Authors: W. Bruce Cameron
A man got out of a car a little way away and walked over to us, waving. “Hey there, Jakob!” he called out cheerfully.
“Wally,” Jakob said, nodding.
“This the new dog?”
“This is Ellie.”
Wally bent down to pet me. “You're a big girl, Ellie, huh? You going to be good at this?”
“I think she will,” Jakob said quietly. “Let's see.”
Wally did something odd then. He ran away.
“What's he doing, Ellie? Where's he going?” Jakob asked.
I watched Wally, who was looking over his shoulder at me.
“Find him! Find!” Jakob told me.
I could tell from his voice that this was a new word he wanted me to learn. But I wasn't sure what I should do. Something to do with Wally. There was Wally, over there, waving excitedly. I started toward him. Was this right? Was it what Jakob wanted me to do?
Wally saw me coming and dropped down to his hands and knees, clapping and smiling. When I caught up to him he showed me a stick. I loved sticks! I grabbed it right away, and Wally hung on so that we could have an excellent game of tug. This was fun! Much better than Drop and Stay.
Then Wally got up, brushing off his knees. “Look, Ellie. What's he doing? Find him!” Wally said.
I looked around. Didn't “Find” mean I should go to Wally? But I was right next to Wally! What was I supposed to do?
Jakob was strolling off, so I ran after him. I'd always rather be near Jakob anyway. “Good dog!” Jakob told me, and played with a stick, too. My tail thrashed with happiness.
Honestly, I thought the game of Find was a little dull. But Wally and Jakob seemed to like it, so we played more of it that afternoon. I was willing to do it for Jakob, especially if it meant I got to play tug-on-a-stick. That, to me, beat Find Wally hands down.
I was doing Work and doing it right. Jakob had called me a good dog. This game of Find was important to him, so I would try my best to learn it. I wanted to be a good dog for Jakob. I even dreamed about Finding Wally. They were happy dreams.
Sometimes, though, I would dream a bad dream about a boy named Ethan. In the dream, Ethan was swimming in cool green water and then suddenly he would slip beneath the surface. Fear would grip me as I watched him go down until with a cry I would lower my head and plunge after him, eyes and mouth open, straining to reach the boy, who kept sinking, sinking, sinking, just out of reach.
When I awoke from this dream I was often panting and would wander the house sniffing. The dream felt real, meaning it felt as if it had really happened.
Why did I keep having that dream?
Jakob took me back to the park nearly every day, and Wally was always there. Sometimes a friend of Wally's, Belinda, would come, too.
The game of Find got harder and harder to play. Wally would run faster, or start farther away, or duck behind a tree or a bush. He couldn't fool me, though. I always would Find him. And that always meant praise and petting and a good wrestle with a stick. The stick still was the best part, as far as I was concerned.
One day the rules changed. Find Wally got harder than ever.
Jakob and I were at the park, but Wally was not there. Fine. Maybe Jakob would throw a stick for me. He didn't usually do that during Work, but when he was just taking me for a walk in the evenings a stick was often involved, or the ball he carried in his pocket.
But he didn't do that, this time. Instead he looked at me and said, “Find!”
Huh? Find what?
Wally wasn't there.
I began to sniff at the ground. I would know a Wally smell if my nose came across it. His sweat, his skin, the soap he used, and a sharp-smelling gum that he liked to chewâall of those things were mixed into the smell that was Wally. Was he around here somewhere? I'd like to know. He might have a stick, since Jakob didn't seem inclined to throw one.
“Good girl, Ellie. Good dog. Find!”
Was I being a good dog? Jakob had called me a good dog just for sniffing? I sniffed harder and walked a few steps. And there it was! The smell that meant Wally! It was strong and fresh. He'd been here not long ago.
What was he doing, running away before I could Find him? Didn't he know this wasn't the way the game was supposed to be played?
I followed the trail that Wally had made. Jakob followed me. He didn't tell me I was a good dog again; he was silent, as if he didn't want to distract me. But I could tell he was pleased. I must be doing this right.
There was a delicious smell close by the trail. It smelled like a sandwich Jakob ate sometimesâbread, roast beef, a strange, spicy sauce (how could humans like that stuff?), and some odd plant things that Jakob sometimes ate, too. I glanced up. A sandwich wrapper was lying in the grass. It smelled so good, my mouth began to water.
“Find, Ellie. Find!” Jakob insisted.
I pulled my nose away from the wrapper. This was Work. I could not let myself be distracted. The rules had changed, but the game was still the same. I was supposed to Find Wally.
So I didn't stop trying, even when the trail got difficult. It ran around a bench, and two people sitting there smiled at me. One of them, a woman, offered me her hand. I smelled something in it, something delectableâa bite of bagel smeared with cream cheese. Yum! Sometimes Jakob dropped a piece of his breakfast bagel in my bowl. I loved it. I'd love this, too. I took a step toward the bench.
“Please don't,” Jakob said behind me. “She's working.”
“Oh, sorry,” the woman answered, pulling her hand back.
But I already had my nose back to the ground. Bagels and cream cheese were very nice, but they weren't what the game of Find was about. When another dog, a silly, long-legged puppy with a frantically lashing tail, bounced up to me, putting both front legs flat on the ground and asking to play, I ignored him. This was not play. This was Work. Jakob and I did Work together. We had no time for puppy games.
Finally, the trail led me beneath some trees. I smelled several dogs who'd been there before me. Three or four had peed on a big clump of grass. I was tempted to squat and add my own contribution, just so they'd know I'd been here, too, and that they didn't have these woods to themselves.
But Wally was around here somewhere. The trail was stronger and stronger now, and I was getting excited. My tail started to wag. My ears were forward, straining. My nose had never been so busy before. Wally? Wally? I was almost on top of him.â¦
And then I was. The trail led me around a tree with a wide trunk, and on the other side was Wally, stretched out on the grass and leaning back on a thick root.
