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Five Year-old Dog Trainer

Zizi with Atlas

Don't let her diminutive stature, pink pants, and smile fool you. Five year-old Zizi is one tough chick.

The previous week her mom, Liza Millet, had called to say Zizi wanted to meet me at the animal shelter and help train dogs. Liza and I had a good chuckle about the "training" part. I figured Zizi would come a time or two, enjoy interacting with the dogs, and then lose interest like every other kid.

All week long Zizi had babbled on to Liza about training dogs on Friday. "I have work to do," she said. "I'm going to train some dogs."

After she and Liza arrived, I visited with them a few minutes and then handed Zizi a leash which was attached to a hundred-pound Swiss mountain dog, and animal that had come to me partly because it pulled its adult owners around like water skiers. Zizi stared eyeball to eyeball with dog, and something passed between them. Zizi marched off like a four-star general and that dog fell in line like a private on his first day at boot camp. Zizi weaved here and there, stopped and started, the big dog in tow. He never even tightened the leash. I stared slack-jawed and then pulled out my cell phone and hit "play" on the video recorder. "Why don't you look at this?" I said. "If this little girl can walk your dog on the leash without it pulling, so can you."

I looked at Liza and shook my head. "That beats all."

Liza grinned in a proud, I-could-have-told-you way.

Zizi walked several other dogs on a leash, and when she pointed to one dog and barked, "Sit!" two nearby dogs followed suit.

Zizi's favorite color is pink. Some days she wears pink polka dot pants, a pink top, pink rain jacket, pink ball cap, and pink cowgirl boots with lights in the heels that flash when she walks. She came faithfully for several weeks, never showing the slightest sign her interest was fading. She met--and worked with--dogs of every breed, size, and age. All week she'd jabber to Liza about training dogs on Friday. "Jayme needs me," she'd say.

A few weeks into our training sessions Liza called. "Zizi is sick," she said. "Her temperature is up to 102." My heart sank. I hadn't known how much I had looked forward to Friday afternoons. I worried about her.

Come Friday I trudged up to the animal shelter alone. And there they were, Liza and Zizi, standing outside the play area. Zizi looked pale. Her shoulders were slumped. I shot Liza a questioning glance. She grinned that grin. "She insisted."

"Zizi feeling better?"

Liza shook her head. "102 this morning. But she wasn't about to stay home. She said she had a lot of work to do, that you needed her here."

Normally chatty Zizi said very little. She dragged her feet a bit. On the leash she walked the Swiss mountain dog and several others. She held out for over an hour when a dog bumped into her and knocked her down. Zizi began to cry, and then folded into Liza's arms.

Liza hugged and rocked her, and then sat her in the back seat of their car. Zizi put her thumb in her mouth. I thanked her for coming to help me, and then asked if she would be back next Friday. Her face brightened a bit. She removed her thumb, turned to me, and grinned.

Liza said that on the way home Zizi declared, "I have to go next Friday. Jayme needs my help. We have a lot of dogs to train."


Zizi is eight years old now, and Jayme lives in a different town. The two remain friends and visit whenever they can.

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