Every now and then, there comes a day when I feel like it's time for another story about my favourite animal. Today is one of those days! I love all dogs - big ones, little ones, neat ones, shaggy ones and everything in between!
A podcast version of this story is available here!
A Shaggy Dog Story
"Mum! Dad! Guess what?!" Melissa came barging through the front door, with a slip of paper in her hand. She waved the paper in front of her parents and beamed. "We're having a Summer Fete at school next Saturday and it's going to be amazing," she explained. "There'll be an obstacle course, a barbecue, a cake stall, games and even a dog show!"
"Sounds fun," Mum smiled. "You'll have to save your pocket money, so you have something to spend when we go."
Melissa nodded. She turned to grin at the sleeping dog in the corner of the room. "And I'll brush Harvey's fur and maybe even give him a bath, so he's all ready for the dog show."
Mum and Dad glanced at one another. Dad cocked his head to one side, the way Harvey did when you gave him a command he didn't quite understand. "Melissa... I don't think Harvey's a show dog," he said, slowly. "He's almost ten, he's not as light on his feet as he used to be. I don't know that he'd like it."
Mum nodded in agreement. "Besides, he's a mongrel. We don't even know what breed he really is; even the people at the rescue centre couldn't be 100% sure, when we got him all those years ago. Dog shows tend to favour perfect little puppies and pure breeds. I'd hate for you to get your hopes up over him winning a prize, only to be let down, sweetie."
Melissa's face fell. "But Harvey's a really special dog," she insisted. "It doesn't matter that he's not as pretty as the others, or that he's a bit older..." Her words trailed off and she stood, looking utterly miserable.
Finally, Dad took a deep breath. "Okay," he told her. "If it means that much to you, we'll take Harvey with us and we'll see about entering him in the dog show. Just remember that it doesn't matter if he doesn't win. We'll all love him, just the same."
The morning of the Summer Fete finally arrived and Melissa was up early, practising playing fetch in the garden with Harvey. Harvey had never been the brightest of dogs and getting him to follow instructions wasn't easy, but Melissa was determined to make sure that everyone saw him the way she did - in her eyes, it didn't matter how old, shaggy or silly Harvey was. He was perfect.
The school was only a short walk away, so Mum put Harvey on his lead, whilst Dad put Melissa's baby brother, Billy, in his pram. They set off in the sunshine, full of smiles and with Harvey wagging his tail every step of the way.
There were lots of people already there, by the time Melissa and her family arrived. The school field was decorated with flags and there were lots of exciting looking stalls dotted around the edge. The scent of burgers and sausages wafted through the air. In the centre of the field, a big rectangle had been fenced off, with a sign saying "Dog Show." Melissa's teacher, Miss Finchley, was sitting at a little table, writing down the names of dogs that were going to take part. A big queue of owners and pets had formed by the table, already. Melissa patted Harvey's head. "Time to shine, Harvey!"
Mum and Dad spotted their friends over by the cake stall and went over to say hello. Melissa took Harvey and rushed to register him for the dog show. When she arrived, two other girls from the school began to snigger. "What kind of dog is that?" One of them chuckled, as she held on tightly to the little puppy in her arms.
"He looks a mess," the other sneered, stroking the coat of her perfectly clipped pooch.
Melissa ignored them, as she gave Harvey's name to Miss Finchley. "Don't worry, Harvey," she whispered. "It doesn't matter what they say. You're going to show them, aren't you?"
But, as the dog show got underway, Harvey seemed reluctant to join in. As the owners lined up with their dogs, Harvey pulled on his lead and tried to run back to Mum and Dad, almost knocking Melissa down as she struggled to keep him with her. A huge crowd had gathered around the big rectangle in the centre of the school field and Melissa could feel everyone's eyes on her. She could hear people whispering and giggling. Everyone had left the stalls so that they could watch the dog show. Even Melissa's headteacher had left the barbecue to come and watch and every time Harvey yelped and tugged on his lead, Melissa's cheeks got redder and redder.
The dogs and their owners had to walk from one end of the rectangle to the other. The dogs were supposed to walk calmly beside their owners, but Harvey just pulled and pulled, not wanting to budge. Melissa practically had to drag him along.
Next, the owners had to command their dogs to "sit" and "lie down." Everyone else gave the commands and their dogs obeyed right on cue. But when Melissa told Harvey to sit, he just barked at her and tried to make a run for it, again. Melissa sighed. This really wasn't going well.
The final test was for the owners to take their dogs off the leads, command them to "stay," walk to the other end of the rectangle and then call the dogs to come back to them. Melissa nervously unclipped Harvey's lead. Straight away, he bolted away and leaped over the fence around the show area. "Pfft, he's not very good," one of the girls from earlier laughed, icily.
"Harvey!" Melissa called. "Harvey, come! Harvey, come back!" But Harvey went on, barging his way through the crowds, barking as loudly as he could.
"That dog is out of control!" One of the girls cried, but Melissa shook her head.
"Smoke!" She yelled, pointing. She began running after Harvey. The dog had pushed his way through the crowds, to where the headteacher's unmanned barbecue had caught fire!
The grumbles and sneers from the crowd quickly turned into horrified gasps, as people rushed to find water to throw over the flames.
When the fire was finally out and everyone had calmed down, Melissa threw her arms around Harvey and hugged him tight. "You weren't just being naughty," she said, proudly. "You could tell something wasn't right and you were trying to warn us, weren't you?" She let Harvey lick her hands as she stroked his wise, old head. "You're a superstar, Harvey."
"He is," a voice said, interrupting Melissa. She spun round to see Miss Finchley and a whole crowd of people standing behind her. Miss Finchley smiled and held out a rosette. "That's why I'm awarding him Best In Show. Goodness knows what would have happened, if Harvey hadn't known something was wrong."
Melissa proudly stuck the rosette onto Harvey's collar and walked him back to the big rectangle in the centre of the field, to thunderous applause from the crowd.
The two girls from earlier came over to stroke Harvey's fur. "He's actually very cute," one of them said.
"We were wrong to judge him, just because he's older and shaggier than the other dogs," the other girl went on. Harvey responded by giving both the girls a big lick and wagging his tail. Melissa and the girls stood back, smiling as all the dogs from the show ran around, playing together in the bright sunshine. And as Melissa's Mum and Dad came over with baby Billy, Harvey bounded back to them, with a look of what Melissa was sure was pride, as he showed off his rosette. He may have been older and shaggier than the rest, but every dog has his day.
And this was Harvey's.