Merlin, p.1

Merlin, page 1


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  Title Page


  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11


  Take Action!


  Catnip Critters

  Box Toys for Small Animals

  Caring For a Pet: Is a Ferret a Good Pet for Me?

  From the Author

  Be an Honorary Shelter Pet Squad Member!

  About the Author


  Most Saturday mornings when I arrive at the Maplewood Animal Shelter to volunteer, things are calm and peaceful. Ms. Flores is behind the front counter, answering the phone and telling visitors about the animals. Ms. Kim and the rest of the Shelter Pet Squad kids are in the workroom, ready to make things to keep the animals busy and happy.

  But not today! When I opened the front door, Ms. Flores was crawling on the floor, looking under the waiting-room chairs. Ms. Kim was searching through the dog-bed display.

  “Quick, Suzannah! Close the door!” Ms. Flores said. “We can’t let Merlin escape!”

  She looked worried. I shut the door behind me as fast as I could. “Who’s Merlin?” I asked. A hamster? A rabbit? A cat?

  “A ferret!” Ms. Kim pulled the dog beds away from the wall and looked behind them. “His owner brought him to us a few days ago. This morning, he got out of his cage, and now we can’t find him anywhere!”

  The shelter takes care of stray and homeless pets until they get a new home. Ms. Kim and Ms. Flores work at the shelter, and there are five kids in Shelter Pet Squad: Jada, Matt, Levi, Allie, and me. My best friend in the group is Jada. My least favorite kid is Allie, because she likes to get her own way every time.

  “Merlin isn’t in the cat room,” Levi said, coming down the hallway with Matt. “We looked everywhere! Even under the cats’ beds.”

  “What if one of the cats ate him?” Matt asked.

  “Don’t say that!” I heard Jada yell from the small-animal room.

  “A cat wouldn’t eat a ferret,” Ms. Flores said. “But Merlin can get himself into places you wouldn’t expect. Yesterday afternoon, I found him sleeping in the trash can near my desk.”

  “Good thing you didn’t throw him away!” I peeked under a rack of books about pet care. I wasn’t sure a ferret could even fit under there, though. I’d never seen a real ferret, only ferrets in pictures.

  Under the books was just some dust — no animals.

  Allie popped up from behind the front counter. “He’s not in the trash can or the recycling bin.”

  “What does Merlin look like?” I asked, looking through a rack of leashes and collars.

  “Like a weasel, but with a raccoon face.” Matt made sideways Vs with his fingers around his eyes, like a mask. “A weaselly thief!”

  “You can say that again,” Ms. Kim said. “On Thursday, I let him run around the waiting room so he could have some exercise. My coat was hanging on the back of my chair, and he stole my phone out of the pocket!”

  “Maybe he wanted to call for pizza!” Jada said.

  “Or he was calling his old owner to say ‘Come back!’ ” Levi said.

  Levi’s comment made me sad. I don’t like to think about people giving up animals, when I wish I could have one of my own. But we live in an apartment, and the landlord says “No pets.”

  Mom says that maybe someday we’ll have our own house. Then we can have a real dog or cat or maybe even a ferret! But for now, the only pets I can have at home are toy stuffed animals. Bentley the dog and Whiskers the mouse are my favorites. I reached into my pocket to touch Whiskers’s nose. I like to keep him with me, but he’s a secret. None of the other kids bring stuffed animals with them.

  “Hey!” Matt said, peering under the bookshelf. “Look at this!”

  We all rushed over. “Did you find him?” Allie asked.

  “No. I found a quarter!”

  We sighed.

  “Ferrets can climb,” Ms. Flores said. “So we need to look up, too.”

  I looked around, down, and up. Where would a ferret go? Maybe behind the bags of dog food on the donation shelf? As I walked over to check, I stopped to pat Shadow, one of the waiting-room cats, asleep in a chair. Someone had left a coat and a purse hanging on the back of the chair.

  The coat didn’t look lumpy, but I patted it down just in case. It was all squishy. Nothing was hiding there. Then, the purse moved.

