It was the end of a very hot May Bank Holiday Monday. Ernie was lying almost wrapped round his favourite lamp post waiting for Theo to arrive.
Ernie could barely keep his eyes open. He’d been at the Huntley Country Fair and Dog Show all day. Theo hadn’t managed to get along so Ernie had to supervise their market stall on his own. The humans had been there too but you can’t just leave it to them when your name is over the gazebo door.
As if the long day had not been tiring enough, Ernie had some news for Theo which he wasn’t looking forward to sharing. Something life-changing had happened to Ernie at the Fair. He knew Theo would not be happy when he heard. He was so worried about how to break the news that he’d chewed even more holes in his blanket thinking of how to do it.
Theo came trotting around the corner. He looked as alert as ever, his ears pricked up at any sound. Seeing this just made Ernie feel even more tired.
“Hi Ernie,” Theo said chirpily, “did you have a good time at the Huntley Fair then? I am sorry I didn’t get along. The bank holiday traffic was so busy that my human thought I’d get too hot on the car journey there.”
Ernie lifted his tired head and smiled. He’d spent all day saying hello to countless friends but he was so pleased to see his best mate and business partner – even if he was not looking forward to what he had to say.
“Yeo, Theo,” Ernie replied, “the humans said it was the dogs’ bottoms of a day!”
“Sorry Ernie, what do you mean?” Theo was quite startled at his little friend’s language.
“Well, they said they sold lots of our dogs’ bottoms lead holders,” Ernie explained. “Your human spent quite a bit of time on her bottom personalising a lot of them while the customers waited!!”
“Oh, I understand you now.” Theo chuckled. “They do look good though don’t they?! I know a lot of our mates like to have their names put on them. Ernie and Theo’s pet accessories is really beginning to take off isn’t it? My human said the bandanas sold well too – especially the new ones for the Royal Wedding later this month.”
“Yes, yes,” Ernie said distractedly, he was steeling himself for what was to come. “Theo, I am really sorry but I have some bad news. I am going to be leaving Ernie and Theo’s soon,” he blurted out. Theo’s tail had been wagging away but stopped dead. He was by far the cleverest in the partnership. However, he could be a bit of a worrier – probably because he was always thinking about things that never crossed Ernie’s mind.
“Ernie, you don’t mean that,” Theo said, his brow becoming very furrowed. “You love going to the markets, you adore meeting lots of new friends. I even think that secretly you like posing for some of our website photos – and not just because of all the treats you get paid for doing it.”
Ernie was welling up a bit and a slight whine left him. This was proving much tougher than he’d ever imagined it would be.
“It won’t be easy Theo, I know,” Ernie’s tongue was racing faster than his heart “it’s just that I saw something at the market and thought straightaway ‘that’s want I want to be when I grow up’.”
The heat had obviously got to Theo too. When he heard this, he realised he should have remembered how excited Ernie had got at the idea of chasing the kestrels at the fair.
“Ernie, I told you before the fair that you can’t chase birds of prey, they aren’t like sparrows and pigeons,” Theo explained. Just as he said this a couple of sparrows landed near them to peck at a crust of bread someone had dropped by the lamp post. Ernie was so distressed he barely noticed the sparrows.
“No, I know that. I do listen to you Theo – although I do forget what you say sometimes. I did see the kestrels. They looked pretty fierce so I promise I won’t be chasing them any time soon,” Ernie replied.
“Well, what is it then Ernie, what on earth is it you want to be?” Theo asked, his curiosity growing by the second.
“I want to be a sheep dog”. Ernie replied, “There was one doing a demonstration at the country fair. I thought, what a life they have. They were running around a field playing with the sheep. I’d never get bored doing that. A man was shouting things at the sheep dog but the dog didn’t seem to mind. The sheep were getting lots of exercise, which must be good for them. What a life Theo, what a life”.
