Friday, April 2, 2010
A perfect match
Although I met Max not too long after we moved to Thunder Bay, Bear got to know him before I did. When Quincy was still around, he inadvertently taught my impressionable Bear that invisible barriers are really more of a notion than a hard and fast reality and it wasn’t long before she had learned to wander off. I soon realized both she and Quincy made a beeline over to Max’s house where he let them eat his food and where, not too far from Max’s well-trodden piece of land, resided the neighbours’ compost pile.
I discovered this one day when I headed outside after noticing a glaringly absent Bear and wandered next door calling her name. I found her, snout-deep, in Max’s half-filled food dish while Max sat nearby quite content - indeed almost eager - to share. Her name snapped from my mouth as I marched towards her. She hung her head low, swung it in my direction and looked up at me with giant brown eyes through tiny black eyelashes that in the moment seemed extra long and her eyes extra dewy.
Another time I found her munching on the hollowed out half-peels of old grapefruit, freshly picked from the compost.
While I was completely unimpressed with Bear’s increasing lack of discipline, her befriending of Max made it easier when he later joined us on walks. Although I suppose it was really less a friendship and more a case of Bear taking advantage of Max’s loneliness, still, her nose was not put out of joint when our daily jaunts began to include him.
The only issue Bear seemed to take with Max was his inability, in her eyes, to play ball properly. When we met him, Max had an old football, it seemed to be his one and only possession, and he loved it. It was deflated and soft, just perfect for Max to pick up in his mouth and carry around. If he caught the eye of someone passing by he would drop the ball at his own feet and stare meaningfully at it as though trying to communicate telepathically to the observer that they should kick the ball. If anyone made a move to do just that, he would snatch the ball up in his jaws, flash a mischievous glance at the thwarted kicker, then spit the ball out again and start the routine from the beginning.
For Bear, a ball lying idly on the ground is a complete waste of a good ball. Either it should be flying through the air begging to be caught or grasped firmly between her paws being ripped to shreds. I don’t think she ever really understood Max’s game and frequently would steal the ball and parade around with it clenched in her jaw. She would throw her head about in what looked like erratic arcs, but was probably a perfectly choreographed performance in her mind, before dropping the ball expectantly at my feet and stomping hers on the ground while fixing me with a look of sheer excited concentration as though announcing to Max, “This is how it’s done!”
I believe it was almost painful for Bear to watch Max’s pathetic displays of playing ball. Bear is a professional when it comes to such things.
She is a big barrel-chested dog, not really streamlined for running at top speed over great distances, but when she plays fetch, she is transformed. Bear becomes the most graceful of creatures. She is light on her feet as though carried by wings and leaps effortlessly through the air, becoming weightless. She dances on the wind, turning pirouettes mid-jump, and gently plucks the ball from the sky then swishes back with it clasped triumphantly in her mouth, celebratory strings of goober flowing behind her.
She doesn’t really like to play with other dogs so much as compete against them. Many times she has been part of a group of eager dogs chasing one ball, and while she is respectful of her fellow gamers, she clearly takes the event much more seriously than anyone else.
If another dog catches the ball, she seems to acknowledge it with an expression that says, “Good catch, but enjoy it, it will be your last.”, while scurrying back to whoever threw the ball in the first place, her energy level bumped up to the next notch. If the dog that caught the ball does not return as promptly, Bear makes her frustration quite clear by following the culprit and making meaningful full-body gestures that look like she’s trying to explain “You’re going the wrong way, the thrower is over there.”
If Bear does catch the ball, she snatches it from the air with a satisfying “thock” and returns to the thrower as though attached by a zip-line, spits out the ball and focuses her entire being on the slobbered, rubbery orb. I have never seen a dog exude such determination in anything.
Lucky for Bear, Max never seemed to mind when she took his ball, though I was continually offended on his behalf and admonished Bear constantly.
When Max moved in with us, the ball came too and Bear was more sure than ever that it was hers. It wasn’t long before Bear reduced his football to a five-inch-square scrap of dusty brown rubber, which she still insisted that I throw for her. Max seemed to shrug it all off and somewhere along the line made peace with the fact that while Bear and he shared a home he would never again have a ball of his own.