  A car horn started blaring from the parking lot: BEEP, BEEP, BEEP!

  Matt ran to the window. “Ms. Kim, that’s your car!”


  Usually, I wouldn’t touch a purse that wasn’t mine, but a purse can’t move on its own. I lifted the purse’s front flap.

  I saw two little white ears.

  A pink nose poked out.

  A tan face appeared, with a mask of dark brown fur surrounding shiny black eyes. And a mouth was clutching the remote for a set of car keys.

  “I found him!” I said.

  BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! Ms. Kim’s car horn was still blaring from the parking lot.

  “Is this your purse?” I asked. “Because Merlin is inside!”

  Ms. Kim laughed. “Yes. Thank you, Suzannah! When I arrived, Ms. Flores told me that Merlin was missing. So I just dropped my coat and purse on that chair to start looking. He must’ve snuck in there while I was hunting for him.”

  Before she could reach him, Merlin jumped out. He looked like a tan-and-brown weasel. He had a funny, bouncy run, with his back high in the air. In his mouth, he clutched the car remote and Ms. Kim’s keys.


  “There he goes!” I hurried after him.

  “Wow, he’s fast!” Matt said.

  Merlin zipped around the corner of the counter and under Ms. Flores’s desk.

  “Now we’ve got him!” I dropped to my hands and knees to look under the desk. I expected to see Merlin in a dark corner, but the only thing under the desk was a paper clip. “He’s gone again!”

  “Merlin is a perfect name for him,” Matt said. “In the King Arthur stories, Merlin was a wizard. Our Merlin can appear and disappear, too!”

  Ms. Flores slowly pulled open the bottom desk drawer. There was Merlin sitting on some folders and papers. There were other things in the drawer, too.

  A little plastic cat ball with a jingle bell inside.

  A stuffed toy hedgehog.

  A plastic bag.

  A few shiny dog tags from the display.

  A washcloth.

  A little fold-up umbrella.

  And Ms. Kim’s keys.

  “So that’s where my umbrella went!” Ms. Flores picked up Merlin with one hand around his back and the other hand supporting his hind legs. Ms. Kim wiggled her car keys out of his mouth and pushed the button on the remote to stop the car horn from honking. “Merlin, we found your secret robber’s den!”

  “We’ll have to find a safer place to keep the plastic bags,” Ms. Flores said. “Thank goodness he didn’t chew this one. It could’ve hurt him if he’d swallowed any plastic.” She sighed. “We need to do more ferret-proofing. Ferrets need time out of their cages every day for exercise. Merlin needs a safe place to play and explore where he can’t get into trouble or hurt himself.”

  “Or steal things!” Jada added.

  Merlin made a low, chuckling, uh-uh-uh-uh sound.

  “Is he laughing?” Allie asked.

  “You could say that.” Ms. Kim scratched Merlin’s head. “That’s called dooking. Ferrets make that sound when they’re happy. He liked playing chas
e with us. He thought that was a fun game.”

  “We could help you ferret-proof,” I said. “What do we need to do?”

  “I’m not sure,” said Ms. Flores. “We don’t get many ferrets at the shelter. So I need to do some research. I borrowed some ferret books from another shelter, but we’ve been so busy getting ready for the Make-A-Match-A-Thon that I haven’t had a chance to read them yet.”

  “Make-A-Match-A-Thon? What is that?” Allie asked.

  Ms. Kim gave us a wide smile. “I’ve been excited to tell you about it! The Make-A-Match-A-Thon is a big adoption event at the mall next Saturday. Lots of animal shelters will be there, showing their animals to people who might like to adopt them,” she explained. “And I was hoping you all might like to come! You could show visitors how to make fun things for the animals. What do you think, Shelter Pet Squad?”

  “Yes!” Levi said. “I bet I can go!”

  “Me, too!” I said.

  Matt grinned. “Me three!”

  “I can’t wait!” said Allie, clapping her hands.

  “Maybe we could help you tell people about the animals, too!” Jada said.

  “That would be wonderful,” Ms. Kim replied. “We’re planning to bring some of our cats and dogs and Gizmo, a hamster that came in this week. But we haven’t decided if we should bring Merlin or not.”

