Bad Dog, Good Dog!
My dog, Zobe, had been mine for only twenty-four hours, and he was already part of our family.
My parents had surprised me the day before by driving me and my older brother, Jim, to the animal shelter to adopt him. I’d seen Zobe at an adoption event at the mall and had fallen in love with him. He was a big Great Dane, sweet and goofy, and bigger than all of the other dogs. Kind of like me.
I mean, of course I’m bigger than the other dogs. But at six feet tall, I’m also bigger than everyone else
in the seventh grade. And I hadn’t been having an easy time of it. Zobe was bigger than the other dogs, and he was adorable. So it made me think that being awkwardly big wasn’t the worst thing ever.
Zobe’s tail was wagging like crazy when we brought him home. He went from room to room, sniffing the floor. When he got to my sister Beth’s room, he bounded up to her wheelchair.
It had worried me for a minute. Beth was born deaf and blind, and I thought Zobe might startle her. But her hand had reached out and touched his fur, and she smiled.
“We let Beth in on the surprise,” Mom had explained. “She knew Zobe was coming.”
After that, Zobe had run upstairs. Mom and Dad had said that Zobe could sleep in my room, so I scrambled after him with the dog bed we’d just bought at the pet supply shop. But Zobe hadn’t been interested in the dog bed. He’d jumped into mine, and that’s where he’d stayed all night.
I’d woken up pretty tired this morning, and it wasn’t just because it’s hard for a Great Dane and a
six-foot-tall human to share a twin-size bed. I’d also stayed up late researching Great Danes, so I could be a good owner for Zobe.
One of the things I’d learned was that Great Danes need thirty to sixty minutes of exercise a day, so I’d put Zobe on his leash and headed to Greenmont Park with him right after school. My friend Blake came with me, and I started telling him all the Great Dane facts I’d learned.
“So, Zobe’s coloring is called blue,” I was saying, as we made our way along the circular walking path.
“Blue?” Blake repeated. “He looks kind of gray.”
“Great Danes can be different shades of gray, but they’re called blue,” I explained. “Dogs with shiny gray fur are called steel blue. I think Zobe is more of a slate blue. What do you think?”
Blake nodded. “That makes sense,” he said.
“And he’s supposed to eat three or four small meals a day, instead of one big one,” I went on, “or he could get sick.”
Blake looked Zobe up and down. “I bet he needs a lot of food.”
“He does,” I said. “I can feed him in the morning and at night, and Mom says she’ll feed him during the day.”
A woman came walking toward us with a tiny white Chihuahua on a pink leash. I made sure I had both hands on Zobe’s leash.
“The animal shelter said that Zobe is good with other dogs, but I still need to be careful,” I explained to Blake.
“Definitely,” he agreed. “Zobe could eat that dog up for a midnight snack!”
When we were about three feet away from the Chihuahua, the little dog started to yap loudly. Zobe’s tail started to wag. He lurched ahead of me, pulling me with him. Then he stopped short in front of the Chihuahua and started sniffing her. The little dog quieted down.
“That’s a beautiful dog you’ve got there,” the woman said, smiling at us.
“Thanks,” I replied. “His name is Zobe.”
She gave a little tug on the Chihuahua’s leash. “Come on, Tink, let’s say good-bye to Zobe.”
tail was wagging too as they headed away, and I gave Zobe a pat.
“Good boy, Zobe,” I said.
We were nearing the fenced-in dog park, where dog owners could let their pets off leash to run around freely. I scanned it, hoping to see my friend Amanda there. Which, I have to admit, is another reason why I had rushed to walk Zobe after school. I get really happy whenever I run into Amanda. But Amanda and her dog, Freckles, an English springer spaniel, were not there.
“Are you going to let Zobe run around in the dog park?” Blake asked.
I stopped and studied the park. Two miniature poodles were chasing each other while a mom and twin toddlers looked on. One adorable, medium-size mutt with brown shaggy fur was playing catch with his owner, a guy wearing a University of Delaware T-shirt.
“I think he’ll be fine,” I said.
We entered the dog park and closed the gate behind us. I let Zobe off his leash with a click.
He took off like a rocket! I thought he was going to go after one of the dogs, but instead he made a beeline for the toddlers. He started to lick the face of one, an adorable boy with curly black hair, and the sheer force of him sent the poor kid tumbling backward!
I lunged for Zobe.
“Zobe, no!” I yelled, and I grabbed his collar and pulled him away. Blake helped the little boy to his feet, and I turned to the mom. “I’m so sorry! Is he okay?”
To my relief, the little boy was laughing.
“Big doggie!” he said, and the mom looked at me with concern on her face.
“He’s fine,” she said. “But you might want to keep your dog on a leash until he’s better trained.”
“Of course!” I said, and I could feel my cheeks getting hot with embarrassment. I snapped the leash on Zobe’s collar, nodded to Blake, and headed for the gate.
