The Home Team: Be careful what you wish for
Ricky the Beagle was my first dog. He was a good, good dog. Handsome. Funny. Lovable. Of course, he was not without his flaws. He was stubborn. Food-obsessed.
And he hated to go in the water.
We spend a large part of the summer in Montauk. So Ricky was at the beach a lot. The beach where we stay is very dog friendly, and Ricky had a lot of pals. One of them was Beau, a beautiful golden. If we threw a football into the waves, Beau was right on the case. Ricky would chase Beau — but he’d jam on his brakes at the water line. Uh-uh. No ocean for this beagle.
Though none of us will ever admit it, I’m sure that all dog owners, no matter how much they love their pets, think from time to time about what they want in their “next dog.”
I wanted a dog — like Beau — who would fetch balls in the water.
Enter Kemba, the Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever. Put the emphasis on “retriever.”
Duck tollers are water dogs. Of course I knew this; it’s one of the main reasons I selected the breed. Kemba was born last August, and I took him home to Connecticut in late October. The local waters were quite cold by then. The first time he encountered swimmable water was in April during our cross-country road trip to California. We stopped at the off-leash dog area at Huntington Beach, near L.A. I heaved a tennis ball as far into the Pacific as I could. Without even a moment’s hesitation, Kemba went bounding into the surf, leaped a few waves, dolphin-style, swam to his “prey,” jaw-jabbed at it ... and then dog-paddled back to the sand, prize in mouth. He made me do this again. And again. And again. And again.
Now, these July summer days at the beach, we’re still at it. Mornings, he’ll see me pick up the tennis ball and will start doing that joyful, hind-legs duck toller dance. He’ll paw at the screen door. I unlatch the gate on the deck and he bursts toward the beach, like a rodeo steer charging out of his pen. Three-quarters of the way to the dune, he’ll look back to make sure I’m following. I’ll launch the ball over the dune to the beach. And when I finally make it down to the sand — I move a lot slower than Kemba — he’s already sitting along the water’s edge, ball right next to him, patiently waiting. “Let the games begin,” he’s telling me.
At the beginning, I’d simply ptich the ball, manually. I always thought of myself as having a good arm, and enjoyed throwing. But soon enough I felt like I needed Tommy John surgery, so I switched to smashing balls deep into the waves using a tennis racket. That worked out for awhile — until I developed tendonitis. So I finally broke down and bought a Chuckit — one of those plastic arm-like thingies with a cup at the end that allows you to pick up the ball without bending and fling it without strain on your arm. I always thought of them as kind of dumb-looking — but they get the job done.
And still Kemba retrieves.
He will fetch balls in the sand. He will fetch balls in the foamy white water. He will fetch balls in the big breakers. He likes to include everyone in his game. If I’m throwing, and my wife and my sons and their friends are sitting in chairs on the beach, he’ll purposefully trot over to each and every one of them and drop the ball at their feet. If strangers pass by on a beach walk, he’ll do the same for them. Almost always, they comply.
Eventually, I have to hide the ball and the Chuckit in my beach bag. If I didn’t, I’m certain he’d fetch until he’d drop. When I finally tell him, “That’s enough, it’s time to rest,” he’ll still drop the ball at my feet. And look up at me. Then he’ll back away a few paces and stare intently at the ball. “OK,” I say, “just a few more.”
Ah, yes. I did get a dog, like Beau, who fetches balls in the water. Be careful what you wish for.
“The Home Team” appears every other Friday. You can also keep up with Hank’s adventures on his blog, “Beagle Man,” on the Westport News website, http://blog.ctnews.com/beagleman. To reach Hank, e-mail him at DoubleH50@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @BeagleManHank.