Ruthie Spokes was a lover of golden retrievers. She was captivated by their silky, golden coats, and their sweet, lovable nature. She often begged her parents to get her a golden retriever, and by the time Ruthie was eleven, her parents knew Ruthie would settle for no other dog. She would have never guessed that one dark, rainy night, before her birthday, her dream was almost about to come true...
Ruthie threw the covers away from her. What was that noise? It sounded like it was coming from... the garage.
Trying not to awaken her sleeping seven-year-old sister, Julie, she crept down the bunkbed ladder and opened the door. Peering around quickly, she tiptoed down the stairs and to the door that led to the garage. Voices drifted to her ears.
"Perhaps we shouldn't have bought the Irish setter," she heard her father say "You know Ruthie will be upset he's not a golden."
"But all the golden retrievers we looked at were filthy and sick," her mother reasoned.
"What was that?" Mom said.
Before Ruthie could run away, the door swung open.
"Ruthie!" her father said in a surprised voice. Ruthie looked at her feet. "Well, come in," he sighed. "Happy birthday."
Ruthie walked in to see the puppy her parents were talking about. He ran to Ruthie, barking ecstatically.
"He's not a golden," Ruthie said to herself. To her parents she said, "Th-thanks, Mom, thanks, Dad."
"You're welcome," they replied.
Ruthie's fifteen-year-old brother, Sam, opened the door, holding Julie on his hip. "What's all the commotion?" he yawned. "Julie was scared out of her wits."
"A puppy!" Julie cried, forgetting all sleepiness. "What are you gonna call him, Ruthie?"
"Shamrock," Ruthie said sadly, though no one noticed. "Ireland's Lucky Shamrock."
"Nice name," Sam approved.
He may be lucky, Ruthie thought, but I'm not.
* * *
As Ruthie climbed the stairs to her room Shamrock followed behind her, pouncing and growling at her heels. When they reached the bedroom Ruthie shared with her sister, Shamrock crawled into his blue-polka-dot doggy bed, and promptly began chewing on a stuffed toy. Her parents had helped her set up Shamrock's things in Ruthie's room. Ruthie climbed up the bunkbed ladder and lay down. Ruthie glanced over at Shamrock. The doggy bed was three sizes too big for him, and the carrier that contained newspaper for bathroom breaks was gargantuan to the little puppy But Shamrock didn't seem to mind. He contentedly chewed the stuffed animal's leg slowly.
Ruthie reached under the covers of her bed and pulled out a book hidden there. It was entitled, Owner's Guide to Golden Retrievers. The spine was broken and a few pages torn from constant use. Each picture of a dog was marked with a different name. Ruthie smiled as she remembered how she used to play "dogs." She would carefully set out food and water, patiently groom the "dogs," and take each individual for a long walk down the sidewalk.
Now Ruthie turned to the page that had a picture showing a smiling girl and a happy golden retriever puppy. Under the picture it said: Best Friends.
"What are you reading?" a voice asked. Ruthie jumped, and seeing that it was her mother, hastily shut the book and sat on it.
"Oh, n-nothing, Mom," Ruthie stammered. "I was just reading about what to do when you first get a puppy."
Mom stared at Ruthie's pale face for a moment. Then she said, "I know you're disappointed. You were hoping for a golden retriever, weren't you?" Ruthie nodded. "I know you always wanted a golden, but all the golden retriever puppies we looked at were overpriced and unhealthy. We didn't want to spend money on veterinary bills, so we picked a healthy, active Irish setter puppy. He's not a golden retriever, but who knows?" She smiled. "This setter pup may turn out to be a golden dog, too." She bent over and kissed Ruthie. "Now you get some sleep. Don't keep Julie awake."
Ruthie smiled a crooked smile.
"Thanks, Mom," Ruthie grinned.
* * *
Ruthie awoke with a start for the second time that night. She heard a weird whining sound. Then she remembered: Shamrock. She peered over the edge of her bed. She saw Shamrock pacing the ground, crying. Ruthie dropped lightly from the ladder.
