Ah, the good-old-fashioned tennis ball…is there anything better to a dog than that little neon yellow fuzzy orb? If you were to ask a retriever, the answer would be a resounding “no.” Just ask my favorite retriever, Dutch, Black-Lab-Extraordinaire. If you know Labs, you know Dutch: happy, exuberant, eager to please, attention hog, exuberant and ball-crazy. Dutch is a MoJo’s Backyard regular and every play date, I set aside 10-30 minutes from my poop-scooping, floor-mopping, play-supervising day to spend some one-on-one ball time with Dutch.
I call this recess with Dutch “Slobberball.” This lab is so persistent that I’m sure Nolan Ryan in his prime would have a hard time keeping up. He will catch and return the same ball dozens of times before I must become his internal-heat-regulator and stop the game. And when I say the same ball, I mean that Dutch can pick out his particular tennis ball from 10 others in a line up. So when he returns HIS ball for the 10th time, it starts to become a little slimy with drool. By the 15th time, it squishes between his teeth. By the 20th return, the ball has become so slippery it must be caught with two hands. And towards the end of Slobberball, Dutch is fetching balls that, when thrown, send Pollock-esque spirals of slobber in the air. But he never fails to gleefully return his prize, flecks of opaque spittle dotting his black face, thick coat of white mucus encompassing the ball. As happy as this game sounds, I must tell you that there is a hapless victim in this sport…
Dutch not only has great paw-eye coordination, but also dead-accurate aim. Since these Slobberball games can last quite a while (depending on the heat of the day), I usually sit myself on the porch and have Dutch toss the ball right into my lap. His routine is like clockwork: after catching his quarry, Dutch will run up the stairs, pitch the ball at my chest and almost as soon as its left his mouth, he will turn and run for the target of my next throw. As thankful as I am that I’m doing more throwing that retrieving myself, Dutch’s bulls-eye capabilities more than not land the ball square in my torso before I can catch it with my hands. Let’s just say that I have left quite a few Slobberball bouts with a shirt soaking not with the sweet smell of victory, but a thick dousing of saliva.
By the time the game is over, I’m never sure who’s won, but I have a happy, spent black lab and a new appreciation for the joys of dog-hood.