  “Why?” I asked. “He’s so cute. People will love him.”

  “That’s the problem,” Ms. Flores said. “Ferrets are cute, but ferret owners need to understand their pets. Merlin’s first owner bought him at a pet store, and she didn’t know important things about ferrets.”

  “Like what?” Allie asked.

  “Merlin’s first owner didn’t know that ferrets like small, cozy spaces,” Ms. Flores said. “Merlin chewed a hole under her couch and crawled inside and got stuck. She had to rip her couch to get Merlin out. The lady didn’t know that ferrets like to take things, either. Merlin took her watch off her dresser and dropped it down a heating vent. She had to hire someone to take the vent apart to get her watch back. And ferrets have a smell that she didn’t like.”

  “That’s mean!” I said. “That’s not Merlin’s fault.”

  Ms. Flores cuddled him. “I tried to help the lady understand that Merlin was just being a ferret. But she said a ferret was too much work for her, and she decided to give Merlin away.”

  “So I’m afraid if we bring Merlin with us to the Make-A-Match-A-Thon, the same thing could happen again,” Ms. Kim said. “Someone who isn’t ready for a ferret might be tempted to adopt him on the spot.”

  “But if you leave him behind, he might miss out on his chance to be adopted by the right person,” Levi said.

  “Yes!” I agreed. “What if the right person comes and he’s not there?”

  Merlin dooked again, nuzzling under Ms. Flores’s chin.

  “He’s tired out,” Jada said.

  “I’m tired, too!” Matt said. “I can see how his first owner thought he was a lot of work.”

  I scowled. Merlin couldn’t help that! “People should have to pass a test to prove they know about ferrets before they can take one home,” I said.

  Levi looked at me. “That’s a great idea, Suzannah. We can make a ferret quiz and bring it to the Make-A-Match-A-Thon! We won’t let anyone adopt Merlin who doesn’t pass the test.”

  Ms. Kim smiled. “What a wonderful plan! Let’s bring the ferret books back to the workroom with us. We can look at the information in the books to find some good questions to ask.”

  Allie wrinkled her nose. “That sounds like homework.”

  “It will be worth it if we find Merlin a home,” Jada said. “I like Suzannah’s idea.”

  I felt proud that it was my idea that would help Merlin find a new family. A family that wouldn’t adopt him just because he was cute. Or be disappointed when he took things or crawled into small, cozy spaces.

  A family that would love him — just as he was.

  A home that needed a ferret.

  There are many good parts about being in Shelter Pet Squad.

  I like to make things for the dogs.

  The cats are fun to play with and pat.

  I love giving treats to the small animals.

  It’s exciting to be part of a club.

  But there’s one hard part about Shelter Pet Squad.

  I’m the youngest.

  Levi is in sixth grade, Matt’s in fifth grade, Allie and Jada are in third grade, and I’m in second. Sometimes being the youngest doesn’t matter. But sometimes it does.

  Allie and Jada ride their bikes to the shelter together. Mom says I’m too young to do that, though. So she drives me, and I’m usually last to get there.

  I’m a good reader in my class at school, but I could see that Ms. Flores’s ferret books were for grown-ups. Books with long words and small print. I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to read them. As we walked to the workroom, I reached into my pocket to touch Whiskers. Funny how just having a friend can make you feel twice as brave as you are by yourself.

  As we sat around the table, Matt picked up one of the big books about ferrets. “We’ll use this book to get some ideas.” He turned to the Table of Contents. “Here are the chapter subjects: food, health, housing, grooming, behavior, and toys. Wow, that’s a lot to learn about.”

  “We can each learn about one category,” Levi said. “And report on it next week.”

  “I’ll do toys!” I said quickly. That sounded fun.

  Allie huffed. “I wanted toys!”

  Levi shook his head. “Suzannah called it. I’ll take behavior.”

  Allie hopped out of her chair to look at the Table of Contents. I think she was afraid to lose another favorite if she didn’t hurry. “I’ll do housing. That’s a cage, right?”