The minute he saw me, he jumped up. “You did it, Ellie! You Found me!”
“Good girl. Good dog!” Jakob praised.
There was the stick and I enjoyed it, but even more I enjoyed the tone of Jakob's voice. “She's good, huh? I was hardly here ten minutes!” Wally said to Jakob.
“She's good,” Jakob agreed quietly.
“She could really be something special.”
Jakob rubbed behind my ears. “I think she could.”
After that Wally was never there when we got to the park and I always had to Find him wherever he had wandered off to. Jakob stopped following me, and I learned two new words: “Show me!” This meant taking Jakob to where I'd found Wally sprawled under a tree or sitting behind a bush. Or sometimes it even meant showing Jakob where I'd found one of Wally's socks or a T-shirt lying on the ground. (The man was a disaster, always leaving his clothes around for us to Find and pick up.) Somehow, Jakob always knew when I'd Found something after I came running back to him. “Show me!” he'd say, but only if I had something to show.
I was starting to feel pretty good about Work when Jakob took me to a new place. It was like a park with a playground in it. I knew about playgrounds; there was one at the park where we went in the evenings. Young humans would run around it like puppies, climbing up ladders, barreling down slides, swooping high into the sky on swings. They certainly looked like they were having fun. But there weren't any children at this playground, and I didn't know how I was supposed to Find Wally here, where there were no trees or bushes for him to hide behind.
First Jakob took me up to a plank that was tipped over, with one end resting on the ground and the other high in the air. I sniffed, but Wally wasn't nearby. I couldn't pick up his scent at all.
It turned out there was more to Work than Find Wally.
Jakob tugged gently on my leash, showing me he wanted me to walk up the ramp. Fine. I walked up it. On the other side was a ladder going down.
This side I didn't like as much. Where were my feet supposed to go? I put one paw hesitantly on a rung. Then the next.
“Good dog, Ellie. Keep going,” Jakob encouraged me.
I was eager to be on the nice, safe ground again, so I leaped to the ground.
“No, don't jump,” Jakob said.
I didn't know what he was saying, but the word “no” I certainly recognized. It was one of my least favorite words.
Jakob took me up the ramp and down the ladder again and again, and after a while I got it: he wanted me to take a step at a time, even though it wasn't the fastest way to the ground. “Good dog, Ellie!” I loved being a good dog.
The next thing to try was a stack of logs. They were uneven under my feet, and that was a little disturbing. I was used to grass or dirt or sidewalks, or to smooth floors and carpets indoors. I had to balance and leap from one log to the next.
“Come, Ellie. Good dog, Ellie!”
Jakob's voice encouraged me, and I kept going.
Then came the tube.
Jakob showed it to me, and I sniffed it carefully. Still no sign of Wally, though I supposed he could have squeezed in there with a little effort. I could smell a hint of dogs who'd been here before me. Other than that, it just smelled of plastic.
Jakob went to the other side of the tube. “Come, Ellie. Come!” he called.
I knew I was supposed to obey right away. There was never any fooling around during Work. No hesitation. Work meant to do what Jakob said and to do it quickly.
But that tube was dark. Where exactly would it take me?
One more word from Jakob was all that it took. I plunged into the tube, nose first. My front paws clawed at the smooth plastic. My back feet shoved. It was cramped and hot, and the plastic smelled strange. I didn't like the feeling. The walls of the tube were all around me, pressing in on me. I wanted to get through, to get out, to get where Jakob and his voice were waiting for me.
One last wriggle, one frantic shove with my back paws, and I was tumbling onto the fresh-smelling grass.
“Good, Ellie. Good dog!” Jakob's hands were in my fur, petting and scratching, and I was panting a little. It hadn't been easy, but I had done my Work.
We went back to that playground-park many times, and I got quick at all the climbing and balancing and crawling Jakob asked of me. I never grew to like the tube, but I didn't let Jakob know. I'd dive in as soon as I heard his command and wiggle through as quickly as I possibly could.
Jakob showed me a harness, too, a floppy orange thing that looked like a shirt. The first time he put it on me, I wondered if he wanted me to find a way to wriggle out of it, as I'd done with that T-shirt so long ago. But it turned out that wasn't the idea.
“Okay, Ellie, hold still while I put your harness on,” Jakob said, and he clipped something onto my back. Then he stepped away.
I looked at him, confused. What was about to happen?
Something pulled on my back. I twitched with surprise and tried to twist my head around. But I couldn't see. The pull got stronger and stronger, and I was lifted right off my feet!
“Ellie, it's okay. Ellie, it's fine. You're all right,” Jakob said firmly. “Sometimes a rescue dog needs to be hoisted.”
I was not at all sure about any of this. My paws were off the ground! I wanted to run away, but how could I do that when all I could touch was air? I didn't panic, though. Jakob's voice was steady and reassuring. He was watching me with that look he only had when we were Working. So this must be part of Work, and that meant I should accept it, no matter how strange it might feel.
In a minute or two, I had been hauled up to a platform a few feet above the ground. Jakob quickly climbed up beside me and unclipped the cable from my harness. “Good girl, Ellie. Good dog! You're brave, aren't you, girl?” I was still shaking a little, and he ran his hands through my fur until I felt calm. We practiced the harness on other days, and I learned that it never took long before I was back on my feet.
Another time Jakob took something out of a special pocket at his side. He showed it to me.
“Good girl, Ellie. This is a gun. See?”
I saw it and I sniffed at it, but I was glad when he didn't throw it for me to fetch. It didn't look like it would fly far, and it smelled odd. I didn't think I wanted it in my mouth.