A few Christmases ago Santa left three smooth Petco balls in Duffy’s stocking. Duffy loved them and had a grand time playing with them on the beach. Duff has his own rules about balls on the beach and they don’t include fetch, or drop the ball at my feet so I can toss it again. Instead, he dashes down the beach dribbling it with his feet and snatching it up to toss into the air. Eventually he stops to roll on it and finally digs a hole into which the ball rolls. Usually! Then there are those odd occasions when he gets sidetracked and leaves the ball to roll slowly toward the water. Then I have to wade in and retrieve it. He loves the game and most of the time I don’t mind letting him play ball his way, although it would be nice to have a dog that brought the ball back to me when he’s done with it.
Eventually all three of those lovely smooth balls broke, but Petco no longer carries that particular type. I tried replacing them with a variety of other balls dogs are supposed to love. Anything but a tennis ball. Tennis balls are, of course, Duff’s all time favorites. But have you ever put a soggy tennis ball in your pocket? Slobber would be bad enough, but since all Duff’s games end with letting the ball roll into the water, they get downright soaked. And that leaves a soggy patch in my shorts or jeans requiring me to change when I get home. Unfortunately, I ended up giving all the replacements away to other less choosy dogs. Then it occurred to me to try a racquet ball.
So, off we go on a brisk breezy Saturday to play with our new ball. Duff loved it. He romped and tossed and had a grand time with it. Then, suddenly something caught his attention just before the hole-digging phase - which would have resulted in the ball rolling safely to the bottom of a nice sandy divot. As usual, the ball began to roll toward the sea, but then a gust of wind caught it and it changed direction. Now it was headed down the beach - away from me. I walked faster. The wind blew harder. The ball picked up speed. I began to run, but the ball was gaining ground faster than I was. Duff loved this new game, and he began gamboling around me. I pointed toward the ball and shouted for him to go fetch it. This is when I really would have loved a dog who understood the theory behind “fetch.” Although to cut Duff some slack, the ball was now so far away, he probably couldn’t see it any more. So, here I am huffing and puffing after a ball that is leaving me in the dust with a dog jumping and caroming off me in joyous abandon.
WHOSE BALL IS THIS ANYWAY? The thought ran through my brain as my lungs threatened to explode. I am NOT a runner. I never have been. Not even when I was younger. I stopped running and gave up. I didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of catching up anyway. But luck was on my side after all. A particularly exuberant wave surged up the beach, snatched the ball from its get-away run and hauled it back into the frothy turbulence. It still bobbed there, blue and wet when I reached the place it had met its match. And it didn’t leave a soggy damp spot in my shorts when I shoved it back into my pocket. Although I doubt we’ll play ball on the next gusty day either.