CARMEL, CALIFORNIA — Carmel, California.- "Look what followed me home, Mom,'' said 11-year-old Billy Woolsey, squirming with enthusiasm. ''Can keep him, please? Can I? Can I?''
Mrs. Woolsey was dubious. ''You know how your father feels about pets. What's his name?''
''Pete, ma'am,'' said the slight, 40-ish man standing behind Billy, cap in hand. ''I've been out of work six months, and your boy here said maybe you'd take me in under that new program.''
''Oh, yes, 'Adopt the Homeless,' '' said Mrs. Woolsey. ''It does make sense, but I'll have to talk it over with my husband. Curl up in the corner of the kitchen until he gets home. Billy, give Pete some water.''
Mr. Woolsey arrived from the office tired and crotchety. ''Another mouth to feed?'' he said. ''It's out of the question.''
But Mrs. Woolsey didn't give up easily. ''I saw in the paper that Americans are now spending $10 billion a year on their 126
million pets,'' she said. ''Seems like the homeless ought to come ahead of dogs and cats.''
Mr. Woolsey glowered over at Pete, who, sensing the hostility with that keen perception the homeless have, was huddled in his corner, trembling nervously. ''He'll eat us out of house and home,'' he growled.
''I'm sure he'd do just fine on table scraps and Purina,'' said Mrs. Woolsey.
''And he can sleep at the foot of my bed,'' chimed in Billy. ''Oh, can't I keep him, Dad? Please? Please?''
Mr. Woolsey surrendered, as parents usually do. ''All right, Billy,'' he said reluctantly. ''But remember, he's your responsibility.''
Pete seemed the perfect pet. ''He's really no trouble at all,'' Mrs. Woolsey told her next-door neighbor, Mrs. Lynch. ''He's a neat eater, and he keeps himself clean. He lets himself in and out without scratching or whining. We don't have to take him for walks, and he doesn't dig up the garden, claw the furniture, shed or chase cars.''
''What good is he?'' asked Mrs. Lynch.
''He's a great watchperson,'' said Mrs. Woolsey. ''If an intruder tries to get in, I know Pete would let us know right away. On the other hand, he never raises a ruckus when the garbage man comes around. These homeless are very intelligent.''
Billy, of course, was ecstatic over his new pet. He wanted to take Pete to school for show-and-tell, but Mrs. Woolsey said that smacked of bragging. Billy was disappointed as he'd quickly taught Pete dozens of simple tricks. ''What I like best about him,'' he told his young friends, ''is that when I throw the ball for him, he throws it back.''
Even Mr. Woolsey was grudgingly pleased with the family's new acquisition. ''It's good not to have to pay $10 a day to put him in a kennel when we go away for the weekend,'' he admitted. But what Mr. Woolsey enjoyed most was the way Pete greeted him every evening when he came home. Pete didn't jump up on him or lick his face with a big sloppy tongue, and when he'd settled in his chair, Pete would bring him not only his pipe and slippers but his martini, too.
Six weeks later, however, the Woolseys got rid of Pete. Billy didn't mind. He liked the way his new cocker spaniel, Woofie, looked up at him with uncritical, adoring eyes. Mr. Woolsey had grown uneasy with the knowledge that Pete could understand every word the family said. ''We need a little privacy around here,'' he said testily.
As for Mrs. Woolsey, she never could bring herself to trust Pete. ''You know how people are,'' she said. ''They can turn on you at any time.''
But she regretted that it hadn't worked out. ''Adopting a homeless person is such a humanitarian thing to do,'' she said.
''The trouble with them,'' snapped Mr. Woolsey, ''is that they're too damned human.''
John Keefauver is a free-lance writer.