Jackie Allen hurried along the steaming pavement. She paused just outside Mr. Martin’s pet shop and opened her purse. Inside were the ten dollars and fifteen cents she had so carefully saved, plus a crisp ten-dollar bill she had received that morning for her eleventh birthday. I should have enough, she decided.
Inside the shop Jackie walked past the birds and fish and kittens, to a box with three bundles of fur huddled together. Two of the puppies were black and brown, but the third was tawny brown and white. Leaning over the box Jackie offered a finger. The brown and white puppy left his play and wobbled over on unsteady legs. He seized the finger and looked up at Jackie with soft brown laughing eyes.
Jackie fell hopelessly in love. “Mom and Dad said I could have a dog,” she told Mr. Martin who had come to help her. “And I’d like this one,” she said, her finger still firmly gripped between the puppy’s needle-like teeth.
Mr. Martin disengaged the pup from Jackie’s finger and lifted him out of the box. He was so tiny he could sit in the palm of Jackie’s hand. “You’ve made a good choice, young lady. That’s a purebred shetland sheep dog. They’re smart, easy to train, and small enough to live in the city.”
Jackie stroked the silky head and caressed the floppy ears. “He’s exactly the sort of puppy I’ve been hoping for. How much?”
Jackie swallowed hard, numb with disappointment. He might as well have said two hundred dollars. It had taken her all last winter, running errands and babysitting, to save ten dollars. It’ll take years to save that much, she thought dejectedly. With tears in her eyes she handed the puppy back and left the store.
“You’ll just have to choose a less expensive dog,” her mother said later when Jackie told her about the shelty pup. “There are lots of mongrels for ten or fifteen dollars, and they often make the best pets.”
But Jackie didn’t want another pup; she wanted the shelty. That night she dreamed about him, and the next day hurried back to the pet shop to visit him. If only I were old enough to get a summer job, she wished fervently as she stood gazing into the puppy box. But she couldn’t get a job until she was at least fifteen, and that was four years away.
As she left the shop Mr. Martin was putting a sign in the window. Idly Jackie read it: WANTED! RELIABLE BOY TO FEED PETS AND CLEAN CAGES DURING SUMMER. Why couldn’t I have been born a boy! Jackie brooded, deliberately dragging her feet as she slowly trudged down the sidewalk.
But before she had reached the end of the first block, Jackie paused a moment then hurried back the way she had come. What if I’m already too late! she worried.
Mr. Martin was busy arranging dog collars and leashes on a rack at the front of the store. Timidly Jackie approached. “Have you hired a boy yet, Mr. Martin, for that job?”
Mr. Martin laughed. “I only put the sign in the window five minutes ago.”
Jackie took a deep breath. “Could it possibly be a girl?”
The store owner continued arranging the leashes and collars. “I guess so. Have you an older sister who’s looking for a job?”
“No, sir,” Jackie gulped. “I am.”
Mr. Martin smiled at her, then picked up another handful of collars. “In three or four more years you’ll be just perfect,” he said kindly. “But I’m afraid I’d be in trouble with the authorities if I hired anyone your age.”
Jackie could feel the tears starting to gather behind her eyelids. She didn’t want to cry in front of Mr. Martin. She swallowed hard. “Until you hire a boy, could I just come and help? Not for any pay but just to look after the puppies until they’re sold?”
For one dreadful moment Jackie thought that Mr. Martin was going to refuse. But then he smiled. “Let’s try it tomorrow and see how we get along.”
Next morning promptly at nine Jackie arrived at the pet shop.
“The first thing is to feed and water the animals,” Mr. Martin directed. He gave her a list of exactly what each pet should receive. Jackie followed the directions carefully.
When she had finished Mr. Martin showed her how to clean the bird cages, and then how to change the water in the fish tanks. “Now how about taking these puppies outside for some exercise,” he suggested.
Jackie scooped up the wriggling puppies and hurried out to the small enclosed yard behind the store. As she played in the sunshine she pretended the little shelty was hers.
“You’ve been a big help, young lady,” Mr. Martin said as she was getting ready to leave. “Will you come tomorrow?”
“I’ll come every day until you hire someone,” Jackie replied eagerly.
Next morning as Jackie hurried the three blocks from her house to the store she worried that Mr. Martin would have hired someone and that the sign would be gone from the window. But it was still there! And it was there the following morning too. But on the fourth morning, it was gone.
Jackie felt sick as she opened the door and went to find Mr. Martin. “Have you hired a boy?” She struggled to keep her voice level. “Is that why the sign is gone?”
Mr. Martin straightened up from unpacking boxes of birdseed. “The job is filled, that’s why the sign is down.”
Jackie felt as though the floor were falling away beneath her feet. She turned back toward the door. “Then, I—I guess you won’t want me anymore—” she stammered.
“The job is filled by the best summer helper I’ve ever had,” Mr. Martin interrupted, smiling.
Jackie couldn’t believe her ears. She turned to face him again. “You mean? …”
Mr. Martin’s eyes were twinkling. “I mean, I’d like you to continue to work for me during the summer. And in return, since I can’t pay you, I’ll make you a present of that little shelty you’re so attached to.”
“Oh, Mr. Martin!” Jackie could scarcely breathe. She started to run toward the puppy box.
“I could never sell him to anyone else anyway,” Mr. Martin called after her. “He’s much too fond of you.”
But Jackie wasn’t listening. She was on her knees hugging the wriggling puppy, explaining that he was finally hers, while the pup was giving his full attention to playfully biting her ear.