For everyone who has adopted a cat or kitten from a shelter – you are fabulous!
Collect them all
“You’re coming with me, Lily? Are you sure?” Dad grinned at her, widening his eyes and pretending to be shocked.
“I like the sound of a walk with you and Hugo in the woods. It’ll be nice and cool under the trees. Anyway –” Lily made a face back at him – “I’d come with you more often if you didn’t go so fast. You’ve both got really long legs and I haven’t.” Lily reached down to rub the dog’s soft creamy white ears. “Yes, you do, don’t you? Great big long legs.” She looked up at Dad. “You’re not planning on one of your five-mile hikes, are you?” she asked suspiciously.
Dad laughed. “No, not in this weather – it’s too hot for a long walk now. Anyway, I took Hugo out running with me early this morning.”
Lily nodded. Hugo needed loads of exercise. Dad took him for at least two long walks every day and he usually went for a quick walk in the park with Mum when she stopped working to take a lunch break. At weekends Dad often took Hugo in the car to the hills just outside town for a really good run. Lily’s big sister, Carly, loved to go with them but Lily wasn’t so keen. It always seemed to rain when she went on one of Dad’s big days out.
Hugo was mostly German Shepherd – nobody was quite sure what else. Carly had told her that German Shepherds were originally bred from dogs trained to guard flocks of sheep from wolves and bears. They were used to working hard. Dad had wanted a really energetic dog and he’d fallen in love with Hugo at the animal shelter. He was so unusual with his white coat. The shelter staff said that Hugo had got too big for his elderly owner to look after properly – and at the time he hadn’t even stopped growing.
Mum and Dad had explained to Lily and Carly that they’d have to be really gentle with him as he was a rescue dog, and because white German Shepherds could be quite sensitive and nervous. They were no good as pets for people who were out at work all day – if they were left alone they could end up wrecking a house because they were so miserable! Luckily, Mum worked at home as a graphic designer so Hugo was never by himself for long.
“Is Carly coming?” Dad asked. “Shout up the stairs for her, Lily.”
“No, Mum’s taking her round to Maisie’s house in a minute. Maisie’s got one of those giant paddling pools in her garden.” Lily sighed enviously. It was the first week of the summer holidays and the weather was already so hot.
Even though it was sweltering, Hugo was still keen for his walk. He was standing by the front door staring at them both, his gleaming blue eyes hopeful. One of the boys in Carly’s class had told her that Hugo was a spooky wolf dog because of his white coat and blue eyes, and Carly had got into trouble for chasing the boy round the playground. She adored Hugo even more than Dad did and Hugo loved her to bits.
Dad clipped on Hugo’s lead and opened the front door. Hugo pulled Dad eagerly down the path, keen to be off, and Lily quickly slipped on her trainers and hurried after them. “Bye, Mum! See you later, Carly!”
As they turned out of the gate, Hugo suddenly stiffened, his ears pricking forward and his tail flicking from side to side.
Dad peered over the fence, where Hugo was looking. “What are you so excited about? Oh! No, Hugo, no chasing cats.”
“Is it Pixie?” Lily ran down the path to look. “Hello, sweetheart!” Pixie was a gorgeous silvery tabby cat who belonged to their next-door neighbour, Anna. Lily loved to play with Pixie – so much that Carly was always teasing her about it. Everyone else in the family preferred dogs but Lily’s room was full of cat posters and cat books… Even her pyjamas had kittens on them.
Luckily for Lily, Pixie was always popping into their garden. Sometimes she even walked along the garden wall, and then hopped on to the garage roof and in through Lily’s bedroom window. Lily loved to pretend that Pixie was hers but Mum always shooed the cat out whenever she saw her. She said it wasn’t fair on Hugo, letting a cat into his house.
Now the tabby cat was perched on the fence, looking down disapprovingly at Hugo, her tail swishing. Hugo had never chased Pixie but Lily thought he secretly wanted to. He didn’t like her walking across his garden. He always stared at her out of the long windows in the living room, his nose pressed up against the glass. If Pixie hung around for too long, Hugo would let out a series of mighty barks.