“Well, that was a bad idea,” I said as we walked away. “I feel awful!”
“Aw, that kid loved it,” Blake told me.
“Maybe, but what if he had gotten hurt? I think I need obedience classes for Zobe.”
Blake took out his phone and started typing and scrolling. “There’s one dog training school here in Greenmont, and three in Wilmington. They train problem dogs, puppies, therapy dogs. . . .”
I sighed. “I don’t think Zobe is a problem dog, is he? I mean, he can’t help it if he loves people.”
“I think he just needs regular training,” Blake said. He patted Zobe’s head. “Don’t worry. He’s a great dog.”
“Thanks, Blake,” I said, and we continued our walk around the park.
There’s a reason why Blake and I are best friends, and it’s not just because the Tanakas have lived next door to us since I was a baby. Blake is chill. He always knows the right thing to say. And he loves basketball as much as I do.
We looped around the park twice and then headed home. I didn’t see Amanda at all, and I felt a twinge of disappointment. But it didn’t last long. I knew I’d see her at school tomorrow, and
at basketball practice that afternoon. And every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday after that. During basketball season, our practice and game schedule got pretty intense.
When we got to our street, Carrie Lane, we came to Blake’s house first. Mrs. Tanaka was pulling weeds in the beautiful flower garden on their front lawn. She stood up when she saw us.
“Elle, this must be the famous Zobe I’ve heard so much about!” she said, standing up.
I kept Zobe on the leash and walked toward her. He jumped up and placed his front paws on her shoulders.
“My, he’s a big boy!” she said, laughing.
I pulled him off of Blake’s mom. “Yes,” I said. “I just need to teach him some manners. He’s really friendly—maybe too friendly!”
Blake nodded to me. “Later,” he said. “Gotta get on my science homework.”
“Oh yeah, right,” I said. I’d nearly forgotten about homework, because I’d been so Zobe-obsessed. “See you tomorrow!”
I walked to my house next door, and when I got inside I took Zobe off the leash. He bounded over to his water dish and started lapping like crazy, just as Mom wheeled in Beth.
I walked over to greet Beth with my usual hug. All the things I do with my eyes and ears, Beth does with smell, touch, and taste. When I hugged her, she sniffed the top of my head so she could tell it was me.
As I was hugging Beth, a big, doggy head squeezed in between us.
“Zobe, no!” I cried. But Beth started nodding her head up and down, and I knew that meant she was happy—she liked Zobe. Then she grabbed my hand and formed a symbol on it.
I didn’t recognize what the symbol meant, and I looked at Mom.
“Did Beth learn a new symbol?” I asked.
Mom nodded. “We came up with a symbol for dog,” she said. “Beth is very curious about Zobe, and when you were at school today he spent most of the day with her. He’s such a sweetheart!”
I formed the “dog” symbol into Beth’s hand, and she nodded her head again. Then I formed another symbol: good.
Yes, Beth replied, tracing on my palm.
“Elle, please wash up and help me get ready for dinner,” Mom said.
“Sure,” I said. When I came back from the bathroom, I saw that Zobe was sitting next to Beth with his head in her lap. She was nodding her head, and he had a look of blissful peace on his face.
“Wow!” I said. “They’re both so happy!”
Mom nodded and handed me a bag of baby carrots. “Can you chop these up please?” she asked, and she glanced over at Beth and Zobe. “Zobe really is a great addition to the Deluca household. He’s a wonderful dog.”
“He is,” I said. “But, um, something happened at the park today. . . .”
I told her about Zobe knocking down the little kid, and Mom frowned.
“Hmm,” she said. “That is a problem. I guess Zobe can’t go to the dog park until he’s better trained.”
I agreed. “Blake said maybe he could go to obedience school.” And as I said the words, another thought hit me.
“Some of the obedience schools also train dogs to become therapy dogs!” I said, feeling excited at the thought. “Zobe is so good with Beth—he’d be a fantastic therapy dog.”
I put down my carrot-chopping knife and grabbed my phone.
“Look, there’s one right here in Greenmont!” I said.
Mom closed the oven door. “Elle, I’m not saying that getting some training for Zobe is a bad idea,” she said. “But maybe training him to be a therapy dog right now is not the smartest thing. You’re so busy with your schoolwork, and with basketball. When would you find the time?”
“It’s only one day a week!” I protested. “I could fit it in.”
Mom sighed. “I’ll talk to your father about it, Elle. But I’m not making any promises. You have to trust us to know what’s best for you sometimes.”
I looked away from Mom and rolled my eyes. I get good grades, I keep my room (mostly) neat, and Mom is always telling Grandma and Grandpa what a “responsible young girl” I am. So why wasn’t she trusting me with this? Zobe would make an awesome therapy dog, I just knew it.
I’d have to find some way to convince her, but I knew that it would take time.