Ernie had said many things that made Theo laugh during their friendship but this one took the biscuit – even though there wasn’t actually one to take at that precise moment (which was unfortunate as Theo was feeling a bit peckish). He stopped himself from laughing. He could see his little friend was really serious. He decided to find out how far his little friend had thought this through – not that he had high hopes on that score:
“Ernie, what you saw at the fair isn’t a game. They weren’t playing ‘chase me’ like you do with your humans when you’ve got a stick,” Theo explained. “The sheep dog is helping the farmer to get the sheep to where he wants them to be. They are both working very hard.”
“No, you’re wrong there Theo, the sheep dog was chasing them all over the field,” Ernie replied feeling very proud at putting Theo right for once.
“That was because it was a demonstration, Ernie” Theo said. “He was showing the crowd what the sheep dog could do. The sheep dog doesn’t do that back on the farm when he is working.”
Ernie thought about this for a minute, but he wasn’t going to be put off. “I don’t care Theo, I want an outdoor life. All this being cooped up and posing for photos and stuff it’s not good for us”.
Theo couldn’t argue with this. He was all for healthy living. However, he already got plenty of exercise from his runs in the park. He also loved the humans who had given him a home when he was a rescue dog. He had just one more question for Ernie. This made a change for Theo, as Ernie was usually the one asking the questions of him:
“So, have you looked into where you’ll do your sheep dog training then Ernie?” Theo asked in a matter of fact way.
“I don’t need any. I did my puppy training, I got a rosette, I showed it you – remember?” Ernie replied looking very pleased with himself. Really though, he always worried when Theo did this. Unlike him, he often thought Theo already knew the answers to the questions he asked. He wasn’t wrong.
“Ernie, I don’t want to disappoint you,” Theo explained, “but it takes a long time to train to be a sheepdog. What’s more, they start their training when they are puppies. I think you might be a bit too old to start now. You might get in as a mature student but I doubt it. Even if you do, you’ll have to pass lots of exams.” Theo knew there wasn’t a dog in heaven’s chance of Ernie training as a sheep dog but he wanted to gently break this bad news.
Ernie was not to be put off though. He bombarded Theo with questions:
What’s a mature student? Where could he study? How long it would take? Theo was getting worried that his little friend was really serious. However, Theo wasn’t Ernie’s cleverest friend for nothing. It was time to tell his mate a few hard truths about a sheep dog’s life:
“Ernie, you do know that sheep dogs get up very, very early don’t you? And you know they often sleep in a barn on the farm don’t you?” Theo asked.
Ernie had to ask Theo what a barn was. If truth be known, he wasn’t really sure what a farm was either - but he daren’t show himself up by asking Theo what one was. None of it sounded as cosy as being at home – especially when he had a lie in on his human’s bed. Ernie was beginning to get a bit distracted. He’d suddenly noticed the sparrows that were still pecking crumbs off the ground. Theo, though, had one more question for him
“Ernie, did you see the man at the fair give the sheep dog any treats?”
Ernie stopped looking at the sparrows and turned to Theo. Whenever anyone said “treats” he got very distracted from whatever he was doing:
“You know, I don’t think he did Theo, he just kept calling and whistling. He probably saved the treats until they got home,” Ernie said. Theo saw his chance:
“No, he didn’t Ernie. Sheep dogs are so well trained they don’t have to get treats all the time.”
Deep down, Ernie knows Theo knows everything. He tried so hard to imagine a life with fewer treats. It didn’t fill him with joy. He slowly got to his feet. His nose started twitching and moving slowly towards the sparrows. Theo sensed he’d won but he hadn’t quite finished. He had one more question:
“So, shall I find out where you can do this sheep dog training then Ernie?”
By the time Theo finished speaking, the sparrows had started to fly off. Ernie instantly gave full chase. His future as a star sheep dog could wait until another day. He now had far more important things on his mind.
Theo gave a wry smile, he shouted goodbye to Ernie as loud as he could. Ernie raised a paw and shouted back:
“Yeo, Theo – see you soon!!”
Theo turned to go home. They could carry on their chat about Ernie’s future career tomorrow – if Ernie could remember what it was.