  “Read and find out!” Matt said. “I’ll do grooming. How to keep your ferret looking fabulous!”

  “That leaves food and health,” Jada said. “I’ll do food.”

  “And I’ll do health,” Ms. Kim said.

  When Matt asked who wanted to take a book home, I took the biggest one. The book was really heavy, but I didn’t want to look like a baby. I turned to the back and saw the book had three hundred pages. That was bad news.

  I flipped through a few pages. There were lots of photos. Photos were good news.

  “So what time is the Make-A-Match-A-Thon next week?” Jada asked. “I’ll have to tell my mom.”

  “And I need to put it on our calendar,” Matt said. “My dad says, ‘If it’s not on the calendar, it doesn’t happen!’ ”

  “I can’t remember the exact times,” Ms. Kim said, opening the supply cupboard. “Levi, would you look? The announcement is on the table.” As she took a package of small white socks from the cupboard, I wondered what we were making today. Treat puzzles for the dogs? Toys for the cats?

  Levi picked up the paper. “It says one to three o’clock,” he said. “Uh-oh.”

  Ms. Kim turned around. “What’s the matter?”

  “It says any participating kids must be at least eight years old. And anyone under eighteen has to be directly supervised by an adult,” he said.

  “That’s no problem,” Ms. Kim said. “I’ll be there to supervise you all.”

  Levi glanced at me.

  I swallowed hard. “I’m only seven. But I’m seven and a half.” Which wasn’t really true, but I figured anything after my birthday counted as a half.

  “If Suzannah can’t do it, does that mean none of us can do it?” Allie asked, looking at me.

  I didn’t like how fast Allie was ready to leave me out. I was part of Shelter Pet Squad, too!

  “I’ll call the person in charge and explain,” Ms. Kim said. “Don’t worry, Suzannah. I’m sure it’ll be okay.”

  I swallowed hard. It had to be okay. I didn’t want to be only kid who couldn’t go!

  Ms. Kim put a pile of little socks, empty toilet-paper tubes, spoons, markers, and several bags of catnip on the table
. “Today, we’re making Catnip Critters for our shelter cats.”

  “My two cats at home love catnip,” Matt said. “Charlotte and Stuart Little always act silly when we give it to them. I call it crazy nip.”

  “Charlotte and Stuart Little?” Levi asked. “You have a cat named after a spider? And another named after a mouse? That’s kind of goofy, Matt.”

  Matt shrugged. “Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web were my favorite books when I was a little kid.”

  A little kid? I glanced sideways at Matt. I still liked those books.

  “Take a sock and put the toilet-paper tube inside. Using the spoon, fill the toe with catnip,” Ms. Kim explained. “When you’ve packed it in there, we’ll remove the tube and tie the open end of the sock in a knot to keep the catnip inside. Then you can use the nontoxic markers to draw a face and add some details to make your toy look like an animal. I thought this could be a fun project for you to make with the kids who come to the Make-A-Match-A-Thon next week.”

  “This will be fun!” Jada said, grabbing a sock.

  The catnip was messy and smelled funny, but I knew the cats would love these toys. When the toe of my sock was full of catnip, I took out the toilet-paper tube and knotted the sock.

  “It looks like a fish,” Matt said. “So mine will be a shark!”

  “I’m making a mouse,” said Jada. “What are you making, Suzannah?”

  “A ferret.” I picked up the brown marker. “Just like Merlin.”

  As I drew a little mask on the toe of my sock, I thought about the ferret quiz and finding Merlin a home.

  So what if the book about ferrets was really big? I only had to read about toys.

  Really, how hard could it be?

  At home the next day, I carried two of my stuffed animals to my bed so they could look at the big ferret book with me. Bentley, my favorite dog, sat on my lap. Whiskers was tucked into the front of my shirt, just peeking out.

  The book had lots of pages and the print was very small. I took a deep breath to pull in some courage. My teacher says that when you’re reading and come to a word that you don’t know, there are things you can do that’ll help.

  Try sounding it out.

  Read the sentence and see what makes sense.

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