TITLE: Tuffy's Pet Person
By Martha Black
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Tuffy, a black cocker spaniel puppy lived with his mother, Princess, and her pet person, Ol' Jake, in a tiny, ancient house. Everyone thought Ol' Jake was mean and grouchy, but even though he didn’t get along well with people, he loved Princess. He was good to her, and she loved him dearly. Tuffy knew Jake loved him too, but since he struggled to make ends meet, Tuffy knew Ol’ Jake could not afford to feed two dogs.
One day Jake put Tuffy and Princess in his ancient pickup. Somehow Tuffy knew this was the day he would leave the only home he had ever known. He was sad to be leaving his mother and Ol' Jake, but he knew he was old enough to have his own home, and he wanted to have his own pet person too, just like his mother.
Jake stopped his rickety truck at the entrance to the city park. He picked Tuffy up and stroked his soft black fur. "I sure hate to see you go, little fella’, but you're so cute and wiggly you won't have any trouble at all finding a home.” Jake opened the door and sat Tuffy gently on the curb; Tuffy saw tears in the gruff old man's eyes. He drove away quickly without looking back, but Tuffy's mother watched him from the back window of the truck for as long as she could.
When Tuffy could no longer see the truck or his mother, he turned toward the entrance of the park. He was sad and excited at the same time. He entered the park with high hopes and saw several people relaxing on park benches.
One of them is going to be my very own pet person! Tuffy wiggled all over at the thought.
An old lady was feeding the pigeons. She was so interested in the birds clustered at her feet that she didn't see Tuffy. When he touched her hand with his cold nose, it startled her. She screamed and hit him hard with her umbrella. Tuffy ran as fast as he could and hid behind a tree. The old lady had scared him twice as much as he had scared her, and besides, she had given him a headache.
Golly! Tuffy thought as he peeked out from behind the tree. That old lady won't be my pet person and I'm glad!
Tuffy saw a young boy and girl playing ball. The girl missed the ball and it rolled right up to Tuffy. He picked it up and carried it to her. She was delighted.
"Jimmy, come see the cute puppy!” She and Jimmy knelt to pet Tuffy, and he was so excited that he licked all four of their hands and untied two of their shoestrings.
They retied their shoes and then Jimmy picked Tuffy up. "Jenny," Jimmy said cuddling Tuffy in his arms, "let's take him home and ask Mama if we can keep him!"
"Oh yes, let's do!”
Jenny and Jimmy lived in an apartment across the street from the park. Jimmy held Tuffy carefully while Jenny watched for cars. After crossing the street, they hurried to their apartment. Jenny opened the door and Jimmy carried Tuffy inside.
"Mama! Mama! Come see what we’ve got!” Jenny ran to the kitchen door and motioned excitedly for her mother to come.
Their mother came out of the kitchen wiping her hands on her apron. When she saw the puppy in Jimmy's arms, she rubbed him behind his ears and cooed at him. "Oh, you’re so darling!” Tuffy pressed against her hand for more.
"Mama, can we keep him? Please, Mama, please!" both children begged. "We'll feed him and take good care of him. Please, Mama, we need a puppy!"
Sadness filled their mother's eyes. "He is precious, but you know you can't keep him! You know the landlord won't allow us to have a dog.” She hugged them both and turned away so they wouldn’t see the tears in her eyes. "Now take him outside and put him down.”
Outside, Jimmy put Tuffy down in the grass as his mother had asked, and he and Jenny petted him one more time, while their mother watched from the door¬way. "Come on in now and wash your hands. It's time for lunch. Don't worry about the puppy. He'll be okay."
Tuffy was sad too. He thought surely he had found not one pet person, but two. Now, he still didn't have his pet person and he had to cross the busy street—all by himself. A friendly policeman saw his problem and stopped the cars so he could cross. Tuffy looked hopefully at the policeman, but he nudged him gently and said, "Get along now, little fella."
Tuffy tried three more times that day. One family fed him a hot dog and played with him, but then drove off leaving him standing by the road. The ice cream man shooed him away from his ice cream cart, kicked him and bruised his ribs. A businessman, sitting alone, ruffled the fur behind his ears and tickled his tummy. He told Tuffy that he reminded him of the puppy he had when he was young, but then he walked absentmindedly away.