"What is it, boy?" Ruthie whispered. Shamrock stared at her with a sad, hollow stare. Ruthie thought for a moment, and then walked to the bathroom, Shamrock right behind her. Ruthie found a hot water bottle and filled it with hot water. She then wrapped it in a towel, and placed it in Shamrock's bed. She carefully placed Shamrock in the bed. Shamrock snuggled close to the water bottle. He stopped crying. Ruthie turned to leave, but as she stepped away Shamrock cried out and leaped toward her. Sighing, Ruthie dragged her pillow and blanket by Shamrock's bed, and lay down. Shamrock jumped into his bed, satisfied. Shamrock licked Ruthie's face, then fell asleep.
* * *
The next morning Ruthie was licked awake enthusiastically by Shamrock.
"OK, OK, I'm awake," groaned Ruthie, sitting up. "I'm going to get your breakfast."
Ruthie poured the dog kibble into Shamrock's blue bowl. She then filled the other bowl with fresh water from the bathroom. She placed both bowls far away from the carrier, which was going to be used as Shamrock's bathroom. As soon as Ruthie set the bowls down, Shamrock shot forward and started devouring the kibble. Ruthie grabbed his collar and pulled him back.
"No," she said firmly. She knew if she let Shamrock eat quickly, he could get a tummyache. After Shamrock finished chewing the first mouthful, Ruthie let go of his collar and Shamrock darted forward again. Ruthie pulled him back and said very firmly, "Shamrock, that's no." Shamrock ate slowly after that.
As Ruthie joined the table with her mom and siblings, Shamrock started sniffing around the table for crumbs. As Ruthie ate her cereal, she watched Shamrock carefully. As soon as he gobbled the first crumb, Ruthie darted forward, and yanked Shamrock back. She looked him squarely in the eye and said, "No."
Ruthie's family was pretty impressed at Ruthie's training and standards. She made sure Shamrock didn't eat the crumbs off the floor, and she wouldn't let him beg for food. Instead, she distracted him with a chew bone, which he contentedly chewed.
After breakfast, the kids started school. Mom home-schooled them, and Ruthie was glad, since she wanted to keep an eye on Shamrock.
Mom helped Julie with math, Sam started studying science, and Ruthie began English. She was concentrating hard on a challenging subject, when Shamrock jumped up next to her on the chair, pushing her off. Ruthie hit the floor hard, but instead of yelling at Shamrock, she shooed him off the chair and sat down.
Ruthie started English again. After a few minutes, Shamrock began whining at Ruthie. Ruthie tossed down her book and grabbed Shamrock's leash, which was lying on the counter. She snapped it on Shamrock's collar, and opened the door. Shamrock bolted out, dragging a surprised Ruthie behind him. It was muddy from the rain last night, but Shamrock didn't care. That is, until Ruthie sharply scolded him. He slowed down to a walk, staring meekly at his mistress. But after a minute or two he started running again, and this time he tripped, and fell in the mud. Ruthie slipped on some grass and dove into the mud puddle. Gasping, she pulled herself up from the sticky mess.
"Shamrock!" she scolded, shaking a muddy finger at him. "No! That's naughty! Don't ever do that again!"
She tried to wipe the mud off but it just smeared. Sighing, Ruthie started to lead a muddy Shamrock away when a high, mocking voice pierced the air.
"So what are you doing, Ruthie," the voice said, "playing in the mud?"
Ruthie whirled around to see Sandra Davis and her cocker spaniel, Duffy, standing on the sidewalk. Sandra Davis went to Ruthie's church, and she was one girl whom Ruthie did not like.
"Leave me alone, Sandra," Ruthie huffed. "You're not welcome."
"Oh, well that's too bad," Sandra said, "because I might have started playing in the mud with you and your—whatever it is." She laughed a high, light laugh before continuing. "That mutt there doesn't even compare to my Duffy. Duffy's parents were champions at tons of dog shows. I'm sure your mud friend there didn't even have purebred parents." She eyed Shamrock critically.
"That's not true!" Ruthie exclaimed. "Shamrock's a full-blood Irish setter. His parents are worldwide champions!"
"An Irish setter?" Sandra said with disgust. "I thought you wanted a golden retriever. What happened—you lost your color vision?"
Ruthie was about to explain that she didn't exactly pick the puppy when Shamrock, curious of the new dog in front of him, pulled the leash from Ruthie's hands. The next thing she remembered was that Shamrock started chasing Duffy and then the two slipped and fell, causing the girls that were following behind to fall too. Shamrock ran in the mud barking and splashing more mud on the screeching trio. Sandra picked herself up and yanked a bedraggled Duffy up with her.
