Sandy trudged up the hill toward home. Barney pranced beside her, stopping to sniff a flower here, a fence post there. A tag labeled Mixed Breed hung from his collar like a dead leaf.
“I don’t know how he can feel so happy,” Sandy grumbled. A few minutes earlier she had seen beautiful Satin ribbons—white for third place, red for second, blue for first—fluttering on the collars of the winning dogs at the Beckwood Elementary Dog Show. A ribbon had fluttered on every dog’s collar, it seemed, but Barney’s.
Sandy walked more and more slowly until Barney stopped and looked at her in puzzlement. Why, oh why had she bragged so much about the ribbons that Barney would bring home? “He’ll bring home at least five blue ribbons!” she had boasted to her sister and brother that morning. “The whole neighborhood will know that Barney is the best dog ever!”
Sandy sighed. All the whole neighborhood knows now is that Barney’s a Mixed Breed, she thought gloomily. They already knew that.
Sandy felt a wet nose touch her hand. Then Barney did his silly trick that usually made her laugh. With his nose he flipped her hand up so that it landed squarely on top of his head—perfect for scratching him behind the ears. But Sandy didn’t laugh this time. She knelt beside Barney and looked into his big, soft eyes. “When we get home, we’ll sneak in,” she whispered to him. “Maybe they’ll forget to ask about the show.”
But when Sandy’s little sister saw them, the first thing she said was, “May I see Barney’s blue ribbons?”
“No,” Sandy whispered, “he didn’t win any. And please don’t say anything to Mom and Mike, OK?”
“OK,” Melanie said, returning to her mud pies.
Sandy hurried Barney through the garage, but not before Mike saw them.
“How did that mangy mutt do at the show? Did he win any ribbons?” he asked.
Sandy felt a lump rise in her throat. “No, he didn’t. And he isn’t a mangy mutt!”
“Hey! Take it easy!” Mike laughed, patting Barney on the head. “Barney knows that I love him, no matter what I call him—don’t you, boy?” Barney tried to crawl into Mike’s lap. “You silly dog!”
Sandy wandered into the backyard and sat on her swing. Melanie and Mike didn’t seem to care about her boasting or about Barney coming home without a ribbon. She started to relax a little. Then the memory of all those white, red, and blue ribbons won by the other dogs filled her eyes with tears, and she didn’t even see her mother approach.
“How did the show turn out?” Mother asked.
“Barney didn’t win one ribbon. Not one!” Sandy blurted out.
“What kind of prizes did they give away?” Mother asked. She patted Barney on the head and scratched his chest.
“Aileen’s dog, Gypsy, won Best Looking, Tommy’s German shepherd won Most Obedient, Sarah’s Jocko won Largest …” Sandy’s voice trailed off.
“They probably didn’t have a category for a dog like Barney,” Mother said. “He’s one of a kind.”
After Mother left, Barney went into his cheering-up routine. He always did it when Sandy felt the saddest. First, he nudged her arm; then he licked her hand. After that, he galloped behind the apricot tree and pranced back to her, tossing his old tennis ball into the air and letting it bounce off his head. He pawed at her gently and wagged his tail. Then he rolled onto his back, waving his legs in the air.
Sandy couldn’t help it. She laughed and laughed. Knowing that he had succeeded, Barney tried to crawl into her lap. “Oh, Barney,” Sandy said, hugging his neck, “if there were a category for you, I know what it would be!”
That gave Sandy an idea. She disappeared into the house for ten minutes, then came out again with her hand behind her back. She called her sister from the front yard, her brother from the garage, and her mother from the den. “I promised you that Barney would win a blue ribbon,” she told them,” and here it is!” From behind her back Sandy pulled a shining blue ribbon made from the leftover satin from Mother’s new dress. At the top was printed, Most Cheerful Dog. It fluttered in the breeze when Sandy fastened it to Barney’s collar.
Mother and Mike grinned. Melanie clapped her muddy hands. And Barney bounced his old tennis ball off his head, making everyone laugh.