Issue 5, 2020

The Dog Without a Name

story by Alison A Ferguson , illustrated by Greg Holfeld

THE DOG PRICKED her ears. Someone was coming. Huddled in the corner of her pen at the animal shelter, the dog waited. Footsteps thudded along the path—past the other dogs in their pens—then stopped.

‘Hello, old girl,’ said a man wearing overalls. The carer scanned the chart clipped to the wire fence. ‘What’s your story, then?’

The dog didn’t know she had a story. She was even unsure of her name. She’d had a few. Was it still Pippa, or perhaps Molly? With her body pressed against the wall, she watched.

‘A bit shy, are you?’ The carer slowly opened the gate. He entered the pen and set down a bowl of food. The dog blinked, thankful that the man had stayed away from her safe space. ‘See you tomorrow,’ said the carer as he slipped out the gate.

Alone again, the dog hurried across the floor and gulped down her meal.

Each day, the man visited the dog. First, he cleaned her pen and topped up her water bowl. Later, he led her to the exercise area, where she stretched her legs and sniffed. Oh, how she loved to sniff. Afterwards, back in her pen, the dog tucked into her dinner.

One afternoon, the dog heard laughter. She shrunk back to her safe space to listen.

‘Now, children,’ said a teacher, ‘choose one dog each.’

From the other pens came eager barks. Children ran up and down the path, glancing through the fences and chattering.

‘This one’s so cute!’

‘I like the spotty one.’

After a few minutes, the footsteps stopped. The path outside the dog’s pen was empty. Then came a familiar voice. ‘You have a visitor,’ said the carer. A boy stood there, clutching a cushion and a book. The waft of his worn shoes touched the dog’s nostrils.

‘How about this dog, Jack?’ the teacher, Miss Fenn, asked, peering through the fence. The dog was uneasy when humans stared at her. Shifting her paws, she looked away.

‘This one’s a bit shy,’ said the carer. ‘But she’ll come around.’

Jack nodded, dropped his cushion in front of the fence and sat. Her body stiffening, the dog wondered what the boy would do next.

‘I’m going to keep you company and practise my reading,’ Jack said, glancing at the book in his lap. ‘It’s about a farm dog.’ He grinned. ‘She looks like you.’ The dog turned towards her visitor. This boy had a soft, calm voice. Jack flipped to the first page and read slowly. ‘One day, Bella, the dog …’

The dog listened patiently. From time to time, Jack lifted his book to show a picture. To the dog, the shapes were hard to make out from her safe corner. But she twitched her ears so the boy would know she was paying attention.

All too soon, the visit was over. ‘Catch you next Friday,’ said Jack, waving goodbye.

The week dragged on with the daily routine. Used to the carer’s visits, the dog often came up for a pat.

Sometimes strangers would stroll in front of her pen, stopping to squint inside. ‘This dog’s too timid,’ they’d say. ‘How old is she? We’d prefer a puppy.’ Then hearing the other dogs scampering and whining for attention, the people would quickly move on.

On Friday, Miss Fenn and the children arrived as expected. The dog was relieved when Jack chose her again. This boy didn’t stare or point as other visitors did.

‘I’ve brought the same book,’ said Jack, plopping down onto his cushion. ‘I used to live on a farm.’ The dog rested her head on her paws. Whatever the boy was telling her sounded interesting.

‘Now we’re staying in a flat near my new school.’ Jack’s voice wobbled. ‘I miss the farm animals.’ He wiped his nose on his sleeve, and the dog noticed the boy’s sadness.

Perhaps one whiff through the fence wouldn’t hurt. The dog edged forward. Sniff. There was that snug and relaxing smell of old shoes again. Then she stepped back and waited for the boy to begin.

The rest of the afternoon flew by while the dog listened to Jack read. Sometimes the boy stopped and frowned. Then the dog would lift her head, waiting for him to sound out a tricky word carefully. There they stayed, on opposite sides of the fence, until storytime ended.

Every Friday, the chatter of children signalled to the dog that the boy was on his way. Each visit without fail, Jack read the farm book. The dog didn’t mind because the story grew more thrilling. If Jack’s voice became higher and faster, something exciting was happening. The dog would sit bolt upright, her ears alert. When Jack laughed, the dog would join in, wagging her tail. But her favourite part of the story was the animal noises. Then she’d prance about with delight, joining in with a bark.

However, one Friday, everything changed.

Miss Fenn and the children arrived as usual. From her pen, the dog listened to footsteps along the path and voices laughing. Soon the commotion settled, and storytime began. But there was no Jack. The dog pressed her face against the fence, trying to look up and down the path. Where was he? The boy always arrived with the others. Humans could be so confusing.

Lying low in the shadows, she could hear Jack’s classmates reading to the other dogs. She let out a muffled whimper. There was nothing else for it. She’d have to find the boy herself.

The next morning, the carer arrived to find the dog waiting for him at the fence. ‘You’re keen today,’ he joked. Leaving the gate ajar, the man entered. The dog watched. This was the moment to find the boy.

Bravely, she took a step forward. Then, through the gap, another. She inched onto the path. Running her snout over the stones, the dog snuffled. Among the many smells, there was the boy’s scent. Her nose to the ground, she chased after it. Faster and faster, she ran.

‘Hey, come back!’ yelled the carer.

But the dog ignored him. Her heart pounding inside her chest, she forged ahead. ‘I’m coming, boy,’ her tail said. ‘Wait for me.’

Along the path, she raced until the scent faded. With a halt, the dog scanned left then right. The boy was nowhere in sight. She hung her head, suddenly exhausted. Weary of humans changing their minds, tired of waiting for a home. She hardly struggled when the carer gently slipped on her lead.

‘Come on, old girl. We’re going to the office.’ The carer smiled. ‘I have a surprise for you.’

Planting her rear on the ground, the dog refused to budge. I’m not going with you, her eyes said. I need to find that boy. She glanced over her shoulder, wondering what to do next.

That minute, the boy’s scent drifted by. It grew stronger and stronger. Tugging on her lead, the dog took off towards the office with the carer staggering behind her. Outside, the dog pawed the door, pleading for someone to open it.

‘In we go,’ said the carer.

The dog could not believe her eyes. Standing beside the counter was the boy. Her boy! In a flash, her doubts and fears disappeared. He hadn’t forgotten her at all. With joy, the dog spun her tail like a helicopter blade.

‘I missed you,’ cried Jack, running to greet her. ‘I’m sorry I wasn’t here yesterday.’ He rubbed the dog behind the ears. ‘We moved into a new house with a garden. So Mum says there’s lots of room for you too.’

The dog tilted her head. She’d never seen her boy so happy. Something wondrous was happening, and she was part of it.

‘Have you chosen a name for her?’ asked Jack’s mum.

‘Bella—like the dog in my book,’ Jack said. Then he tapped his thigh. ‘Come on, Bella. Let’s go home.’

Outside, the family climbed into their car and drove away. Bella popped her head out the car window. Sniffing the air beyond the shelter, she sensed a whole new beginning.


Worksheet: Comprehension questions