Millie is sitting on the floor again, her backpack on one side of her, and Boulder on the other, his head resting once again on her lap. He’s not sleeping though, but is closely eyeing the sandwich Millie is munching on.
“I haven’t given him anything,” she says defensively, looking up.
“I know. He wouldn’t have accepted anything,” I inform her. She looks a little dubious, which makes me smile. “Go on, give it a shot. Try to feed him a piece.”
She takes a minute, waiting for me to urge her on with a nod, before she breaks a corner off her sandwich and holds it in front of Boulder’s face. As I knew he would, Boulder turns his head away, looking to me for a signal.
“He was trained to wait for approval before he eats. Watch.” I lift my hand, palm out, indicating to Boulder he should wait, and then I drop my hand as I tell him clearly, “Okay.”
Faster than I can blink my eyes, he snatches the treat from Millie’s hand.
“Try again,” I urge her.
Once again she tears off a piece of bread and holds it out for him to eat, but his eyes are not on the bread, they are on me. I give him the go ahead, and this time Millie smiles.
“That’s awesome. How did you teach him that?”
“Lots of patience and consistent practice, every time he eats.”
“He’s a therapy dog, and he comes in contact with a lot of people. If he just accepted every treat that was offered, he’d be as wide as he is tall. Not healthy for a dog.”
She falls silent and seems pensive as she absentmindedly strokes his fur.
“So how was your first week in school?”
“Not too bad,” she mutters, shrugging her shoulders. “No different from my old school.”
“Is that a good thing?”
Her response comes in the form of another shrug and then she adds, “It’s familiar.”
I’m not sure what to think of that rather detached answer, it seems a bit off, but something tells me not to push. Not yet.
“Do you have a dog? Or any other pet?”
She snorts. “I wish. My mom was allergic to animals, and Dad keeps saying only when I’m responsible enough to take care of one.”
“Are you?” I jump right in, and she shows the first spark of fire in the quick look she throws me, before fixing her eyes on Boulder again. “Your dad does have a point, taking care of, and training a dog, is quite a bit of work. Especially in the beginning. You can’t skip a day because you don’t feel like walking him or getting up to feed him. You get a dog, and it’s the same with a cat or any other kind of animal, it becomes dependent on you for everything. It’s not a toy you can just play with when you feel like it.”
“I know that,” she snaps, suddenly pushing Boulder’s head off her legs, grabbing her bag, and scrambling to her feet.
“Wait,” I call out as she moves to the door. She stops, but keeps her back turned. I smile at the show of defiance. “Millie, I’m not suggesting you can’t handle a pet—I’m asking you if you can.”
Slowly she turns around and when she speaks, her voice is soft.
“I think so. I’d like to try. I’d love a friend like Boulder.”