure I will, but I won’t be able to afford it,” said Elaina. “I won’t be able to afford anything. My apartment, my car, dog food …” She sniffed and wiped away the tears that had begun to roll down her face. “I — I lost my job today.”

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