Everyone went home, but no one took Tuffy with them. Tuffy had never thought about spending the night alone in the park—but he did. He curled up under a tree and tried to get comfortable, but his stomach growled and there were noises, scary noises.
Finally, morning came. A young woman in a great hurry threw him a piece of toast, and a cheerful old man gave him half a cinnamon bun. Neither seemed interested in wanting a puppy, so Tuffy, with a little of his hunger satisfied, began his hunt again. This time he went to the other side of the park.
There he saw only one person, a boy. He was sitting on a blanket, leaning against a tree. This boy did not look like Jimmy had yesterday, rosy-cheeked and lively. In fact, he did not move at all, and his face was very pale. He didn't see Tuffy; he just stared straight ahead with dull, unseeing eyes.
Tuffy watched him for awhile. He had seen many boys around his old home, but never one like this one. He edged closer, but still the boy didn't look at him. There was no re¬sponse at all. Finally Tuffy was beside him. The dull eyes did not look his way, so Tuffy laid his head on the boy's knee.
There was no quick response, only a slow shifting of the eyes. What the boy saw was a black cocker spaniel whose big, sad eyes looked into his. A look of wonder filled the boy's eyes.
"Hello there, fella’. I didn't know there was anyone here but me. My name is Michael. What's yours?"
Michael closed his eyes as though the words had exhausted him. When he opened them again, they still looked tired, but much of the dullness was gone.
"I've been sick a long time, and I'm so lonely.” Michael rubbed Tuffy behind his ears. "You’re cute! I wish you were mine!” Tuffy wiggled against Michael’s hand, trying to tell him that he could be his if only Michael would take him home.
"Michael! Michael!” Tuffy raised his head and saw a girl coming down the hill with a funny looking chair on wheels. "Are you ready to go home now? Have you had enough fresh air yet?” She was nearly to the bottom of the hill before she noticed Tuffy. "What a cute puppy! Michael, you've found a friend!"
"Stacy, he came right to me and put his head on my knee.” Michael looked up at his sister as he stroked Tuffy's velvety nose.
Stacy, looking into her brother's eyes, said, "Michael, I haven't seen you look this good since your acci¬dent!"
She knelt by Tuffy and ruffled his soft, black fur. Tuffy turned his head toward her and she cupped his face in her hands. "You’re something, little puppy! This is the first time Michael has shown any interest in anything since his pony stepped into a hole and broke his leg.” She seemed to realize that Tuffy understood what she said.
"Michael’s pony was destroyed, and Michael was knocked out cold in the accident. He hasn't walked since. The doctor says there's no medical reason why he can't walk, he just can't.” She watched her brother as she petted Tuffy. "Michael needs a friend like you to help him learn to walk again."
As Stacy locked the wheels on the wheelchair, she noticed that Michael could not take his eyes off Tuffy. She recognized the look she saw there. It was the look he had reserved only for his pony.
"Gee, Stacy, isn't he swell?” Michael rubbed Tuffy's ears one last time.
"Yes he is, Michael, but I’m sure such a cute puppy belongs to someone. That’s right, isn't it, boy?" she asked Tuffy, rubbing his ears again.
As Stacy struggled to get the frail boy into the wheelchair, Michael’s eyes never left Tuffy's. Tuffy wanted to know about Michael’s strange chair and wanted to know even more about the boy himself. Something within Tuffy reached out and touched something within Michael. They needed each other! Tuffy knew it!
"Goodbye, little puppy. Go home now," Stacy said, as she folded the blanket and put it in Michael’s lap. "Thank you for visiting my brother.” Stacy wheeled the chair around and started the difficult trip up the hill, pushing the awkward chair. "Let's hurry, Michael. I want Mama to see how good you're looking. It's not much of a change, but it's the only one we've seen so far."
Tuffy stood at the bottom of the hill feeling totally frustrated. How could he let them know that he had no home and no one to welcome him, feed him or love him? Once again he began exploring the park, but he found no one to take him home and very little to eat.
Night came, and he was alone again. He curled up under another tree, but this time the noises did not bother him nearly as much. His mind filled with dreams of a strangely quiet boy with a new interest in his eyes.
The next morning, Tuffy found some trash that sloppy picnickers had left behind. There was a hardly touched sandwich, and he ate it greedily.
Feeling satisfied, he went to the hill where he had seen Michael. There he was again. But this morning, rather than blank eyes staring into space, Michael’s eyes roamed from place to place as though searching for something. Then he saw Tuffy.
