Fetch - The Other F-Word
A blind dog teaches innocence and abandon in this pet owner essay.
I’m a prudish sort of mother, to the point of priggishness at times. For example, my kids refer to the passing of intestinal gas as tooting and my teenage daughter still refers to her hind end as bottom. Even the term hump day makes me cringe. So you can imagine the day when my 7-year-old daughter came home tattling on her 8-year-old brother: “Mom! Charlie said the “F” word!”
I immediately went into a tailspin. How in the world did either of my children even know the “F” word? What do they think it means? Where did they hear it? And which one of their so-called friends introduced it to them? All these thoughts stormed through my head in the instant before my daughter could clarify: “Yea, he said fetch to Lady!”
“Oh,” I said, very seriously (and very relieved). “That is bad,” I said, grimacing and nodding in agreement.
Lady is a Labrador retriever who transforms into a trembling, whimpering puddle at the mere mention of words such as fetch, ball, or play. It’s almost painful to watch our normally placid 4-year-old pooch become a whimpering, quivering mess.
Feeling the game
But even more troubling than watching her anticipate these games, especially fetch, is watching her play them because Lady is almost totally blind. (The short version of that story is that she developed cataracts as a puppy.) But despite her blindness, our ditsy dog plays fetch every single day. It seems nothing will stop her pursuit of her beloved, slobbery tennis ball. Her tail’s corkscrew wag is testimony to the joy of her hunt, which keeps going even after tripping over a curb or running into a tree.
People who don’t know Lady watch in awe and wonder as she plays, especially since most of the time she has no idea where the ball is. Her body is an ocean wave, hind end wagging and moving through the force of her tail, her head and nose propelling her forward frantically tracking a scent. Often she’s only inches from the ball when a gust of wind will carry her off in an entirely new direction.
What saves this from being a pathetic sight is the absolute bliss she exhibits, for she is never unhappy during these quests. She loves the game so much that she will play until she literally collapses in exhaustion wherever she happens to be. So my children and I continue to do our part and throw her the ball. And she continues to uphold her end of the bargain by retrieving the drool-covered orb and tossing it at our feet, no matter how much time or energy it took to find it.
Young beyond her years
As a mother who has watched her children grow up too quickly, I know Lady’s exuberance for playing fetch can’t last too many more years. Her body won’t let that happen. Just as it won’t be too much longer before my younger children know what the real “F” word is.
But for right now, I am going to hold on to this time of youth and innocence—when “F” can stand for fetch. And my wish for my kids is that, as adults, they will hold on to what Lady has taught them: How, despite her disability, she went about her work with enthusiasm, joy, and tenacity.