I wasn’t there when my childhood pet died. His name was Sammy, and he was a gorgeous Australian Shepherd. He died while my family and I were abroad, visiting my extended family in the Philippines. My father had to sit my sister and me down and explain that our dog wasn’t going to be there when we got back. I still remember the exact spot in my Grandmother’s house, the exact chair I was sitting in, a long bench next to the dining table, and the exact color of the flip-flops that I stared at as my father told me the bad news (yellow).
In The Baby-Sitters Club #11: Kristy and the Snobs, Kristy at least has the luxury of saying goodbye to her beloved Louie, and I don’t consider that a spoiler – the dog is limping before the end of chapter one. Anyone who has read a book featuring a beloved pet knows that doesn’t bode well for Spot.
The book’s title implies that there’s some kind of Kristy vs. the Snobs war, and there are a few pranks, but the crux of the novel is heartbreak and loss. Ann M. Martin writes about sadness in a stark and plain way. The pain isn’t covered up with flowery language and metaphor; there is no euphemism sufficient enough to describe the death of a beloved pet. It’s a sad book, but it’s a good one.
SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!
The book starts with breakfast at the Watson/Thomas compound. They cook their own breakfast, Watson helps with the chores, and they clean their own house. They don’t have a pool, or a tennis court, or a fountain in the entryway. That’s not a compound, you say? Not like their neighbors, who actually have maids, cooks, pools, butlers, and courts tennis? This difference is made apparent by the appearance of Kristy’s neighbors, who attend a private school and are all blonde.
“Are you the one who’s been sending those fliers around? For some baby-sitting club?”
“Yeah,” I said. (Every now and then our club tries to find new people to baby-sit for, so we send around advertisements. We’d put one in every box in my new neighborhood not long ago.)
“What does your little club do?” asked another blonde.
“What do you think?” I replied testily. “We baby-sit.”
“How cute,” said the blonde with the curls.
The others giggled.
“Nice outfit,” called the one non-blonde, putting her hands on her hips.
I blushed. Too bad I’d chosen the jeans with the hole in the knee that day.
But if there’s one thing to be said about me, it’s that I have a big mouth. I always have. I’m better about controlling it then I used to be, but I’m not afraid to use it. So I put my hands on my hips and said, “Your clothes are nice, too. You look like clones. Snob clones.”
Slam, Kristy. You got ‘em. Now they’ll have to respect you. I feel like I’ve said and done this exact thing in my past life as an awkward eleven-year-old.
While this is going on, Louie is limping on page seven. The dog is not long for this world and they take him to a veterinarian named Dr. Smith, who is a woman. I only mention that because when I read the name, I thought it was a male vet. I was surprised at my own internalized misogyny when it’s revealed that Dr. Smith is a woman. Martin is progressive (most of the time, she could do better with Claudia), especially in the eighties. Dr. Smith informs them that Louie is getting older, has arthritis, and his eyesight is getting worse. She prescribes some pain medication and suggests short walks for Louie. Kristy does just that when they get home and meets one of the snobs, the one who lives across the street, and her immaculate dog, accompanied by another blonde child.
“What,” she said, pointing to Louie, “is that?”
“That,” I replied, “is a dog.”
The girl made a face at me. “Really? It’s hard to tell. He’s so . . . scruffy.”
“Yeah, he’s icky!” cried the younger one.
“He’s old,” I said defensively. “And he has arthritis.”
The older girl softened just a smidge. “What’s his name?” she asked.
“Oh. This is Astrid. Astrid of Grenville. A pedigreed Bernese mountain dog.”
“And this is Priscilla. She’s purebred. She cost four hundred dollars,” said the little kid.
First of all, dogs shouldn’t have titles. They’re not in Game of Thrones. They didn’t just stab the Mad King and inherited a title. Astrid of Grenville, Kingslayer, Heir to the Iron Throne, Vanquisher of the Montorian Horde, Defender of the Clahnahvan of the Western Vales, and daughter of Buddy and Miss Honey Toes. That sounds ridiculous. This is Astrid. She’s a dog. She can shake, but only if you give her a treat afterward. She also responds to friendly whistling and “Hey, dog.”
Priscilla is a fine name for a finicky cat, but one of my dogs cost about four hundred dollars, and she still shat and humped everything in sight. That doesn’t mean your animal is better bred or less trouble. However, reminding everyone how much something cost is a thing a spoiled child would do.
The older girl introduces herself as “Shannon Louisa Kilbourne” and her charge is Amanda Delaney. Any good BSC fan will spot the name. I know that at some point, Shannon and Kristy will put aside their differences and Shannon will become an associate member of the BSC. Let’s see how these two work it out, but not before some pranking shenanigans.
While Kristy is babysitting for the Papadakis clan, Shannon calls her and warns her that smoke is coming from the upstairs bedroom. It’s a ruse, of course, but Kristy doesn’t figure that out until she gets the children outside. Kristy retaliates by sending a diaper service to Shannon.
Chapter five is our first handwriting chapter in the book with Mary Anne at the Perkins’s. Mrs. Perkins is preparing for a new baby, and Myriah and Gabbie are excited. But Jamie Newton comes over and complains about his little sister, prompting Gabbie to become upset. Mary Anne and Myriah set up a tea party for the Gabbers and invite some of her favorite stuffed animals. This placates the child and then it’s back to Kristy, but this time, she’s babysitting the four-hundred-dollar cat and its humans – Amanda and Max Delaney.