Michael tried to get up, but he could not. He held his arms out to Tuffy, and the lonely, little puppy ran into them. Michael hugged him close.
Tuffy licked Michael's face and scampered away. He wanted Michael to follow him. Michael tried and then tried again, but his long unused muscles would not respond. Leaning back against the tree, he pulled a ball out of his pocket and threw it. He was so weak that it only went a few feet, but Tuffy, thrilled that someone cared, retrieved the ball. They played until Michael was exhausted. Then they sat quietly, Tuffy's head on Michael's knee.
After awhile, Tuffy saw people coming down the hill toward them. He recognized Stacy, who was again pushing the wheelchair. Tuffy was sure the man and woman with her must be Michael's parents. Tuffy crawled into Michael's lap and pressed himself against his chest. Michael's parents might chase him away from their sick little boy, or maybe, just maybe, they might take him home to live with Michael.
"Hey there, Michael! Is this the puppy Stacy told us about?” Michael's father spoke softly, as though he hated to disturb the sweet silence the boy and puppy shared.
Tuffy left Michael's lap long enough to rub timidly against Michael's father's leg. Michael reached out his hand and immediately Tuffy returned to his side and again rested his head on Michael's knee.
Tuffy looked up at Michael's mother with pleading eyes. A tear rolled down her cheek as she turned to Michael's father. "This is the first time Michael has tried to get up since his pony died. You saw from the top of the hill that he tried, not once, but three times.” She bent down to ruffle Tuffy's fur. "This puppy may be the key to giving us back our Michael, our real Michael, alive and active. We must find out who owns this puppy and buy him!"
There was no dullness in Michael's eyes now. He reached out, and Tuffy jumped onto his lap licking his face joyfully. Michael's father was more cautious. "Michael, we don't know who owns this puppy. They may refuse to part with him; but if they will sell him, would you like to have him?"
Michael couldn't say a word. He didn't have to. Tears filled his eyes and rolled down his cheeks. He wiped them away with Tuffy's soft fur.
"Daddy, do you remember what the doctor said?” Stacy asked, wiping tears from her eyes too. "He said Michael had to learn to care again, because caring means the difference between living and existing. Oh Daddy, Michael cares about this puppy, this sweet little puppy!"
Tuffy felt his heart skip a beat.
Michael's father set Tuffy gently on the ground, picked Michael up and put him in the wheelchair. He then picked Tuffy up and put him in Michael's lap. Then Stacy folded the blanket and put it over her arm as her father pushed the wheelchair. Without a word they all started walking toward the park's entrance.
Tuffy, peeking over Michael's shoulder, saw that Michael's parents were worried. They were afraid he belonged to someone who would refuse to part with him. They were frightened that Michael's heart would be broken again. How Tuffy wished he could tell them that everything was going to be okay.
The first person Michael's parents spoke to was the ice cream man. He said he did not know who owned the puppy, but he had kicked him away from his ice cream cart two days ago. Michael's eyes narrowed, but he did not say a word; he just hugged Tuffy closer.
Next, they spoke to Jenny and Jimmy. The children told Michael’s parents about wanting to keep the puppy themselves and about their apartment’s “no pet” rule. They both petted Tuffy, and were thrilled that he remembered them.
After Michael's parents had asked several other people, none of which knew the puppy's owner, they spoke to the policeman at the crosswalk. Tuffy recognized him as the same policeman who had helped him cross the street.
The park was the officer’s regular beat; he knew everything that went on in it. "Sure,” he said, “I've seen this puppy around the park for a couple of days now, but never with the same people. I also saw him with your son.” The officer noticed how possessively the boy held the puppy and the nervous look his parents exchanged.
"Say," the policeman said, "I feel sure this puppy was dumped in the park by his owner. Why don't you folks take him and give him a good home?"
The officer smiled broadly at the excitement his words created. Tuffy barked joyfully. Stacy jumped up and down. Michael's parents cried and hugged each other, while Michael glowed with such joy that he looked like a different boy. He hugged Tuffy and whispered a solemn promise that they would soon run and play together in this very park.
In the car on the way to his new home, Tuffy nuzzled Michael's neck. He and Michael belonged to each other, and always would! He had found just what he was looking for, his very own pet person.
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