(The toddler in this story that was originally published in the Dallas Morning News, April 10, 2004, has since morphed into a tween-ager and the dog has been reincarnated into a Heinz 57 mix three times the size of Buster; the tween and her King, however, are still equally mischievous.)

“Buster did it,” Grace declares when I notice the mini-Picasso that has suddenly appeared, not hanging mind you, but drawn directly upon the living room wall, no higher than 3 feet off the floor. Crayons are scattered nearby.

“Uh-oh, Buster,” Grace says (pronouncing Buster, Buh-shter). Buster looks at me with big, innocent eyes, then he glances toward Grace, as if to say, “No, chubby hands over there did it!” Could it be that the two youngest members of my family are trying to blame the new wall art on each other, thereby both escaping punishment?

Their plan may have worked, if only – and this is a big IF only – they were both human! But Buster is a 6-month-old, floppy-eared, tricolor beagle. Grace, my blond, curly-headed daughter, is a 2-year-old super human, possessing endless energy and hypnotizing sweetness.

The only thing Buster is guilty of in The Coloring Caper is chewing the crayons that Grace tossed aside after completing each crooked line on the wall.

This is not the first infraction Grace tried to blame on the dog. Each time I read a book to her and come across a ripped or smudged page, she gasps, “Buster did it!” I grin as I imagine Buster reclining on a pillow with reading glasses propped on the end of his long nose. He eagerly turns the page of The Little Engine That Could…anticipating whether the tiny, blue train will be able to make it over the mountain with a cargo of food and toys for all the good little boys and girls on the other side…then Buster’s paw slips, causing the page to tear.

“No worry,” he reasons, “they’ll never suspect a dog of this. They’ll think the babbling baby did it.”

Of course, Buster really does commit his share of offenses. Most have to do with potty-training, I mean, house-training issues. Grace is great about calling attention to these mishaps.

“Uh-oh, Buster,” she will say, pointing to the latest dropping. She witnesses Buster getting called on the carpet by the stern, adult voice telling him, “No, no, Buster.” Then she watches as he is escorted to his crate. I think it may be these rather frequent happenings that gave Grace the idea of blaming Buster for everything gone wrong. She must enjoy hearing someone else, albeit a dog, being told, “No!”

There is one crime wherein the two of them partner. It involves my shoes. And they both prefer pumps – the more expensive the better.

Grace likes to toddle around in them; this, I can handle.

Buster cares more about teething than toddling.

Try as I may to keep the closet shut, Grace has recently learned how to open doors, and Buster is wise to this. When she breaks and enters, he is right behind her.

Buster also knows to stick close to Grace when she is eating. He either positions himself under her chair at the kitchen table or at her side as she walks around with food in her hand. When he manages to steal a piece of her meal, he runs off with it clenched in his teeth as she shrieks, “No, no, Buster!”

Illustrator Sergio Pecanha truly captured the silliness of the story.

Illustrator Sergio Pecanha truly captured the silliness of the story.

Still, Grace loves the little dog. And the two of them are awfully cute together. Buster likes to chase Grace’s feet as she glides up and away and back down again in her swing. She laughs when her toes tap his head and he barks, or is that him laughing with her? The two of them also like to romp through the yard after a ball or Frisbee. When Grace trips and falls, as often she will, Buster races to her rescue. She giggles uncontrollably when Buster jumps on her, covering her face with kisses.

Do not even try to tell me that dogs can’t kiss. That would be as useless as convincing Grace that Buster can’t color, or read or wear high heels.

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