A Prize for Henry

“I’m going to enter Henry in the pet show tomorrow, Mom. I know he’ll win a prize. He’s the fattest dog on our block!” Then I began to wonder, and asked, “They do give a prize for the fattest dog, don’t they?”

“I don’t know, honey, but you’d better give him a bath before you take him anywhere. Or he’ll get a prize for being the smelliest dog.”

“Yeah, if I bathe him maybe he’ll get a prize for being the cleanest dog too!”

That afternoon as I began filling the plastic wading pool in the backyard with water from the hose, I couldn’t resist a couple of well-aimed shots at Henry. I guess that made him a little suspicious of what was about to happen, but he stood firm anyhow, eyeing me as I poured half a bottle of Mother’s Rose Bouquet bubble bath into the overflowing pool.

It was when I took my first step toward Henry that I realized he was not going to cooperate. “Come on, Henry,” I coaxed, the sugary tones in my voice making him all the more suspicious. “Nice doggie. No one’s going to hurt you.” I was getting closer. “Come on, boy.” Then I lunged at him but I only caught the end of Henry’s tail under my nose. He thought it was great fun and proceeded to lead a merry chase around the yard. On about the tenth lap, Henry cut across the porch and skirted past the pool. In hot pursuit, I clambered over the porch and was almost past the pool when I tripped over the hose and fell sideways into the “ocean” of perfumed bubbles.

I wasn’t fond of taking baths either, and I knew that I’d have to take another bath myself to get the smell of roses off me. Henry’s eyes seemed to twinkle with delight at having bathed his bather. But I was determined to get him to the pet show. So I outsmarted him!

I stepped out of the pool and fell to the ground. I didn’t move a muscle. Henry made a funny noise and slowly edged forward to investigate. He sniffed my shoes first, then my arms. When his cold nose touched my chin, I grabbed him! I held on tightly and both of us went into the bubbles this time. After we thrashed around in the suds for a couple of minutes, Henry was the first one out. He cowered near the fence and shimmied fiercely in an attempt to get as dry as possible. Then I rubbed him down with a towel. Just when I thought he was almost dry he shook himself again, and a fresh spray of water convinced me that he wasn’t.

Finally I brushed his coat, clipped his toenails, and cleaned his ears. He looked like a champ! I was so proud of him I could hardly wait until the next day to win the prize for having such a neat dog.

Dad drove Henry and me to the parking lot where the show was already in progress. Henry’s number was 103.1 guess I never realized how many other pets there were besides dogs. Birds, cats, monkeys, lizards, hamsters, rats, snakes, turtles, and even a baby alligator were there.

The dogs barked at each other, while the murmur of voices added to the confusion. Once in a while a loud voice shouted instructions over the noise, and the next contestants lined up in front of the judges with much jostling and commotion.

“We will now have the competition for the biggest animal here today. Please bring the big animals to the front,” the voice directed.

Henry was fat but not very big compared to the greyhounds, Great Danes, and German shepherds that were in the font row of the parking lot. A two-hundred-pound St. Bernard won in the large animal category. But there were lots more contests yet.

“OK, folks, now for the smallest animal here. Make room for the little fellows.”

Well, with hamsters and white mice in the competition, Henry didn’t have a chance, so we stayed to the rear again. Then they had the best-trained dog contest where the dog had to lead or walk beside its master and stop when its owner did. Henry didn’t qualify for that either.

Several events went by, and finally a voice announced the contest I hoped we’d win—the cutest dog competition. Well, Henry and I marched right up to the front row. My heart was beating fast as my excitement grew, but the judge handed the announcer a piece of paper with Number 26 written on it. I felt a little disappointed after the announcement, but we still had a chance for some of the other prizes.

A prize was given for the dog that did the best trick and the dog with the longest hair. Finally the last competition was announced—the best-groomed animal.

Well, I can’t believe my ears, I thought. They really do give a prize for the cleanest animal!

“OK, Henry, let’s go get ‘em,” I said triumphantly.

A cloud passed over the sun for a few seconds as we approached the front line. I decided to try standing a little farther away from the judge so his eyes might see Henry better as he went down the line. But after he had seen all the pets, he walked over to the announcer who said, “The winner is Minnie, a baby alligator. Her owner says she takes several baths a day.

Everyone cheered except me. I didn’t feel like being happy at all.

Henry and I headed for the car as the announcer gave away dog food and collars for prizes. Dad didn’t say anything on the way home. I think he knew how miserable I felt.

When he stopped the car in the driveway, I took Henry to the backyard. He scampered back and forth in an attempt to get a friendly game of chase started. I didn’t feel much like running, so I filled his water dish and trudged up the back steps.

As I opened the back door, I heard Mom rattling dishes in the kitchen sink.

“How did the pet show go?” she chirped. Mom always sounds happy. “Did you and Henry get a prize?”

I conjured up a smile and said, “Well, I think that those guys are nearsighted. I hope next year they get some judges who can see better.” My smile was wiggling into a frown, and I knew I better hurry to my room. I started down the hall when Mom called, “There’s something for you here on the table.”

I turned back and there was a colored ribbon with a medal that looked a lot like one of Dad’s old army medals and a card that said, “First prize to Henry for being the best dog in the world!” Beside it was a can of dog food for the winner and a cupcake for me.

It took me a minute to realize that what Mom had always tried to tell me was true. It doesn’t matter if other people can’t see the value in the same things you care about as long as you care and have deep feelings for something.

“Thanks, Mom,” I said. Then I bolted out the back door yelling, “Henry! We won! We won!” and he ran over to me. When we tired of playing chase, I dropped down, gave Henry a hug, and placed the winning ribbon around his neck.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dale Kilbourn