They are brats. They demand Kristy get them Cokes, then ice, then no ice. She complies with their arbitrary requests – she doesn’t want to piss off new customers. Shannon calls and wants help with Sari Papadakis, but there’s nothing wrong with the kid. She just wanted to waste Kristy’s time, I guess. Not a great prank, but they’re twelve, and I’ll give them a break.
Meanwhile, Dawn is having some problems with Jeff. He’s being moody and while Dawn’s watching over him, he yells that he wants to go back to California with his father. When Dawn tells the BSC during the next meeting, she mentions that her mother called her father and he was reluctant about taking in Jeff. It seems that Jeff doesn’t have a place anywhere.
The Delaneys call again, but Kristy refuses to take the job. Instead, Stacey takes over. When she arrives at the job, Mrs. Delaney asks that they clean up their playroom while she’s away, but Amanda insists that they like their room messy. Stacey concocts has an ingenious plan.
“You know, you’re right. I like a really messy room. In fact, I don’t think this room is messy enough. Look at this. A whole set of Lincoln Logs. They’re not even on the floor.” Stacey poured the Lincoln Logs into the toy soup.
“Hey!” cried Amanda. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Yeah! What are you doing?” added Max.
“You said you like a messy room,” Stacey replied. “Well, I do, too.” She picked up a stack of construction paper and let it start floating to the floor, piece by piece.
“Quit messing up our room!” shouted Amanda. She held her arms stiffly at her sides and stamped her foot.
“Why?” demanded Stacey, pausing long enough to let the remainder of the paper settle into the toy soup. Then she began scattering puzzle pieces.
“Because,” said Max. “That’s why.”
“I thought you liked a good mess,” Stacey went on.
“We do,” Amanda began, then hesitated. “But not . . . not this good a mess. Cut it out!”
“I’m just trying to help you guys out,” Stacey told her.
“No! I mean . . . we want it clean.” Amanda scrambled around, picked up the paper.
The Delaney kids pick up their room – Stacey’s plan worked. She continues like this for the rest of the job. Max demands a drink so Stacey starts pulling out cups, saying she doesn’t know how much drink he wants so she’s just going to start pouring as many cups as she can. He ends up getting his own drink. In the end, Stacey convinces them to play some kind of advanced hopscotch involving a snail. It’s a successful babysitting job.
Kristy employs the same tactics the next time she babysits of the Delaneys, but it’s interrupted by a pizza delivery prank from you-know-who. Kristy sends it to Shannon’s, who comes over with the pizza. The girls commiserate over the round prank and Kristy pays for half the pizza.
Chapter 11 is a handwriting chapter – Claudia at the Pikes. Half of the Pike clan has chicken pox and Claudia has a hard time trying to placate everyone. It ends with two more children joining the pox party. Then it’s back to the main story.
Louie is not doing well. Horrifying dog scene warning.
Louie seemed to have lost complete control of his hind legs. He was pulling himself around the kitchen with his front legs, dragging the back ones as if they were paralyzed. And he was, as you might imagine, in a panic. He crawled into a leg of the kitchen table, and then into the stove.
I knew Louie wasn’t going to make it to the end of the book, but nothing prepared me for that in my innocent BSC book. As I’m writing this, it’s about a month after I’ve actually finished the book, so I’ve forgotten some of the specifics. (Classes have started back up and I was writing a personal narrative for this class I’m taking.) My notes just said, “Oh, Jesus” with a highlighted page number, meaning it’s something I’m thinking of excerpting. When I read this again, I felt that searing pain in the back of my throat. I have an affection for dogs and I wouldn’t be able to handle seeing a dog lose control like Louie. I worried about my pets when they had nightmares – and dreams couldn’t hurt them. Unless, of course, their parents burned a child murderer alive and he came back to exact revenge on his murderers’ children.
The family and Dr. Smith come to the decision that Louie is in immense pain and would be better served if he were to be gently lead across the Rainbow Bridge to the golden dog park in the sky. David Michael asks if his mother will, “hold him while he goes to sleep?” Kristy’s mom carries Louie as they enter the veterinarian’s office, but her arms are empty when she returns.
The Thomas and Watson clan hold a funeral and, to their collective surprise, Shannon, Tiffany, Hannie, Linny, Amanda, Max, and two random friends (previously called “the snobs”) show up to pay their respects.
After a few days, Shannon’s dog, Astrid, gives birth to a litter of puppies and she gives one of them to Kristy and David Michael. They name the dog “Shannon.” Also, Kristy extends Shannon (the human one) an invitation to join the BSC, but Shannon is too busy to attend meetings, so they make her an associate member, like Logan. Ann M. Martin leaves us with this:
I knew David Michael would never forget our Louie. None of us would, because Louie had left a sort of legacy. He’d brought Shannon and me together so we could be friends instead of enemies, and that in turn had brought a new puppy for our family, but especially for David Michael. So, I thought. Endings could sometimes be beginnings. They were sad, but sometimes they brought happiness.
That’s what Louie had shown us, and that’s just one of the things we would remember about him.
It’s important to teach children that not every ending necessarily means a definitive, capital “E” End. This book was devastating, and Martin describes Louie’s pain in detail appropriate, but not euphemistic, detail. She doesn’t patronize her young readers by shying away from the more unpleasant aspects of losing a pet. She could have had him just go to sleep one night and never wake up, but she chooses to force the reader to face the grim reality of a dying pet. This is an integral BSC book that may be harder to read (because of subject matter – the reading level itself is the same as the other books), but it’s one that I think will resonate with most people.