"Goodbye!" Sandra yelled, stomping off. Ruthie was annoyed, and after cleaning off both herself and Shamrock, she locked the puppy in her room so that he could take a nap. Ruthie finished her school, and plopped down on the living room couch, exhausted.
* * *
Ruthie enrolled Shamrock in an obedience training group. The first day Shamrock was more interested in making friends than learning how to sit. He continued to do this throughout the whole course. He finally did graduate, though, after everyone made Ruthie promise to bring Shamrock back sometime. Shamrock had won the hearts of man and beast alike, and no one liked the thought of Shamrock leaving.
The next day after graduating, Ruthie was practicing "heel" with Shamrock in the front yard. Sandra and Duffy walked up to them.
"Oh, hello," Sandra said superiorly "You may think you are good at that heeling stuff, but wait until you hear what me and Duffy are doing."
Ruthie noticed that Sandra held Duffy's leash a lot tighter. "What?" Ruthie asked.
"Well, Duffy has done so good in her training that I've decided to enter her into an agility competition. Here." She handed Ruthie a folded flyer. "I picked one up at the groomer's." She smiled slyly "Even if you do decide to enter, there's no chance that you will win. Duffy and I will steal the show."
As Sandra bragged on, Ruthie read the flyer. It read: Agility Contest, Saturday, May 2, 10:00 AM.
"So," Sandra concluded, "are you going to enter and be defeated by me and Duffy?"
"I'm entering," Ruthie grinned.
* * *
On the day of the show Mom snapped Shamrock's and Ruthie's picture before leaving.
"I'm certain you're going to win," Mom assured Ruthie, smiling.
Despite Mom's assurance, Ruthie was still nervous when she arrived at the show. Shamrock and Ruthie walked the field, eyeing the course before warming up. After Shamrock had exercised for a few minutes, they both took a break.
Ruthie trotted to the place reserved for entrants. When she had checked in, she had received a number: 32. That meant she could view plenty of dogs and owners perform before her and Shamrock's turn. She sat on the ground and Shamrock laid his head in her lap.
When the first dog was up, Ruthie gasped. A gorgeous golden retriever took his place at the starting line. Ruthie felt a twinge of jealousy. But then Shamrock licked Ruthie lovingly on the hand. All thoughts of jealousy vanished.
Watching thirty-one entrants do the same course repeatedly tired Ruthie. When it was time to start, she was rather bored. When the announcer yelled, "GO!" Shamrock shot forward like a bullet, and Ruthie ran beside him. He leaped through hanging hoops and tires, crawled through long tunnels, and maneuvered around and through and over obstacles. Everything went fine until the last obstacle. It was a large jump, about three feet high. Shamrock took a powerful leap but clipped the top of the jump with his hind legs. Everybody gasped as he fell heavily on his left foreleg and lay there. Ruthie screamed and medical help ran towards the field. But Shamrock jumped up and somehow ran to the finish line. His time beat the others by a split second. Ruthie ran over to Shamrock, who was covered with mud and grass. Ruthie hugged him close.
After five more contestants, Shamrock was declared the winner by a second. Sandra and Duffy had failed the course completely, due to the fact Duffy worked terribly in the mud.
Shamrock barked loudly as he heard his name on the loudspeaker. The veterinarian had a hard time bandaging his sprained leg after that. As soon as the vet finished, Shamrock ran to a large puddle of mud. Ruthie, afraid he might hurt himself, ran to take him away but she slipped and fell into the mud. Reporters and family ran to the champions.
"Miss Ruthie, how do you feel about winning the agility contest?" all the reporters asked.
"So," Mom smiled, "are you still disappointed Shamrock's not a golden retriever?"
Ruthie looked at Shamrock, with his muddy coat and shining eyes.
"I think I learned two things," Ruthie answered. "One, it's not the breed or color that makes the perfect dog, but it's the inside that counts." She hugged Shamrock.
"And what's the second?" the reporters prompted, eager to get a good story.
"And second," Ruthie continued, "I learned that Shamrock likes mud."
As everyone laughed, Ruthie hugged Shamrock again. She whispered in his ear, "Mom was right, Shamrock; you are a golden dog."