Look! I have a ball!
Not every dog has one. Ah, but the lucky ones do. An object so fine, so perfectly tuned to doggie desire, that the world stops spinning when it’s out of sight. A toy sent by heaven. A toy of such magnitude that it never fails to part the seas of doggie ennui.
Earnest had one. It was a simple vinyl hamburger. It fit nicely in his long muzzle. He carried it with distinction like a man with a fine carved pipe. It fetched well. He would even look away so we could hide it for wonderful evenings spent searching for his treasure. It made a nice little pillow to rest his chin on. It was ideal in every way. 11 years - a series of hamburgers - but only one at a time could be "the" hamburger. When one vanished down an uncovered heat vent, days of wailing convinced us it was worth taking the ductwork apart to retrieve it. As I carried Earnest to the car for his last ride to the vet, I noticed that, sick as he was, he was clutching his hamburger toy in his mouth. I still have that one…the last of the hamburgers. There will never be another.
Tristan had one. “Mr. Dragon”, was a large rubber dragon nearly a foot long wearing improbable tennis shoes. Its huge size made the bottom dog of our pack feel macho as he wrestled it to the ground while the screams from its giant squeaker filled the air. Maybe Earnest and Arthur did boss him around and maybe they used him as a pillow but he could do the same to Mr. Dragon. Mr. Dragon lived in “Tristan’s house” which was the area under the dining room table and chairs. Tristan’s house was furnished with his favorite toys. He spent hours rearranging the toys, using the area underneath each chair like a private bedroom just for one toy. The other dogs wandered through his house now and then but mainly they couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. So Tristan was left alone to arrange his home the way he liked it and then he would nap contentedly in his makeshift living room under the table with Mr. Dragon tucked under his head.
Emma had one. Her “baby”. The first was a stuffed piggy. She carried it around, cleaned it and generally did motherly things to it. At night she would put the piggy’s nose in her mouth and suck on it long into dreamland. Emma always chose one toy to be her baby. Any toy lucky enough to rise to “baby” status was a lucky toy indeed. When people came to the house, the “baby” would be safely stashed in Emma’s “bitch nest” (just an ordinary dog bed to those not in the know). If she felt uneasy, she would evacuate “baby” to an area behind some furniture and check on it throughout the evening. Other dogs were not allowed to play with “baby”. Even parents could only admire “baby” for a short time – with Emma looking on protectively all the while. The designated “baby” was never ripped to shreds like the other toys. I always envied the “baby” just a bit.
Then came Duncan’s amazing ball. Until the amazing ball, Duncan felt tennis balls were the be-all-end-all of doggie desire. Then one day a red rubber ball proved him wrong. It was not just any ball. It made a noise when it hit the ground; eight different and equally obnoxious noises to be exact – from sirens to beeps to madness and back. It also flashed red light on impact and glowed as brightly as Duncan when he fetched it back. Duncan was instantly obsessed by its sheer perfection.
Well, being a clever dog, the first thing you do after you’ve exhausted your human tossing machine is experiment with ways to gratify your need for the noisy light show all by yourself. Drop it off the couch. Good. Now try bouncing it on the kitchen floor. Better. Now quickly to the top of the carpeted stairs and drop, drop, drop goes the flashing siren. Very nice but somewhat muted. The basement stairs!!!! Oh YES!!! Then the long days and nights of field research to determine whether the sound is more pleasing on the tiled bathroom floor or something softer, say a human foot. Bouncing it off the human foot produces residual sound that is unpleasant and may result in removal of the object, thus ending research until the clever dog is forgiven. Off the bed in the middle of the night also produces residual noise - also separation anxiety. Off the picnic table for hours. Pretty entertaining stuff.
Duncan’s experiments with the amazing ball continued for some time. While saying goodbye to a friend one evening, I watched in horror as Duncan bounced the ball off the porch. It bounced nicely then rolled deep into the shrubbery and stopped blinking. A half an hour later, my neighbor asked what I was doing in the shrubbery with a flashlight. Duncan’s anguished face at the door told the whole story. For months I fetched that blasted ball from under furniture. I rolled on it in the night. I pried it from his mouth so he would eat his dinner. In the evening, he would clench it in his jaw and chomp down over and over to set off the noises. The sound of assorted electronic sirens became the background hum to our lives. People would ask “doesn’t that noise make you crazy?”. I would say “noise, what noise?” It had already driven me mad. Emma would sometimes grab the ball away from Duncan and just sit on it for a few moments of peace - and the electronic noise was replaced by the Duncan’s wailing. Then one day Duncan killed his ball. One too many chomps and it was just a pile of rubber chips. I had my life back. It was blissful. Then, being the idiot I am, I went out and bought him another one.
Copyright 2007 Elizabeth Cusulas