This is a story about a yellow dog.

You wouldn’t have know he was yellow just to look at him.  His fur wasn’t yellow, or even buff or tan or golden or any of the other colors people sometimes call yellow.  His fur was brown and black.  But inside, he was as yellow as he could be.

People (and dogs) who are yellow on the inside have no courage.  When they are faced with things that scare them, they don’t stand up to them.  They turn and run.  In short, they are cowards.

The thing about being yellow on the inside, instead of on the outside, is that no one knows you are yellow just by looking at you.  They may not know even after spending some time with you.  It’s not until something very difficult comes along and they are counting on you to do your part that your yellow insides make themselves known.

That was the case with Howard the dog.  He was an Australian shepherd, fairly big and healthy, with dark shaggy fur.  Nothing about his looks would have given away his yellowness.  The family that took him home as a puppy thought he looked like a trustworthy and dependable dog.  He was, after all, bred to take care of helpless sheep.  For a long time everything went well.  Howard got bigger and stronger and more noble-looking with each passing week.  He ran and played like any puppy, but he never tried to leave the yard or broke any other rules the family had given him.  The family said that he was a very good and responsible dog.  The did not suspect that the real reason Howard never stepped out of bounds was that he was afraid.  He was afraid that bigger dogs might pick on him if he left the yard.  He was afraid that strange people might be mean.  He was afraid of making the family angry and losing his comfortable pillow and special canned dog food.  Still, as long as no one knew this was why Howard was such a model dog, everything was fine.

Inevitably, though, some of the yellow began to poke through.  One time some thieves tried to break into the house.  They busted open a window and crawled through, setting off a loud alarm.  The alarm scared the thieves away, but everyone wondered why they didn’t hear Howard barking.  Then they found him, cowering under the bed int eh back bedroom.  He was shaking and whimpering.  The family laughed it off and said he was just a little puppy.  Then he grew up.  One day when the youngest boy was out giving Howard a walk, a big dog came running toward them, barking.  Instead of defending his young master, Howard turned and ran for home as fast as his little legs could move, pulling his young master behind him.  The family laughed about the story again, but this time they did not say that he was just a puppy, and the little boy, whose arm was very sore from being pulled so hard, refused to take Howard for any more walks.  Not long after that, the neighbor cat came over the fence and chased Howard under the picnic table.  When the family came home, there was the cat, sitting calmly on the table, giving itself a bath, while Howard trembled in fear and shame underneath.  That was when the family knew what Howard really was.  The didn’t call him yellow to his face, but they didn’t have to.  Everyone knew it, Harold most of all.

And so the years went by, and Harold continued to be as yellow and cowardly as could be.  He spent his days sleeping on the couch and starting up in surprise every time the doorbell rang.  The neighbor cat visited more and more often, and it got so that Howard hardly dared go out in his own backyard.  The family laughed at Harold and shook their heads, but they put up with him because they felt sorry for him.  Harold was thoroughly ashamed of himself.  As time went on, he felt more and more ashamed.  He wished he could be a braver dog, but everything was just too scary.

Then one day the family took Harold on a picnic to the park.  He spent the day hiding under the picnic table because there were so many other dogs around.  It wasn’t too bad, actually, laying on the soft grass and being fed scraps of lunch.  After a while the little girl’s teddy bear tumbled down next to him, so he even had a sort of company.  But he could also hear the family making fun of him, and he knew that he was ridiculous.

That night, there was a shriek from the kids’ bedroom.  Harold shot under the bed.  From his hiding place, he could hear the little girl crying that she couldn’t find her teddy bear.  The whole family got in on the search, but of course, no one could find it.  The little girl sobbed.  Harold’s heart sunk.  He knew exactly where the teddy bear was.  He knew the little girl would never find it.  That night he lay on the end of the bed, while the little girl tossed and turned and sniffled in her sleep.  She was used to cuddling her teddy in the night, and she couldn’t sleep well without him.  Harold felt terrible.  All that long, long night he lay and thought miserably about how cowardly he was.  If he were a braver dog, he could go right back to that park and get that teddy bear.  Then he would be a hero.  But Harold knew he could never do anything like that.  It was so dark outside and there were so many dogs and cats and other scary things in the night.  No, he could never ever do it.  Still, the thought wouldn’t go away.  It kept buzzing around his brain like a little mosquito that wouldn’t leave him alone.

The next morning, the little girl was still terribly sad.  She cried and cried and wouldn’t eat her breakfast and made her mother search the whole house again.  She sat at the table and drew pictures of teddy and asked her father to put them up around the neighborhood.  When Harold saw the little picture of the girl hugging her teddy, he knew he just had to do something.  He was horribly, horribly afraid, but he just couldn’t live with himself any more if he didn’t help the little girl.  So that afternoon, when Harold was put out in the yard, he broke his first ever rule.  He dug under the fence and left the yard.  He was trembling violently as soon as he got on the other side, but he thought of the little girl and he forced himself to start off down the street toward the park.

At the corner, he ran into a strange dog who barked at him.  Without thinking, Harold turned around and was halfway home before he could stop himself.  He stood panting for a long, long time on the sidewalk, trying to talk himself into going back toward that dog.  He thought of the little girl tossing and turning all night long, but then he thought of the dog’s big teeth.  It was like he was frozen.  Then he saw the neighbor cat come out of her house.  She came to sit at the end of her driveway and laughed at him.  He knew he had to go on.

This time when Harold got to the corner, he braced himself against the barking and kept on going.  The dog came right to him and started sniffing.  Harold was terrified, but he made himself stay where he was.  Finally, the dog wandered away.  Harold was okay!  Feeling much better about himself, Harold kept 0n toward the park.  It was a long trip, but finally he made it.  Sure enough, there under the picnic table was the teddy bear.  Grabbing it triumphantly in his mouth, Harold turned toward home.

And saw a giant dog approaching.  It was growling, and there was no mistaking it’s intent.  It wanted that teddy bear.  Harold slunk back under the table.  The strange dog paced around the table, growling.  Harold knew that he was going to have to get past it in order to get home.  He didn’t see any way to make it home alive.  Maybe if he just gave the teddy bear to the dog, it would let him go free.  Immediately, he was ashamed of the cowardly thought.  He had come so far.  He couldn’t go back empty-handed now.  That was when he felt a little growl in his own throat.  He was so surprised that he almost dropped the teddy bear.  Instead he tried it again, louder this time.  The other dog backed up a step.  Encouraged, Harold growled louder and stepped out from under the picnic table.  Suddenly he realized that he was just as big as that other dog.  He growled even louder.  The other dog backed away.  Victorious, Harold trotted toward home.  He passed lots of dogs on the way, but he didn’t even look at them.

It was almost night when Harold slipped back under the fence and scratched at the back door.  The family was so happy to see him.  And when the little girl saw what he was holding in his mouth, she burst into tears and hugged him so hard that he thought he would burst.  Harold had never felt so proud in all his life.  He wasn’t a yellow dog any more.

And he never would be again.

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