I live with a friendly woman near the ocean. Sometimes, she comes home from work and I can tell that she had a stressful day. She collapses on the couch and mumbles things I can’t make out. I wait for my treat and she barely notices me. That’s when I know that I have to take her for a walk on the beach. I stand by the door and make little whimpering sounds until she changes into her exercise clothes and calls me to join her, as if it was her idea to go out.
When we get to the beach, she likes to throw a ball in the air for me to catch. I don’t know where she got the idea that I like to do this. I couldn’t care less about her ball, but she seems happy when I find it, drop it at her feet, and pretend that I want her to throw it again. Even when I am completely out of breath and totally not into chasing it anymore.
I do it only to make her happy, but the truth is that I can’t stand this stupid game. I’d rather bark at squirrels or roll in coyote poop than run in the sand and get wet. I'm a hunter, not a ball catcher. When we walk in the park, I sometimes find stuff to chew on, which freaks her out, and sometimes I lift my leg and pee on a tree or a rock. But on the beach, there are no trees to pee on, no squirrels to terrorize, and no poop. Only little birds that fly away the second I bark at them, and a saliva-smothered tennis ball that smells of perspiration.
Luckily she uses a yellow ball, which I can see if it falls close enough, because my eyesight is not as good as my sense of smell. And yellow is the color that I can see. But still, when she throws that ball too far, I am lost. It lands somewhere on the sand and I can’t see it because from a distance, everything looks the same. But she persists, “Go get it, go on,” and I resent that. I have to look for the ball all over the place, and by the time I find it hiding under a pile of seaweed, I am exhausted and demoralized.
And she goes, “Yeepeetee-yeepeetee-something-something, good dog good dog.” I don’t understand everything she says but the tone of her voice tells me that she is happy that I’ve found her ball. Maybe she’ll give me a treat because I’m such a wonderful dog who can find yellow balls in the sand, who knows.
But the game of throwing things is not just about tennis balls.
The worst is when she brings her non-yellow Frisbee. Whatever color humans call it, I can’t see it, because I only see blue and green, some yellow and shades of gray. All the other colors are wasted on me. But she thinks it’s cute to have me chase a plastic plate that disappears as soon as it lands on the sand and doesn’t smell like anything. I try to tell her, “Get a toy that is the same color as that tennis ball. Something I can see against the sky, so I don’t have to embarrass myself running in circles and finding nothing.” But my lady doesn’t speak dog very well, and again I have to deal with her annoying toy, instead of chasing that cute Maltese that has just showed up on the beach.
She throws the plastic disc and I have to pretend that I am soooo excited. I bolt out and head toward a large log that was swept onto the beach during the last storm. Maybe I can catch my breath behind it before she notices that I am gone. Maybe that Maltese will join me there and make this outing worthwhile.
But wait! What’s that? The ocean has left me a gift. Behind the log, near some chewed up balls that were lost on other dogs, lies the magnificent aged carcass of a sea lion. It emits a nuanced aroma I have sniffed only in my wildest fantasies, complex and multilayered and full of promise. A unique offering for the true connoisseur that I am.
I bark at the turkey vultures who stand nearby and think they can scare me, I sniff the decaying mound of flesh, and rub my neck against the bloated creature. Ahhhh, the pleasure of frolicking in the juices of a rotting sea lion cadaver is unbeatable. I sink my shoulders and my back into a dark cavity…
And then I hear her scream. “Shlumperrrrrr!”
Halleluiah! No more chasing balls.