Fiction

Harley-Dog’s Hobby

What's wrong with Harley-Dog? Ian is determined to find out.
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Fiction by Michael J. Rosen
Illustrations by Greg Newbold

“I’m worried about Harley-Dog,” Ian told his father. “Now that school’s out, I can see that all he does is sleep. On the bed near me at night, and then during the day, wherever I go, he’s lying down nearby. He can’t be tired. He’s not really old like Snuffles next door. He must be bored. I’d be bored if all I did was sleep and follow some kid around.”

Ian’s father kissed him goodbye. “Harley-Dog might not have as many hobbies as you, but he’s plenty happy,” his father replied. “He gets brushed, exercised and loved every day — he’s fine.”

After his father left for work, Ian thought harder about his dog’s day: Harley-Dog ate two meals, walked, barked a little — but the rest of the time, he slept … maybe 20 hours a day!

“OK, pupster, you just need more things to do. I should have known,” Ian admitted. “You need a hobby.”

True, Harley-Dog didn’t race at the fence all day like that crazy Clipper. He didn’t go sightseeing like GiGi, who practically lived in Mrs. McNamara’s arms.

No, sometimes Harley-Dog just stared at Ian, as if to say, Suggest something. I’ll do it with you.

“Hey, Harley-Dog … want to visit some other dogs?” Ian suggested.

His dog looked willing, as usual. So that morning they walked to the apartment where a terrier named Griffin lived. He always wagged and whined whenever he saw Harley-Dog.

Ian called to Mrs. Kently, who was picking tomatoes. “Harley-Dog’s kind of bored. Could we come in and play with Griffin?”

Mrs. Kently waved her guests into the yard. But instead of frolicking or racing around, Harley-Dog and Griffin stood nose to tail and sniffed. Then Griffin growled and Harley-Dog bared his teeth — and Mrs. Kently snatched Griffin into her arms.

“Hmmm. They’re better friends with a fence between them.”

Farther down the block, in Whatley’s yard, the two dogs acted very friendly: Harley-Dog raced his beagle neighbor, wrestled, laughed, chased and tumbled.

“So this is what you need!” Ian exclaimed, happy that he’d solved his dog’s blues.

But after a few minutes of fun, Harley-Dog plopped down on the lawn panting. Whatley yapped. Whatley prodded Ian’s dog with her nose (which certainly meant, Come on, you’ll have to go soon, let’s play!).

But Harley-Dog just lay there. Then Whatley dropped to the ground and both dogs stared at Ian as if to say, Think of something else for us to do now.

Maybe visiting other dogs wasn’t the perfect hobby.

The next day at the park, Harley-Dog joined a collie that could catch a Frisbee midair.

“You like this, Harley-Dog?” Ian asked. “We can do more catching games at home. You bet!”

Frisbees, tennis balls, whiffl e balls — Harley-Dog caught them all. Bean bags, a squeaking lamb chop, a fuzzy octopus — Harley-Dog fetched, too, no matter how high or how far Ian threw.

But after three or four catches or fetches, Harley-Dog would just lie down, as though to say, That was good. Now, what else can we do? Nap?

Catching and retrieving weren’t perfect hobbies.

What about hiking? Big walks?

Outside adventures?

Ian invented new routes to all their neighborhood parks. Harley-Dog did enjoy the trails — smelling for squirrels and rabbits, and meeting new dogs — but once they returned from their outings, Harley-Dog looked more bored than ever. His half-closed eyes seemed to say, Walks are interesting, Ian, but home’s just fine for sleeping.

No, hiking wasn’t his dog’s hobby.

One night, while Ian and his father were eating supper, a TV newscaster mentioned that ticks could cause a sleeping sickness in dogs. Among the symptoms the reporter cited were “a lack of energy and little interest in normal activities.”

“Could Harley-Dog have that sleeping sickness?” Ian asked his dad. “All he does is sleep or lie beside me.”

“Well, he’s due for his shots Monday,” his father answered. “You can tell Dr. Elizabeth what you’ve noticed.”

At her clinic, Dr. Elizabeth peered into Harley-Dog’s eyes and ears. She listened to his heart, checked his teeth, inspected his coat and joints, took his temperature, trimmed his toenails and gave him three injections.

“You have one happy, healthy, trim and lucky dog,” she announced with a smile.

“So he doesn’t have that sleeping sickness from a tick?” Ian asked.

“Oh, no, thank goodness,” the vet answered.

“But all he does is sleep. Could it be that he’s bored?”

“Hmmm. I can tell you exercise Harley-Dog, right?” Dr. Elizabeth asked. Ian nodded.

“And he eats well, doesn’t he?”

Ian nodded again. “But he … he doesn’t race around or herd sheep or find people buried in snow. Doesn’t he need something like a dog hobby? He’ll try all kinds of things, but he always ends up just lying down beside me.”

Dr. Elizabeth ran her hands over Harley-Dog’s coat again. “So Harley-Dog prefers to just stick around you, is that it?”

Ian nodded yes.

“He would rather sleep near you than play some dog sport?”

“Right!” Ian declared. “It’s like he’s trying to say, I’m waiting for something to do, but — Can you help him?”

“Ian, I don’t think this dog is tired or bored or sick or in need of anything at all.”

“You don’t? He doesn’t need a dog hobby?”

The vet crouched down, eye to eye with Ian and his dog. “You know what? You are Harley-Dog’s hobby. Day and night, whatever you’re doing, you are just the thing your dog wants.”

“Really?” Ian could hardly believe the good news.

“If a dog is exercised and healthy, it’s just fine for him to sleep a lot.”

“Harley-Dog, am I your hobby?” Ian asked the dog, who leaned to lick Ian’s cheek. (Even Ian could see that meant, Yes, yes, that’s what I’ve been saying all along!) “Am I your favorite thing?”

The rest of the summer, Ian and Harley-Dog did almost everything together. Frisbee, visiting friends, fetching, playing in the yard, trail walking and lots of doing nothing — nothing but being each other’s favorite thing.

Michael J. Rosen has written more than 150 books, most recently The Horse’s Haiku and The Tale of Rescue. His read-aloud story Stick appeared in the October 2018 Cub Scout version of Boys’ Life.

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