I have in my garage the dog equivalent of crack cocaine.
My dog drug is in the form of a basketball-size red ball made of hard, heavy plastic, and I have to keep it hidden so that my two addicts, Wolfie and Lexi, won\’t steal it. The BIGBALL, as Wolfie and Lexi know it, is so powerful that I cannot let them play with it together. They, who have never had a fight, would battle seriously over the BIGBALL.
We first got it for Lexi when she was in her prime, and it took her about a minute and a half to figure out that she could “herd” the ball in whatever direction she chose by pushing it with her nose, like a seal. She would get the ball going and gallop after it at top speed, making great arcs around the lawn, her head down to the ground, retrieving it from under bushes and out of flower beds, pushing it on one side and then the other to get it where she wanted it to go.
She also loved to hunker over the ball, embracing it with her front legs, to keep me from getting it. I would try to kick it out from under her, and she would growl (all in fun—I could take the ball away whenever I wanted) and hang on for dear life. Eventually, she would wear out. But the minute she saw me even look in the direction of the house she would set off after the ball again. She would rather die of exhaustion than stop playing with the BIGBALL.
Now that she\’s ten and slowing down, I have to restrict the doses of BIGBALL so she won\’t damage herself. After just a few minutes of play she\’s panting loudly, her ribcage heaving. She looks up at me with a haggard smile and circles under her eyes, pleading More! Don\’t stop now! Throw it again!
In the fullness of time, Wolfie became obsessed with the ball as well. Is it the breed? Is it the ball? Did Lexi somehow transmit her addiction to him when he was a puppy? He can be at the bottom of the field sniffing the spots where the deer have been, and all I have to say is BIGBALL and he takes off like a shot, careening uphill all the way to the garage, to where the coveted object is hidden behind some old cardboard boxes.
His style, however, is different from Lexi\’s. Since his mouth is huge, he can actually bite the thing. In fact the ball is all rough and pitted on one side, where he\’s tried to conquer it by gnawing on it. And because he thinks the ball is meant to be bitten, he doesn\’t have nearly the fine control over it that Lexi has achieved. But he has all her rage and fixation, and more.
BIGBALL sessions with Wolfie are a challenge. His stride is so long and he\’s so fast that in a few seconds he can have the ball out of the field and into the woods. Calling him is useless–I believe that he truly cannot hear me. The only thing that works is for me to get to within a few yards of him and shout “Down!” And miraculously, he does go down, panting, trembling, his eyes glazed, the ball between his paws, his teeth making a horrible noise as he tries to kill it.
“Leave it!” I say, and the jaws close, the paws release, and the ball is mine. “Good boy!” I say. I offer him a piece of cheese as a reward, but it\’s like offering a cigarette to a heroin addict while holding a loaded syringe in the other hand–he doesn\’t even see it. He trots beside me as we head back to the house, his eyes, his nose, his ears, his very soul glued to that ball.
“We\’ll play with it again tomorrow,” I say, dropping the ball behind the barricade of cardboard boxes. And slowly, with a look like that of someone coming out of anesthesia, Wolfie returns to reality, and to me,
I throw him a piece of cheese, which he snaps up in the air, and we go inside.