Pixie rubbed her head against Lily’s cheek, glared at Hugo and jumped back down to the other side of the fence. Hugo barked and wagged his tail excitedly.
“Come on, boy,” Dad said gently. “Walk time. Off to the woods.”
Hugo shook himself and loped out on to the pavement, Dad and Lily jogging after him. The little woods they were going to weren’t far away – just a short walk up the hill.
“Ohhh, that’s nice.” Lily sighed happily, lifting her hair up off the back of her neck as they walked under the trees. “It’s so much cooler here in the shade. Look, Hugo likes it, too. He must be so hot with all that thick fur.”
Dad nodded. “I think this is one of Hugo’s favourite places. So many good smells and all those squirrels.”
“And sticks.” Lily grinned. Hugo loved it when they threw sticks for him to chase after. “Are you going to let him off the lead?”
Dad looked around thoughtfully. Hugo was really good about coming back when he was called but because he was so big they had to be careful about letting him loose in case people were scared of him.
“I can’t see anyone else… Yes, we’ll let him off for the minute. It’s more fun for him sniffing around in the bracken off the lead.”
As Hugo ambled ahead, Lily and Dad chatted about what they were going to do over the summer. They’d gone on a brilliant holiday to a water park in half-term, so they weren’t going away.
“I want to sort out the garden shed,” Dad told Lily. “It’s so full of junk, I can hardly get the lawnmower out.”
“That’s not very exciting!” Lily said, laughing. “You’ll have to be careful though, Dad, have you seen the size of the spiders in that shed? I went in there yesterday to get the water guns and I’m sure I saw one the size of my hand.”
“Mmm. I might wear gloves.” Dad wrinkled his nose. “I suppose we should head back, it’s almost time for lunch. Hugo! Come on, boy!”
Hugo was a little way away, gazing curiously through the bracken, his tail wagging.
“Has he seen another dog?” Dad wondered, hurrying over. “Oh! Honestly. That’s awful!”
“What is it?”
“Someone’s dumped a load of stuff here, instead of taking it to the tip.” Dad pointed to a pile of furniture – an old sofa and a fridge and what looked like some kitchen units. “What a mess! I’ll have to ring the council when we get home, see if they’ll come and take it away. I suppose the woods do back on to all those houses. Someone must have driven down the alleyway to the garages – yes, look, the fence is broken. It wouldn’t have been too hard to get the stuff through here.”
“That’s really sad.” Lily looked at the mess, frowning. “Hey, Hugo. Where are you going, silly? That’s not a sofa for sitting on!” Hugo wasn’t supposed to sit on any sofas but it was his one bad habit. He would lie at Dad’s feet with his nose on the sofa, and gradually creep further and further forward until he could sneak his front paws on. He never got very far before he was pushed off – but he never gave up trying, either. He just wanted to be snuggled up with his family.
“Here, boy, come on,” Dad called. “Hugo!”
But Hugo didn’t come back like he usually did. He was sniffing at the old sofa, his plumy tail swishing really fast.
“Maybe it smells of food,” Dad said, edging his way through the bracken to follow him. “It must smell of something, look at him, he’s really excited. Hugo, leave it, come on!”
Hugo’s ears were pricked right forward now, and he was whining and grunting and sniffing at the tatty sofa cushions.
Lily went after Dad, wriggling sideways through the undergrowth – she only had shorts on and there were nettles in among the bracken but she wanted to see what Hugo was so excited about.
Hugo had his nose down the back of the sofa cushions now. Then suddenly he jumped back with a snort.
“What is it?” Lily asked, leaning over – and then she gasped.
Between the cushions and the back of the sofa was a squirming mass of fur. A litter of tiny, fluffy kittens!
“Kittens!” Lily gasped. “Oh, wow! Did Hugo smell them? Or maybe he heard something?”
The kittens were squirming around, making tiny breathy squeaking noises. Hugo had moved the seat cushion with his nose while he was sniffing them out, so their cosy dark nest had been disturbed. Now the big dog was staring down at the kittens with his ears pricked right forward again. Dad had put a hand on his collar, just in case. After all, Hugo really didn’t like Pixie, so it made sense that he wouldn’t like the kittens, either. But right now he looked interested rather than grumpy....