After a short run a distance which seemed more like a skip in a park to an energetic pup and a personal training workout for a small squirrel that hasn’t had her afternoon nap, Darling and Penelope approached an unassuming building. There was no elaborate landscaping, no decorative architecture, only one distinguishing sign that read “RESCUE”.

“Allow me to catch you up, so we don’t have to go through our normal question and answer routine.” Darling told Penelope predicting a line of questioning about their presence at the location. “This is a rescue shelter. They house animals until they find families to join. They also give them a place to stay while not at home. They are all over but this place – ” Darling continued as they circled around to the back of the building revealing a playground. “Has the best doggy day care program.”

In the yard, there were dogs of all sizes and ages. Some were being taught obedience cues others ran and played carefree.

“So, you’re a teacher here?” Penelope asked.

“I’d call it more of a mentor.” Darling responded. “Think more on the lines of big brother, big sister.”

At that moment, while Darling was talking, Penelope saw a small pug over Darling’s shoulder walking with a shiny object in his mouth. “Over there!” She yelled and pointed causing Darling to turn.

“Hercules!” Darling barked walking over to the small dog.

The pug froze in mid-motion and posed like a statue. His eyes followed Darling as she neared him and the silver necklace hanging from his front teeth.

“Hercules is not here.” The pug murmured without opening his mouth, carefully holding the chain. “You must be seeing a mirage.” He said in a ghostly voice.

“I can see you.” Darling rebutted.

“No, you can’t.” The tiny pug disagreed.

“Cut it, Hercules!” Darling demanded. “What are you doing with my necklace?”

The pug released from his statue-like pose and in an act of shock spoke, “Ms. D! Where’d you come from?

” Drop it you…you…baby bandit!!” Penelope commanded.

The pup dropped the necklace on the floor, whimpered and scurried behind Darling.

Darling looked at Penelope as the squirrel shrugged and asked, “Too far?”

“Maybe you should let me handle this.” Darling suggested. “Why did you take my necklace, Hercules?” She asked turning her attention to the smaller dog.

“I didn’t take it,” the pup said putting his head down in shame. “I found it. It was by the slide.”

“It must’ve slipped off as I played with the pups in the rain.” Darling thought aloud. She sat down next to the pug. “But Hercules if you knew it wasn’t yours or even worse knew it was mine and kept it, it IS almost like you took it.” She spoke in a soft voice. “Did you think about how that would make me feel?”

“I didn’t mean to steal it.” The pup confessed as he started to tear up. “I…I…”

“Aww, don’t cry, Hercules. Just tell me what’s wrong.” Darling said softheartedly. “It’s okay. You’re not in trouble.”

“I like a girl.” The pup explained. “I saw the necklace and thought if I gave it to her, maybe she’d like me.”

“Oh, Hercules.” Darling moaned. “Why would you think something like that?”

“Because,” he said. “I’m just a tiny pug. She’s a Great Dane. She’s so much bigger than me.” He further explained. “My grandpa says, pretty girls like jewelry and the person who gives it to them.”

“Hercules, that’s not the way to find a connection.” Darling explained. “You have so much more to offer than a necklace. You need to show her that.”

“But how?” The pug wondered.

“Be yourself.” Penelope chimed in. “I don’t know you lad but I know Darling. She’s a kind and courageous dog. If she adores you, then this girl will be lucky to get to know you.”

Darling watched as the once surly abrasive squirrel shared years of experience and wisdom with compassion.

“Think about this, lad.” The squirrel told the ironically named pug that was on her eye-level, “If you give someone something to make them like you, how would you ever really know if they like YOU or just like receiving gifts?”

The pug’s wrinkled face puckered in thought. “I guess that’s true.” He admitted.

“Trust me, lad. I know you want to be liked but a friend that can be bought, is not worth having.” Penelope advised.

“So, what do I do now? Hercules questioned. ” What does ‘be myself’ mean?”

“Well,” Darling started rejoining the conversation. “You may be too young to know who you are but I do, and besides having one of the most adorable faces ever, you’re one of the funniest doggies I know.” She encouraged. “If you think less about impressing her and more about becoming friends everything will fall into place.

“But I get nervous. How would I know I’m doing something right?” The inquisitive dog worried.

“Look for signs. If you make her laugh, you’re on the right track.” Penelope said with a point and a wink.

The pug looked at Darling as she nodded in reassurance. “Okay!” He said with a new-found vigor marching off with his chest filled with air. “Wait.” He shouted turning back. He picked the necklace off the floor and returned it to its rightful owner. “This is yours, Ms. D. I should’ve given it back sooner.”

“Thank you, Hercules.” Darling accepted as the pup turned to once again walk away.

“Ms. D?” The pug said with his voice raising in pitch. “That necklace…did someone try to make you like them?”

“Come over here.” Darling beckoned the young pup. “Sit.” She urged and followed her own command.

Penelope scooted closer to the two and joined in to hear the impending answer with such attentiveness, had she popcorn, she’d be noshing on it.

“Do you know what the D stands for on this pendant?” Darling asked rhetorically. “It may be my initial but there’s more to the story. It stands for destiny…or at least that was the inspiration behind it. My big brother gave me this. He saw it and knew it was meant for me. It was tarnished and covered in dirt, clearly been through the ringer. He said it reminded him of me…a diamond in the rough that could be polished and have a bright shiny future. He didn’t give it to me to make me like him and he had my respect WAY before that. It was a symbol of who I could be.”

“That’s way better than hoping for a lick on the cheek.” Hercules concluded with a smile.

Darling gigged with a slight smirk and suggested, “Go make a new friend, kid.”

Penelope moved closer to Darling as they watched Hercules make his way to the Great Dane. Though young, the Dane towered over the rest of the doggy day care participants. They watched as the two pups talked and the Dane motioned to a hole at the base of a tree. Hercules nodded, went into the opening and after a few moments returned with a ball for his crush. She smiled and the two pups exchanged words, then without expectation, the Dane laughed a boisterous laugh.

Darling and Penelope awed in unison.

The Dane started to walk and motioned for the pug to follow. She halted momentarily, turned back to the pug and swiftly gave him a lick then continued her walk. Nearly completely covered by the Dane’s massive tongue, which lifted him slightly off his feet, Hercules turned to Penelope and Darling with a smile from ear to ear in excitement and glee, which prompted Darling’s approving head nod and a thumbs up from Penelope as the pug fled in pursuit of his crush.

“Ahh, back at home.” Penelope declared placing Darling’s necklace back around her neck. “I think it’s time we do the same. Don’t you think, las?”

“I most certainly do.” Darling agreed. “I could use a nap.”

Penelope looked at Darling with wide eyes. “YES.” She said. “You are officially a canine to be fancied, Darling my dear.”

Darling smiled and as the two began their return walk said, “I’m still not giving you a ride on my back.”

“I never asked.” Penelope made clear, then further begged, “Can we at least not run? My legs and feet would appreciate it.”

“Fine.” Darling agreed. “Like a walk on a beach.”

“With wet sand, preferably.” Penelope added.

The walk home was a far cry from the beginning of their adventure. The two strolled, talked, laughed…bonded. Penelope had found a new insight and understanding of Darling. Where she came from, what she’d been through, the things she does – she had a newfound respect. By the time they reached back to their original start point, after a long day, they found a still energetic Doc, rolling and playing in the yard.

“Hi, guys.” He chippered with enthusiasm. “What’d you guys do today?”

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